18 November 2013


When Reuben and I went to Edinburgh for the autumn 2013 meeting of the European Beer Consumers Union, the weekend before last, most of the drinking action was concentrated on the west side of the city. Classics like the Bow Bar and upstarts like BrewDog were just beyond reach for this trip, but I'll be back in the spring and will make a point of them then.

Top of my hitlist was The Hanging Bat, very much on the geek end of the spectrum, with its bare brick, beer science posters and nanobrewery tucked into an alcove at the back. No beer was forthcoming from that kit but the selection otherwise is pretty decent and there's a great system which allows the purchase of five thirds in advance for a set price which can then be ordered serially at one's leisure. The first one for me was Dark Matter, a sour stout brewed as a collaboration between Beavertown in East London and the BrewDog bar in Shoreditch. It's billed as a sour stout, a style which usually indicates something heavy, roasty and stouty with just a mild farmyard or lactic tang about it. Not this. Presenting a clear dark red, it has the clean sour profile of a full-on lambic, with all the mouth-watering thirst quenching properties that implies. Its stout nature comes through at the finish with a massive warming coffee roastiness. Two flavour elements that are rarely seen together there, and which work brilliantly. And all this at 3.8% ABV. I felt I was off to a good start in Edinburgh.

I tackled the IPAs next. Arbor's Why Kick A Moo Cow is 5.5% ABV and, a pale hazy orange served in a stemmed glass, has my thoughts immediately turning towards the IPAs of The Kernel brewery. This exhibitis the same sort of roaringly fresh dank hop profile, though the aroma is more candied fruit and after the initial weedy hit it sort of fades out, lacking any real finishing punch. I'd happily session on it if it were just a little less strong, but at that strength I'd expect more depth. I had similar middle-of-the-road thoughts about Highland brewery's Muckle IPA, which ramps up the volume to 6.6% ABV. There's a sort of ticklist of US-style IPA flavours: grapefruit is there, some peach, a bit of pine resin, and while I enjoyed it I think it suffered a bit for being served in a specialist beer bar among much more interesting company. Down your local on a different day it could well be mindblowing.

Cromarty's AKA IPA is a good example of what Muckle is up against. The ABV rises another notch, to 6.8%, and this is darker, more amber than the foregoing. Its aroma hangs heavy and lingers sweetly, like the atmosphere around a group of stoners at the bus stop. The texture is full and chewy without being sweet and sticky, and rather than resin the hop bitterness is a cleaner orange skin kind of sensation. I stole a sip from Reuben's glass of Redchurch DIPA while I was on a hoppy vibe. This looks the picture of innocence in the glass: a pale hazy Hoegaarden yellow. The aroma is light and zesty. Its full power isn't revealed until the first sip: this beer, 9.3% ABV, is monstrously heavy and requires an effort of will to pull it out of the glass and past one's teeth. Very different from the usual double IPA toffee bombs, it balances its sweet and bitter elements wonderfully and there's something almost Belgian in the deft casual way it does big flavour and high strength without the result being any way hot or difficult.

While I'm wetting my beak in Reuben's beer, he also opted for Buxton Saison, a not especially dry or saisony example of the style, but hopped up in an Opal Fruits fashion. There's maybe a slight air of urinal cake about this, but it's fresh and zingy urinal cake for sure. There was also Beavertown Brown Sour which arrived looking a very unattractive murky orange-brown with no head. It smells sweet and roasty like a brown ale with a mild sourness being the centrepiece of the flavour, followed by a vague lactic sweetness. Neither of us were sure exactly what this is supposed to be.

A stout finished my visit to The Hanging Bat: Highland Oat Stout, the only cask offering in my selection. It does all the things good cask stout should: a silky smooth texture, some light roast flavours plus a plummy complexity I only ever seem to encounter in cask-conditioned dark beers. There's a trace of the putty flavour I've come to associate with oats in stout but it doesn't spoil things. A pleasant third but I think this might just prove too heavy for drinking by the pint.

The next pub was just down the street and came highly recommended: The Red Squirrel. It seems like a nice place, modern without being too-cool-for-school. A sizeable selection of taps behind the bar with the majority being keg. And unfortunately most of them were defunct. I enquired of the barman what the Hopfull Old American pale ale (right) was like and he immediately began pouring me a pint. I guess we were staying. What's it's like is not very good: attractively gold but dull and musty tasting. A real comedown from the earlier pale ales. By this stage we had picked up Hardknott's Dave and Ann and I was making the call on the last pub before the evening's engagement: The Blue Blazer.

This is a very old fashioned corner boozer. Old fashioned in the sense of keep your coat on and respect that you're in someone else's local. The cask selection was excellent and mine was Ball Park by Tempest, a 3.8% ABV pale ale. This came out a beautifully clear rose gold colour and the dominant flavour is sweet rich tea biscuit. Mair hops would be nice, but as a session bitter it's just bitter enough and fruity enough to be very enjoyable. Reuben's was Tryst Sherpa, a porter (geddit?) using seven different hops for some reason. It's a lovely and light and quenching with just enough dry roast to make it moreish.

We'll come back to more Edinburgh pub-hopping later, but with these few tasters under our belt let's hit a brewery or two next.


  1. My guess is that Beavertown Brown Sour was an attempt tp brew in an ancient Russian style of kvas - it was recognized as such by some guys in Moscow when they had their chance to taste that release.

  2. Interesting, thanks Alex!