Last year's Edinburgh Independent Beer Festival (EIBF) was a resounding success - it was great fun walking around these different pubs having some superb and (in a number of cases) very rare beers. Somehow I managed all 8 venues last year, but this time with 10 official EIBF pubs/bars + 3 others holding associated events I decided that visiting all of these in a single day would be seriously detrimental to health of my liver. So for the first of 2 visits to Edinburgh this week I'd planned to start off in the Vintage in Leith, and then it would be back up the centre of town for the Brodie's Beers #Haggisbasher and the Natural Selection Origin Beer Launch. I seldom drink at all on a school night, but with the next few days off work all these beery events in Edinburgh seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.
View EIBF 1 in a larger map
Outward transport was as follows:-
Train: Glasgow Queen St to Edinburgh Waverley
Bus: Top of Leith Walk to the Shore (16, Lothian Buses)
This time on arriving at Waverley Station I was able leave from the Calton Road entrance to get a bus from outside the St James Shopping Centre straight down to Leith; fast & easy compared to my journey last weekend along Princes Street. The Vintage is located at the corner of cobbled Henderson Street & Giles Street just up from the start of The Shore, and has only been open for a couple of months - the signage is a bit low key at the moment (possible deliberately so), but it's a nice sandstone building.
It's a venture masterminded by Darren Blackburn (who used to be the manager at the Caley Sample Room) with Williams Brothers stalwart Richard McLelland as Business Manager and other beery help from the Williams Brothers people. From a dining point-of-view they are very much focused on charcuterie, with an amazing & diverse selection of cured, salted & smoked meat dishes available as well as lots of veggie and seafood options - these can be eaten almost tapas-style with bread & chutneys or from the À la Carte menu. There are a good number of tables from the middle of the room back down to the rear, and it is from there that you can see and (more importantly) smell the aromas from the open kitchen as the chefs prepare the food for you (not that you can smell the chefs, of course!). Today I was really only in for the beer, but I definitely must give this type of food a go the next time I'm in Leith. At the front there is a lovely long shiny bar with a number of bar stools and there is a sofa or 2 & a couple of bench-style tables for those looking for non-food seating.
There are 10 keg taps (5 mostly Williams Brothers staples & 5 guests) and also 3 cask hand-pulls, one of which will always be an Elixir beer and today it was the Fremantle Doctor; the aroma of the Aussie citrus hops was almost matched by the taste, a lovely bitter pale ale. The EIBF beers were all listed in a clip-board flyer complete with always handy tasting notes and I decided that it would only be polite to start a tab and go through quite a few of them.
I started with the the Kernel Red Wine Aged Pale Ale; here the slight upfront bitterness of the pale ale was blitzed by masses of red wine, but it did settle down a bit as the drink warmed up. I continued onto the EIBF Collaboration Saison by Black Jack, Marble & Quantum; this was spicy with lots of mango & tropical fruits and a nice alcohol hit, and then finally a Steam Lager by Redwell which I thought had a very similar dry taste to WEST's Munich Red. Bizarrely enough an ex-WEST brewer now living in Germany just happened to be having lunch in the Vintage and it was interesting to have a chat with him about the state of German brewing (I don't think he's too impressed).
I paid my tab, thought about walking all the way up Leith Walk again, but decided that the bus was the better option. This took me back up to Calton Road, and I then walked under the far end of Waverley Station up to the Royal Mile, and then down St Marys Lane to The Holyrood 9A.
This was a most welcome oasis of cool air & tranquillity, with the main bar area fairly quiet when I walked in, but it certainly started to fill up as the afternoon wore on.
The Celt Experience guys whom I'd met a couple of weeks ago in Glasgow had gone through a Meet-the-Brewer the day before, so all the Celt Ogham speciality bottles were available (and are quite fantastic), but I also spied this interesting beer - Celt 613 Années, a red biére de garde (literally a 'beer for keeping') brewed in collaboration with French brewery Page 24. It's named after a Welsh/French alliance which happened 613 years ago when it seems everyone allied with France (or more specifically against the English). This was malty, sweet, spicy, definitely earthy with a bitter charcoal-like after-taste and lots of alcohol - very good indeed.
By then I needed some food to soak up all this beer (even though I hadn't touched a pint glass) so went for one of their blackened chicken burgers with straight fries - the garlic mayonnaise on this was lovely on this and seemed to contrast with the earthiness of the 613 Années quite well.
Time, however, was moving on and I just had enough of it to walk down The Pleasance, stop at Great Grog for a couple of bottled beers (I just can't help myself if I'm nearby), and then head across Preston Street to the Cask and Barrel (Southside) for the start of the Brodie's Beers #Haggisbasher.
The Cask and Barrel (Southside) is Edinburgh CAMRA's current pub-of-the-year and even in a city of great pubs it's easy to see why - a sweeping centre island bar, masses of mirrors & beer related signs, no distraction from the beer by any substantial food, and friendly staff who know what they're doing. The Brodie's Beers were just coming on as I arrived and if it wasn't for the all the surrounding Scottish beer & spirit décor (OK - and the accents) I could almost imagine myself being in East London.
I did manage of a number of these Brodie's Beers (the Citra is pretty damn close to Fyne Ales Jarl for sheer refreshing grapefruit drinkability), but the interesting one was the London Blueberry Sour aged in Bordeaux Casks. It was certainly sour, but the blueberries had given it a great fruity body & taste, which then signed off with a more acidic bite - a really fantastic sour. One of the Brodie's brewers (sorry - missed the name) was around to chat and Quality Control the state of the beer (he was a Heriott Watt graduate and used to work in the Cask & Barrel, hence the choice of the pub), but even he couldn't believe the great condition of the beers. Über Brodie's fan @CAGarvie was also present resplendent in pink bowler hat and pink Brodie's T-shirt - sunglasses were almost required indoors for this sight.
Once again the clock was ticking and I needed to head back towards the city-centre. However just around the corner from the Cask and Barrel (probably all of 30 seconds) was another EIBF pub/bar, the Southern.
Here there were a couple of interesting beers available - Adnams Jack Brand-'branded' Clump Sagin (Rye IPA), a quite light rye IPA, but it was very smooth, with a nice bitter after-taste, and then there was the monster that was the Kernel Imperial Brown Stout aged in Glen Garioch casks. This was incredibly smooth, almost milk chocolate stout-like, then there was an intense hit of fairly sweet whisky liqueur (almost Bailey's-like), which thankfully toned down enough to allow the nutty broon ale to just about come through in the finish. I really liked this, but at 10.3% abv it was seriously lethal stuff.
Still pretty stunned from the Kernel Brown Stout, I drowned about 1/2 a litre of water on my walk back up Nicolson Street and then managed to find the steps down from College Street into the depths of the Cowgate with Bannerman's Bar just on my right hand side. With a reputation more for live music than beer I hadn't been in for a good few years.
I assume the Natural Selection Origin launch had just happened since everyone had migrated towards the low ceilinged bar. There were cask, keg & bottled variants of this year's beer available, so I took 1/2 of the cask and 1/2 of the keg (purely for comparison purposes only). There was no doubt this was a rye beer, there was definitely quite a bit of yeasty murkiness in there, but there was also a lot of peppery spiciness and a good bitter kick at the end from the galaxy hops - I quite liked it. Interestingly I actually preferred the keg variant, I think the slight keg fizz helped cut through the rye a bit more. There were quite a few of this year's 'student' brewers milling about looking as pleased as punch (or at least a beer) and it was good to chat with them and find out that the keg variant was completely unfiltered & unpasteurised, with just a just a slight CO2 fizz added - nicely done guys!
From Bannerman's I had only a short stagger west along the Cowgate to BrewDog Edinburgh; I think all the outside murals are new from the last time I visited.
BrewDog were playing host to Brodie's Beers #Haggisbasher part 2, having had some collaborative brewing history with James Brodie a couple months ago (the lovely sour Brodie's v Brewdog Berliner Weiße). There were a good 7 Brodie's Beers on the guest taps (all cask of course, ha - if only!). I went for a London Sour Fruits Of The Forest and boy was this sour, far more so than the Blueberry Sour at the Cask and Barrel - the sweeter berry fruit flavours just about came through as the kegged beer warmed up.
If I'd had a bit more sense I'd have stayed for one of 2 more of the Brodie's Beers (I'm not likely to often get the chance to try a Brett IPA again), but instead I decided to try to get to another of the EIBF pubs. I walked to the end of the Cowgate, through the Grassmarket and up the steps between Kings Stables Road and Castle Terrace - there are so many of these short cuts in Edinburgh.
This got me back onto Lothian Road and I headed to the Red Squirrel, my 3rd Fuller Thomson bar of the day.
They were showcasing the non-Scottish beers, but I didn't find anything too interesting that I hadn't had before on the blackboard. However they were just lulling me into a false sense of (in)security and the friendly staff pointed in the direction of Tiny Rebel Flux; a quite a sweet, dark fruit flavoured brew with a nice bitter after-taste - it was like an old fashioned 70/- with a clean, bitter bite - good stuff.
By now it was time to head to my last stop of the day just slightly further up Lothian Road, the Shortlist Magazine Pints & Pistachios 2013 Nominated The Hanging Bat (it certainly got my vote).
This was holding Brodie's Beers #Haggisbasher part 3 and I tried the the Blueberry Sour on keg (there was not that much between the cask and keg versions, fruit beers go pretty well on keg), and then the Oyster Tea Stout as a night-cap with lots of tannin & chocolate - good stuff indeed. Here it was good to meet fellow beer enthusiast @Stravale and relax for a few minutes in the recently opened 'Secret Bat Beer Garden'.
All told a great day out in Edinburgh - thanks especially to Brodie's Beers for coming through from London and for A New Wave and the pubs & bars for putting on such a great event.
Train: Edinburgh Haymarket to Glasgow Queen St