Blog by Nigel Walsh


At Last, the 1976 Real Ale Guide to Edinburgh – Second Edition

This was originally going to be entitled “Last Dance at the Grand Delancey”, but weather and circumstances intervened, and I was not able to get in one last farewell visit to what was one of my favorite places in NYC.

The plan was to go and hangout there on Sunday, after heading out for a family day trip to the Berkshires on Saturday, but we ended up postponing the trip north by a day when the snow kept our cars in NYC.

So, with fair weather on Sunday, we set off early for North Canaan in the far northwest corner of Connecticut on a family jaunt.

I had a couple of side goals for the trip: Firstly, I was hoping we would get back in time for me to head over to the Delancey, and secondly, I was hoping to grab a cask or two at Great Falls Brewing Company in town, as their website prominently displays a nice shiny handpump.

Sadly, no joy on either.

The handpump at Great Falls is nice and shiny because it doesn’t actually see any use, it is currently there to look pretty and may be used in the future if they decide to do any casks.

We did get back in time for me to get in an evening session at the Delancey, but they ran out of beer before I was ready to set off for the subway. Oh well, maybe it was for the better.

Please come back soon folks!

So, what to do for this week’s post – I just got through a three-day weekend without a drop of beery nectar touching my lips

You may find this hard to believe, but when I am not downing a beer or writing about beer, you may occasionally find me reading and re-reading about it… just for research purposes, you understand.

When trapped at home by the snow, my eyes fell on my trusty (yet pretty useless) stack of Good Beer Guides; I have five of them, ranging from 1978 through 2011, most of them single purpose, purchased whenever I had a planned trip back home, except for the 1978 copy which got a lot of use as I was still living in the old country then.

I grabbed the 1978 and it opened up naturally to the section on Lothian; almost at the very end of the book but very well thumbed and covered in my chicken scratch notes, especially the pubs listed for Edinburgh.

Looking at the Edinburgh listings for the umpteenth time, I realized that it still included nine out of the ten real ale pubs that I frequented frequently during my university years between 1975-1977; eight in the city proper (including Leith) and one out at the village of Balerno, missing only the legendary Staggs in Musselburgh.

During my years there, those ten pubs were the only real ale outlets in Edinburgh and close-by villages, but by the time that the 1978 guide was compiled there were 33 real ale outlets in the same area, including many that I had visited despite the lack of cask (just to be sociable).

So dear readers, I hear you asking, what are those legendary establishments, and are they still in business?

These are the pioneers, or really just the hangers-on given the state of real ale in the UK by the mid-70s:

If you follow the links to the WhatPub entries, you can see that they all still exist and nine out of ten are still dispensing real ale (oh Central Bar, how could you?), even if one of them (the Black Swan) has since been renamed.

It says a lot about the differences in the pub scene between the UK and the US, and is especially poignant given the unfortunate situation with the Grand Delancey.

Enough of that, let’s get back to Edinburgh… in 1976.

I had been living in Edinburgh for a year when a fellow student formally introduced me to real ale and CAMRA.

Up to that point I had been enjoying cask ale down south without really understanding why I liked the hand-pumped stuff, yet couldn’t stomach the fizzy stuff that everybody else around me was drinking. I also had Scotland tagged as a primitive place due to the lack of handpumps in the pubs.

And then I was dragged into Bennet’s bar by the college with a group of friends and was presented with a beautiful foamy pint of Belhaven 70/-.

I was hooked – the beer did not come from a handpump but from a water-powered Aitken fount (aka tall fount), which had been hiding in plain sight all through my freshman year in the city.

I grabbed a copy of the newly printed CAMRA Real Ale Guide to Scotland, a thin tome, and set about turning the eight listed city pubs into my locals.

So, let us go back to 1976.

Bennet’s Bar

It didn’t and still doesn’t look like much from the outside, just a small pub by a theater painted dark green, but if you pay attention to the etched windows and door panels you will get a hint of the magnificence to come once you step inside.

It was a Belhaven house in 1976, pouring both the 70/- heavy and the 60/- light (i.e. mild); nowadays you are more likely to find Jarl which is not at all shabby.

This was my regular lunchtime local whenever I had classes in the Grassmarket annex, so pretty much a daily ritual.


This was my other lunchtime regular haunt, usually visited whenever I happened to be in the main university buildings on Chambers Street, or whenever I fancied a change from the usual McEwans, Youngers, or Belhaven beers.

It was the only place around that served beers from Maclays of Alloa, both the 60/- light and the 80/- export; it now appears to serve Sharps Doom Bar as its regular pint.

Aye, the pubs from 1976 may still be around but the breweries and their delicious beers are long gone.

Greyfriars Bobby

You would think this would be my daytime local, sitting as it does right on my daily walk between classes, and serving the only cask pint of Lorimer 70/- in the city.

I did drop by on occasion, but it was, as I suspect it still is, a popular place for tourists who come by to do all manner of disrespectful things with the statue of the wee doggie right outside the pub.

It seems to have a good selection of local ales on these days, so may be worth dealing with the crowd.

The Diggers

Formally named the Athletic Arms but known to all as the Gravediggers, or more likely the Diggers.

Despite being way across town from my residence in the New Town, I could be found here most evenings.

A small, angled bar in a small, angled pub that had a good half-dozen tall founts all serving up McEwan 80/- and a single under-utilized Guinness tap.

The bar staff all dressed in traditional formal wear (no, not kilts) were experts at the art of topping up, often keeping ten or more pints settling down at the same time.

The place was always three-deep at the bar, especially on the weekend when Hearts were at home or whenever there was a rugby game on at Murryfield, but regardless of how busy the place was, you could always get your order in swiftly; you would be spotted and acknowledged immediately by the bartender and would reply by raising a number of fingers to order the equivalent number of pints. When said pints were ready, glasses and money would be shuffled back and forth by the blockers in front of you.

My absolute favorite pub in Edinburgh.

I see these days that they serve Deuchars IPA and Stewarts 80/- (branded as Diggers) which is about as close to the original McEwans nectar that you can still get.

Clark’s Bar

One of the two real ale pubs closest to my residence and the place that I would most likely be found on a weekend lunchtime or when I did not have any classes.

Another one of those places that looks unimpressive from the outside, but with a fine interior.

Younger’s IPA was the real ale of choice back in 1976, and I see that the regular pint now is Winton Peelywally… whatever that is.

It was always a locals bar and specifically a men’s bar, but surprisingly it hid a large back room with a disco setup back in the day that could be booked for parties, so whenever any of my friends had cause to celebrate, we (and the ladies) would book the place for a late-night rave.

Beware the stairs down to the crapper.

Mather’s Bar

This was the closest bar to my hovel and would be the regular hangout whenever a small group of us would go out for a couple of pints and a haggis supper in the evening.

It had a quiet yet open back room which provided a little privacy that the ladies always seemed to insist upon.

Very smart and clean with a younger clientele than my preferred hangouts, but it also did a mighty fine pint of Younger’s IPA.

I believe that it had renamed (Empress of Broughton Street) and reinvented itself at one time but has now thankfully returned back to its traditional roots.

I have no idea what the Bellfield Lawless Village IPA that is listed as its regular beer is.

The Black Swan

Now renamed as the Roseleaf.

This was a unique place deep in the old docklands of Leith, and a particular favorite.

Set amongst brooding cobblestone streets and canals, it had a certain Jack the Ripper or more appropriately Burke and Hare vibe to it.

It was just as intimidating inside, but only on the first visit… only the hardy made a return visit, but were welcomed as locals if they did.

The most local of locals’ pubs and what locals they were too. Real salt-of-the-earth folks with all manner of facial bruises and scars and a handful of plaster casts thrown in for good measure.

It was a tiny place which was always full yet not packed, with everybody keeping a sensible distance between themselves and their neighbors.

It buzzed.

Once the locals got to recognize you as a regular, you were just treated as one of them and got to engage in all manner of conversations.

And then the music and singing kicked in.

It took a couple of Saturday night visits to realize that there was another equally small equally full space behind the bar, with a piano and enthusiastic performers of varying abilities to carry a tune and remember the words… absolutely brilliant.

I used to go with a couple of friends every other Saturday evening and we always gravitated to the back room to enjoy the company and the “live” music; after sitting in for three occasions we were asked if we would like to join in the performance, and you could practically hear the gulps from my two buddies before I bravely drunkenly volunteered to do an acapella “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” only to find that the pianist was quite happy to accompany me.

We were not asked to sing again but we had passed the test and were welcomed with open arms whenever we returned.

McEwan 70/- was the regular pour here and it was always very well kept.

I have no idea what the Roseleaf is going to be like, but I suspect that the ghosts of the Black Swan still haunt the place and the surrounding streets.

Central Bar

This apparently no longer serves cask ale, but back in the day it also served McEwan 70/-.

This was another spectacular place hidden behind a nondescript frontage.

The largest room of any of my hangouts, it was cavernous inside with intricate yet faded tiling on all surfaces not covered by a mirror.

Multi-tap like the Diggers but much quieter whenever we visited, it now appears to be a lively local bar with Guinness and music.

I would still visit if ever I return to Edinburgh, well Leith, even if the real ale does not return.

Grey Horse, Balerno

A big old stone-built country pub out in the village of Balerno about eight miles west of the center of Edinburgh.

It is close to the Heriot-Watt University campus at Riccarton, and we used to visit whenever we went out to play football, usually on a Sunday afternoon; fortunately, there is a bus that takes you practically to the door.

They served the Belhaven 60/- light and the 80/- export straight from the cask and both were a revelation. Without the frothy head that you would usually get from the tall founts these both looked and tasted more like an English pint, albeit amber and malty.

They had an extensive food menu as well but as poor students we usually made do with a couple of pints, packet of crisps and a pickled egg… or a haggis supper from the local chippy.

Staggs, Musselburgh

I only got to visit the Volunteer Arms aka Staggs once, and that wasn’t actually planned.

Leaving the Black Swan once with my two mates, we were feeling lazy, and it was late, so we hopped on a bus to take us back up to the New Town.

Yes, we hopped on the outgoing bus to Musselburgh by mistake and didn’t realize until we were unceremoniously dumped off outside Staggs.

We did what any sensible folk would do, we went in for a couple of pints before it closed for the night.

I have no idea what we actually drank then, but apparently it now has five regular beers on cask and a few guests as well.

We finished up to find that the bus had shut down for the night and ended up having to walk the six miles back home, guided by the glow of the city lights and the silhouette of Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park.

But folks, there is a bus, just make sure you get on the right one.

Is there a crawl?

If you insist, here is a suggested real ale stroll through the Edinburgh city pubs, from the Diggers to the Swan, with suggested detours along the Union Canal, the Grassmarket and the Water of Leith.

You may want to do it in reverse so that you end at the Diggers… it will be worth it.

Scorecard w/e 02/20/24

In the past week, The Cask Whisperer has enjoyed the following casks:

  • Old Glenham Winders ESB @ Jones Wood Foundry
  • Fifth Hammer Richard Neverdick @ Jones Wood Foundry

Upcoming Cask Festivals

3/24/24: An Afternoon of Casks at Nod Hill Brewing, Ridgefield CT

3/30/2024: Cask.On at Cask & Vine, Derry NH

4/10/2024 – 4/13/2024 (5 sessions): 25th Annual New England Real Ale Exhibition (NERAX)

11/8/2024: Two Roads Cask Fest

11/9/2024: 20th Annual Blue Point Cask Ale Festival

NYC Cask Venues

Known Operational/Active Beer Engines

  • Jones Wood Foundry (x2)
  • Fifth Hammer
  • Wild East
  • The Shakespeare (x3)
  • Cask Bar & Kitchen
  • Drop-off Service
  • Spuyten Duyvil

Occasional Pins (worth a follow on Instagram)

  • Strong Rope
  • KCBC
  • Torst

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