Drams & culture in Auld Reekie

Drams & culture in Auld Reekie

Neil Ridley heads out in Scotland's capital

Places | 07 Sep 2012 | Issue 106 | By Neil Ridley

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With its myriad nooks and crannies, Edinburgh's streets hide a wealth of amazing bars packed with interesting drams to try. We start by taking a stroll down the Royal Mile for a whisky tinted snapshot of Scotland's most cultured city.

Amber Restaurant

354 Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH1 2NE

Rated as one of Edinburgh’s best restaurants for its innovative take on regional Scottish influenced cuisine, drinkers are also piling into Amber’s excellent whisky bar, helped no doubt by the fact that it is inside the Scotch Whisky Experience close to Edinburgh Castle. The menu has 300 different malts on offer, including ancient Glenfarclas and an array of different Glendronachs, Taliskers, Broras, as well as hard to find single casks from across the whisky producing regions. There’s also a whisky and chocolate experience for those in possession of a sweet tooth.

The Black Cat

168 Rose Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4BA

The intriguing pictures on the Black Cat’s website show that when the bar was opened back in 2011, the owners went right back to renovating the premises from scratch and this small independently minded watering hole has plenty of appeal for those in search of something traditionally Scottish, but with a modern twist. Opening early, visitors can experience a number of artisanal coffees, with a range of great local beers served later on, alongside an impressive walk through the whisky producing regions. During the Edinburgh Festival, The Black Cat has an extended licence, allowing them to serve revelers an extra cheeky dram or two until 3am. So if you’re visiting Edinburgh’s legendary cultural festival and you’re lucky enough, you’ll stroll across the path of this most flavoursome of black cats.

Bon Vivant

55 Thistle Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1DY

Arriving at Bon Vivant after the witching hour is always an experience. The capacious bar and restaurant is full of private little corners, or, if you’re a bigger group, cosy little alcoves where you can peruse the drinks menu, under the watchful eye of the maestro mixologist and resident bon vivant, Stuart McClusky. The whiskies on offer are dazzling with many of them making their way in to Stuart’s vibrant takes on classic cocktails, punches and mixed drinks. In fact, if you’re feeling particularly cheeky, ask the bartender to mix you up a bespoke whisky punch and you won’t be disappointed. The bar also hosts regular tastings from some of the industry’s most entertaining players too.

Bow Bar

80 West Bow, Edinburgh, EH1 2HH

The Bow Bar is perhaps rather misleadingly titled and in fact, this down-to-earth pub, shares none of the trappings of the city’s other trendy hangouts. The simplicity of the place means that if you’re after a selection of great pies, interesting pints and of course drams, without any real fuss, you’ve come to the right place. The back bar boasts no less than 200 different whiskies, all impressively crammed into the shelves with some real treats, including numerous indie bottlings, single casks and rarities, including their most expensive and exclusive, Port Ellen. In keeping with their simple, no-nonsense attitude, the whiskies are all competitively priced, allowing enthusiasts to take a fun flight, without reaching for the credit card too many times.


16A Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1JE

Descend the stairs of one of Edinburgh’s most celebrated cocktail bars and prepare to be amazed. Bramble might not be the biggest, most lavish joint in town, but the quality of cocktails lovingly produced by the bartenders means that this gem of Edinburgh has now reached the ears of drinks enthusiasts around the globe. Mike Aikman and his team have put together a drinks list, which relies on giving some excellent whiskies a real flavour workout, including the New Yorker (Revised) made using Glenglassaugh, freshly squeezed lemon juice, sugar syrup and a red wine float and the Butter-Scotch cocktail, taking Adelphi Private Blend, washing it in butter then adding Oloroso sherry, ginger jam, vanilla sugar and bitters for a wonderfully balanced, spicy experience.

Royal McGregor

City Centre Ward, Edinburgh, EH1 1QU

Located in Edinburgh’s ‘old town’ The Royal McGregor is about as traditional as they come. This family-run restaurant and whisky bar offers fairly classic Scottish fayre, such as Cullen Skink, Haggis fritters and Aberdeen Angus steaks, washed down with a wonderful selection of whiskies from across Scotland. However the most impressive aspect to the Royal McGregor is the pricing policy. Most drams are priced around £3.50, with gems such as Highland Park 18 Years Old and a 25 Years Old Strathisla available for a shade over a fiver.

SMWS The Vaults

87 Giles Street, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 6BZ

Although this is strictly a private bar, it is well worth becoming a fully paid-up member of the cause just to experience The Vaults, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s grandest venue. With its high ceilings, cosy leather armchairs and period décor, you’d easily think you’d been transported back to the times of Beau Brummel and his notorious drinking buddies. However, a calm descends over the bar and as with the other SMWS outlets around the world, the whisky selection is truly spectacular, with seemingly no let up in quality from any of the society bottlings making it to the shelves. A gentlemen’s club, for the modern gentleman...(and woman).


119 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1SG

Undoubtedly the starting point for any malt enthusiast parachuted into Edinburgh for the first time. Being centrally located near Edinburgh Castle and the Scottish Parliament, means that the place is always buzzing. Whiski has a well thought out menu of around 270 whiskies, including a comprehensive selection of Lowland whiskies as well as some rare gems and a host of whisky-themed ‘alternative’ classic cocktails. Try a Whiskirita (their imaginative take on the Margarita) or Long Islay Iced Tea to see what all the fuss is about.
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