As the 2nd most visited tourist destination in the United Kingdom, Ale to the King hasn’t quite managed to tackle every real ale pub and bar in the capital, but a damn good effort is being made.
Below are my favourite spots to go ale hunting at the moment, ranked from 10 to 1 (1 being, predictably, my absolute favourite).
10. Teuchters Landing
1c Dock Place, Leith
A cosy little establishment on the watery edge of Leith, Teuchters Landing seems both fairly modern and contemporary yet linked to the seafaring past of its area. This unique, squat little building houses one of Edinburgh’s best stocked bars, with 14 beers, both macro and micro brewed, on draught and more bottles in the fridge. It also boasts a particularly good selection of whiskys should you choose to chase that Deuchars IPA. A nice warm fire and comfy leather and wood furniture complete this assuredly professional establishment.
9. Blue Blazer
2 Spittal Street, Old Town
For a brief three months I used to live in this area, charmingly known as the ‘pubic triangle’ due to the abundance of strip clubs. Residing literally round the corner this became a well-visited and loved pub. This Pub of the Year winning, traditional ale house is splendidly decorated in the way a proper, old-fashioned, gentile, boozer should be. On last visit there were six cask ales ready to be drunk in the numerous hideaways and alcoves in this relaxed, well-maintained place. Prepare to make some compromises in personal space; Blue Blazer is becoming alarmingly popular with the young, fashionable professional crowd post-work, especially given the area and craft beer’s increasing prominance.
8. Stockbrige Tap
2 Raeburn Place, Stockbridge
A place that was unusually full of Black Isle is alright in Ale to the King’s books. For an area so erudite and swish Stockbridge Tap brings a needed earthy not to the area, sitting across from Hector’s and thus proffering up something a little less considered, a little more down-to-earth and a little more honest. It has a charming atmosphere and proper pub games while serving up some of the finest quality drinks going. It also plays host to some cracking beer festivals, so make sure you get down to these when they’re on and join the locals in expanding one’s taste horizons.
105 Lauriston Place, Old Town
Rammed to the rafters with dozens of ale varieties, the Brauhaus, situated at the edge of Old Town, near the Meadows, is in a ripe position to take advantage of the upcoming, arty, area it borders. The beer selection really is vast, albeit most of these are in bottles. The ramshackle, mashed-together aesthetic really speaks volumes of what you can drink here, from more common brews like Stewart’s Edinburgh Gold to £10 bottles of the finest Belgian beer, its all under this roof. While I wouldn’t describe it as particularly cosy, and there can be a horrendous draft if you sit too close to the door of this small place, the number of ales on offer make up for everything.
6. Bow Bar
80 West Bow, Old Town
It looks and feels like its as old as St. Giles itself, but was actually only renovated in the 1990s. Much of the furniture and decoration here was actually reclaimed from other pubs as they were ‘modernised’ giving this place a lived-in yet spruced-up feel. There are always a great selection of craft beers on pump and its somewhere that’s innocuous enough to be frequented by mostly locals, despite its location in tourist-central. With knowledgeable staff its a great place to start an evening or while away an afternoon. A whole day if it takes you, they have a frankly punishing array of craft beer on at any one moment.
5. Dirty Dick’s
159 Rose Street, New Town
If you thought Brauhaus was a collection of oddities wait until you get a load of this place. The dimly lit pub is so crammed full of unusual items, trinkets and decorations it would be almost impossible for a patron to catalogue them all. Believe me, I’ve had some of the most intense games of drunken eye-spy in Dirty Dicks. However its not just the unique interior which gives this place the thumbs up. There are regularly four cask beers, well poured by the attentive staff. Easily the best pub on Rose Street.
4. Roseleaf Bar Cafe
23/4 Sandport Place, Leith
Another Leith institution, the Roseleaf Cafe Bar is a welcoming place. Situated just by The Shore, its a fine starting point to start a journey round some of the other real ale pubs Leith has to offer. Something, as you might have gathered by now, that scores big points with Ale to the King is great staff who are happy to serve and advise with your purchases. The staff that have served Ale to the King in the past have been great here. They really know what they’re talking about and always seem happy to chat. There’s a very good selection of beers on tap, expanded upon by the numerous bottles behind the bar. If you’re a fan of Williams Brothers Brewery in particular, this place is for you. A vintage style place without the pretentiousness that often comes with it (and old comics as wallpaper in the toilets to boot!). The food here is nothing short of the best I’ve had in a pub.
3. Malt and Hops Freehouse
45 Shore, Leith.
Hops hang from the ceiling, a reassuring layer of dust sprinkles the less-used corners and a satisfying beery mustiness fills the air in this proper old fashioned ale house. Much like the Blue Blazer, but turned up a notch and taken back a few years, this is something of a nostalgic blast from the past; it take me back to a time before craft beer wasn’t the coolest booze on the block and my fellow regulars were at least 30 years my senior and wore scratty green jumpers over checked shirts. The Malt and Hops Freehouse stands resolute against the tide of craft beer’s and the Shore’s rising popularity and mainstream attention. At last visit there were a very respectable six casks and the rotation is regular. This is a lovely, cosy, relaxing place to absorb an evening and enjoy the warm fire.
2. Brewdog Bar
143 Cowgate, Cowgate
The Cowgate area of Edinburgh is often undeservedly written off. But amongst the less than reputable drinking establishments, its home to two of the best rock and metal clubs in Edinburgh as well as the quite excellent rock and ale pub venue Bannermans. Ale to the King has already given this place a review worthy of this place on the list, but in brief this exemplifies what it took to get the craft beer revolution into full swing. Offering a great range of Brewdog’s own beers as well as a great selection on others bottled and on tap, this cool bar has a modern, minimal style that is a far cry from the sedate, dank, remote pubs from craft beer’s history. Attracting a crowd that like to stay on top of the newest thing as well as veteran ale drinkers, Brewdog Bar is a refreshing place to spend a Saturday. Careful though, your quest to ‘try just one more’ may leave you crawling instead of walking back home. Or falling into drumkits at Bannermans. Take your pick.
1. Kay’s Bar
39 Jamaica Street, New Town.
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Ale to the King has been to many pubs in the capital in a quest for the ultimate ale pub, but none has surpassed Kay’s Bar. This has everything an ale drinker would wish of a bar to a tee. A mighty seven ale pumps often stand ready to dispense barley-pop and slake even the mightiest of thirsts. The atmosphere is at times cramped, but the surroundings are so ship-shaped and resolutely, jovially British that this Victorian pub forces this to be nothing less than convivial. There is a games room stocked with games that, shock-horror, have all their pieces. There is a wonderfully warm fire. There are dogs running around your feet, always the friendly kind, looking to say hello. The patrons are uniformly friendly and chatty. There’s the staff, who know more about beer than the staff of anywhere I’ve been and are really nice characters (he’s called Fraser. You’ll know the one I’m talking about). And there’s that one thing that seasoned public house patrons will know; seasoned patrons who go to proper pubs and for whom stepping into a Weatherspoon’s, Varsity or Walkabout is an alien, unfortunate experience; a staircase you’re not sure if you’re allowed to go up or not. If you enjoy going out for a drink in Auld Reekie, you owe it to yourself to go to Kay’s Bar.