These places all feel pleasingly, authentically aged and hold a cherished place in the heart of the Edinburgh beer scene.
Their roots may be in real ale in the 1990s but they have all embraced the renaissance in British brewing in a dignified fashion, keeping pace with developments without going all craft on us.Staff possess an effortless old-fashioned command of the bar, always aware of who is waiting to be served and, usually, what they’re drinking. They really know their stuff. And that should give the customer complete confidence they’ll be served a good pint quickly without any unnecessary faff.
Classic old-fashioned pub values. Many great pubs in Edinburgh still adhere to that, of course. But too many place fashion – the right fixtures and fittings, or staff with the right hairstyle – over these fundamentals.
Thankfully, the Tap and the other pubs in the family don’t – and I suspect they never will.On the main thoroughfare in Stockbridge, the Tap is the perfect location to spread out the newspapers and relax after browsing the local shops.
Maybe it’s because it’s in Stockbridge and not in the city centre – or maybe it’s the welcome lack of pizazz – but the Tap can sometimes be overlooked when it comes to the best pubs in Edinburgh.
That would be a shame, because I think it should feature on any list.
CAMRA agree, having just named it the top pub in Scotland and Northern Ireland for 2015. That accolade, and the recent annual winter beer festival, offered an excuse – as if one was needed – to reacquaint myself with its charms.It’s a quiet midweek afternoon when I visit, and the sunshine is flooding in through the bright windows which open out on to Raeburn Place, making it a great place to linger and watch the world go by.
The décor is timeless and understated. Wooden chairs with green leather seats. Brewers mirrors. Green and maroon tiles on the walls. Big old chandeliers.
A few locals lounge comfortably at the bar exchanging easy banter with the bar staff, with some tourists tucked in the corner. The cosier back room – with low seating and tables – is empty.
The beer selection is typically strong – and British – with Alechemy, Highland, Roosters, Summer Wine and Windswept among the brewers on offer.
I start with the pale ale from Hastings (£3.70 a pint) which is showcasing the Mosaic hop and it’s a real treat: fruity, light and refreshing.
Then I go to the other extreme, with the Black Cork from East Lothian-based Knops (£4 a pint). It’s a dark, ferocious and uncompromising beastie. It doesn’t offer much on the nose, but is dark with powerful liquorice and a raw, boozy kick which signposts its 6.5 ABV. Full-on, but I liked it.
Those beers set me up nicely for the walk back into town. With a pleasant warm glow, I made a promise to myself not to leave it so long before visiting the Tap again.