The Empress of Broughton Street
Our Beer Man’s Verdict
I first visited the Empress on its opening night before Christmas, but it was so busy I struggled to get a proper sense of what it was actually like.
My initial feeling on that brief visit was that it was okay – nothing special – but I thought it would be wiser to visit again after New Year to get a better handle on it.
It occupies what used to be Mather’s at the top of Broughton Street. If you’ve been to its nearby sister pub Jeremiah’s Taproom on Elm Row, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. Although it’s attempting a slightly different take – faded hipster decadence, perhaps – it doesn’t stray far from that template.
So, while the beer is still prominent, there seems to be more emphasis on cocktails here. And there are still burgers, but flatbreads with a variety of toppings seem to be the unique selling point.
It does seem a bit odd to have such similar bars in such close proximity, but given how busy the Jeremiah seems to be most of the time, maybe they’re on to something.
But I have to say, even on a second visit, it didn’t do an awful lot for me. It’s fine but, like so many new places which spring up proclaiming their craft beer credentials, it can’t hope to compete with the places that really do take their beer seriously – although, to be fair, it’s probably not going toe to toe with the likes of Six North or Salt Horse.
There’s a decent selection of UK bottles and cans – the likes of Beavertown and Wiper and True are represented, along with Brewdog, Fierce and Tempest from Scotland. There are a few classics like Anchor, Boon and Chimay in there too… although I do feel my eyes involuntarily rolling at the presence of cans of the dreadful-but-hip Pabst, which is either aimed at aspiring hipsters or David Lynch fans.
The draught selection is solid with no surprises on either of my visits. There’s Caesar Augustus from Williams, Jet Black Heart from Brewdog and the porter from Black Island. I have a pint of Happy Chappy from Cromarty on cask (£4.20) and it’s typically tasty. The Harvest IPA from Tempest (£4.95 a pint) is smashing as always, too: bags of fruit up front giving way to bitterness and funk on the finish.
The beers I had were decent. The selection is okay, without ever threatening to surprise. And – like the Jeremiah – it’s in an excellent location, so it’s probably going to be a popular meeting place.
But somehow it all feels a bit formulaic – taking a traditional boozer and turning it craft with all the usual tropes.
No major objection to that. The Empress is fine and worth a visit for a pint or two, but it just doesn’t feel like it’s bringing anything particularly fresh to the Edinburgh beer scene.
Address: 25 Broughton Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3JU