Tuesday, 3 August 2010


Three weeks ago saw the Lady and me in Edinburgh. The Lady was there to do something politically unsound but we’ll gloss over that. We’d decided to add a few extra days on and make a little holiday out of it. Having rented a rather nice flat in a stone tenement in West Bow just off the Grassmarket, a pretty useful spot as it turned out, we went forth to sample some of the local culture. This was my first ever trip to the city, but it felt like going home. I found a little bit of time to visit the odd pub or so. Here are three that stood out:

The Canons’ Gait
Despite being on the Royal Mile, this is a wonderful pub and a great use of the apostrophe. Newly decorated and complete with a freshly installed charmingly lofty barman, I was comfortable here. I like pubs that have quotations painted on the walls or around the edge of the ceiling. The Canons’ Gate ticked all the boxes on this front. It is a clean and modern pub that somehow manages to remain traditional. It might best be described by the popular oxymoron of ‘classic modern’. The excellent quality beer is another reason to recommend this fine establishment. Beers consumed were:

  • Scapa Special 4.2% The Highland Brewing Co Ltd - a lush ale is fruity with a hoppy finish and very little bitterness, mouthfuls of cream. Truly wonderful. “One of the nicest beers I’ve ever tasted” – The Lady.

  • Northern Light 4% Orkney – a modicum of bitterness with citrus notes.

Inside the Canons' Gait

The Café Royal Bar
The Café Royal Bar is an outstandingly quant bar from a more genteel age. An age when bright young things called Algernon and Henrietta larked about having a jolly spiffing time. An age when the economically illiterate government of the day plumped for austerity and mass unemployment over Keynesian righteousness, an age that the ConDem knob-heads are hell-bent on mimicking. You half expect Poirot to be sitting sipping whilst sharpening his moustache. Spats, you don’t see many of those worn these days. Upon the walls are tiled pictures depicting romantic scenes of trade and commerce in a way that they’ve never been conducted. U fortunately my photos (as always) don’t do it justice. Whilst the décor is suspended in time the prices have most certainly moved on. A round of drinks in this establishment is quite steep. But I suppose you get what you pay for as the service was excellent and the ale was well looked after. I quaffed a pint of Pivo Estivo 3.9% from Kelburn – a tart lemon marmalade of an ale. Sweet and smooth to begin with but followed up with a tangy finish don’t you know.
Inside the Cafe Royal


The Bow Bar
This bar was my local for the duration being just a couple of floors below our flat. A small one roomed bar with wooden floors, wood panelling, tables and chairs loiter around the perimeter. I especially liked the diddy little tables, thin two-legged affairs with their two legs firmly screwed to the floor. This is very much a locals’ bar as well as catering for the passing tourists.
The bar has an amazing deep red ceiling; promotional mirrors and enamelled advertising signs adorn the walls. Coat hooks are affixed to the edge of the bar and around the top of the wood panelling. This is a bar designed for standing and drinking. If the Bow Bar was my permanent local I would not be an unhappy man
All the cask ale is dispensed by air, something I’ve rarely seen before although I had been warned by the Good Beer Guide prior to entering that this was the case, otherwise it could have been quite disconcerting to be served with something that more resembled a cream-flow nitro-keg rather than a real ale. Eight cask ales appear to be always available with Deuchars IPA, Timothy Taylor Landlord and Stewarts 80/- being permanent fixtures, so I understand. I’m not a big fan of most 80/- beers that I’ve tried but you can’t go to Scotland and not have at least one. So I took the opportunity which in the Bow Bar to have a pint of the Stewarts 80/-. I was pleasantly surprised. This plum-ruby ale was fruity, with no bitterness but a goodly amount of hessian. It could almost be described as sweet, but don’t let that put you off. It is a kind forgiving ale that nobody could dislike.

As I sat drinking in the Bow Bar late on the Tuesday afternoon enjoying the relative calm whilst the Lady was off doing something despicable it all felt close to perfect. Unfortunately the peace was broken by a half a dozen middle-aged female American tourists entering the bar all in search of malt whisky, all wanting something different from their companions and all requiring detailed tasting characteristics before they made their purchase. These were the only tourists that stayed for a drink at this fine bar whilst I was there. A number popped their heads in a then made swift exits, not sure why, but it was definitely their loss.
A couple of other outstanding ales I sampled at my Edinburgh local were:

  • Houston Killetton 3.7% - a superb session ale, but then you’d expect nothing less from Houston. It’s a dark golden ale with a great hop finish and not too unlike a good pint of Greene King IPA but with a creamier body.

  • Ascalon from St Georges Brewery 3.6% wheat beer. It is a bit like a less alcoholic version of Thornbridge Jaipur IPA – a brilliant session alternative and you’d never know that it was a wheat beer.

I like Edinburgh and hope to return sooner rather than later.


Paul Bailey said...

It's a long time since I was last in Edinburgh (a quarter of a century I'm sorry to say!), but your descriptions of the pubs you visited, and some of the beers you enjoyed, has wetted my appetite for a return visit.

There is just one thing puzzling me though, what was it that, your good lady was doing, that was so bad?

Paul Garrard said...

Edinburgh is fantastic - I suggest you go again.

I'm sworn to secrecy regarding your question re the lady, but I can give you three words by way of a clue. They are: party, garden and royal.

Paul Bailey said...

Hope she enjoyed the sandwiches, with the crusts cut off!