Our Beer Man’s VerdictI’ve always had a bit of a schizophrenic attitude towards Summerhall.
It’s a really wonderful arts venue, which regularly puts on stimulating and challenging events. And one of Edinburgh’s long-standing micro breweries, Barney’s, now makes its beer on site.
A perfect match, surely? Probably, but however much I love the venue, the beer invariably fails to excite – and that was confirmed again on my latest visit.
After a frantic August which cemented Summerhall’s status as one of the newer leading Festival venues, normal service is, slowly, being resumed.
As I visited, the Festival was drawing to an end. The sun was shining and visitors were flocking to Summerhall.
The outdoor courtyard bar was doing a roaring trade, beside a pop-up bar for Pickering’s gin – also produced on site – and a couple of tasty looking street food operations from Whitmuir and La Favorita.
But I was, as always, here for the beer, and started with a pint of Barney’s Volcanic IPA which was served quickly by the genial bearded barman. It’s becoming a staple of the Edinburgh beer scene – and, even in a plastic tumbler, it tasted fine. Despite being unfined – effectively unfiltered, to allow maximum taste and aroma – there wasn’t much to it: not much nose, but pleasingly bitter and drinkable enough. Full marks, though, for only charging £3.50 for a pint of decent beer in a thriving Festival venue.
Near the end of my pint, the fine summer weather gave way to torrential rain, which seemed like the perfect time to move inside to the Royal Dick, the permanent bar and restaurant on site. It’s a beautifully cosy, eccentric venue – lots of nooks and crannies, handsome wood and quirky decoration in line with its previous life as a vet school.
The range of bottles is solid – including Anchor, Brooklyn, Meantime, Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada and Williams – without ever quickening the pulse. And there are another couple of Barney’s brews available on draught.
I opt for a half of Barney’s Capital Stout (£2) and it’s nice – its smoky, roasted notes are perfect for a damp day. And it’s also a perfect match for the surroundings. The Royal Dick is a lovely relaxing place to chill out and escape the crowds – even as a Festival venue, it boasted the easy warmth of your own sitting room.
My only quibble would be the service was a little starchy inside and didn’t seem entirely familiar with the beer offering, which is a real pity when it’s brewed on site and a fantastic selling point.
So, overall, I enjoyed my latest visit to Summerhall. It’s a really lovely place – ambitious and professional but still a little eccentric – and the beer is decent. But as a beer venue, it’s always going to find it tough competing with a clutch of quality destinations – most notably the Cask And Barrel Southside – just yards away.