Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Summerhall Beer Festival and some surrounding places: 25th May 2013

As if I really needed another excuse to walk around some interesting places (and, of course, pubs) in the capital city of Edinburgh, there was to be a first Beer Festival in the Summerhall buildings (a re-vamped former School of Veterinary Studies), now home to all sorts of arts, crafts, drama & creative activities all-year-round. Helping to organise the Beer Festival was Barney's Beer, having de-camped from Behind The Wall in Falkirk in the middle of last year to take up the position of brewer-in-residence at Summerhall. So with the sun making a more than welcome appearance, it was set fair to be a lovely Summer(hall) holiday weekend.

View Summerhall in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Edinburgh Waverley
  Bus: Waverley Bridge to King's Buildings (Lothian Buses 41)

Arthur's Seat is the most well-known of the many 'hills' set inside the Edinburgh boundary, but this time I decided to head somewhat further south of the City Centre. The bus dropped me off just before the King's Buildings of the University of Edinburgh and from there it was just a short walk to the outskirts of Blackford Hill. It's here that the Royal Observatory Edinburgh is located, a fairly large conglomeration of new and more historic buildings used for both research and teaching purposes.

The magnificent East and West copper-clad domes hold (or used to hold) the main instruments, although one is non-operation and the other has been moved to the Museum of Scotland. Copper was used since when performing visual observations the air temperature inside the observatory must be as close as possible to the outside air temperature to minimise any refractive effects (heat hazes), and copper has the property of being a very good heat conductor. I remember that both the domes used to be completely green with copper oxide but after the refurbishment in 2010 it's great to see that these now again gleam in the sunlight. The visitor centre in the Observatory is only open to the public for pre-booked visits & lectures so after managing to dodge a couple of swarms of flying ants, I continued up a fairly gentle slope to the summit of Blackford Hill. The view north from here towards Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh Castle and further out to the Firth of Firth is fantastic.

I had hoped to find a way down the west side of Blackford Hill but found the paths blocked a mass of flowering, prickly gorse but I did get far enough along to get a good view of the large number of allotments at the base of the hill.

Instead I scrambled somewhat down the north side of the hill and after a slight diversion amongst the wildlife of Blackford Pond I found myself in the middle of the well-heeled Morningside area of Edinburgh. The Morningside Clock is in a prominent position here at a busy junction - it was previously in the middle of the roadway, but it's now in a far more sensible position (and does tell the correct time).

Heading north back into the centre of Edinburgh I came across the welcome sight of Bennets of Morningside, with the south facing beer garden already starting to fill up.

It's a perfect spot for people-watching, but I went inside to find some shade and recover from my clamber down the hill. The wood panelled bar is set towards the back at the left-hand side, with a seating area at the front windows and also some nice bench seats opposite the bar. The service here is great - polite, unfussy, and very laid back. There are lots of large mirrors, beer signs and old photos along the walls - it's just a really nice place to wander into for a beer.

On at the bar were a number of north-east England beers - Jarrow Caulker, Westoe IPA & Isis, as well as Knops Premier Bru and the ubiquitous Deuchers IPA. They also have their own Bennets Ale, brewed by Hadrian & Border and available for £2.70, pretty good for Edinburgh prices. It was really only snacks at lunchtime (soup, toasties, pies etc...), so I ordered some stovies along with my malty, spicy Knops Premier Bru and went to cool down for a bit out of the sun.

The stovies certainly filled a spot so I headed back out to Morningside Road and to my next port-of-call. Slightly up and across the road from Bennets is somewhere I'd been planning to visit for some time, the Canny Man's. This seems to have an almost 'marmite' reputation - you either love the place or hate it with a passion. From the outside there's not too much in the way of advertising to classify it as a drinking establishment (OK, apart from the 'Bar' lettering above the doorway), but the brass plaque on the wall is somewhat intimidating - 'No Smoking, No Credit Cards, No Mobile Phones, No Cameras, No Backpackers'. Given that I had a rucksack, was wanting to take a photograph or two, had a mobile phone and was wearing (longish) shorts & walking boots, I wasn't quite sure if I was going to get to sit down, let alone served, but I thought I'd give it a go.

And it was absolutely fine. The staff were polite (if not exactly engaging, but then I obviously wasn't a regular), I was served an excellent pint of Taylor's Landlord (London Pride and Caley Deuchars IPA & 80/- were the other cask choices) and even proffered a small bowl of complimentary nuts. I took a seat in the main bar on the left-hand side of the building (I could see part of an even smaller 'corridor'-type snug that seemed to wind its way behind the bar), and there was a steady flow of people heading into the main restaurant areas on the right-hand side of the building. What strikes you is the mass of bric-a-brac in the place - old pictures, empty bottles, brass fireplace & farming tools, musical instruments, model planes, stuffed animals, car parts - the list is almost endless, but it all seemed to go well in creating the old fashioned, almost eccentric atmosphere that I assume the place is looking to achieve. They seem to specialise in whisky, gin, champagne & Danish open sandwiches but I wasn't really going to stay long enough to try any of that. With my curiosity about the place somewhat satisfied, I don't know if I'd go back there again (at least on my own, I'd rather go to Bennets), but it certainly was a more than acceptable place for a quiet beer and a read of the papers.

I then wanted to head to Summerhall to be able soak up the atmosphere a fair bit before the 4pm afternoon session ended. I walked through Morningside, into Strathearn Road & Grange Road and past a lot of impressive houses & churches before reaching the Summerhall complex. My one detour was to the excellent Great Grog on Dalkeith Road where the guys were good enough to open a few of the fairly new 'craft' Salopian beers to sample, Automaton (a very dry, bitter normal IPA) and Vertigo (a thin bitter, Black IPA), before I managed to get my trusty growler filled with lovely Camden Town Pale Ale from the Kegerator.

The Summerhall building and complex were certainly a lot larger than I'd expected, and as I walked into the main entrance I found out that it was just as well I'd booked a ticket - the afternoon session was officially 'Sold-Out' (as were all sessions) and they were turning people away.

Destination reached in good time I was then directed upstairs to obtain a 'souvenir' glass & a wrist-band from the more than helpful staff, and then all that was necessary was to queue up at the bar for a beer (the queues were never too long). Available were new beers from Barney's Beer (an antipodean-hopped version of his Volcano IPA, Volcano NZ, and decent porter, Black Gold of the Sun), as well as guest beers from Inveralmond (their Frisco Steamie was a nice surprise as it wasn't on the backboards), Tryst, Dark Star and a number of German and US kegged beers - all told 10-15 beers seemed to be on at any one time. Interestingly enough the glass was a 2/3 pint glass and that was the only measure they were selling the beer in (for about £2.75), which actually worked out quite well (once I had got my head around it).

Then it was just a matter of chilling out in the sun drenched courtyard, although the size of that chimney stack always made me nervous. There was music, food was available and people to chat to - you can read Beercast Rich's account here.

I managed to get on the last brewery tour of the session - Andrew/Barney had been kept busy with a number of technical problems so he couldn't manage too many, but it was good to see the small brewery, the 4 fermenting vessels and the cold room. He brews once or twice a week, with bottling and distribution outwith Summerhall handled by Inveralmond in Perth.

On the other side of the courtyard is the Summerhall 'pub', The Royal Dick. I didn't really need to buy a drink from their bar but they obviously sell Barney's Beers (with fairly minimal beer miles), look to have an interesting selection of food, and have an eclectic mix of world-wide art and old fittings from the vet school distributed around the pub.

There wasn't any real mass exodus on the stroke of 4 o'clock but I decided to head away fairly sharpish to try another couple of (fairly) local pubs. Just slightly further towards the City Centre on the east side of The Meadows is the Dagda Bar.

This is a classic one roomed boozer with the bar at the back, a number of bar stools, tables & chairs on either side of the room and a large barrel in the centre with newspapers. And look at all those pump-clips near the ceiling - always a good sign of rotating guest ales and great to see.

And there certainly were a nice selection of real ales available - their own Dagda Ale (from Broughton), Kelburn Cart Noir, Oakham JHB and Tryst Brockville Pale, but hang-on, that wasn't Brockville Pale on pump #1 but instead Alechemy Centennial Burst, the latest in Alechemy's single hop series. This was an extremely nice surprise, giving a lovely deep orangey citrus bitterness which seems to be prevalent in a lot of the newer single-hopped IPAs.

It was really quiet in the Dagda (even the barmaid and the 1 other customer stepped out for a while leaving me all alone in a pub, dangerous), but as I crossed the road afterwards into The Meadows I found out why - it seemed as if most of the City had decamped there and everyone was in the process of cremating their BBQ food (and you could also take a 2-pint carry-oot from the Dagda Bar - evening sorted!).

I managed to pick my way around the sun-worshippers to find my final stop of the day on the western side of The Meadows, Bennets Bar, not to be confused with (the confusingly similar) Bennets of Morningside, where I'd been earlier in the afternoon.

This was a welcome oasis of cool, dark panelled wood & intricate tiles, with some great stained/coloured glass windows, huge hanging chandeliers, a magnificent bar canopy and some fantastic large brewery mirrors in its long, narrow single room. The bar runs almost the long length of the wall with a number of quite small circular tables at the opposite wall in front of yet more mirrors - it's really quite stunning. The choice of cask ales on offer perhaps wasn't quite as impressive with Caley Deuchars IPA & 80/-, Harviestoun Schiehallion & Bitter & Twisted, but it was good to try Inveralmond's biscuity Duncan's IPA again, although I do wish there was some (OK, a lot) more bitterness to be found in there.

Return transport:-
 &anspTrain: Edinburgh Haymarket to Glasgow Queen St


  1. Michael Jackson used to drink in the Canny Man’s: It is an amazing pub.

  2. I may have read that once but it certainly didn't ring any bells when I was there - thanks for the link!