Raise a glass to West End Beer Festival

Barney from Barney's Beer. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Barney from Barney's Beer. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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It’s a staple part of Scottish culture – but the humble pint has come a long way from the days when ‘choice’ meant choosing between a stout and a bitter.

A recent surge in micro-breweries, craft beers, ­imported European ales and home brewing has seen an explosion in the choice and variety of beers available on the market, from strong ­Belgian-style ales to fruit beers and, perhaps most ­infamously, beer which has the same alcoholic content as a fine whisky.

Tomorrow some of Scotland’s finest producers will be gathering in the Capital for the Second West End Beer Festival, ­offering connoisseurs the chance to try some of the latest brews on offer and the uninitiated an opportunity to pick up some tips on creating their very own beer.

Part of the Edinburgh Restaurant Festival, the event will take over five bars – Teuchters, The Melville, The Grosvenor, The Ghillie Dhu and Ryan’s Bar – and include all the ingredients for a perfect day out: food, drink and even some live music.

It comes in the wake of a huge boom in the beer trade, and Jason Borthwick, the general manager at Ryan’s Bar, said: “There has been a definite shift towards craft beers and micro-brewing in ­recent years, and I think a lot of that was because consumers were just fed up with what they were getting from the big companies.

“I won’t name any names but there was a sort of blandness about beer for a while. Now people are getting excited about it again and realising the potential.

“It has been great to see the growth in micro-brewing and home brewing, and so many people now are looking to get involved. We are a wee bit behind in this – seasonal ales and craft beers have been huge in America and Canada for quite a while, and there are a massive number of craft beer bars in London. But it’s great to see that we are not behind in the quality of beer being produced, and there’s a lot of really interesting products coming out.

“We will have an apricot beer, for example, which should be tasty, and there’s a pumpkin beer which is very popular – I actually had to order it about a month in advance just to make sure I got it, obviously because of the time of year. It’s probably the most unusual craft beer I’ve tried, but it really works.”

Among the products on offer at the festival will be a beetroot beer from Barney’s Beer, eco-friendly brews from Fallen Brewing Co, Alechemy brewery’s flagship beer ­Ritual, and a specially created concoction from

Midlothian-based Stewarts Brewing. Its master brewer will also be attending to help talk people through the process of creating a fine craft ale – and the firm is also keen to promote its Beer Kitchen, an innovative idea set up in its brewery at the Bilston Glen industrial estate which allows anyone to go along and craft their very own beer.

Since opening earlier this year the company has already created more than 150 different types of beer for clients ranging from large companies to wedding parties, and Tim Blades, Marketing manager at Stewart Brewing admitted they had included some very unusual flavours.

“It has been amazing to see the response – our kitchen was the first of its kind in the UK, and it allows people to really get creative – we’ve had people using ingredients like popcorn, lemonade, chocolate and even Earl Grey tea, which was surprisingly refreshing,” he said.

“You get between 40 and 80 litres, and it’s ideal for someone who maybe wants to try home brewing but doesn’t have the space, or if you’ve got a special event to celebrate. We’ve created a special brew with Ryan’s Bar for the festival which I’m really excited about – it’s a great taste and I’d highly recommend people come along to give it a try.”

And he said the rise of craft beers could be seen as a cultural shift, as people look to enjoy the finer things in life.

“Strangely as people have less money they tend to buy less – but what they do buy they want to be of better quality,” he said. “People also want more information about where their food and drink comes from, so that will have played a big part.”