Last Updated on 10th January 2022 by Sophie Nadeau
“You can’t go to Edinburgh and not try a local brew“… Or so my barman informed me at a local pub in the Grassmarket, a lively area in the heart of Edinburgh. The area also happens to be home to The Smallest Pub in Scotland, a pint-sized pub in the centre of the city. And while there, I wanted to try the best Scottish local beers the city had to offer…
It had rained fairly consistently since my arrival, but wanting to spend a little time hanging out where the locals do, we’d made it to a pub just below the castle. Lying in the shadow of the volcanic hill that makes up Edinburgh Castle Hill, I ordered my first local Edinburgh beer.
Everywhere I go, I always try a little local cuisine. I found out just before visiting that beer has been brewed in Scotland for nearly 5000 years (wow). And in all that time, I’m sure they’ve perfected a recipe or two, right? I mean, brewing beer in Scotland is a tradition as old as the Pyramid of Giza… In fact, beer is so common in Scotland (and around the world!), that it’s the third most popular drink in the world after water and tea.
A history of beer in Scotland
For 5000 years, beer has been brewed, tasted and perfected across Scotland. As far back as Neolithic times, beers and ales were brewed using barley as a base. Celtic tradition dictated the use of herbs in the beer recipe, giving the drink a distinct flavour.
Bitter herbs such as heather and Myrtle were used, a tradition that was carried on through the Centuries and continued even after much of Europe had stopped using herbs. In the middle ages, and beyond, brewing beer was mainly entrusted to Monasteries throughout Scotland and the tradition of using herbs to flavour the beer was continued.
However, by the end of the 19th-Century, hops had replaced herbs as a way of flavouring the beer. Today, Edinburgh, and Scotland, in general, is full of ‘free-houses’; pubs that are not tied to one particular brewery.
As a result, the city is full of places to pick up independent craft beers, each with their own unique flavour. For a full wander through Edinburgh, I recommend embarking on this free and self-guided walking tour.
5 Best Scottish Local Beers You Should Try
Caledonia Best, 3.2%
This beer is 100% Scottish both in ingredients and recipe. The recipe uses 100% Scottish Barley and was launched in 2010. Launched in 2011, the beer has been created in partnership with the Scottish nation’s barley farmers.
Tennent’s Lager, 4%
This lager is often touted as ‘Scotland’s Best Selling Pint’ and has been brewed since 1885. It too is brewed with 100% Scottish barley, making it a truly local beer that you can find in bars and pubs all over the country. This beer is vegan.
Pilot Beer Iced Tea Ale, 5%
The Pilot Beer Iced Tea is made locally to Edinburgh in Leith and is an IPA. Brewed by the sea, it’s a summer beer to be drunk cold and is blended using Earl Grey and Scottish Breakfast tea, making it a refreshing drink that’s perfect to be enjoyed among friends.
Fraoch, Heather Ale, 5%
This ale is made using a unique 4000-year-old recipe. Since 2000 BC, this ancient recipe has been passed on through the generations and is made using the bittersweet herbs which were so favoured by the Celts.
Fyne Ales, Jarl, 3.8%
A final ale for the list, the name ‘Fyne’ means ‘vine’, and comes from ‘Loch of the Vine’. This brew has fine notes of citrus and is very light, making it a refreshing Summer evening drink.