I missed the Stockbridge Tap last time I went up to Edinburgh. I’d heard about it and tried to find it, but we were pushed for time and it was raining. Plus the bus we were on didn’t go past the pub neither, so we never got to it. Anyhow, I just had to visit the Stockbridge Tap when it got voted the CAMRA Scotland & NI pub of the year for 2015.
Actually, it’s not that difficult to find in the well heeled district of Stockbridge. If you fancy calling in, it’s convenient to make a visit coincide with a trip to the stunning Royal Edinburgh Botanical Gardens Botanical Gardens or a walk along the equally excellent Water of Leith Walk. There’s real scope here, for someone local to do a pub themed Water of Leith Walk.
Inside you will find some very friendly bar staff. Knowledgeable, but definitely not ‘clever’, about what they were selling and very helpful in marking my card on which other pubs I should be visiting. I later met one of them in a more social setting where he introduced me as ‘the bloke who was drinking Tempest Scotch Ale (7.4%) at lunchtime’. I found the beer on Untappd but I can’t find mention on the brewery web site, suffice to say it totally demolished all prejudices of past experiences with Scotch ale in the dark days when you couldn’t get any real ale north of the border (or even in Northumbria) for love nor money (or good local knowledge).
The pub has been kitted out in a modern traditional style. Everything has a quality, thought about, feel, but it’s still a traditional boozer with a bar and bare floorboards. The toilets easily passed muster. There’s a bit of beweriana around the walls and a quieter area round the corner from the bar where you can sit and chat or eat.
On the bar there’s seven cask ale lines, plus keg lines, lager, cider, cans and bottles. Contrary to the theme in a lot of the feted Edinburgh bars, the focus here is strongly on real ale. Yes, you can get modern craft beer styles and modern real ale styles too but the feel of the place is that it is a proper pub that suits the CAMRA drinker and the non conformist alike. It also suits foodie’s as well. The menu looked quite good, a bit of a fishy focus going on and some interesting things like gamey Sunday lunches.
In terms of pedigree there was, rightly, a big Scottish focus, yet Oakham Ales feature on a daily basis along with Alechemy and Highland or Swannay. When we called in there were beers from Pictish (Rochdale) and Hardknott (Cumbria) as well. I thought they had a well thought out selection, with a nice geographical balance. As well as the Tempest Scotch ale, between myself and Mrs C we also tried Alechemy Ritual Pale ale (4.1%) which is the house beer, Pictish Jarrylo (4.0%) and Oakham Ales Bishops Farewell (4.6%). I really like the Alechemy beers which come from Livingston and I always get them mixed up with Anarchy from Northumbria, who have a similar logo. Prices were £3.40 to £3.60, which were reasonable for quality products and on a par for the city.
What I didn’t know, until the staff told me, was Stockbridge Tap is the sister bar to both Cloisters Bar and The Bow Bar. This sort of figures, all three are quality ale houses. When you start to analyse it, the Stockbridge Tap is more of a variant on Cloisters Bar rather than a The Bow Bar clone, thankfully (too many tourists for my liking). I would have been interested to see if it had the friendly inclusive buzz that Cloisters Bar has in the evening, unfortunately we only managed a short lunch time session. Out of two visits to Edinburgh in 2015, Stockbridge Tap is definitely coming out in my top ten, not quite as high as Cloisters Bar but pretty close to the top.