Last Updated on 26th January 2023 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
- Where is beer brewed in Scotland?
- 5+ Best Scottish Local Beers You Should Try
- Enjoyed reading about the best local beers in Scotland? Pin it now, read it again later:
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.
Where is beer brewed in Scotland?
Over the past decade or so, there has been a huge increase in smaller breweries across the entirety of Europe, including in Scotland. Today, it’s estimated that there are over 100 breweries scattered across Scotland.
This increase in breweries has meant increased competition, which has led to higher quality ales all around. If you happen to be visiting Edinburgh, then consider booking this Old Town Walking Tour and Beer Tasting to learn more about Scotland’s favourite tipple. Alternatively, for those visiting Glasgow, you can check out this 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. Some even go as far as to call it ‘Scotland’s Champagne’. 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 and is Scotland’s best selling pale lager. The beer is brewed in Wellpark Brewery in Glasgow.
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.
Dark Island, Orcadian Ale, 4.6%
With hints of dark chocolate, dates, and nuts, together with fruity and roast coffee aromas, this beer is created by The Orkney Brewery and is quite bitter tasting. The Orkney Brewery’s Dark Island Reserve is a 10% beer that has won awards in London.
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.
Innis & Gunn, 6.6%
If craft lagers are more your thing, then you need to look no further than Innis & Gunn. Their headquarters are based in Edinburgh, but the actual product is brewed in Glasgow. The flagship product is known as ‘the Original’ and is produced using oaked beers matured in Bourbon barrels.
Enjoyed reading about the best local beers in Scotland? Pin it now, read it again later:
Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A fan of all things France related, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She lives in London but travels as much as she can. Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.