Froth on the forth
Leith beer mile - a bit of a craft beer hub in Edinburgh
Saturday 23 October 2021
This article is from
A Brief History of Beer
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The Edinburgh neighbourhood of Leith has long considered itself a community apart from the Scottish capital to its south, and now it has a buzzing string of top-notch craft breweries and bars to bolster its case for statehood.
A busy port district throughout the 1800s, it’s now a hip and trendy destination, replete with fantastic independent businesses, quirky shops, artist studios, cafes, restaurants, and bars. Over the last five or so years, Leith has become a bit of a craft beer hub in Edinburgh. New breweries keep popping up on the regular, and the pubs and bars have joyfully adopted the craft beer movement.
Edinburgh’s favourite murk-merchant and social media sensation Pilot has been around since 2013, making it the first commercial brewery in Leith for almost a century. Its focus is on beers that are packed full of flavour, contain the highest-quality ingredients, and showcase founders Pat Jones and Matt Johnson’s love of the experimental intertwined with the traditional.
Pat comments: “It’s strange to be talking about a Leith beer scene - when we set up back in 2013 we were the only ones here, which I guess makes us the grandparents of it all...? Seeing local bars with four or five different local breweries on is pretty amazing - even the more traditional Leith boozers are much more receptive to what we’re all doing now.”
Unit 4B, Stewartfield. No taproom right now, but their shop is open all day Saturday.
A firm favourite of the Edinburgh beer scene, Campervan has been making flavoursome, expertly-crafted beers since January 2017. Founder Paul Gibson’s aim has been to fuse his passions into the feel of the brewery from day one, meaning that his love of travel, classic VW campervans and the great outdoors are ever-present - from branding, to beer names, to the decor of the taproom.
Paul comments on the brewery’s place in the local community: “Campervan Brewery is a bit like Leith itself - popular and quirky, but also generous and creative. From the first day that I opened the brewery doors I felt the love from the community. The people of Leith have watched us progress and expand over the years; they have shared in our highs and lows, and to me this sums up Leith - always keen to support the underdog and willing to go the extra mile to help.”
112 Jane Street. Taproom open Wednesday-Thursday.
Newbarns makes delicious, approachable beers for any occasion - from a smooth oat lager, to a crisp pilsner, to a flavoursome dry stout, there’s something for any discerning beer drinker. Opening in 2020 mid-pandemic, not only did Covid delay the opening of the actual brewery, but it also forced Newbarns in a different direction - the plan was always to be draught-focused rather than can or bottle, but since there were no pubs to sell to during the pandemic, the decision was made to invest in a canning line, which helped sales and distribution during lockdown.
13 Jane Street. No taproom right now, but their shop is open all day Saturday.
Inspired by the beer drinking cultures of the UK, Germany, and across Europe, Donzoko uses techniques from modern UK and American craft brewing to create moreish beers. Originally based in Hartlepool, North-East England, owner Reece Hugill recently relocated to sunny Leith, and is now brewing out of Newbarns.
On the recent move, he comments: “Although I’ve only just moved to Leith, it’s amazing how much character and community there is. From old boozers with good beer on, to late-night pie shops and great cafes. Plus, it’s pretty beautiful down by the Shore - I love it here!”
13 Jane St. No taproom right now, but their shop is open all day Saturday.
Hailing from New Zealand and England, brewer Vinnie Rosario and director Finlay Heslop have over a decade of collective brewing experience, bringing a passion for easy-drinking beers to Leith’s vibrant Shore area. Launching only in the summer of 2021, they’re the new kids on the block.
Marketing Manager Sarah Sinclair comments: “Our directors always planned to open a brewery in Edinburgh, and once discovering our site on the Shore there was no question about choosing Leith. Our love of Leith continues to grow as we become more embedded in the local community - it's an incredibly up-and-coming area that feels like it's really about to hit its stride. It's great to be part of the beery microcosm in Leith that brings more people down here (and out of the city centre) to the benefit of all the independent businesses.”
6A Tower Street. Taproom due to open before the end of the year.
At the bottom of Leith Walk sits the Lioness of Leith. With its eccentric, fun decor (including an old pinball machine with a new lease of life as a table, trippy AF paintings, and a neon sign that says ‘Don’t be a dick’), its small but well-chosen selection of beers and cocktails, and a drool-worthy food menu, it’s no wonder the Lioness is top of many locals’ list of fave pubs.
Ben Abbot, one of the owners of the Lioness, loves the bar’s location: “We love being part of Leith! It’s probably one of the most authentic places in Scotland. It knows who it is, and doesn’t try to imitate anywhere else. This permeates through its bar scene too, with a great mix of boozers serving locally-brewed beer. We find it’s a hard area to leave, as other scenes often feel dishonest or superficial in comparison.”
Round the corner on Constitution Street is Nobles, one of the most charming pubs in the area. It has gorgeous decor, quirky paintings (including a portrait of Bill Murray and one of a fat ginger cat), and the most impressive Leith-themed stained glass windows. It always has something nice on tap, but also has an extensive selection of drinks for non-beer-lovers, and it has an ever-chilled atmosphere.
Niall Taylor and Fay Macaulay, the owners of Nobles, explain the fascinating history of the pub: “In 2010 we took on the project of restoring Nobles to its former glory, after it was damaged by fire; this grand old Victorian café-bar first opened back in 1896, when Leith was still very much an independent area, and was one of the busiest ports in northern Europe. The pub was popular with both dock workers and seafarers, and became something of an institution, gaining notoriety in the latter half of the last century as both a go-go bar and a good place to pick up a black eye…!”
Round the corner again and you’ve reached the Shore, one of Leith’s most Instagram-worthy areas. If you’re after a traditional, old-school-style pub with a bustling ‘frequented mostly by locals’ vibe and cheap real ale (always a fantastic selection, and always well-kept), this is the place for you. The window seats are great for looking out onto the Shore, and they have hop vines running along the walls and ceiling, which add to the wonderful atmosphere. It’s also one of the most popular - and best - spots to enjoy a ‘sunshine pint’, since the repurposed barrels outside are a total sun-trap in the evening.
A few minutes away off of Commercial Street is one of the city’s most famous brunch spots, and one of the cosiest places to enjoy a beer. The veggie haggis Eggs Benedict or the avocado toast, slathered in hot sauce from local spice legends Vengeful Spirit, with a pint of local ale, is one of my absolute favourite Sunday afternoon activities.
Speaking to manager Jonny Kane, he recalls the local beer and pub scene when the Roseleaf first opened, back in 2007: “There weren’t very many cool bars around when we opened, but Leith slowly became a destination - the area’s beer and independent pubs offering has started to really excel over the last few years. Also, there aren’t that many pubs in the city where the people who run it are there in the pub on a regular basis - that’s what we love, we don’t want to be a generic pub, because being part of the community makes for a better experience for both us and for our punters.”
This dockside pub has it all. From a cosy alcove with a built-in fireplace, to a huge waterside beer garden with a floating pontoon, to perfectly-kept real ales and local beers, to pint-sized mugs of a lot of their staple comfort foods (including mac n cheese and stovies), to locally-sourced seafood, it’s a go-to pub when in Edinburgh. Oh, and there’s their - very fun and very dangerous - whisky ‘hoop of destiny’ game, but I’ll leave you to find out about that one on your own.
Teuchters manager John Tindal explains: “We've been in Leith for almost 15 years and love it. We sell predominantly Scottish beer, and we stock 120-odd malts, 40 Scottish gins, and 20 or so wines from all over the world. Our emphasis is on quality - all our food is fresh from local suppliers, too. And the best bit - we have one of the best and biggest beer gardens in Edinburgh for the summer, but it’s also one of the cosiest pubs in winter!”
My favourite craft beer bar this side of town - run by Campervan Brewery, it always has an impeccable selection of beer, whether that’s its own offerings on draught, the guest taps, or the big fridge full of exciting bottles and cans. Opened in early 2020 (right before Covid hit) the Campervan team saw a great deal of support from the people of Leith during what was a difficult time for so many businesses. Brewery owner Paul Gibson comments: “What we really like about having a brewery and a bar in Leith is the feeling of belonging to something bigger than just a random neighbourhood. We belong to the Leith Community - the support from locals during the COVID 19 crisis, for example, has been overwhelming, and we are humbled by the many gestures of goodwill received during these very difficult times.”
Last, but not least, is my favourite pub in the whole world. The staff are super-friendly, there’s always an exciting range of beers on tap, it’s awesomely decorated (including a freshly-painted Pride rainbow which lines the ‘beer garden’ on the bridge outside), and there’s usually a pretty cute selection of dogs to pet. Plus, the pub quiz on a Friday is a load of silly, hilarious fun.
Toby Saltonstall, who runs the Dreadnought with his partner Roisin, is a die-hard Leither, despite being from the North of England. He comments: “The Leith pub scene has changed significantly over the past ten years, but Leith still feels the same to me - it’s Edinburgh without the filter. Rebellious and gritty. There’s every type of pub in Leith these days, which can’t be said of everywhere, and we’re extremely proud to offer something different to the area. I think Leithers appreciate independent spirit and folk expressing themselves, like we do.”
Cover photo: Bayo Adegunloye
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