The Edinburgh Beer Scene – Revisited

Edinburgh – an overview

I recently revisited Edinburgh (w/c 26-10-15) for another look at their thriving beer scene. This sort of begets a few posts over the next week or so: A couple of pub reviews. An evening with a brewer at a tap take over. Along with this, a general review of the Edinburgh beer scene.

There’s no doubt there’s a real ‘Craft Beer’ thing going on in Edinburgh. I’m still not sure about the term, and I’m not going into semantics, but for craft beer here I’m generally talking about keg beer, often brewed on a microbrewery scale, taking inspiration from American IPA’s with above average alcohol strength and a very hop forward taste.

Edin Scotsman
Ironic or what?

There seems to be more and more bars selling craft beer, OX184A, The Gait bar, there are others. I spoke about Blackfriars last time I visited. Indeed, Andrew Ushers, which last time I went in had six cask ales on, has only one single beer engine in use. On both recent visits this was Thornbridge Brock. The barman told me they had only had a single cask ale on for nearly six months now as they wanted to have a decent product on and not have to be throwing old beer away. I get that, cynically though, I think they only have the one cask ale on so that they remain in The God Beer Guide (sic)? It’s an interesting one this, because we had two decent sessions in Andrew Ushers. Their own Falco’s Flight IPA was quite nice. Mrs C was taken with the BBNo 0110 saison and the 3 Floyds Risgoop was sublime and I don’t normally go for strong stuff like this. None of them were ‘real ales’, but places selling them deserve to be in anyone’s Good Beer Guide.

On a similar vein, I didn’t ask for clarification, Hollyrood 9a, only had Fyne Ales Jarl on cask on Monday, but by Thursday they were back to the full four cask ales. I quite like Hollyrood 9a, especially the burgers. I thought they had got to be the best anywhere in Edinburgh but the lad at Stockbridge tap said that The Cambridge had overtaken Hollyrood 9a in the burger stakes these days.

I concentrated a bit more on proper real ale pubs this time and was impressed on several fronts. I also tried the Hanging Bat, it wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t overly impressed with the selection of ales, or the quality of the cask ale I tried. I also felt, as a relatively young 52 year old, that I was a bit old for the place. There wasn’t a bona fide local drinker (for bona fide local, read born and bred in Edinburgh) in sight neither. Also the case in Andrew Ushers, but not Hollyrood 9a.

Edin Tap list
Average sort of tap list for an Edinburgh boozer

In most pubs in Edinburgh you will find at least two or three real ales on the bar. Predominantly local beers as well, which is good. The only caveat is that once you get off the beaten track, which I very much like to do, there are still a lot of pubs which in polite conversation ( even on the CAMRA what pub site) are termed sports bars and in which there is no real ale at all, never has been (in recent memory) and never will be. Even in pubs which have real ale, the locals tend to stick to proprietary lagers and the top shelf. I don’t think this is an Edinburgh thing neither. In the West country, amongst a sea of farmhouse cider, the majority of locals stick to mass produced mainstream brands. It sort of puts the ‘Everyman’ perspective on many popular artisan products like real ale, cider, cheese, bacon, bread. I mean, you go and tell them that they’re not right and they need to be consuming the ‘real thing’. Who’s right and who’s wrong here?

When you start to scratch the surface, there might not be all that much choice going on in Edinburgh. For example Fuller Thomson who own Hollyrood 9a, also run Red Squirrel, The Southern and OX184A, all similar, but slightly different locations based on craft beer and food. The Stockbridge tap ,The Bow Bar and Cloisters Bar belong to the same company. Although D M Stewart LTD have been going for over 140 years they have acquired a few more Edinburgh pubs recently and now run the mighty Guildford Arms, The Abbotsford, The Cumberland Bar and The Gait bar.

To paraphrase The Bow Bar web site, it appears that, depending on whose top ten of Edinburgh bar/pubs/ you look at, a significant ‘part of the amazing beer scene in Edinburgh’ is sewn up between a small number of operators. Yet the apparently greedy megalomaniacs that are Brewdog have only one bar in the city?

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