Monday, 19 November 2012

Edinburgh on a batty Autumn International day: 17th November 2012

I wasn't planning on attempting another rugby-and-beer themed blog for a while after my last one during the Six Nations tournament in February, but as well as the Scotland v South Africa Autumn International I'd come up with a few interesting things to do in Edinburgh this weekend, so well - why not?

View Batty in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Partick to Edinburgh Haymarket (Airdie/Bathgate line)

As luck would have it this Saturday coincided with the possible opening of the newest and probably most talked-about 'Craft Beer' bar in Edinburgh for quite some time, The Hanging Bat. I say possible, since the official opening wasn't until Monday 19th November, but there had been rumours of a 'soft opening' a couple of days in advance. In any case after getting off the train at Haymarket (and negotiating the still on-going tram works) I was heading off to Cloisters (only a couple of hundred meters along the road) and so decided to give it a go. The sign outside seemed promising so with the door half-open I headed inside.

The staff were there (which was good) and I recognised a few of them including the lovely Aidy and the somewhat harassed looking co-owner Mr Chris Mair. However there were still lots of preparations to be made and after a bit of chat (& making sure they would be open later on in the day) I got out of their hair (at least for a while) and headed out past the end of Lothian Road & into Brougham Street to the sanctuary of Cloisters Bar. I had hopes of finding an Elixir beer in Cloisters (since the manager Barry is half of Elixir Brewing) but he confirmed what I had suspected, that there really wasn't any left in any Edinburgh pub - big sigh... However the Tyne Bank Cherry Stout was lovely (with a nicely understated dark cherry fizziness which I think might have become more prominent by the end of the cask) and I also learnt that Cloisters have obtained some of the first casks of Abbeydale Brewery beers that I've seen in Scotland outwith a Beer Festival or two - another visit to Edinburgh might be required in the near future.

A couple of halves later I took the zig-zag route through the Sheraton Hotel complex back down to William Street to meet up with some friends for a few beers before the rugby match. As usual we'd planned to meet up in The Melville but that was going to prove quite difficult today.

According to this article in the SLTN The Melville had been closed since July (I don't know the reason(s) why), but at least there seems to have been some 'significant interest' in the premises and I certainly hope the place re-opens for the next round of 6 Nations games in February/March 2013. This reduction of capacity for thirsty drinkers meant that the other 2 pubs in William Street, Bert's Bar & Teuchters, were completely mobbed so after deciding that movement towards the bar in Bert's was impossible we headed into Teuchters.

This had a pretty decent selection of Fyne Jarl, Highland Dark Munro & Deuchars IPA on cask with Black Isle Blonde on keg, perfect lowish abv quaffing beers. The staff were really excellent & efficient, but it was the getting to the bar that was the problem (thankfully lip-reading 'Jarl' and 'Diet Coke' seems to be part of the job description for the staff). The TVs in here were showing both the rugby and the early football game, so it's definitely a sports fan's place.

We left in plenty of time to allow for possible diversions along Haymarket Terrace and actually managed to get into the ground without too much of a delay. In the (very) unlikely hope that there might be something interesting to drink I did have a quick look at the queues for the in-ground bars, but with only Carling, Caffreys or Guinness available I headed instead in search of some warming Bovril. This also proved fruitless, so we had to make do with coffee (which seemed almost Turkish in origin, it was so strong).

The game itself was another disappointing one, with one good patch for Scotland in the 2nd half, but it just seemed to be very difficult to break down the South African defence. A win next week against Tonga really is a necessity.

After the game & the brisk walk back in the chilly air to William Street, I left my friends to watch the Ireland game in Teuchters whilst I headed up to try the Hanging Bat again. This time after tapping on the window, co-owner Chris informed me that they were going through their final staff training and would be open real-soon-now (and I was beginning to feel like a stalker). I therefore decided to implement my last desperate plan to obtain an Elixir beer and walked all the way cross-town towards the Broughton Road area and one of the newer beer shops in Edinburgh, The Beerhive, where I hoped a bottle of Elixir's latest beer had been reserved for me.

After drip-drying in the entrance of the shop for a few minutes I confirmed that there was indeed a bottle of Elixir's Tea Total left for me (hooray!), an oatmeal stout with smoked malt and lapsang souchong tea brewed in part for a certain Craig Garvie's 10,000th beer rating. There was also a really excellent selection of UK and foreign beer on the many shelves - I was tempted by a couple of the Brasserie Fantôme beers but decided I could only take the Tea Total, a Wild Beer Modus Operandi (fermented with some wild yeast, which I might leave in a dark cupboard for a while) and a De Dolle Extra Export Stout - any more and the likelihood of my leaving them all in a pub in Edinburgh was too high (I've done that once before and don't want to do it again!).

They also have a keggerator (see this Beercast article) for supplying take-away fresh beer, and give the current offering out for sampling in the shop. Sipping some Magic Rock High Wire whilst chatting away to the friendly guys in the shop is certainly a nice way to buy some beer.

The number 8 Lothian Bus stops almost outside the shop so I decided to take this up to North Bridge and then walk though the seething mass of people in the Grass Market to try the The Hanging Bat again, and hooray, 3rd time lucky, it was open (and busy!). Walking in, it was interesting to take in the different levels to the place, in particular the long bar with lots of stools (but also lots of standing space), the 6 cask hand-pulls, the 14 shiny keg taps, the bottles of spirits (especially gin) behind the bar, all alongside a great full-on view of the casks.

There's also an almost 'basement'-like area down a few steps with comfy sofas where I think they plan to hold the 'meet-the-brewer' evenings and a raised area at the front with views out to Lothian Road.

There's certainly a lot of exposed brickwork & wood panelling and I liked the collection of old bottles, scattering of soft toys and the large amount of fabulous carved wood, especially the handles for the cask beers (although not seeing any pump-clips will take some getting used to).

As as for the beer selection, it really is quite outstanding. 6 cask beers (one of which will be from the excellent Luckie Ales), 14 keg lines from some great (mostly UK) breweries and more UK & Foreign bottled beer in a nicely bound beer menu booklet that I could photograph without running out of space in my camera-phone. And they were saving some of the more exclusive beer for the Monday night official opening!

I had the Kernel Table Beer and for a 3% abv beer it was lovely - a slight sweet sherbetyness up front and then lots of light citrus bitterness. Note also the 2/3 pint glass - there will be no pint measures served in The Hanging Bat at all (the reasoning here being that 'the last quarter of a pint, by the time you get to it, is warm and flat'), but I suspect the staff will be explaining that to customers for months to come.

Further towards the rear of the bar is another seriously interesting feature - the in-house nano-brewery, a SABCO Brew-Magic pilot kit (a snip at $7K+ when new). The license for this is still forthcoming, but when available it will be used for special brews from visiting commercial brewers and also for customer use so that the beer brewed by your own fair hands can go on sale in a real pub - a great idea.

And even the Gents has a nice feature (yet another photograph in a toilet - gads!). The water taps are beer keg taps - fantastic!

I must say that I think The Hanging Bat is really set to make an impact on the Scottish beer and bar scene - great beer, friendly staff and definitely something different to keep you interested and occupied for the most part of an evening (or afternoon) out.

Return transport:-
  Train: Edinburgh Haymarket to Glasgow Queen St

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