Tuesday, 14 December 2010

some Edinburgh pubs, same Edinburgh beer

A few weeks back, I took a leisurely stroll and sup through a half dozen of Glasgow's better pubs in order to take a totally unscientific snapshot of the range and quality of the beer being served in my native city. It was an extremely enjoyable experience which confirmed to me that the city contains some lovely pubs serving some lovely beers.

I had intended to repeat the experience in other cities in the new year and blog about what I saw and found. One of the cities that I intended to visit and do a 'Day in the Life of'' was Edinburgh. However, a spot of mandatory Christmas shopping with Mrs Monkey brings me through to Scotland's capital and whilst I'm there it would be a travesty if I didn't pop my head into, and have a beer in, some of Edinburgh's better regarded pubs and report back.

The last time I was in Edinburgh specifically to sample the beer on offer was a random Tuesday in August,and to be honest, in terms of the beer choice available, I was disappointed with what was on offer. Almost every pub I was in had a choice which seemed limited to beers from Edinburgh Brewers, Caledonian and Stewart's. In my opinion, Stewart's produce beers that are marginally better than Caledonian but both aren't exactly known for beer that is exciting or adventurous and I have to say that they generally aren't to my taste and hence I tend to avoid ordering them if I see any of their pumpclips.

I say that Caledonian don't produce beers that are adventurous but who could forget their 'Mexican Bandit' which was available at this year's Great British Beer Festival? It was basically a light golden ale with lime juice added. I had a taste of it at the GBBF and it was the closest to a cask lager and lime that I have ever had the misfortune to pass my lips. It wasn't nice at all and easily one of the worst beers I tasted at Earl's Court.

Hopefully, today's visit to Edinburgh's pubs would be a different and I would be in luck in discovering a diverse selection of tasty and refreshing beer.

The Abbotsford

However, the first pub I popped into, The Abbotsford, was to be a taster of what was to follow. This Rose St pub is listed in Camra's Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors and the ornate plasterwork and mahogany bar really is lovely but, unfortunately the beers on offer didn't match the surroundings. On the 5 handpumps were something that I would be seeing a lot of today - Beer from Stewart's Brewery and Caledonian. Four of the five pumps were from these breweries and my heart sank at the boring nature of the selection. The only alternative was Tryst's Carronade and it was this I went for.

The Guildford

Beer quickly downed, I headed along towards what is often claimed to be an Edinburgh beer drinkers heaven, The Guildford. It was absolutely packed with Christmas shoppers and getting to the bar seemed to take ages. The beer range was an improvement on the Abbotsford with 10 pumps covering some Scottish Brewers such as Fyne Ales, Harviestoun, Orkney as well as English staples Greene King and Wadworth. The ubiquitous Stewart's brewery also made an appearance. My choice was a pint of Fyne Ales Avalanche and I don't need to go into any great depth about the excellent brewery that is Fyne Ales. My thoughts are well documented in previous blogposts and suffice to say that Fyne Ales are a cracking brewery and Avalanche is a cracking beer.

nice pie at the Cask and Barrel

The third pub was the Cask and Barrel and the beer range was again dominated by the Edinburgh two and disappointing. Half of the beers available were from Caledonian and Stewart's and this was getting depressingly familiar. A lovely ornate pub with a stunning collection of mirrored memorabilia of beer times past being let down by the restricted and all too predictable beer selection. The other beers offered up a bland choice of Young's, Strathaven and a house beer that, I believe, comes from Caledonian. It's not as if that particular brewery isn't well represented already at the bar. The only saving grace was the gorgeous Highland Brewing Co's Orkney Best and a delicious Scotch Pie with lashings of HP sauce and white pepper.
Yum Yum Yum.

Pint finished and brown sauce wiped from my chin, I head back out into the cold early evening winter chill and frantic frenzy of the Christmas rush and make my way to my final pub destination with my only festive wish being that surely my luck would change in the Bow Bar and I would be offered an alternative selection to the limited choice in the other pubs.

The Bow Bar

No such luck, I'm afraid.

Again, Stewart's and Caldonian dominated with the majority of pumps carrying their products. The other pumps had Timmy T's Landlord and a couple of Cairngorm beers. Fortunately, their bottle choice is a bit more diverse and I went for a bottle of Orkney Porter which at least took the edge off my disappointment at the day's fairly restricted beer choice.

I know it was only a flying visit and I may have just picked a day when Edinburgh's Brewers seemed to dominate the choice available but it still left me a bit let down. Just like my last visit, the range was restricted by an over reliance of what I consider fairly dull lowest common denominator product that doesn't excite or fill me with passion. I know that it is totally understandable that Edinburgh pubs support their local brewers and carry their product but within reason. In some of the pubs I was in the big two had the majority of pumps available. That must surely stifle the drinker's choice and limit their enjoyment. It did for me.

Despite this, Edinburgh is still a great place to have a day out in some lovely pubs. Just don't expect the widest variety of brewers and beers available. Maybe the opening of Brewdog's Edinburgh pub in Spring next year may put a rocket up the rectum of an Edinburgh beer and pub scene that has got lazy in their ways and are currently punching below their weight.

Let's hope so.


  1. Interesting post - I think from our point of view (Edinburgh being out home city) we tend to see past the Caledonian pump clips - and to a lesser extent Stewart. Any time Copper Cascade or No3 are on they are very much worth a punt.

    I'm amazed you struck out at the Bow Bar, it normally takes me ages to make up my mind in there! Which city are you heading off to next...?

  2. I was disappointed in the Bow Bar as I thought that it could be guaranteed to offer up some tasty beer but Timmy T, Deuchars and Stewart's festive offering put me on a downer. They had another couple of christmas offerings too but none caught my eye.

    As it was only a flying visit, i still intend to do a more thorough blog on Edinburgh early New Year. I like edinburgh and edinburgh pubs and i'm always happy to give them another chance. It's just that the last couple of visits have proven to be a let down. Here's hoping I get lucky next time.

  3. I find when I go to Edinburgh I have to almost make trips to targeted parts of the city away from the centre - i.e. New Town for the Stockbridge Tap, Cumberland Bar & Kay's Bar; Leith for Starbank Inn & Malt & Hops; even out to Portobello for the Dalraida & Musselburgh for the 'eccentric' Volunteer Arms (Staggs) - and that's not even mentioning Cloisters, Blue Blazer and others. Still think Edinburgh has a significantly higher quantity of good real ale pubs than us in 'weegie land - not quite sure about quality & selection.

  4. I think you do Edinburgh pubs a disservice. I happened to be there today and had a lovely pint of Cairngorm Trade Winds in the Oxford Bar. You were, it seems, just less lucky than I was.

    After all, in Glasgow, if Blackfriars is having an off day, you don't have much option but to hike to the other end of the city to the Three Judges, or vice versa. In Edinburgh, if there is nothing good at the Guildford, you can nip through the station to the Halfway House. The density of good pubs is simply higher.

    I agree that Caledonian's and Stewart's draught beer is not the most exciting, but I'd rather not slag off pubs for stocking their local beer. Take it up with the brewers and tell them you want to drink something more interesting. They can do it if they want (see Stewart's Pilsen and Caledonian Flying Dutchman for examples).

    When it comes down to it, in a lovely, characterful pub in Edinburgh, you may have to drink Deuchars IPA; in a lovely, characterful pub in Glasgow you may have to drink Tennent's Lager. There's the difference.

  5. And, having been to BrewDog Aberdeen, I don't really think Edinburgh's pubs have anything to fear from the opening of a little American theme bar.

  6. @barm

    All i'm doing is simply commenting on what I have seen the last two times I have been through. It's not a Glasgow V Edinburgh thing as you are trying to make it and I don't understand why you need to do that. It's not a comparison piece.It was a flying visit and the four pubs I visited had the saw depressing selection of beers.

    I'm very happy for you that you got a nice pint of Cairngorm. Hope it was worth the bus/train fare.

    Edinburgh does have a high density of boozers but what does that matter if they are all stocking the same Caledonian beer.

  7. @barm

    So, really, if Blackfriars is having an off day I must trek the three miles to the 3judges in the west end for the chance of a decent beer. How do you work that one out?

    So you dont class the State, The Bon Accord or many other city centre pubs as worthy of your patronage?

  8. Of course they are. But imagine Blackfriars is having an off day and you want to go somewhere else. How many decent places do you have within 10 minutes' walk? The pubs of both cities could do with upping their game.

  9. Its a shame you haven’t found any of our beers that you like. Have you tried the full range? We do a Doppelbock, Pilsen, Hefewiesen. Our Hollyrood won Worlds Best Blonde / Golden Ale this year, beating Fin du la Monde, so it cant be that bad! We do a range of seasonal that all have different characteristics to our permanent range.

    Next time in Edinburgh come and visit the brewery, you will see we are only 8 people, not that big...

    I’m glad you saw a lot of it in Edinburgh however – it is (after all) where we try to sell most of our beer. The reason for its distribution is its quality, consistency and popularity – we spend a lot of effort in the brewery getting it right.

    Please keep searching – Cheers – Steve Stewart

  10. @anonymous - steve stewart

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for posting and I will certainly take you up on the offer of a brewery visit next time i'm through and I look forward to tasting a larger slice of your range than i have previously done, particularly your interpretation of German and Czech styles of beers.
    I may have been hasty in lumping you together with the Caledonian giant but I do make a diferentiation early on in the article between yourselves and Caley and the majority of the blog was regarding the ubiquity of caley in Edinburgh and the limitation of choice that this ubiquity brings.
    Keep doing what you do, Stewart, as it is clearly working for you through in edinburgh and as an East Coast Brewery it would be silly and financial folly for you not to focus on your home market.
    I may have been unlucky in my last two visits and caught an unrepresentative sample of not only your beer range but also the variety of choice on offer in auld reekie.
    Hopefully, my next visit through to your city will see me having a more enjoyable beer experience and if that means eating some humble pie while drinking one of your beers then that's something i'm not too proud to do.
    If that is the case, i'll eat my words, drink your beer and blog about it to provide some counter balance to this post.

    thanks once again for your comments, Steve.

    the beer monkey

  11. I've always found central Edinburgh pubs to be overpriced tourist traps serving poorly kept mediocre beer.