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Enjoy a Beer at One of Scotland’s Independent Breweries

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Even for a country of narrow roads, the roads here are too narrow. There’s no paved shoulder, no shoulder to speak of at all—only an ancient moss-covered wall to one side and a loch to the other. And this, the A82 highway running north from Glasgow through Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, is considered a main road here. It makes for nervous driving, but it’s well worth the jumps and starts: Scotland’s stark, stunning mountains, and its abandoned castles and dense forests, are all just a little ways outside of its cities. If you survive the drive and are looking for things to do in Edinburgh, you deserve a good, stiff drink.

Fortunately, Scotland always delivers. The cities (and, okay, the countryside too) are speckled with distilleries and pubs serving beautiful single malts and local one-off whiskies. On Edinburgh’s Royal Mile—the so-picturesque-it-feels-like-its-a-Scottish-themed-part-of-Disneyland stretch of centuries-old buildings running from Edinburgh Castle to Holyroodhouse Palace—you’re never more than a dozen yards from a whisky tasting, a whisky bar, or a Scotch Whisky Experience.

Edinburgh’s Punk Brewery

Considering the great variety of drinking options, it should come as no surprise that Scotland has incubated one of the world’s wackiest and fastest-growing breweries, BrewDog. In 2006, there was no such thing as BrewDog; now, the self-described “libertine” brewery, started by two pals from Aberdeen, operates 26 craft beer pubs in eight countries and employs nearly 400 people.

BrewDog is tricky to describe, really. The company is fiercely proud of its independence and was founded out of a general boredom with the “industrially brewed lagers and stuffy ales that dominate the UK market.” BrewDog is also fiercely proud of its carefully cultivated steampunk image: to announce the opening of their Camden pub in London in 2011, they drove a tank down Camden High Street. They serve beer out of taxidermied animals and have brewed a batch on the ocean floor. However, they also have a TV show about themselves and operate a super-successful chain of breweries that all pretty much exude a chain pub vibe. It’s confusing.

Then there’s the beer, which thankfully masks a lot of the air of “Hey, look how little we care about how cool we obviously are”. Like most self-styled libertines (think Russell Brand), the brewers are actually obsessive nerds who are quite clever and very good at what they do. They’ve brewed a tasty stout with a 16.5% alcohol content, making it only half as strong as their famous 32% Tactical Nuclear Penguin, the world’s strongest beer ever when it debuted in 2009. Their flagship beer is a dutifully bitter IPA called Punk IPA, and they also have a standard porter, red ale and lager, all floating between 3.8% and 5.6%.

This is where BrewDog gets really strange, and its beers get really strong. There’s Hardcore IPA, a doubly bitter 9.2% IPA, or Cocoa Pyscho, a 10% mocha stout. That’s just the beer they produce regularly; each pub has its own weekly specials and cask beers, which the Edinburgh location announces via Facebook and Twitter.

Unique Beer on Tap in Edinburgh’s Old City

BrewDog’s Edinburgh location is tucked amongst dive bars on Cowgate, one street south from the touristic Royal Mile. It’s a spacious, industrial-themed pub in a city of cozy restaurants, serving great bar grub (BrewDog has fantastic burgers) and offering tasting flights to give hops enthusiasts a sample of the standard and not-so-standard beers available.

The location is ideal for tourists looking for things to do in Edinburgh. The city is walkable, although some of its best experiences require some wet-weather trudging up and down Edinburgh’s many hills. (And it’s usually quite wet, being Scotland and all.) The best views of the city are from one of these hills, either in Regent Gardens above Edinburgh Station or from Arthur’s Seat, the maybe-historical location of Camelot that towers over the Scottish Parliament.

BrewDog isn’t the only place for a nice pint in Edinburgh; while it might offer an alternative to the standard beers on tap at small neighbourhood pubs, these pubs shouldn’t be overlooked. The Bow Bar on nearby Victoria Street is the complete opposite of BrewDog: local, warm, tiny, predictable, and featuring a great whisky list. Try both pubs to get a sense of the once and future beers of Scotland.

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