Ale to the King.

Edinburgh's quality beer and ale review and culture site.

Archive for the tag “festive”

Ten of the Best Edinburgh Ale Pubs

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.

7. Brauhaus

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 malt and hops inside

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 BarBrewdog Edinburgh inside

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 BannermansAle 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.
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.

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Review: Christmas Ale 2011 – Aledvent Calendbeer 25

Beer: Christmas Ale (2011)
Brewery: Anchor Brewing
Type: Spiced Ale
Served: Bottled
Alc: 5.5% Vol.
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 25

Merry Christmas! Here we are, the final beer in Ale to the King and possibly, hopefully your festive countdown towards the big day itself. Just going by the bottle and label itself I knew immediately this would be the one that would see us out in style. With bold, red capitals declaring MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY NEW YEAR surrounded by a very nice, old fashioned tree this not only celebrates the big day but also welcomes in the new year.

Very appropriate I thought, but I’m pretty new to a lot of the world of ale so I was very pleased to hear this was even more in the spirit of Christmas than I’d thought. Turns out Anchor Brewery has brewed a special  Christmas ale every year since 1975, entirely unique, a different, closely guarded recipe every time. And this year’s is a cracker (pun entirely intended).

The nose is absolutely delicious, very unique and very defined. Its brilliantly spicy and immediately hits with strong crystal ginger. Its a great sensation that’s slightly backed up with mulling spices.

On pouring the head is a creamy tan and has real staying power way down to the glass. The colour is a very dark chocolate or heavily varnished old wood.

On the taste you’ll notice its incredibly dry, the driest I’ve ever tasted that really sucks the mouth together. Unfortunately the taste is a little more muddled and undefined than the nose.

The foretaste is of dried figs mixed in with the spices is not unpleasant but isn’t entirely a treat. The mid-taste is rather more pleasurable and the spices, which dominates right through to the end, compliment the sweetness and dryness of the roast chestnut tones.

On the after-taste the spices come together with remnants of the crystal ginger, dried figs and chestnut into a melange of notes which is where the dryness really kicks in. Unfortunately this is a warm, cottony flavour which leads to a certain clagginess that’s perhaps overly-emphasised by the dryness.

So, ultimately its a beer with a lot of promise that fails to deliver on that, but its still something very special and unique regardless. In a way, it sums up one of the most iconic things of Christmas, a knitted sweater from your grandma. You hope its going to be something great, and despite being what it is, you just have too much goodwill and appreciation for the effort that’s gone into it to regard it with anything other than warm feelings. Merry Christmas.

Review: Delirium Christmas – Aledvent Calendbeer 24

Beer: Delirium Christmas
Brewery: Delirium
Type: Belgian Strong Ale
Served: Bottled
Alc:  10% Vol.
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 24 

The end is in sight and the big Two Five of Christmas day approaches. But many people say Christmas Eve is more fun than the day itself. Not exactly Ale to the King‘s view but one that’s entirely understandable, especially given the excellent Delirium Christmas. The bottle is exciting enough itself, with a beautiful and fun label that utterly reflects the brewery at first glance while also gives it a very unique Christmas spin. I’ve always been a fan of Delirium bottles, with their grey speckled glass and pink elephant and this version does them proud.

As soon as you release the bottle cap you’re struck immediately with a hit of very ripe, soft banana to begin with but then you get a an absolutely delicious and unique ice cream soda. I’ve never detected that in a beer before while I’ve been properly tasting but its a sensation I hope crops up much more often. Beyond that there’s also a nice sublte note of shredded wheat.

On the taste the entire thing is dominated again by that delicious soft banana and there’s some great fizz that stays with the beer all the way to the end, which is a real sign of quality.

Into specifics however the foretaste has a nice, bitter tang of Copella apple juice that seems particular to that brand. The mid-taste begins as nettles which morphs into the tingle of warm spiced cider. Its a Christmas taste that’s very particular to the season, particularly the kind served in the cold of a German market, but is rarely replicated in a festive beer and its an unexpected treat here. As the after-taste matures it becomes a pleasingly sweet sensation.

The colour is also very appealing as well, a rich, hearty ochre-red that pours not just cloudy but has globulized tiny floating particles of yeast that pepper the entire drink and never float to the bottom. The head is a tan, off-white and quickly dissipates, but the floating globules are the mesmeric show that’s almost magical; how apt for Christmas.

This is a lovely treat and one you should pick up when you can.

Review: Gordon Xmas – Aledvent Calendbeer 23

Beer: Gordon Xmas
Brewery: Anthony Martin
Type:  Belgian Strong Ale
Served: Bottled
Alc: 8.8% Vol.
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 23

Interesting one this. Gordon Xmas isn’t the most Belgian of names. No surprise, Anthony Martin isn’t a Belgian brewery; however this Belgian style beer was brewed for a British company in Benelux, an economic union area of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.   A belgian style strong ale, brewed for a British company, in an area defined by economics as the province of three European countries.

The nose is great, very obvious and blatant; a very pure bonfire toffee that’s very sweet and smoky. You can smell the charcoal too, like its a home-made version of the sweet eaten as you breathe in the fumes from the bonfire. Its a cliché but its a very sugar and spice smell.

Ale to the King has seen this before in similar kinds of beers, a foretaste that’s hard to describe as anything other than coca-cola. The drinker wants to search harder but what’s obvious is obvious; its a matter that comes down to how it doesn’t dance across the tongue. Now usually this is an admirable trait in a beer, but here the fact it doesn’t work that way. In fact it works in its favour; the flavours come very clear and what’s more intriguing is that its a beer you can hold at various stages of taste. Even more so that its a strong beer at 8.8%; the yeast doesn’t fizz along your tongue yet its powerful stuff.

On the mid-taste, which you can hold in that stage for much longer than the fore-taste by perhaps sheer viscosity, and it is a very viscous beer, there’s clear spiced nuts. But its also got an elusive something extra which Ale to the King can only put down as a little dried apricot.

The after-taste is way easier to detect; in fact it practically shouts at you; dry almonds in a sticky sweet, viscous texture form. It holds your mouth such is its thickness and lingers with great sweetness.

The colour is a nicely tempting dark bronze while the head a quickly dissipating creamy white. This is a fine beer and Ale to the King would recommend it to absolutely everyone.

Review: Christmas Porter – Aledvent Calendbeer 22

Beer: Christmas Porter
Brewery:  Brewdog
Type: Porter
Served: Bottled
Alc: 6.2% Vol.
Aledvent Calendbeer: 22

Ale to the King has had a run in with a Brewdog Christmas beer in the past and compared to its regular output it didn’t come off too well and was less of a Christmas cracker than a damp sprout.

This one’s colour reflects the cacao element of the ingredients, that make up the three advertised extra special additives along with chilli  and festive spices. The festive spices speak for themselves, but the chilli? Who knows. Because its Christmas I suppose, that’s why. The head is white but dissipates quickly.

The nose is surprisingly light for a beer of these ingredients and strength with a definite overriding vanilla tone.  You won’t pick much up on the fore-taste however; its annoyingly nothingy and can only really muster the taste of celery. On the mid-taste the taster will initially get a strange minty sensation but later on down the drink those festive spices you’d find in a cheap mulledwine reveal themselves.

On the after-taste the chilli does manifest itself nicely and quite powerfully and sets the tongue abuzz in a way a perhaps more fizzy, yeasty flavour should have done earlier. To spend a little longer lingering on the taste one will find the spices more resemble that of a curry, or tumeric. It’d be quite a nice experience but one can’t help feeling it betrays the festive spirit its trying to convey.

Its very admirable to try and mix it up a bit in that way in a limited edition, but am I just a stick in the mud by thinking experimentation is good, but if it veers so far away from something so explicitly Christmas, has it missed its own point?

Indeed this seems to be another case of too many chefs spoiling the pot as with Brewdog’s other festive beer reviewed this season. Thinking about it a couple of recent releases seem to have been made just for the sake of it to capitalize upon their meteoric rise to success; is our beloved Brewdog losing the plot and letting success go to its head?

It remains to be seen, but its the festive season, the season of forgiveness and the season to go a bit crazy, so despite this rather poor showing Ale to the King will let Brewdog have its moments of madness.

Review: Santa’s Swallie – Aldevent Calendbeer 21

Beer: Santa’s Swallie
Brewery:  The Inveralmond Brewery
Type: Scottish Ale
Served: Bottled
Alc: 4.3% Vol
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 21

Santa’s Swallie is this reviewer’s birthday beer, so lets hope it  The Inveralmond Brewery’s ale gives me a nice surprise instead of a let down.

Its a much paler beer than those of late on the Aledvent Calendbeer and the colour of lightish amber and the white, steadily dissipating head reflect this. It also got a noticeably sweet head, with a strong flavour of sugared almonds.

This is a beer that doesn’t want to reveal itself too fast and on first tastes has that sweetness of very ripe apricots walking all over the flavour. But once you give it a little explore there’s a few flavours to be had in between this initial blandness. There’s a bitterness on the foretaste, one of bitter lime drink without any gin. The mid-taste is one of the kind of wheat-grass one gets in those health drinks and for this reviewer to compare it to that isn’t a shining commendation.

The after-taste is just somewhat stale and I hate to say this but reminiscent of mainstream, claggy lager. Its a good job this reviewer’s birthday presents have been so damn good this year, because this ends a run of some very good beers with something that’s not just disappointing but a downright bad beer. To be fair the label does reek of ‘Christmas cash in beer’ and doesn’t seem at all like a quality brew and the beer only confirms that. If you want a happy Christmas its best stay away from this particular brew.

Review: Gouden Carolus Christmas – Aledvent Calendbeer 20

Beer: Gouden Carolus Christmas
Brewery: Brouwerij Het Anker
Type: Belgian Strong Ale
Served: Bottled
Alc: 10.5% Vol
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 20

Well if Ale to the King thought it was on good ground with last nights 9% beer (this reviewer invariably prefers the taste of higher content beers) then we could be on for a winner with  Gouden Carolus Christmas from Brouwerij Het Anker, weighing in at a potent 10.5%. Yes, we’re in double figures now,  a scary place to be, but don’t we all like to step outside our comfort zone a little at Christmas?

This is a very dark brew, night on black; like an incredibly old, antique varnished wood. The head is pale off-white and dissipates quickly.

The nose smells of licorice, freshly split sapling and frankly alcohol. Perhaps a little too much on the latter part, but perhaps that’s my social predjudice of things smelling overtly of alcohol being considered tramp-fuel.

On the taste things are comparatively straight forward. Nothing hits you straight away and that’s perhaps because the yeast isn’t overly active and doesn’t make any taste dance across your tongue. The alcohol is fairly settled in and thus doesn’t kick you in the teeth like a lot newly infused cheap ‘supers’ and ‘extras’.

Its because the beer has a very simple taste. The fore taste is a very simple heavily salted butter note which matures into a very potent root beer profile. It merges rather unceremoniously into a very straight forward resin on the mid taste. On the after taste you get licorice. Some have said this is a the definitive taste of the beer but I think there’s a little more to it than that.

You’re left searching for something else, looking for something beyond these three flavours but you don’t really notice the alcohol until further down the drink. And that’s the trick. Its like hiding in plain sight, you totally bypass the alcohol through looking so hard and so its allowed to work its magic subtly, unnoticed. Its an undercurrent than runs through the entire beer, affecting and altering each of the three flavours without you noticing it.

Its almost like the beer is performing a magic trick which you don’t notice before you really examine it. Is it a great tasting beer? No. Good, yes, certainly. But that’s not what’s to be appreciated here. What’s to be really appreciated is the magic that Brouwerij Het Anker have pulled for Christmas time, just like Father Christmas.

Review: Cuvee de Noel – Aledvent Calendbeer 19

Beer: Cuvee de Noel
Brewery: St. Feuillien
Type:  Belgian Strong Ale
Served: Bottled
Alc: 9% Vol.
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 19

Its been an up and down few ales during Aledvent Calendbeer recently, but we’re firmly back on track with this festive treat. Its a promising 9% on the old fashioned bottle, but I’ll come to this later.

Its a very satisfying drink to pour, the smell hits you as you drop it into a pint glass, the nose immediately hitting yours and a very dense foamy head bubbling up a light yellow/amber; this colour, for this reviewer, is nearly always a good sign. You can smell the yeast working away as well mixed in with the banana and butterscotch notes; from this you can tell this is beer that lays it on thick with a trowel from a brewery that clearly knows what its doing.

The colour itself is a rick chestnutty brown and the persistant head you’ll notice after a moment or so starts to be speckled with dense dots of dark orange.

As soon as you taste it that yeast comes in to play again, so much so its almost prickly to the tongue; its a fantastic sensation. You can really taste the yeast on the foretaste as well, giving it a very coca-cola style hit of sweetness. This sweetness follows on through to the mid-taste of caramel. The after-taste then melds this into a butterscotch that dominates the mouth a long time after the taste. It holds on fantastically and actually gums the lips a little. Its deliciously sickly and the whole thing tastes like a coke float. But its that strong, 9% punch of alcohol that really works the magic here, really offsetting and contradicting the sweetness.

This is a fine beer and the first I believe I’ve tried from this brewery; I’ll definitely be checking more out from the makers of this in the coming year.

Review: K-9 Cruiser – Aledvent Calendbeer 18

Beer: K-9 Cruiser
Brewery: Flying Dog Brewery
Type: Special Stout
Served: Bottled
Alc: 7.4% Vol.
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 18 

The Flying Dog Brewery certainly know how to make distinctive labels for their bottles. Often a downright barmy looking beast is shown doing somthing that isn’t altogether sane. Their K-9 Cruiser is certainly no different to that with its beserk snowboarding canine.

Its a beer as powerful as its label as well. Its got a lovely deep oak colour that looks like its going to promise a lot. it certainly delivers. The nose is sweet, like treacle and thats a sweetness that carries on through the beer.

On the sip you’ll notice its really lively on the tongue as all the finest beers seem to be from these little unconventional craft breweries. The alcohol is also extra punchy because of this, and it’d be fairly potent by itself.

This is combined with a malty, sweet syrup on the fore-taste which leads through to a marvellously chewy experience. there’s a lot of caramel here along with the syrup and deep notes that are almost impossible to define for this reviewer; I’d have to liken it to the sweetness of potato roasted in goose fat.

this is followed by a very malty, sticky aftertaste that clings to the mouth, more so than most beers. It really gets inbetween your teeth and sticks to the palate to leave a very, very powerful sensation of marmite.

A delightful beer, and one that at this strength will definitely put you in the festive spirit!

Review: Joker IPA – Aledvent Calendbeer 17

Beer: Joker IPA
Brewery: Williams Brothers Brewing Company
Type: IPA
Served: Bottled
Alc: 5% Vol.
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 17

This is going to sound odd, but for this reviewer, Christmas is intrinsically linked with Batman. Without fail I will get something Batman related and Batman Returns is my favourite Christmas movie.

So for me the link to Christmas time is clear with Joker IPA. The colour is pale golden, very clear and perfect and the nose is dry and hoppy. A little one-one note you may think but its such a sharp, singular smell its unusually so and smells a little of cushions or feathers.

It starts out a little flat on the tongue but there’s a definite repfreshing citrus taste of lime cordial at the back of the teeth to keep things interesting which is preceded by a decent nutty taste. The mid-taste also taste like slurping a frothy head of beer which is a nice sensation which doesn’t hinder or complement another taste; it kind of sits there on its own at the side.

On the middle and back of the tongue there’s clear gooseberry as well and as it goes down the beer seems to wake up and begins to dance nicely on the tongue.

Its a very nice session-tasting type beer then, even if the alcohol content is stronger than session level. Well worth your time and a beer that’s not laughing matter.

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