So many pubs have opened in Edinburgh in recent months loudly trumpeting their craft beer credentials that it can be easy to overlook venues which have been quietly and diligently offering great beer for years.
A jaunt to the south side – and an opportunity to sample the excellent pizza at McSorley’s – took me past a number of these newer establishments.
They may offer stylish décor, a strong social media presence or some other selling point, but sometimes you really just want a terrific old-fashioned boozer – and that’s how I reacquainted myself with the timeless charms of the Cask And Barrel Southside.
It’s familiar, unfussy and comfortable – everything a good pub should be. It feels like it has been here – unchanged – for decades, although its heritage is far more recent.
The large wooden horseshoe-shaped bar dominates. There is traditional green-leather seating and, of course, barrels are used throughout as decoration or tables. There are plenty of big screens showing live sport, ensuring a good view wherever you are.
The staff are prompt and efficient. Regulars arrive and a pint or nip of their usual – and a favoured bar snack, on one occasion – is before them without a word being uttered.
In most ways, it is, unsurprisingly, similar to its sister pub in Broughton Street. However, the key difference is the beer. Where the offering in Broughton Street normally takes in the more conservative end of cask ale with few beers which thrill, the Southside venue focuses on modern, exciting beer from some of the best brewers in Britain.
So on my visit, there’s Oregon and Teleporter from Summer Wine Brewery, along with Rock The Kazbek from Redemption and Orkney Best from the ever-reliable Highland.
I start with a pint of the Atlantic Drift from Cromarty (£3.30). It’s a fine pale ale / session IPA which is hoppy, refreshing and – at just 3.5 ABV – really drinkable, the perfect match for a beautiful spring evening.
I follow this with a pint of the Rapture from Magic Rock (£3.50) and it’s magnificent: a big sweet, malty red ale which is just perfect on cask, showcasing the aroma and flavour beautifully.
As well as a strong selection of draught cask – and some less interesting stuff on keg – there’s also a decent selection of bottles and cans.
Although I, sadly, had to dash, the Cask And Barrel Southside is an unhurried place which lends itself to lingering. It’s a real treat to be able to let time slowly slip by while sipping a fantastic beer in lovely surroundings.
Cask And Barrel South Side
24-26 W Preston Street, EH8 9PZ Edinburgh