BEERS IN ONE OF THE WORLD’S FINEST DRINKING CITIES
Edinburgh is really great. The winding streets, the gothic cathedrals, the UNESCO old town, the mighty castle, the way you can walk around the center; plus, for beer, there’s an impressive range of pubs, making it a city deserving of being on your go-to list.
Visit to Edinburgh Pub Crawl Photo Gallery
Bow Bar (80 West Bow, Edinburgh EH1 2HH) is an essential stop. On one of the most perfect of Edinburgh streets, with a terrace level above, this pub is ornate and narrow, with old memorabilia hanging on the walls; there’s a huge whisky list and one of the best-selected beer ranges in town—look for Fyne Ales and Fallen Brewing. While you’re there, check out their cask founts, as they’re the traditional, old-style, brass “tall fount” (pronounced “font”). They appear more like keg than cask and when the tap is opened the beer pours out; it was historically pushed out by air pressure generated by a water engine rather than pulled out by arm power in the usual British way (the water part has typically been replaced by an electric compressor today). You’ll occasionally see a few of these founts when you’re drinking around the city, so watch out for them.
The Athletic Arms is more commonly known as Diggers (1-3 Angle Park Terrace, Edinburgh EH11 2JX) due to its location between two cemeteries and for being the bar where the gravediggers came to drink. It’s near Hearts’ football stadium, so avoid on match days if you want a quiet beer and to look at the inviting old interior. It famously used to serve bucket-loads of McEwan’s 80/- (80 Shilling, also known as “Wee Heavy”), but that’s now been replaced by their own house 80/-, taglined “The House of Heavy,” and made by Stewart Brewing. It’s a traditional Scottish ale that’s chestnut-brown and malt-forward, but not sweet; there’s tea and toasty malts, subtlety, and endless drinkability. You have to drink an 80/- in Edinburgh.
Go to Cloisters Bar (26 Brougham Street, Edinburgh EH3 9JH) for a very good range of cask beers and a couple of interesting keg beers. On cask, check out Swannay from Orkney or the nearby Alechemy Brewing. The pub is in an old parsonage and is the essential stop for the best-kept real ale. Just up the road from Cloisters is The Hanging Bat, one of Edinburgh’s top craft beer spots, where they have a long list of kegged beers, all served in two-third pint glasses, and a kitchen that cooks up some decent barbecue food. Another excellent craft beer stop is The Holyrood 9A (9A Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AE), where they pour beers from hot Scot brewers such as Tempest Brewing Co. and Cromarty Brewing Co. Good burgers, too.
The Oxford Bar (8 Young Street, Edinburgh EH2 4JB) is the pub for literary fans (or fans of a good pub), because it’s Inspector Rebus’ local in Ian Rankin’s series of my blogs. You walk into a small serving area with a few cask ales, then you can head to the back bar for a simple cozy room that’s ideal for a quiet day’s drinking—perhaps that’s why it’s long been a favorite of writers. Have a Deuchars IPA (but don’t start a discussion about whether it’s a proper IPA or not). This is the beer brewed just across the city and is a malty-sweet, grainy, smooth brew with a similar aroma and flavor to the malt sweetness that blows through Edinburgh’s streets from the nearby distillery.
There are many others, too: The Standing Order (62-66 George Street, Edinburgh EH2 2LR) is one of the most impressive Wetherspoon pubs (see post 73) you’ll find—it’s a converted old bank and it’s cavernous. They also have a very broad range of Scottish beers. Deacon Brodie’s Tavern (435 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2NT) is named after the real-life inspiration for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde—Brodie was hanged on Lawnmarket. It’s an ornate space right in the old town. And Blue Blazer (2 Spittal Street, Edinburgh EH3 9DX) is a charming old pub with a good range of well-kept Scottish ales. Basically, Edinburgh is excellent for many things, especially drinking—you should go.
LOCAL TIP: Order “a Hauf an’ a Hauf”
This is a half pint of a beer and a “wee dram” of Scotch-either a chaser for your beer or a long drink to chase down the whisky’s flames. It’s thought that years ago the combination of beer and whisky both quenched your thirst and got you drunk quicker. Now it’s a traditional bar order, with a malty Scottish 80/with a smooth blended whisky the starting point, but you can improve upon that, for sure. Scan the tap list, look at the whiskies lined up behind the bar, and see how successful you can be at ordering a half and a half.