Churches and political parties have schisms, so why not beer drinkers? Some old school fans of cask ale (distinguished by a secondary fermentation in its cask) will tell you that the current craft beer revolution is sheer hokum because so many craft beers come in kegs. That means no secondary fermentation and a consequent lack of character, allegedly. Conversely there is a new wave of craft beer bars in Edinburgh where proprietors no longer make much of a distinction between cask and keg as long as the brewer concerned was looking to create something good rather than just fill a brand gap on a multinational's spreadsheet. This is all great news for thirsty, discerning drinkers as the city now has a better selection of pubs and bars than ever before, new and traditional, selling all kinds of beer that actually tastes good.
Edinburgh craft beer bars
Formerly Black Bo's bar-restaurant, this was reborn in 2013 as Blackfriars. The premises are split in two: a small bistro on one side, the bar on the other. Aside from the exposed brick décor and superior snacks (spiced almonds, jamón ibérico de recebo, more), there are craft beers from breweries like Beavertown, Redchurch, Wild Beer and Williams Brothers; more in bottles. Not a massive choice but a good place for a reliably decent drink.
With a stellar reputation for whisky, it's sometimes overlooked that the Bow Bar is no slouch when it comes to cask and craft ale either. In a traditionally decorated space, the choice runs to eight on tap which might include beers from Scottish breweries like Alechemy, Cromarty, Fyne Ales, Highland Brewing, Tempest or Tryst as well as regular guests from down south. They really know their stuff in this place.
Edinburgh outpost of the expanding Brewdog empire, you can rely on this modern, bustling Cowgate bar for keg beer that actually tastes of something. Not only do you get Brewdog's own product here (Dead Pony, This Is Lager, Punk IPA, Libertine Black, others) but also guests on draft from all over the world: Canada, Germany or the USA for example. Loads in bottles too and the bar does pizza for peckish moments.
Based in a former parsonage, so with a certain churchy feel to the interior, Cloisters has beers from near and far. On tap at any one time you might find cask ales like Somer from Pilot Beer in Leith for instance as well as something like Grumpy Guvnor from Franklins in Bexhill, East Sussex. The craft keg selection is good too and the bar menu stretches from light bites to seafood and burgers.
This has been a pub since 1898 but a very grand pub that might even justify the word opulent with its ornate ceiling, decorative touches, gallery and attractive bar. The cask ales come from all over the British Isles so you're as likely to find something local to Edinburgh as you are a well-travelled guest ale from Devon. Good menu, wonderful signature sausages and very handy indeed for Waverley Station.
Brewdog aside, this bar upped the ante for craft ale in the city when it opened in 2012. It's contemporary, it does a menu with smoked things, hot dogs and meatloaf burgers but crucially it has six cask ale taps, another fourteen for craft keg and lots more choice in bottles. Draught beer comes in schooners (two thirds of a pint) or one third of a pint glasses if you're sampling something insanely high in alcohol.
This is a simple, traditional one room pub with an open fire, not far from the docks, mildly decorated with dried hops, sitting by the Water of Leith. There are no distractions here: no flatscreens, no gimmicks, no hipsters, no attempt to be on trend. It just sells good cask ale with lots of choice from Scottish breweries, from Orkney in the north to the Borders in the south. Ales from elsewhere in the British Isles will feature too.
You will either love the design conceit here or hate it. Opened as recently as 2013, the Potting Shed describes itself as a café-bar and kitchen but is decked out like a cavernous garden shed with all the appropriate fixtures and fittings. The highly respectable selection of cask and craft beers regularly includes examples from Scottish breweries like Inveralmond, Pilot Beer, Stewart's or Williams Brothers, and also from English or Welsh breweries like Camden Town, Fourpure, Tiny Rebel and Wild Beer.
This 2014 debutante was an instant hit, getting the balance right between its modern basement bar atmosphere, availability of big football games, bar food and undoubted commitment to beer. You can eat well here (all day breakfasts, steak and chips, curried lamb in barley ragoût and more) but when it comes to draught beer they have fifteen keg taps, another five for cask – all rotating – and a beerbot on Twitter to help you keep track (@UshersBeerBot).
Named for its address and the fact that long ago, this building was at the heart of Edinburgh’s cattle market industry (it is on the Cowgate, after all), OX184 can genuinely boast that it offers something new and fresh on the city’s drinking ‘n’ dining scene. Once you've ordered something meaty and smoky from the open grill BBQ, watch it cook while sipping one of their many craft beers, including some brewed specially for the bar by Tempest.
Scottish craft brews are the order of the day at this former old man pub turned craft hotspot, with Black Isle, William Bros, Harviestoun and the Leith-based Pilot brewery all represented. Those looking for something more exotic will be pleased to know that there's usually a healthy contingent from south of the border present as well.