Cocktails in Edinburgh

It’s always good to respond to reader requests ‎and the latest one was right up my street – “you should include some cocktail reviews”.

The Clouds Above the Cane

The Clouds Above the Cane

Now, I used to write cocktail reviews for Social & Cocktail and they’re utterly pish if you care to do some minimal Googling to find them. I have acquired some knowledge about cocktails since then and read the odd book but I’m still nowhere near fluent in the lingo.

What I have done is get to know a good swathe of the Edinburgh cocktail community through haunting their bars and asking lots of banal questions. They’re an indulgent and lovely bunch, with a cohesion and sense of camaraderie that’s unparalleled in other parts of the food and drink business.

So I probably could write cocktail reviews ‎to a reasonable standard now, but I suspect they’d just be full of in-jokes and calling the bar staff wankers when most of them – even the Hutch – are lovely people. See what I mean?

However, it’s ‎worth spending a bit of time contemplating how amazing it is that Tales of the Cocktail will be coming to Edinburgh in 2017 and 2018. Tales is the major global cocktail industry event‎ which takes place in New Orleans each year. They have taken their show on the road to Vancouver, Buenos Aires and Mexico City in recent years, and for their first trip to Europe it had to be Edinburgh.20150122_191028

But why?

Well, aside from that fantastic sense of community that I’ve already mentioned, Edinburgh has one of the most impressive concentrated ‘cocktail crawls’ available on the planet.

You can go east to west ‎if you like, but the traditional route to success would be a west to east zigzag starting at Panda & Sons. The stops have recently been augmented with a couple of new upstarts so I think the current route map goes Panda, Lucky, BryMack, Hoot, Bon V, Bramble, Nightcap.

There are a couple of other excellent places off this trail – Last Word Saloon and Devil’s Advocate – but we’ll come to them in due course.

‎So to start with Panda & Sons, it’s the stop on the trail I’m least likely to be found frequenting. This is not because the drinks aren’t good because they pack style, panache and oodles of theatricality. But part of the cocktail experience is sitting chewing the fat with the bar staffologists and Panda tends to be rather too popular and busy for that to be a regular part of what it offers. Oh, and I recall this space from years ago as 80 Queen Street, a really dreary bar that always gave me the sense that the ceiling would eventually descend so far it would crush me to death.

Picklebacks!

Picklebacks!

Panda & Sons is an ace bar with hugely talented bartendologers, but it’s only my preferred ‎resting point from time to time.

Lucky Liquor Co is where I’ve learned more about cocktailiering than anywhere else.‎ It’s the appletini of my eye, the windolene beneath my wings and the place that keeps my mojojito rising.

Lucky is home to some of the most innovative cocktailification you’ll ever come across. Their innovation is born of necessity with the constraints of only 13 commercial spirits available to drive their list each quarter. They have the backbone of Mike Aikman’s liqueurs to keep things interesting. But more of him later.20150504_201632

The mixamentalists at Lucky are as skillful at weaving you the tale of what’s going on in the glass as they are at putting the liquids in there. It’s the most constantly exciting bar in the city.

‎Bryant & Mack is a new addition and one that’s still building its identity. They’ve opted for the detective trope which is a great fit in Edinburgh, but they’re rather more Pinkerton than Rebus.

Previously a stinking wankspittle of a vodka bar, Messrs Bryant and (Cor){blimey}Mack are committed to supplying finely crafted drinks with classics done their way. It’s a place with a welcoming and settled feel and considering its relative newness radiates a surprising amount of old-money ‎swagger.

Onwards!

The first sister/brother bar comes with Panda’s wee ankle-biter Hoot the Redeemer. Hoot is the bar I think has most crossover and broad appeal of any bar on the trail.

This is in part because of their excellent house beer by local social media lolologists Pilot. They have an excellent range of other beers on tap, too. With their strong cocktail list, selection of boozy ice-creams, fairground theme and general atmosphere of jollity, it’s a bar I keep meaning to visit more.

We Rock and We Rose

We Rock and We Rose

The Bon Vivant is a majestic Thistle Street cocktail powerhouse. Their mix of fantastic seasonal produce ‎in the restaurant with a killer drinks list is unparalleled in the city.

In bar manager Miran Chauhan they have one of the best cocktailitarians in the city, so the place can always be relied upon for quality and class.

And then to the Brambo di tutti Brambi. Bramble is our best bar. And I use that “our” advisedly because it is a bar for and about its customers every bit as much as its staff and the drinks they make.

As it nears the end of its first decade, it can rightly be considered the regal elder statesman of the cocktail scene in Edinburgh. Also, its place as a continued influencer of the world game is well understood. Bramble’s family tree is the global list of our finest drinks industry bosses.

‎The bar is a bit loud and a little dark but it’s home to the best drinks list you’ll find in the city. Owners Jason Scott and Mike Aikman have built a legacy: for themselves, for the city, for the fine art of the mixed drink.

Until recently Bramble marked a very fitting end to the trail, but now a new bar from a Bramble alumnus offers a final stop on a gleefully meandering journey. Fittingly called Nightcap, it brings together the down-home burgers and wings menu of Feed with an excellent spirits selection backing a focussed cocktail list.

It has already established an appreciative audience not least because it has drawn upon a broad selection of shakergismatists to offer their guest and cameo skills behind the stick in its first couple of months of trading. It has quickly established itself as a punter and industry favourite.

I need to say a word about Devil’s Advocate as it brings much needed cocktail stylings to a signature Old Town property on Advocate’s Close.

Much like sister bar The Bon Vivant, Devil’s deftly strikes the balance between food and drinks selection, with a particularly good showcase of beers from local beer guys – also showcased at Hoot – Pilot.

And for the last word, the Last Word Saloon is ‎one of my abiding favourites. Within yards of where my dear mother was born, it’s a Stockbridge gem and bangin’ drinks purveyor.

Their signature Last Word Revisited is a beautiful twist on the classic that gives them their name. ‎It’s a place where I spend a good bit of time and it always feels like time well spent.

So that’s what I reckon about cocktails in Edinburgh. Other bars are available, but the ones I’ve mentioned are the best ones. Make sure to visit all of them on a regular basis. I look forward to seeing you there.