Our Beer Man’s VerdictThe Volunteer Arms in Musselburgh – more commonly known as Staggs – is a legendary pub which has clocked up countless CAMRA accolades.
Tucked just behind the main thoroughfare in the East Lothian town, it’s a timeless establishment – seemingly untroubled by fads or trends – which feels like it has barely changed in its 150 years.The locals gathered at the bar or dotted round the tables in the wood-panelled main room also feel like they are part of the furniture.
A fruit machine blinks away beside the door, the football is on the big screen and the bar is alive with the gentle buzz of conversation. And, crucially, there is a small but tempting selection of cask ales chalked on the board as usual.
None of the rotating guest ales, as you would expect, are cutting edge – but it’s none the worse for that. As always, Peterborough-based Oakham is strongly represented along with a few Scottish brewers.
Loch Ness brewery was making a rare but welcome appearance on my visit so I start with a pint of the 3.9 ABV Light Ness (£3.15). This classic pale ale is a wonderful golden hue and tastes terrific – wonderfully refreshing light bitterness.
I have the Tempest Cresta (£3.10 a pint) next. Initially a little under-whelming compared to some of the Kelso-based operation’s more experimental offerings, warmth brings it to life and it slowly softens into a superlative stout – roasted, smooth, complex and creamy. Lovely.
I round off the evening with the robust charms of the Oakham Green Devil (£3.70). The bitter hop bite of this classic IPA – all strong citrus and pine – is nicely balanced against the 6 per cent ABV for a great pint. Green Devil rarely merits a mention against some of the other British takes on a modern IPA, but in my view it’s up there with some of the best.
Staggs is a real institution. It’s similar to the legendary Bow Bar, but I get the feeling its East Lothian location unfairly counts against it when top beer venues in the East are collated.
With Victorian décor, a warm welcome and unfussy service, it ticks all the boxes of a quintessential traditional boozer – but there are always a handful of perfectly-maintained cask beers on offer at keen prices. And this isn’t a case of a tired old pub desperately leaping on the craft beer bandwagon – Staggs has been serving quality beer for years now.
If you like great beer served in traditional surroundings, then Staggs is a must. It also has the distinction of being one of the relatively few pubs which serves excellent beer and shows the football – handy for those of us who like both.
If you haven’t visited, don’t be put off by the location. It’s near a bus stop and, besides, at these prices – less than a tenner for three excellent pints – you can even afford to splash out on a taxi…