As you may have seen from our social media, a couple of weeks ago my wife Jo and I spent a few days in Edinburgh during Tales on Tour – the Tales of the Cocktail’s non – New Orleans light version. To be completely upfront, we were not a part of the official Tales on Tour. Although we applied for press passes for the BartenderHQ team, Tales were not forthcoming. In fairness, our application was with them while they were having a bit of a busy time with a Mardi Gras. This was followed by profusely apologising to everyone in the world, so understandable.
As a result, we decided to have our own tour of Edinburgh. We booked into the Hilton Doubletree overlooking Edinburgh castle, booked our flights from Birmingham for April 3rd, and we were on our way.
That is a terrifying thing for bartenders everywhere, especially when its not talking about after work beers! We were up super early to drop the kids off to their Nan’s house for a sleepover, and then on the road to the airport. Of course, Monday morning is not always kind when it comes to traffic. We’d hoped to grab a nice breakfast on the way out but after getting to the airport, parking and through security, time was getting tight.
Bar 1: All Bar One, Birmingham Airport, Airside
We still managed to get our day started at the airport with our first bar, All Bar One. Did we manage the planned full English breakfast? No. We did get a croissant each though, which I scoffed on the way to the gate, while Jo saved hers. She also made me regret my haste as she covered hers in butter and jam. Damnit.
On the plus side, we managed to get our first drink in – Bacardi & Diet Coke. Its a special drink for Jo and I as our first night together that’s what we drank, and what we provided all our guests at the wedding exactly a year before on April 3rd 2016. Yes, we were on the way to Tales for our first wedding aniversary.
So a short flight later, and we’re touching down in Edinburgh. Jo’s been in the city a number of times as she’s been completing a final year degree course in business, so we’ll be going again soon for her graduation – I couldn’t be more proud!
We took the tram from the airport to the city centre, our hotel was only 5 mins or so from the nearest stop and we only had hand luggage so no problems.
Once checked in and luggage dropped off, even though our room wasn’t ready we were issued with a Hilton Cookie (thats a thing?) and headed up towards the castle. We did the standard tourist pics and then headed down the Royal Mile.
Bar 2: The Scotch Whisky Experience, Edinburgh
Can you come to Scotland as a bartender without visiting this? I don’t think so. The Scotch Whisky Experience starts by getting into a barrel on a tour of how whisky comes to be, from malt to barrel to bottle. Yes, this sounds more like a cheesy kids theme park ride, but there’s some really good information, it a great primer for the public, which of course is the target audience.
After the ride segment, you’re taken to a mock blending room – I have to say, as cheesy as the ride is the way the information is presented throughout is clear and professional. Bottles fill before your eyes as the blends are assemble through 3D animations. Finally we got to a tasting, with a choice of four single malts and a blend to choose from, and we went for Campbeltown and Islay, though there was also an option on the tour to have a taste of each – served on a barrel stave in the bar at the end.
One of the highlights of the tour was seeing the world’s largest Scotch whisky collection, over 3000 bottles with some seriously old bottles in there!
Bar 3: Beers & Burgers, Edinburgh
So, Whisky and Rum down, it was time for some lunch. Beer & Burgers Grillhouse looked good from the outside and didn’t disappoint. I was in the mood for something local, so a beer from Caledonian Brewery, while Jo had a FreakShake, as is the custom these days.
Great food and considering how busy the venue was incredibly attentive service made us leave super happy and fuelled for the rest of the day.
Bar 4: Hard Rock Cafe, Edinburgh
Not exactly something unique to Edinburgh, but it was a nice reminder of our New York and Las Vegas honeymoon so I think we can be excused! Jo is a massive fan of music in general (especially anything 80s) and nostalgia, so this had to be done. Jo picked one of the drinks from their menu, which I read through and everything looked too sweet.
I ordered an Old Fashioned, which seemed to be unusual for the bar, but to the company’s credit the bartenders were able to look up the recipe right there on the till. It wasn’t the best Old Fashioned ever, but it was perfectly acceptable. I personally prefer using syrup instead of sugar cubes or granulated sugar so you don’t have a crunchy layer at the end, but there was not chunks of cherry and orange in the drink so I’ll call this a win.
Also, the bartender was super knowledgeable about the local area and was able to make some recommendations for us, which was great. Not all worked out, but I don’t think it was her fault as much as the bartenders working where she mentioned… more on that later!
Bar 5: The Dome, Edinburgh
One of the most beautiful bars I’ve ever been in, the Dome is incredibly pretty. We took a seat at the bar and ordered interesting looking drinks from the menu – and they were really good drinks. Our bartender came over to offer menus right away and took our order in good time… but then disappeared while our drinks were made.
The bar at the Dome is circular, and because Mondays are not generally busy days, only one station was set up which meant the drinks were made hidden by the centre island of the bar. I’ve always preferred drinks made in front of me (or the guest) as it takes the guess work out of the drink and how its made. It wasn’t the case here, but we couldn’t complain about how the drinks tasted, they were amazing.
Intermission: Hotel Break
We got into our room at the Hilton Doubletree Edinburgh freshened up and headed out for the weekend. The room was great with a view of the castle, though we were not destined to spend much waking time there. We had bars to check out!
Bar 6: The Caley Bar, Waldorf Astoria, Edinburgh
Jo really wanted to visit the Caley bar, and it was on our way to the other bars we needed to find, so we popped in. Pro tip: Trust your wife. Pretty much hands down, the bartender here was the best we saw throughout our visit.
Jo ordered a White Russian and I had a Rob Roy (I’m a Manhattan fan but we’re in Scotland, so it has to be done). We asked the bartender about where to go and ended up with a nice annotated map, a history lesson on Gin Lane (which was a nice primer for Jo for the following day) and a list of places to see. Great service and some amazing drinks, no complaints here!
Bar 7: Angel’s Share, Edinburgh
Just around the corner was our next stop, Angel’s Share. By this point in the night we were getting a bit peckish, so ordered our drinks and took a seat, though we ended up just having drinks. Jo went for the Banoffee Bliss and I ordered the Barrel Aged Old Fashioned. Both boozy and delicious. The bar also has a club room at the back which was closed during our visit, but there was a great touch where the letters PDT were visible in the tiles that made the door blend into the wall.
Bar 8: Las Iguanas, Edinburgh
We NEEDED food now, and Las Iguanas was like a beacon shining in the night. We even had a little break from the cocktails – I had a weird gurana drink (Guaraná Antarctica, from Brazil) and Jo had a Diet Coke while we shared some apps. Tacos and nachos are exactly what you need on a professional cocktail tour like ours.
Back to work!
Bar 9, 10 & 11… Hmm
Next stop – Panda & Sons. We’d had a recommendation from our bartender at Hard Rock that they made great drinks, and then a counter argument later that the service wasn’t up to much. We arrived, went in through the barbershop frontage, down the stairs and through the bookcase door. The bar was cool and fairly busy, but after 10 minutes waiting at the bar without being acknowledged we gave up. I’m not sure if the bartenders were the normal staff or a part of a takeover, but it wasn’t the best experience.
Then we looked for Bramble – We found it but it seemed to be closed. Another disappointment, but we can’t really hold that against them!
Round the corner, and we headed to the Boozy Cow. Really cool bar with a graffiti aesthetic, however they were out of milk (you may have noticed that Jo has a bit of a taste for the creamy!) and also their canned Old Fashioned. The bartender was super friendly though, so we planned to come back the next day (check out part 2 for details!).
So as everything was going so well, we decided to head back to the hotel and get some rest.
Bar 12: Blue Blazer, Edinburgh
Okay, so not directly back to the hotel, but this little place was right opposite, it seemed only fair to stop in for a nightcap. From outside it looked like a typical little boozer, but it hid one of the best rum selections in the city. Great little hidden gem of a bar, so we finished our day with a little Chairman’s Reserve Forgotten Cask. Blue Blazar
Bar 13: Hilton Doubletree Hotel, Edinburgh
Okay. One more stop. It had been a super long day though… I think I had a Monkey Shoulder? I don’t know. I know it wasn’t a cocktail. There had been a lot of cocktails at this point. That’s all I know. Bedtime after this!
So, that was our first day in Edinburgh. To say we didn’t land till 10am, I think you’ll agree we packed a lot in! Next up, day two!