Saturday, December 31, 2011

#100. 1780, 167 Rose St, Edinburgh

Owing to the tyranny of round numbers, pub 100 on my list deserves to be numeric in name. The 1780 was a pleasant surprise, with two Broughton ales on tap, and a cozy, warm atmosphere spread across two rooms. I opted for the Exciseman 80/- (pronounced "eighty shilling") on the advice of the barkeeper. She noted that Robbie Burns was on the label for a reason: by day he collected taxes.

The Style Council was playing on the stereo when I walked in; the classic track "Long Hot Summer" from the embarrassing EP Introducing the Style Council.

The '80s are still waiting for an apology, guys. Their follow-up, Cafe Bleu (known as My Ever Changing Pretensions in America), contains perhaps the most self-aggrandizing liner notes ever in the history of modern music. I was never a fan of The Jam (other than "A Town Called Malice"), but for those of you that are, how tough is it to reconcile Paul Weller's involvement in both projects? Is it like watching Morrissey turn into Burt Reynolds while trying to explain to your kids that The Smiths were actually once a pretty good band?

That's Morrissey on the right. I know, it's getting harder to tell them apart.

But I digress. It is New Year's Eve in Edinburgh, or as they call it, Hogmanay, and there is a massive street party taking place down around Princes Street. Edinburgh seems effortlessly able to provide temporary structures, facilities, security, fireworks, and planning to pull off an event, regardless of the number of drunk people it may attract. Here is the scene down on Rose Street on my way to the 1780.

#99. Tiles, 1 St. Andrews Sq, Edinburgh

Tiles had three cask ales on tap, and I had a Braveheart from Houston Brewing. Houston continues to have a problem: they brew crap ale. Full marks for the obviously named Scottish product, however.

This pub has very high ceilings.

The excellent sound system gave the place almost a club vibe. The bar itself is situated in the center of a rectangular room; a configuration that works so well at the Abbotsford but somehow misses the mark here. Still, this place would be super popular back home in Victoria. Here, it's half-empty at 11pm on a Friday night. That was until a crew of kids came in on a themed crawl all dressed up as... Americans? Douchebags? They were in golf caps, shorts, and preppy tops. Here they are backing into my table and sticking their asses into my face.

They all chugged a Smirnoff Ice in unison. Loudly.

This was followed promptly by shots of tequila with a glass of white wine chaser. They licked the salt off their golf gloves; thankfully, body shots were reserved for another time. I did not stick around to find out if the goal was to induce vomiting or not. But before I made my exit I managed to take a picture of a guy taking a picture of this North American attention whore doing a semester abroad.

I love the look of indignation as she realizes I am taking her photo. How inconsiderate of me to invade her privacy like that. Good times.

UPDATE: I have since learned they were engaged in a game of Pub Golf.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

#98. Teuchters, 26 William St, Edinburgh

Teuchters is an excellent West End neighbourhood pub with one of the best selections of real ale I have come across yet. Included on tap: the heavenly Innis & Gunn oak-aged scotch ale, at £6.50 (!) a pint. What a treat! I do not know why more pubs don't include this proficient panty-remover in its lineup, though perhaps the fact that it costs more than double what a pint of anything else will set you back is the reason for its slow uptake.

For those of you scoring at home, that is $10.30 for a pint.

The bartender looks a little surprised here, but I'm sure she is accustomed to beer aficionados taking a picture of that tap.

Teuchters was busy, but had ample seating, good decor, and good acoustics. I heartily recommend William Street as a great destination for a pub crawl, with Bert's and The Melville right across the road, but Teuchters is the place to cap it off (with a pint of Innis & Gunn!).

Monday, December 26, 2011

#97. The Filling Station, 66 Rose St, Edinburgh

It was Boxing Day, and the pubs we wanted to visit were either closed or not serving food. So we ended up at this place with the promising name and the sleek looking bar. Turns out, it's an American-themed roadhouse-style restaurant, with Haggis on the menu. But it does have an attractive bar and served us a pint of Tennent's Special Ale, which was a pleasant surprise, unlike the regular Tennent's product.

So while I can't be arsed to find a picture of The Filling Station, I did take the time to do my research on the Tennent's corporate family tree. Hugh and Robert Tennent started Wellpark Brewery in Glasgow in 1740. They originally brewed stout and ales, of course. One of the Tennent descendents fell on his head in 1884, lost his sense of taste, and decided to start brewing Tennents Lager the following year. This beer would one day account for 60% of the lager sold in Scotland.

Wellpark Brewery was acquired by Charrington United Breweries in 1963.

Charrington United merged with Bass in 1967 to form the Bass Charrington Group.

In 2000, InBev of Belgium (or as I like to call them, the Axis of Lager) bought Bass Charrington.

However, in 2009 InBev agreed to sell Wellpark Brewery and the Scottish and Irish distribution rights for Stella Artois and Beck's to C&C Group of Ireland for the tidy sum of £180 million. C&C Group are known for cider: Bulmers Irish (not to be confused with the real Bulmers of England), Magners, and now Gaymers.

Ironically, that would make Tennents - sponsors of Rangers - the property of an Irish cidery.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas from Edinburgh

I'm a little behind in my goal of visiting 365 unique pubs in my year abroad. At this point, I've been living in the UK a total of 116 days. That works out to an average of one new pub every 1.2 days.

I have to pick up the pace. Oh, well... someone has to do it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

#96. World's End, 4 High St, Edinburgh

Situated at the historic point where the world ended and Edinburgh began, right across the street from The Tass, this pub is smaller than it appears from the exterior. The low ceiling only adds to the cramped (cozy?) vibe.

It was very busy, filled with locals stopping in for a pint after work or as a respite from Christmas shopping. Many enjoyed the mulled wine, but I opted for a new beer for me: a Howell's Frosty Bells by Belhaven. Perfect for the holiday season, with a hint of roasted chestnuts.

The pub itself is owned by Belhaven, which would account for the prominence of Best, and the unfortunate lack of other regional cask ales on tap.

I have to figure out who owns Belhaven. Based on the other taps in this pub, I would guess InBev, the axis of lager. I was thinking that I should put together a chart that shows the corporate ties that a lot of the products have; it would be surprising, I think.

UPDATE: Belhaven is owned by Greene King, a publicly traded company with a market cap of over £1 Billion. Greene King owns 1600 pubs in the UK, which they lease to individual operators. One of my favourites, The Wally Dug, is an example of a pub owned by Greene King and leased to an individual operator. Greene King is controversial for its practice of buying old, established breweries (e.g., Morland Brewery, original makers of Old Speckled Hen) and closing them down to move the recipe to their primary brewing facility in Bury St. Edmunds, and for discontinuing production and sale of favourite local ales. Belhaven is an anomaly in that they remain operating in Dunbar, Scotland (for now).

#95. The Mitre Bar, 131-133 High St, Edinburgh

"The Mitre Bar is one of many rare gems in the Nicholson's collection of great British pubs, reputed for their distinctive buildings, intriguing history and vibrant atmosphere." --

I'd also add to that it is completely forgettable. However, I did get to enjoy a glass of Double Dark Oatmeal Stout from Caledonian, a very tasty breakfast beer.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

#94. Smithie's Ale House, 49-51 Eyre Pl, Edinburgh

Linus and I joined Birgit on quiz night at this charming local tavern. Linus tried to order food upon our arrival as he'd just got off shift from Pizza Hut. Alas, Smithie's is such a traditional pub they only serve toasties (that's a toasted cheese and relish sandwich). I remember quite liking the toastie during my first trip to Scotland back in 1990, but Linus couldn't be arsed and off he went to get a take-away fish supper from the nearby chippy.

It was crowded, as you can see from this photo. We had trouble hearing the quiz host above the oblivious din of those in attendance to watch the fitba on the telly.

We competed as team "Rammstein Amandeep," and would ultimately finish in second-to-last place. Our beverage of choice was the Inveralmond Brewery's Ossian Pale Ale, a beer that I had sampled before whilst at Sandy Bell's. I seemed to enjoy it more this time around. But then, your third pint always tastes great, no matter what it is.

At the table next to us was a quiz team by the name of "An Englishman, Scotsman, and a Bloody American." The Scotsman was actually half Irish, a Ph.D. in Astronomy, and a woman. It is not uncommon on a night out in Edinburgh to encounter someone who fancies ale, whiskey, pub quizzes, and has a doctorate. The two dudes rounding out her side - the Englishman and the American - were likewise graduate-schooled, unpretentious, and fun. I greatly enjoy this aspect of life in Edinburgh.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

#93. Brass Monkey Leith, 362 Leith Walk, Edinburgh

Our last stop of the night was a pub I was anxious to visit, since I am a big fan of its cousin over in the Old Town.

Unfortunately this version of the Brass Monkey lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. (As my dear friend Gary Kristjanson would say in response to that cliche, "No... I don't know what it is, but I know it's not that.") The only palatable beer on tap was the reliable Deuchars. I did appreciate how the bar staff didn't make us feel horrible for lingering a few seconds after the lights came up and closing time was announced.

#92. The Windsor Buffet, 45 Elm Row, Edinburgh

We were waiting for Linus to join us (after he completed another successful shift as self-proclaimed "salad bitch" for the North Bridge Pizza Hut), so we had time for two drinks. I had two good Scottish beers (ales as Tobi kept correcting me, since only the lager they brew in Bavaria according to some purity law is allowed to be called beer): a Three Wise Men from Stewart's, and a Cart Noir brewed by Kelburn in Glasgow. Kelburn can be hit and miss with me, but this porter was a definite hit. I bought one for Brian, the Scotsman pictured here next to Tobi, who regaled us with stories of his career driving a fire truck in Edinburgh.

At some magical moment during my conversation with Brian, my brain phase transitioned to a place where I found myself speaking with a perfect Scots dialect. At least I think I was... might have been the beer goggles. Sorry, ale goggles.

The Windsor Buffer is a cracking good pub, and definitely my favourite of our crawl along Leith Walk.

#91. Joseph Pearce's Bar, 23 Elm Row, Edinburgh

Joe Pearce's is a bustling, Swedish-style (?) pub strewn across two levels. They serve food all day, along with a cocktail named for Bjorn Borg. A Swedish flag is proudly draped next to the busy bar.

Here the bartenders exhibit that characteristically Scandinavian trait of perseverance in the face of existential despair.

Despite her belief that life is pain, she somehow managed to pour me a Caledonian Flying Scotsman Ale, and for Tobi a Symond's Cider (pressed by Bulmers in Hereford, England, the mecca for cider lovers the world over... though Bulmers is now owned by giant Scottish & Newcastle, which is of course owned by Heineken, which is why you can find Bulmer's Strongbow absolutely everywhere on the planet). We hung out at the bar for a while, but I was fearful of bar-blocking, a social faux pas discussed previously. We retreated upstairs to the back. On the whole the place was too hot and too loud for my liking, but that did not seem to detract from the enjoyment of the many patrons out on the town for a meal with friends.

#90. Theatre Royal, 25 Greenside Pl, Edinburgh

This handsome, stately pub is situated right next to the Edinburgh Playhouse, and was the start of our Leith Walk pub crawl to celebrate Tobi finishing his essays. The selection of cask ales was pretty good, as you can see from this photo.

Tobi had the seasonal Three Wise Men from Stewart's, while I tried a Merlin's Ale, one of the Broughton Ales brewed in the Borders area of Scotland. Not a bad beer at all, nor a bad place to enjoy one.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

#89. St. Bernard's Bar, 10 Raeburn Pl, Stockbridge

This pub is very small and seemed quite friendly, with a TV showing the fitba. However, there was no place for me to sit. When my ass got hit by the door as a local burst in, I decided that was a sign I should leave and head next door where the beer selection is much, much better. I had a Knops Black Cork, a strong porter, and an all around great beer crafted right here in Edinburgh.

#88. Deacon Brodies Tavern, 435 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh

Deacon Brodies on the Royal Mile has a good vibe to it, and a great selection of cask ales. I enjoyed a Rev. James by Brains Brewery of Cardiff. Funny, I was just thinking about Wales on my way in. The beer, like all Brains products, is very good. According to their website, "the beer is named after one of the original owners of Buckley Brewery, the Rev. James Buckley, a business man with two conflicting roles – saving souls and satisfying thirsts." I'm not sure I see a conflict there. However, the pub's namesake, Deacon William Brodie himself led a truly conflicted life, and was the inspiration for the Robert Louis Stevenson story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Despite being right in the middle of the tourist action, this pub seems to attract a fair number of locals, which is usually a good sign.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

#87. The Melville, 23 William St, Edinburgh

I think I have determined what differentiates a "bar" from a "pub" in Edinburgh: what men pee into. If it's a pub, you get a collective trough like this:

Whereas if the establishment has distinct urinals, they fancy themselves a "bar".

The Melville is definitely a pub, and a large one at that. Right next door to Bert's, this is an upbeat place that had no cask ales other than Deuchars. But they played good tunes from the '80s.

#86. Bert's Bar, 29 William St, Edinburgh

Our first sighting of diversity in an Edinburgh pub: a man in a wheelchair was in Bert's! Though Linus claims he saw a black dude hightailing it out of Mathers after he caught a glimpse of the patrons, so it was quite a night for social equality indeed.

There's a good cluster of pubs along William Street. We found Bert's to be quite a delight, with lots of seating and the correct ambient temperature. However, we would have enjoyed it more if it were not for the fact it was full of loud, cackling slags looking for a ride. Alright, that was unfair and a bit of an exaggeration, but I wanted the chance to practice talking like a real Edinburgher.

I drank a delicious Seven Giraffes from Williams Brothers Brewery of Alloa, fast becoming one of my favourite Scottish micro-breweries. Linus had a West Hefeweizen, brewed in Glasgow, but according to Bavarian purity laws.

#85. Mathers, 1 Queensferry Street, Edinburgh

Linus and I embarked on a mini crawl of some West End pubs. Our first stop was Mathers No. 1 near the intersection that Linus calls "Edinburgh's Times Square."

It was a cold night, and the blast of hot air upon entering quickly became intolerable. The place was full of bald, old farts. And that was just the women. There was no place to sit, but plenty of space to stand in the middle of the floor. However, notice how the patrons choose instead to stand at the bar, blocking access for people to order a drink.

Here you can see Linus struggling to get our drinks while sandwiched between the round, oblivious types one can invariably find shamelessly blocking access to the taps.

This proclivity to bar-block is a strange custom given there is no table service at the pubs and all orders must be placed with the bartender.

Anyway, I had high hopes for this pub as I quite like the Mathers (No. 2?) over on Broughton. I ordered a Wadworth 6X, and promptly lost four pounds on the fruit machine before we quickly downed our drinks to escape this sauna.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

#84. Amber Rose, 22 Castle St, Edinburgh

This pub is deceptively big, but with lots of nooks and crannies, it never feels cavernous. Open late, with The Cure on the stereo, and loads of people of all ages having a good time, this pub earns a spot on my favourites list.

The beer selection was good, too. They had two seasonal ales on tap, so we tried them both.

For those of you scoring at home, that's a Winter Glow Strathaven Ale from Craigmill Brewery and a Santa's Swallie from Inveralmond.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

#83. Auld Hundred, 100 Rose St, Edinburgh

I thought this was pub was closed for refurbishment, but it turns out it just closes earlier than most other pubs along Rose Street.

The only cask ale on tap was Deuchars, unfortunately.

They really shouldn't bestow the Cask Marque on pubs that cop out and only serve Deuchars. It's a good beer, and I quite love the Caledonian Brewery, but there's so many great micro-brews to be found that there is really no excuse for not having at least half a dozen guest taps on the go.

But the room itself is aces: cozy, quiet, and warm. With Blur on the stereo and QI on the telly, the Auld Hundred is a great place to enjoy a drink with friends.

Monday, December 5, 2011

#82. HMV Picture House, 31 Lothian Road, Edinburgh

I forgot about this one, which should really be post #64 ½. We saw the band Cake play a great show at this beautiful converted movie theatre back on November 16, 2011. The rear of the venue was wall-to-wall bars, but with a limited selection of beer. Still, they did serve Guinness and Strongbow, and what a great place to see a concert!


UPDATE: we saw The Lemonheads on April 18, 2012 at the HMV. It was too loud. And there was too much of The Lemonheads for my liking, but Meghan enjoyed the show. Here are some more pictures of the venue. The upstairs was open this time.


UPDATE 2: we saw M83 on June 27, 2012. It was great, except the din of the crowd talking and texting was almost loud enough to drown out Anthony Gonzalez and his particular brand of shoegazing retro synth-pop.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

#81. Beer Garden, Edinburgh Christmas Fair

I'm beginning to worry that I'm falling behind in my goal of visiting 365 unique pubs in my year abroad, so I've started to cheat by counting pretty much any place that serves alcohol. Including, for example, the German Market at the Edinburgh Christmas Fair!


I sampled a plastic cup of mulled wine, which tastes like it sounds. Svea seemed to enjoy it. Speaking of which, here are Svea and Meghan on the ferris wheel, high above Princes Street.


It was quite chilly. The five of us rode together as a family. Here's my other two charming children.


#80. Jolly Judge, 7 James Court, Edinburgh

The Jolly Judge is one of Edinburgh's more famous pubs. Situated in a court you access via a Close (alley) off the Royal Mile, it is extremely quaint.


The beer selection included the fine Cauld Reekie porter from Stewart's.

This was one of those rare occasions when Meghan was along for the journey, so I made sure to get her photo.


She drank tea.

Check out the bald dude. There are so many men that look like him in Edinburgh: round head, round body, and bald. In fact, there's another one you can see in the first picture. They are everywhere, clogging up the sidewalks with their meandering, slow walk, taking their sweet time getting back to work after their leisurely lunch at the pub. The only time you'll see them hustle is late night down Rose Street as they run to get their final pints of Tennent's before last call. God help you if you are unlucky enough to impede their progress then.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

#79. Scotch Malt Whisky Society, The Vaults, 87 Giles St, Leith

Also not a pub, but rather a private club dedicated to the appreciation of single cask, single malt whisky distilled in Scotland. The reception room was stunning, and featured a view of the balconies of one of Leith's finest housing schemes, Perseverance Place.

I drank a beer, of course. An Innis & Gunn Rum Cask to be precise, one of my favourite beers.

I admit, I did sample a dram of whisky. And it was sensationally good.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

#78. Edinburgh Playhouse, 18-22 Greenside Pl, Edinburgh

Okay, so it's not a pub, but it is a huge theatre that includes two different bars. Meghan bought me Guinness in a plastic cup!


It was World AIDS day and we were there to see the Queen musical We Will Rock You. The show itself was pretty ordinary until Brian May appeared to play the guitar solo in Bohemian Rhapsody. I had to hold Linus in my arms while he wept. It was that amazing. See for yourself.

That's a pretty remarkable moment starting at 1:34, eh? Although Meghan wonders why all ballsy, blues-singing women feel they must growl like they are channeling Eartha Kitt or something.... Anyway, here is a (prohibited) photo of the stage from our seats in the balcony when it all went down.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

#77. Clarks, 142 Dundas St, Edinburgh

After leaving Svea on our way home from the Newtown, Linus and I ventured north along Hanover (or whatever it is called past Heriot Row) until we reached Clarks. We found it to be delightfully unpretentious and old-school.

The beer selection was decent. I had a Farne Island, from Hadrian and Border Brewery, which their website describes as "an amber coloured bitter, [with] perfectly blended malt and hops makes this well-rounded beer balanced and refreshing." I have to agree.

Linus has taken up this habit of ordering Tennents. He's gone native.