Spotlight on Edinburgh: pop-up bars and pirates

As if Edinburgh didn’t already have enough great bars, this August has brought more pop-up bars than ever to the Scottish capital to tie in with the festivals, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. You could enjoy a taste of Italy at the Aperol Spritz Bar or mix up a Cuban cocktail at the Mojito Embassy or just sit back with a Scottish gin and tonic.

One of the hubs of the Fringe festival is the Pleasance Courtyard, a maze of performance venues created out of Edinburgh University buildings in Pleasance. With many of the top comedians playing here, Pleasance Courtyard has attracted drinks brands such as Courvoisier which last year created a bar serving up cognac punch. This summer, drinks company Maxxium UK returned to promote another mixed serve for one of its brands: The Ginger Grouse. At The Ginger Grouse bar, you could enjoy the signature drink that mixes The Famous Grouse whisky with a wedge of squeezed lime, topped up with ginger beer. Maxxium UK has been trialling The Ginger Grouse on tap in Scottish bars.

Innis & Gunn at 32 Potterrrow
Not far away on another part of the university, close to the hub of Bristo Square, Innis & Gunn took over bar-restaurant Koko and turned it into Innis & Gunn at 32 Potterrow. Working with the team behind nearby bar 56 North, the beer company made it a showcase of Scottish food and drink alongside its own range of oak-aged beers. Other brewers represented at the bar included Williams Bros, Stewart Brewing and Caledonian Breweries as well as Thistly Cross Cider. Scottish spirits were sourced wherever possible, including the gins such as The Botanist, Boë, Blackwood’s, Caorunn, Edinburgh Gin, Hendrick’s and Tanqueray. The menu also recommended simple serves such as Raspberry Edinburgh Gin with a slice of lemon and a dash of soda, and Caorunn with a slice of apple and Fentiman’s Tonic.

Aperol Garden
Over in Edinburgh’s New Town is another festival hub, the Assembly Rooms – the 18th-century events venue that has reopened after an 18-month £9.3million renovation. Despite Edinburgh’s less-than-tropical weather, the main bars this year were outside in George Street in the Spiegelterrace, next to the circus-like Spiegeltent venue.

The Spiegelterrace was home to the Aperol Garden, serving up Aperol Spritzes from an orange and white mobile bar modelled on a Venetian orangery. Trailing vines, orange trees and designer furniture from Myyour tried to bring some Italian sunshine to the heart of Edinburgh, alongside a stage for live music and comedy. It was one of the first activities by Aperol’s new UK distributor, Catalyst Brands, part of Matthew Clark, which took on the Gruppo Campari portfolio earlier this year.

Aperol Spritzes
Aperol is an orange and rhubarb-based bitter which has been experiencing phenomenal growth over the past two years with previous UK distributor Cellar Trends. This has been led by the signature serve of an Aperol Spritz, made with three parts prosecco, two parts Aperol and a dash of soda over ice, garnished with a slice of orange.

In nearby George Square was the Havana Club “hands on” pop-up bar, one of the stopping-off points for the world tour of the rum brand’s Mojito Embassy. It invited people to learn how to make their own Cuban Mojito using Havana Club 3 Year Old with a “cantinero” bartender. They could even pick their mint and fresh lime from a Cuban-style street trolley. Also in the square, guerilla gardener Richard Reynolds created a sculpture, called Mint Tornado, made out of furniture and live growing mint, which was plucked every day and taken to bars around Edinburgh for making Mojitos. The mint has now been planted in a dedicated garden for bartenders to continue growing, along with other fresh ingredients, for making drinks.

Mint Tornado for Havana Club

While the Fringe dominates the city in August, it coincides with the Edinburgh International Book Festival where a pop-up bar was set up by Edinburgh Gin. It attracted leading novelists such as Ian Rankin and, according to Alex Nichol of Edinburgh Gin’s producer Spencerfield Spirit, it is hopefully the start of a long association with the festival.

Thinking Drinker’s “O face”
The Scottish provenance of Tanqueray Gin – produced at Cameron Bridge in Fife – was highlighted in what is becoming another annual fixture of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe: The Thinking Drinker’s Guide to Alcohol. The show, at the Assembly Rooms, is written and performed by drinks writers Tom Sandham and Ben McFarland, who debuted at last year’s Fringe and have also played venues in London. They take the audience through the history of alcohol from the invention of beer to the three-Martini lunch. Their new show brings to life different spirits categories, sometimes with costumes, often with bad jokes, such as the history of rum represented by Tom dressed first as a pirate and then, quite disturbingly, as a scantily clad Trinidadian carnival dancing girl. It culminates in a young woman from the audience being dragged up on stage to shake a Martini and show her “O face”, based on the spurious theory that bartenders make the same expression while shaking a cocktail as they do when making sweet love. The lucky lady’s picture, or even a video, was then broadcast to the world each day via Facebook and Twitter (pictured).

Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham
The light-hearted history lesson started this year with Shepherd Neame’s Bishops Finger ale – illustrated by Ben dressed as a lusty monk to remind us of beer’s monastic roots. They also handed out samples of Angostura 1919 rum from Trinidad & Tobago, Tanqueray No Ten, Pernod Absinthe, Belvedere Pink Grapefruit and Jägermeister, directing people to enjoy the brands at Edinburgh bars such as Tonic, The Voodoo Rooms, The Bon Vivant, Outhouse and the Balmoral Hotel’s Palm Court bar. Ending on a laudable plea for the return of the three-Martini lunch, they champion the message to “drink less but drink better” – a lesson that many hungover festival-goers might wish they had remembered.

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