Our Beer Man’s VerdictThe newly-opened Crafters Barn occupies a prime spot on the Mound and seems to be doing a roaring trade during the Festival.
On a warm midweek evening, the pavements outside were thronged – and it was lively inside too as passers-by took a break from the frenzy to unwind.Crafters Barn is clearly more aimed at eating than drinking and the website emphasises they are no beer connoisseurs, but it grandly bills itself as a “Belgian beer-influenced brasseria” so that merited a visit to check out its hoppy wares.
After a friendly greeting from one of the bar staff, I was seated at the little bar at the far end of the main eating area, which is bright and open with large windows which look out over Princes Street. There’s also a pleasant outdoor space tucked away at the side of the building, which I’m sure will prove extremely popular.The décor is nice enough, although it does jump on the current bandwagon for some establishments to demonstrate their “craft beer” credentials with exposed brick, stripped wood, bare lightbulbs and a whiff of industrial chic.
For a venue which celebrates the proud, peerless brewing heritage of Belgium, I was a little disappointed by the draught. It’s more generic than I expected, with Affligem, Belle-Vue, Heverlee, Hoegaarden and Leffe representing Belgium and Broughton and Eden representing Scotland.I started with a half of the Belle-Vue Kriek (£2.65) which – without the sharpness which gives so many Belgian fruit beers balance – was an enjoyable but one-dimensional burst of sweet fruit which slipped down like cherryade. Chris had the Mad Merlin from Broughton (an audacious £5.10 a pint) which was pretty poor, dominated by soapy citrus flavours.
The bottled beer menu comes in a handsome 56-page wood-bound book and was a pleasure to peruse while I sipped my beer – but, again, the range isn’t as impressive as it could be. Some classic Belgian brews are represented like Kwak, La Chouffe, Orval, Rochefort, St Bernardus and Westmalle but, oddly, there’s no gueuze – one of the most revered Belgian beer styles – and nothing from acclaimed brewer Cantillon. It seems to be aimed squarely at a non-specialist audience, with no surprises to lure hardcore beer aficionados in.
Yes, the elusive and wonderful Westvletern 12 is available – routinely hailed the best in the world and correctly described here as a “bucket list” beer – but at £39 for a 33 cl bottle, it’s an absolutely outrageous mark-up.
I opt for a bottle of the Rodenbach instead (£4.05) and it’s lovely as always – tart, musty and oaky – but thinner than the Grand Cru.
The food menu at Crafters Barn looks tempting and its prime location should ensure its success. But based on my visit, my feeling is it may struggle to establish itself as a leading Edinburgh beer destination – particularly when places nearby like the Bow Bar offer a more precise range of Belgian bottles at more realistic prices.