If you live in Edinburgh, you’ll be well versed in the ‘pop-up’ event, and Summerhall is the Mecca of the Pop-up. The old vet’s school, located just on the fringes of the Meadows, has fast become one of the city’s most popular arts venues, hosting everything from theatre productions and arts exhibitions, to film showings and club nights. Last weekend though, it played host to Festivale – a Christmassy showcase of Scotland’s best craft beer, held in the fomer college’s Dissection Room.
The line-up for the event was tight, with Summerhall’s own Barney’s Beers, alongside the well established Williams Brothers and new boys on the scene, Top Out Brewery. Pickering’s Gin – which is distilled on the Summerhall premises – and a rum surgery hosted by Solid Liquid were also on hand to ensure our glasses remained firmly filled.
We started off with the Williams Brothers – a brewer whose output I’m extremely familiar with. I’ve often been told that I’m single handily keeping the company afloat with the amount of their beers that I buy, but they simply specialise in making good, unpretentious beers. They had a number of old favourites on tap – Joker IPA, Black Ball Stout, Caesar Augustus – along with a few treats. The first was October Zest, which was deliciously creamy, with zingy citrus flavours of lemon and lime. It felt more like a beer you would have cold on a summer day, but it went down nicely even in Dissection Room’s slightly chilly surroundings. This sat well alongside one of my favourite festive ales, Nollaig. Unlike many Christmassy beers, which can be sickly and verge on the undrinkable, Nollaig has just the right amount of spruce to compliment the hint of spice and sticky sweetness.
New boys on the scene Top Out were also pulling pints on the day, having nipped down from their brewery on the outskirts of the Capital. I’d seen their beers kicking about for a while, but after tasting their Cone IPA, I hope I’m never too far from a bottle in the future! It was quite simply one of the best American-style IPAs I’ve had in a long time. It was full of American hops, giving it a big, sticky, malty mouthfeel, followed by lots of fruity flavours – grapefruit, mango, orange, lemon; it had the lot! I regret not sampling more of their beers on the day but keep your eyes peeled for them around town – this is a brewery which is going places!
Alongside Barney’s beers and a saloon like bottle bar, Pickering’s Gin – which claims to be the first gin distilled in Edinburgh for 150 years – had our G&T for the afternoon covered. Pickering’s only started distilling last year, using a recipe which had been kept secret since 1947, but it has firmly established itself on the Edinburgh drinks scene. As a seasonal alternative, I decided to go for a G&GB or Gin & Ginger Beer. The Fever Tree Ginger Beer combined with the aromatic Pickering’s to give a refreshing wintery cocktail, with a spicy edge to it. A pretty simple mixer to try at home over the festive period and try finishing it off with a slice of pink grapefruit, for that extra kick of citrus.
Summerhall Festivale was a great showcase of the exciting beers – and gin – currently coming out of Scotland, and I’ll definitely be stocking up on some of these for Christmas and New Year. And be sure to keep your eyes peeled for some more boozy events at Summerhall next year.