Thursday, October 27, 2011

#52. The Maltings, Tanner's Moat, York

The Maltings is a treat: an ancient pub with doors on the ceiling, toilets on the floor, abandoned train tickets lodged in the walls, and more charm than you can shake a stick at.

I was the only one drinking, as my kids are lame. However, Svea did steal a half-pint glass from the neighbouring table. I drank a satisfying Black Sheep Bitter, then we left on the train back to Edinburgh. Until next time, York.

#51. Pivni, 6 Patrick Pool, York

This York beer freehouse (i.e., they are independent and can thus choose to serve whatever beer they like) is spread over three rickety medieval floors. Their website claims the building dates back to 1130, and I would tend to agree. The staircase was interesting.

The beer selection is heavy on the Bernard pilsner, but also features at least three cask ales. I chose a Camden Pale Ale from London's Camden Town Brewery, while Linus opted for the Brown Rat by Rat Brewery, an imprint of Ossett Brewery in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. Svea had a Hogans cider, which she said tasted like a less carbonated Strongbow. Linus and I eventually traded beers, as I really liked the smoothness of the Brown Rat, while he enjoyed the lightness of the Camden.

This photo from the pub's website captures the ambiance quite well.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

#50. Gloucester Arms, 21 Friars Entry, Oxford

Oxford's rock, metal, and biker bar, the Gloucester Arms also has an amazing selection of burgers on the menu. The beer selection isn't bad either: I sampled a Hooky Bitter, brewed in Oxfordshire by the Hook Norton Brewery. The beer was a tad flat for my liking. But one could not say the same of the bartender, who had enough hair for three people. That is her over Linus's shoulder(s).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

#49. The Eagle and Child, 49 Saint Giles, Oxford

Here's a first: a pub with its own entry in Wikipedia. The Eagle and Child, known as the Bird and Baby, is famous as the former meeting place of the Inklings: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and some other dudes used to hang out here on a regular basis. Both Lewis and Tolkien were English professors at Oxford. (Long before, Lewis Caroll was a mathematics professor at Oxford... it is fascinating to think of these imaginative authors as tutors for so many young minds!)

I enjoyed a Brakspear Bitter, from the Brakspear Brewing company of Oxfordshire. Here is a picture of Svea and Linus at our table.

Oxford is beautiful, and full of attractive, confident, expensive looking young people, busy riding their bicycles from college to college spread across the city. Since our arrival in Edinburgh we have wondered why we never see bicycles; we now understand that every bicycle in the UK can be found in Oxford.

Monday, October 24, 2011

#48. Old White Swan, 80 Goodramgate, York

Completing our crawl of Goodramgate, we ended at the Old White Swan, a large pub with a good selection of beers.

After much deliberation and conversation with the bartender about why he ended up living in York, I chose an Unfined Confidence, from the Moor Beer Company of Somerset. Bridgwater, Somerset is where my mom's dad was born.

Also on tap was a Leeds Ale, which made me think of my dad's dad: Grandpa Ovans was born in Glasgow, but went to school at Dauntsey's in Wiltshire, and lived in Leeds just before his family emigrated to Canada. My parents were always buying grandpa the All Creatures Great and Small books by James Herriot for him as gifts because it was about Yorkshire, which he loved.

Did you know there is a cheat-sheet for bartenders on the other side of the tap? At least for some beers. Sorry about the poor focus.

For those of you scoring at home, that was four pubs in one day in York.

#47. The Golden Slipper, 20 Goodramgate, York

Next door to the Royal Oak is the Golden Slipper, a pub named for a very ancient golden slipper that was found within the walls of its medieval home.

We interrupted a dominoes tournament: a rowdy group of seniors were playing for money they had put into a pot.

Here's a picture of Linus taken while looking towards the rear of the bar. The guy playing darts works at the nearby Rowntree candy factory, drilling holes in mints to make their equivalent of a Life-saver.

Linus is drinking a Wells Bombardier Ale, while I sampled a Black Abbot stout from Idle Brewery, a true micro. Linus's beer was better.

#46. Royal Oak, 18 Goodramgate, York

We were staying on Goodramgate in York, and Linus and I set out on a pub crawl to explore the local culture. I quite like York, and its pubs did not disappoint.

Our first stop was this friendly spot located in a charming 14th century building similar to those along The Shambles.

Yorkshire is big on microbrewery and a big supporter of its local beers brewed in and around York and Leeds. We were offered a sampler of the six cask ales on tap.

From left to right, that is an Old Peculier by Theakstons in Masham, North Yorkshire; Abbot Ale by Greene King (from Bury St. Edmond, Suffolk, nowhere near Yorkshire, but they own the pub, so there you go); Landlord Bitter by Timothy Taylor of Keighley, West Yorkshire; Strong Arm by Camerons of Hartlepool, Durham County; Copper Dragon Best Bitter from Skipton, North Yorkshire; and a Ridgeside Cascade from Leeds. To top it off, the bartender gave us a sampler of Old Rosie Cloudy Scrumpy by Westons. The latter is definitely panty-remover, coming in at 7.3%.

Linus preferred the Strong Arm, whereas I liked both the Old Peculier and the Abbot Ale. The pub itself was very comfortable, as you can see from this photo.

#45. Yorkshire Terrier, 10 Stonegate, York

As a tribute to my parent's dog Sasha, we stopped at this pub tucked away in the snickelways of historic York, England.

Svea, Linus, and I drank a toast to Sasha, for all the joy he brought to my mom and dad during his life. Here's a picture of our respective drinks. Svea fancies the little half-pint glasses. I think she might steal one before long.

I drank a Yorkshire Terrier Ale, by York Brewery. This is one of my favourite beers, and today did not disappoint. The brewery owns the pub, something that is not allowed in British Columbia, unless you brew the beer on the premises. Why exactly this is not allowed is a mystery to all but those who have bravely tried to disentangle the paternalistic, oligopolistic, and illogical set of rules and regulations that make up liquor licensing in my home province.

Friday, October 21, 2011

#44. The Guildford Arms, 1 West Register St, Edinburgh

What is a guildford, anyway? I still remember a trip with my dad to buy a new suit he needed for some special event (probably a wedding) that took us to the new Guildford Mall in Surrey, that dreadful suburb of Vancouver.

I digress. This Guildford is a very classy pub with massive windows and high, high ceilings to match. I stole the photo from their website; that's not me at the bar. The ale selection was excellent, and I had a Brains Bitter. This was my first Brains since our visit to Cardiff last year.

I sat across from a guy who looked like Sean Connery. I tried inconspicuously to sketch his face. The television was all about Ghadaffi's demise. For the second day in a row, a small fly landed in my beer.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

#43. The Royal Oak, 1 Infirmary St, Edinburgh

Across the street from the very first Edinburgh hospital lies this "real Scottish pub that has made its name as a live music venue." Today it is across the street from the Cafe Nero inside Waterstone's bookstore across from the University's Old College.

The Royal Oak is much smaller on the inside than it appears from without. It was early afternoon, and the pub was brightly lit, with cute bench seating around the perimeter. A piano and a defunct fireplace rounded out the decor. A plaque on the wall indicated that this pub was a finalist for music pub of the year in 2005. The downstairs is the musical venue, but it was closed so I was unable to get a good look at where all this folk music magic takes place.

The beer selection was mediocre, but I did manage to enjoy a pint of Pundie brewed by Inveralmond. It wasn't bad. It attracted a small gnat or flea or fly of some sort, which drowned itself on the nitrogen-infused head of my amber ale.

Four people sat chatting at the bar, about the money to be made converting churches into two bedroom flats, and the music business. Someone of dubious gender brought in a black lab, who tried to jump up on him/her, but he/she turned her back and the dog gave up. Later the bartender would remark "she is teaching that dog bad habits, taking it for smoke breaks." Mystery solved.

A pamphlet above the fireplace advertized that the Rebus Tour starts here, as apparently the Royal Oak is a "Rebus bar" of some note.

One of the talkative ones at the bar started discussing the Glasgow Boys and the genius of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Speaking of Glasgow (and its Girls, too), that city is what happens when you unleash tons of art school graduates into an urban space and give them pubs, shops, and theatres to play with. Their canvas is the space in which they live, particularly the lanes of the West End.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

#42. The 13th Note, 50-60 King St, Glasgow

At a recent gathering of vegetarians, this pub was recommended to us as a good place to eat in Glasgow.

The 13th Note Vegetarian Pub and Restaurant - Glasgow, Scotland

It was hipsteriffic, moody, a little rough, but quite splendid in its own right. A live music venue was in the basement. The food was only so-so, however, and the beer selection was the usual corporate taps of overly cold Tennent's and related products. I had the burger and a pint special, which limited my choice to a Belhaven's Best.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

#41. The 78, 10-14 Kelvinhaugh Street, Glasgow

What a treat: an entirely vegan pub with a friendly, warm interior. It was full, too. Meghan and I couldn't help but wonder why there isn't a place like this in Victoria. Did you know that (according to Lonely Planet) about 9% of people in the UK identify as vegetarian/vegan? That and the fact they do not use tumble dryers must be large contributers to a per capita carbon footprint roughly half that of Canada.


The tap selection featured an array of fine beers from Williams Brothers of Alloa, Scotland. I ordered a Red, which went perfectly with the best plate of vegan nachos that I didn't personally make. The coconut-infused salsa was super tasty.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

#40. Biddy Mulligan's, 94-96 Grassmarket, Edinburgh

Grassmarket is a boulevard that runs through Old Town, just below the castle. Biddy Mulligan's is the first of many pubs that line the north side of the street.

An Irish pub, likely owned by Guinness itself, the beer lineup was weak. I ordered a half-pint of Guinness, and sat outside to enjoy the mid-day clouds, dampness, and breeze. But that's what people do in Edinburgh -- they sit outside, regardless. It's funny how hardy we Canadians think we are, but why do we abandon our patios the moment the temperature dips below 20C?


Sitting outside in Grassmarket is a treat. It is a great place to people watch, as all walks of life are represented. Especially prevalent are the large groups of people out for a fun time on the town, all dressed the same, whether it be a themed hen party, or the mates in their untucked fitted dress shirts out to watch the rugby.

Friday, October 14, 2011

#39. Cumberland Bar, 1-3 Cumberland St, Edinburgh

Another pub made famous by a local author, the Cumberland lives up to its reputation as a fantastic meeting place for friends and neighbours. Situated near Scotland Street, site of the novels by Alexander McCall Smith, the Cumberland is a large, loud, dog-friendly establishment that features ample outdoor seating in a beer garden that faces the street.

Meghan's cousin Aislyn was visiting from Dublin, and we exchanged stories of cultural differences over a pint. Aislyn had a Belhaven's Best, while I sampled something new from Houston. The Cumberland, while having a great selection of real cask ales, isn't listed on my Caskfinder app.

The Cumberland is a dog-friendly pub. Meghan got some good dog time out front.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

#38. The Magnum, 1 Albany St, Edinburgh

Back home in Canada, bartenders love to wax poetic about the strict rules and regulations regarding the service of Guinness. That it must be poured in exactly this many seconds, and can only be served at this specific (warm) temperature, etc., is apparently a bunch of crap.

It is not unusual to come across this Extra Cold Guinness abomination here in the UK, particularly in slick corporate pubs such as The Magnum. I think this is a new thing, but maybe it has always been this way, and we Canadians just love our Guinness pouring ritual with its shamrock head sculpture as a means of dealing with our collective anxiety.

Like most things, I blame this Extra Coldness on the Lager Pimps and their relentless pursuit of market share through adjectives like ice and cold-filtered, which they use to distract consumers from the fact their product has no pleasing taste or aroma by instead focusing attention on its temperature.

Yes, that robot-looking thing at the left end of the bar is a Tennent's Lager Ice Cold spigot. It is not a transformer. Why don't they just start serving ice cubes made from Tennent's?

What is the carbon footprint associated with keeping beer colder than necessary?

Speaking of ice cold tasteless lager, Linus ordered me a Kozel, from the Czech Republic, known for its unbearable lightness of Pilsner. It was only 4% alcohol, and not super-Pilsnery, so it managed to taste okay for more than three sips. Kozel, despite its cute goat logo, is owned by SABMiller, the second largest brewery and bottler in the world.

This Extra Cold twin towers nonsense is not just reserved for Guinness. You can get an Extra Cold version of Belhaven's Best, too!

#37. Barony Bar, 81-85 Broughton St, Edinburgh

According to a reviewer on (erm,, the Barony Bar "...used to be a storehouse used to keep witches and criminals awaiting trials and sentences to be executed." Today, it's a charming local pub, unique for its tiled walls instead of wainscoting, which you can see here:

Linus ordered fish and chips, which came with quite a lot of mushy peas. He enjoyed the food and thought it was good value. Here he is studying the menu, with the bar in behind him:

As for the bar, it offered a good selection of ales, including beers from Black Sheep, Caledonian 80, and something called Old Peculier (sic). I love bad spelling, so I ordered a pint of the latter, which turned out to be a strong brown ale, weighing in at 5.6% alcohol. Old Peculier really is spelled that way, and is brewed by Theakston. Apparently, this is "...a rich, dark, smooth-tasting beer with an unequalled flavour. Brewed using the traditional Fuggle hop, Old Peculier is our best known beer and has a large and enthusiastic following all over Britain and around the world." The Fuggle hop is a variety of hops grown in the UK.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

#36. Kenilworth, 152-154 Rose Street, Edinburgh

The Kenilworth is one of the famous 17 or so pubs of Rose Street, the so-called Amber Mile of Edinburgh. The challenge is to visit every pub on Rose in a single day, and drink a pint at each. The name Kenilworth is a reference to the Walter Scott novel.

Here is the view from our seat, facing Rose Street.

We visited on a Saturday evening, and the pub was crowded with women dressed as flappers. I think they were part of a Hen Night, the female version of a stag party. I ordered a Jaipur India Pale Ale from Thornbridge Brewery, who have been making award-winning beers for all of six years. According to their website, the Jaipur is "a citrus dominated India Pale Ale, its immediate impression is soft and smooth yet builds to a crescendo of massive hoppiness accentuated by honey. An enduring, bitter finish."

I didn't notice the enduring, bitter finish as I was busy enjoying the enduring care and attention to detail on the Kenilworth's ceiling above the bar.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

#35. The Library Bar, Teviot House, Edinburgh

I finally got inside Teviot House, the world's first "purpose-built" student union building. The Scots like to say "purpose-built", which makes me wonder what it means if a structure was ever built without a purpose? Do buildings happen unexpectedly? Where are the spontaneous-built places?

Built with a particular purpose or not, the Teviot is amazing. We were drinking with some of Meghan's friends from school, and one of the Germans said there is no building like this in all of Germany.

The Teviot contains six or seven pubs. We were in The Library Bar, which is spread over two levels. We were sitting on the mezzanine level, which was reached by either a very narrow spiral staircase at the end of the bar, or through a wider spiral staircase outside of the bar.

The beer selection was actually very good, with three taps reserved for guest cask ales, from which I drank Stewart's ale that I thought was called No. Seven, or 70. But I can't find it on their website. The bar staff were kept busy all night by a bumpin' Thursday night crowd.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

#34. Mono, 12 King's Court, Glasgow

Strictly speaking, Mono is more of a restaurant than a pub. But a vegetarian restaurant and record store combined?!? Awesome.

#33. Lauders in Glasgow, 76 Sauchiehall Street

My caskfinder iPhone app recommended that we try this place next. The bar staff were friendly (like the people of Glasgow tend to be, it seems). I tried to order a Harviestoune something-or-other, but the keg was done. So Linus and I shared a John Crabbie's Cloudy Ginger Beer, a beverage which Linus believes is the tastiest alcoholic drink known to man. We note that John Crabbie & Co is based in Glasgow.

#32. The Butterfly and the Pig, 153 Bath St, Glasgow

Back to Glasgow, a good place for me to be with Simple Minds renting space in my head of late. After lunch at Lily's (thank you for the recommendation, Lonely Planet), and a fine time at the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), Linus and I treated ourselves to a rest at this cellar pub with the cute name. We had tried to get a drink here during our last Glasgow visit, but it was too bumpin' for comfort on that day. Today it was busy, but not standing room only, as you can see by this photo of coworkers enjoying a pint after a hard day wearing suits and ties.

I had a Younger's Tartan Special. Described as a "wee heavy" by the helpful bartender, I found it to be an enjoyable pale ale. Also according to the bartender, drinking this beer "makes you younger." Younger's (originally William Younger's Brewery, founded in Edinburgh in 1749) became an imprint of McEwan's when the two merged in 1931. Both are now brewed in Edinburgh by Caledonian (which is owned by Heineken). Those evil corporate lager-pimps haven't managed to ruin Caledonian's ability to brew an excellent beer.

We noticed on today's visit to Glasgow that people were having a more difficult time understanding our accent then we were having with theirs. We take this to be an encouraging sign that we've been in Scotland long enough to start to get the dialect.

#31. Mathers, 25 Broughton Street, Edinburgh

On tap, a McEwan's 70, which I found to be a deliciously smooth classic amber cream ale. The pub itself was quite nice, with high ceilings and ample seating.

According to Wikipedia, "McEwan's is the most popular ale brand in Scotland, where the brand enjoys a 22 per cent market share. However like most keg ale brands in the UK, sales are declining, by 63% since 2001."


Update: we visited again on December 1, 2011 as a family:


#30. The Oxford Bar, 8 Young St, Edinburgh

The Oxford Bar is famous for being the favourite drinking hole of Inspector Rebus, fictional Edinburgh detective created by Ian Rankin.

The pub was cute, quiet, and bright. It did not resemble the pub used in the Rebus television series. My guess is the real Oxford is too small to function as a set.

The bar was surrounded by a small group of men who seemed to know and like each other. Linus had his first Belhaven's Best, whereas I tried a ruby red Mars Odyssey 4.2% ale from the Houston Brewing Company. The brewery claims it is "...clean, crisp and very drinkable. Plenty of malt and hoppy bitterness together with a fruit twist." It tasted just like Linus's Best, only not as cold.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

#29. The Cambridge Bar, 20 Young Street, Edinburgh

Linus and I set out to answer the age-old question, Cambridge or Oxford? These Edinburgh pubs are Young Street neighbours, but appeal to very different clientele.

The Cambridge is famous for its burgers. The interior was comfortable and clean, and the staff were friendly. We plan to return for its Monday night quiz nights to test our mettle with the locals.

The Cambridge featured a delightful No. 3 Premium Scottish Ale from Stewart's. Linus and I give it, and the Cambridge, an enthusiastic two thumbs up. And the onion rings were excellent, too.

Monday, October 3, 2011

#28. The Cafe Royal, 19 West Register Street, Edinburgh

A distinctly upper-class establishment just off Princes Street, this is where the Edinburgh elite come for an after-dinner tipple.

I made sure I wasn't wearing any colours before gingerly entering.

Tonight's pint would be a dark Three Sisters Scottish Ale from Atlas Brewery. It hit the spot. According to Wikipedia, Atlas was formed in 2002 by Neill Cotton and merged with Orkney in 2004 under the name Highland & Islands Breweries. Highland & Islands was taken over by Sinclair Breweries in 2006. I remember being distinctly underwhelmed by Orkney's Best, but the Three Sisters wasn't bad at all.

Downed while reading The Scotsman, I learned that public servants in the UK are not required by law to disclose their salaries. To which I say, bullocks. And double-bullocks to the fact that all politicians of every persuasion seem to think this is perfectly fine, especially when it comes to full disclosure of expense accounts. There is movement towards more transparency, starting with the 170 who earn more than the Prime Minister.

The bartender -- more mature and educated than the usual people pouring the bitter -- was kind enough to invite me behind the bar for a photo op I could not resist.