Saturday, 2 April 2011

Station to Station - A Day in the Life of Edinburgh Beer


I've had mixed beer fortunes in Edinburgh. In the many times that I've been across in Scotland's capital city, I've enjoyed some cracking pints in some lovely pubs. Alas, I've also witnessed in the last couple of times I've been through a limited range of, mostly Caledonian beers. Admittedly my last visit was a flying one restricted to a couple of pubs and I probably never got a true flavour of the depth and range of the beers available in Edinburgh.

So, with that in mind, I decided to have another trip through and see if I could get a more representative picture of Auld Reekie's beer scene.

The plan was simple. Jump off the train at Haymarket Station and make my way to Waverley Station stopping off at a few pubs en route.  Hopefully, I would be tasting some lovely beers along the way and having a smashing day out in the process.

A short walk from Haymarket takes us to Thomson's. This gorgeous wood panelled pub is dedicated to the style of Glasgow Architect Alexander 'Greek' Thomson and it's gorgeous interior was matched by a superb selection of beers which included Dark Star Hophead, Fyne Ales Jarl, Acorn Barnsley Bitter, Hopback Summer Lightning and Harviestoun's Bitter and Twisted. I rubbed my hands with beery glee when my eyes first caught sight of the beer board.

This was the perfect start to the day and I opted for a pint of the delicious Hophead. This is a beer that I have had many times and it's always delivered and never disappointed. Today was no different. It was a hoprocket of glorious light, floral hoppy thrills that slid down my throat effortlessly.

The initial intention was to just have one in each pub visited and swiftly move on but with a beer board so good, temptation got the better and we decided to stay for another. Fyne Ales Jarl this time and again, the beer was beautifully conditioned and gloriously tasty. I've written a bit about Jarl in previous blogs and, not wanting to labour the point and repeat myself, all I will say is that it is one of the finest session beers available in the UK at the moment.

Next up on our Station to Station walkabout was Cloisters on Brougham St. It had a wide range of Scottish beers available from breweries such as Cairngorm, Highland, Houston, Kelso, Isle of Arran and Edinburgh's own Stewart's Brewing Co. I opted for a beer from the best brewery in Orkney, Swannay's Highland Brewery, the Scapa Special.

The Scapa Special is a golden, amber beer that contains hops from the U.S., Germany, New Zealand and Slovakia as well as Maris Otter Pale malts. It is an easy drinking beer that has some breadiness on the nose and pleasant citrus fruit hoppiness in the mouth and ends with some bitterness in a slightly dry, hoppy finish.

The gorgeous aroma of fresh tartare sauce and just squeezed lemon juice as the people in the table opposite were tucking into their beer battered fish and chips suddenly made us very hungry. We had to have what they were having. So two fish and chips swiftly ordered and promptly despatched into our eager stomachs, we set off into the Edinburgh lunchtime sun to find our third pub. It had been very good so far. Two pubs, three excellent, lovely beers and some gorgeous pub grub.

The Blue Blazer, in the shadow of Edinburgh castle was next to be ticked off our list. It didn't have the most exciting beer selection of the day - Stewart's 80-, Pentland IPA, Houston Killellan, Dark Island and Cairngorm Trade Winds. However, as I was through in Edinburgh, I thought that it would be rude not to have at least one local beer during our visit. I went for the Stewart's Pentland IPA and it was decent enough. It had some hops on the nose and light fruitiness in the taste but I was expecting more hoppiness from an IPA. It was a perfectly drinkable low ABV session beer and given the amount of times it was being ordered, it's clearly very popular.

Onwards and upwards, we left the Blue Blazer and made our way to one of by favourite Edinburgh pubs, The Bow Bar. It is a small, intimate one room pub that has a homely, lived in feel to it. I scanned the beer board and my eyes were immediately drawn to a beer from a brewery that is being talked of in positive tones quite a bit these days. The brewery is Summer Wine Brewery and recently I've been lucky enough to taste some of their excellent beers, most notably their Resistance Mild and Barista Espresso Stout. So when my eyes caught glimpse of the words 'Summer Wine Apache' there was only one beer that I wanted to taste.

I'm glad that I did. It was lovely. It tastes like an All-American hop heavyweight. It is punchy and packed with marvellous melon and grapefruit flavour and a dry finish that doesn't just linger. Instead it loiters with seriously citrussy bitter intent. It is a cracking brew and drinks too easily for a beer with a pugilistic power rating of 5.4% ABV. Another Knock-Out Summer Wine offering.

Seconds Out. Round 5.

Our fifth pub is a new addition to Edinburgh's drinking scene and one that has no doubt been welcomed with baited breath and open arms by some beer drinkers. BrewDog's second pub venture has just opened on Edinburgh's Cowgate and as we sauntered down the hill, I have to admit that I was quite looking forward to it. They have been pushing beer boundaries and people's buttons since they began less than a handful of years ago. More importantly though, they make some excellent beers.

The bar itself has a cold, stark and industrial feel to it. Grey sheet metal, exposed pipes and brick work are the order of the day here and the furniture appear to have been lifted straight from peoples front rooms or, more likely, charity shops. I liked how it looked and felt. It is a good place to have a beer. And of that, there were many.

Beers from here, there and everywhere. Kegs from Denmark, The U.S. Bottles from some of the finest exponents of 'Craft' beer from all over the world, such as, Alesmith, Nogne, Great Divide, Mikkeller, Lost Abbey, The Bruery and Kernel.

They even had U.K. cask on which surprised me. So, that's what I had first. I opted for a Cask Camden Town Pale Ale. It is a lovely refreshing hoppy beer but was served slighty too cold but I put this down to opening week teething problems. It's a forgiveable mistake. I understand that BrewDog intend to carry some UK cask offerings from different breweries in their bars which is a welcome and inclusive step and will give drinkers an opportunity to see which breweries BrewDog consider to be fellow travellers in their 'Craft Beer Revolution'.

The selection and variety available was a beer drinkers dream and now that we had arrived, we felt it would be stupid not to stay and sample some rare beery delights. So we did. Much, much longer than we anticipated or planned. The beers flowed and the tastings grew and we had a great time. It's easy to be distracted by the choice available and I found myself changing my mind constantly about what to have next.

Keg Punk Monk followed the Camden Pale. Punk Monk is BrewDog's Punk IPA using a Belgian yeast and on keg it was sharper and crisper than I remember from the bottle. Next up was a BrewDog newbie called, provisionally, Raspberry Wit which had faint raspberry notes and a weird creamy effervescence. I swithered about what to have next. I had a shortlist of four beers that I wanted but couldn't decide. Mikkeller's 10, Koppi, The American Dream or Nogne's Pale Ale.

I plumped for the Nogne and bought the other three as bottles to take home. The Pale Ale was pleasant enough. Light, balanced with a lovely dry lingering finish.

Having finished the Nogne, we agreed that we probably had had enough and was time to head back home. On the train, I opened up the Mikkeller 10 and was blown away by this beer. Wow. It was fantastic. It contains 10 different hops yet is a beautifully balanced and fruity beverage that felt like a perfect end to a great day out in Edinburgh.

On today's showing, I'd give Edinburgh, like the Mikkeller, 10 out of 10.



  1. I wouldn't mind visiting Brew Dog Edinburgh to compare it to the Aberdeen venue. The selection of beers sounds just as interesting. It's mainly the foreign imports that interest me and any Brew Dog Specials that aren't normally available.

  2. @davelozman

    the bottle beer selection in edinburgh was immense. It's very tempting to spend a few quid trying some lovely, hard to get beers.

    of course, now that they have just announced that glasgow brewdog is opening in late august, it gives you the perfect opportunity to pop up and say hello. you can bring mr mogg too!

  3. That sounds like an excellent idea and shouldn't be too difficult to arrange.

    I know what you mean about the bottled beer selection, for me it is one of the main attractions. I spent £40 on 2 bottles on my first visit to the Aberdeen bar.

  4. Pedantry corner: brewdog bars are never going to offer cask beers, as stated here. Camden Town was on draft keg in Edinburgh

  5. Beer without f... foam ???????Thanks !!!!!!!!!!