Our Beer Man’s VerdictLast month, I reviewed The Volunteer Arms in Musselburgh – a pub which usually goes by another name.
This time round, I’m reviewing a pub that used to be called The Volunteer Arms, but now goes by another name: Cask & Still.
However, that’s where the similarity between the two completely unrelated pubs ends. Where the East Lothian establishment – better known as Stagg’s – is a esteemed establishment which has been serving brilliant beer for years, this new operation reeks of blatant bandwagon-hopping.
First impressions are good. There’s a neat little seating area outside on Leith Walk, and inside it’s all – oh, yes – exposed brick, stripped wood and chalkboards extolling the virtues of their beer and whisky offerings (hence the name).
There are jars of hops and malt on the bar. There are artisan pork pies served with pickles and chutney. There is even a huge neon sign which proclaims: “Where the beer is the hero”.
My craft beer bingo card is full and I’m shouting house before I’ve even ordered a pint.
And, sadly, that’s the crucial point where the whole conceit collapses.
If there’s a tipping point where craft beer – whatever that actually means – goes mainstream, this is it. The former Volly Arms in the heart of Leith was always one of the roughest diamonds, a great boozer with a terrific atmosphere and, yes, a bit of an edge. Its conversion to craft beer is the proverbial canary in the mineshaft.
This feels like a cynical facelift solely to attract a fresh clientele, or former punters who have been lured elsewhere. It’s no more craft than it was before.
It appears to be tied to the Caledonian brewery, so offers Deuchars, 3 Hop lager alongside the usual Amstel, Heineken and Guinness. A few casks offer some Caley beers, and I opt for a pint of the Golden Cauldron (£3.60).
It’s billed as hoppy and zesty, but it’s a sweet malt sledgehammer and really has very little to recommend it. A poor start.
Against my better judgement, I stay for another.
They offer a range of craft beer bottles from New Zealand brewer Monteith’s, so I opt for the Southern Pale Ale (£3.95). It‘s got an unappealing sweet, fruity character initially, and is soon simultaneously cloying and watery – with no backbone and no character.
That’s enough for me, and I walk through the doors for what I suspect will be the last time.
There’s been some murmuring online recently that beer could be in danger of becoming elitist. There may or may not be something in that, but my frosty response to Cask & Still isn’t based on beer snobbery. It’s based solely on this being a cynical, bandwagon-hopping operation.
When there are loads of great nearby pubs full of character – not a euphemism – like the Port O Leith or the Central Bar, and other classier venues serving fantastic beer like the Vintage or Nobles, why would anyone want to or need to come here?