Innis & Gunn have slowly but steadily grown to become one of the biggest names in Scottish beer.
Their beers – matured with oak – have always seemed like an acquired taste to me, but there’s no doubting their popular appeal. Innis & Gunn are now a global brand, widely available across Edinburgh, the UK and the world.
They seem to be embarking on a new phase. So crowd-funding is being secured to build their own brewery and finally produce their own beer – until now, it has been brewed at the Tennent’s plant in Glasgow. And, after running pop-up bars during the Festival, they finally now have their own permanent venue, the Beer Kitchen, so I popped along on a warm evening to check it out.
The site – previously one of the seedier venues in Lothian Road – has been transformed. While the exterior is dark and understated, the interior is light and welcoming.
From the informal area at the entrance, a couple of stairs lead up into the main bar, which runs up the left hand side, with booths on the right. It’s a large, open space – all pale wood and exposed brick walls.
While there are some obvious clues – casks on display, 16 draught beer lines – it didn’t immediately feel like a beer-focused venue to me. It felt more like a restaurant – a member of staff was even waiting at the entrance with a menu – or a wine bar.
That’s not necessarily intended as criticism – actually, it’s probably a smart move. Given some of the excellent beer venues in the area – including the Hanging Bat, Cloisters, Blue Blazer and Red Squirrel – there is probably no point in going toe-to-toe with them so, sensibly, they have gone for something different which is likely to attract a very different crowd.
Innis & Gunn, unsurprisingly, dominates the draught offering here – but there are also beers from brewers like Fyne, Pilot, Drygate, Camden and Lagunitas. There’s a good selection of bottles, too.
It’s been a very long time since I tasted Innis & Gunn, but it seems rude to start anywhere else – so I opt for a half of their Toasted Oak IPA (£2.50). They generally get a bad press from beer lovers, but I approach it with an open mind. For such a popular beer, it’s really peculiar. It’s light – belying it’s 5.6 ABV – but has a strange soapy citrus flavour. As it warms, the washing-up liquid character subsides and sweetness dominates. Not for me, I’m afraid.
A half of IPA from American brewer Lagunitas (£2.70) is much better: the tempting citrus aroma perfectly balanced by the dense pine taste.
While I have a glass of that in my hand, it all seems to click into place. The music is decent. The waiting staff glide between patrons with plates of tempting-looking food. The front doors are open and the sun is streaming in.
It’s never going to compete with some other nearby places when it comes to beer – and I don’t think it’s trying to. It’s a pleasant enough place to pass time – I have no doubt it will carve out a space for itself and succeed.