The Bow Bar is renowned for its wide range of well kept real ales and large selection of whiskies. You’d be hard pushed to find a beer or whisky geek in Edinburgh that didn’t have this pub in their top 10 or even top 5.
It’s very traditional-looking with lots of dark wood, red tin ceiling, old pictures and brewery/distillery/cigarette mirrors on the walls, tiny wee tables just big enough to rest your pint, hooks on the bar and an old fireplace.
On this visit, Tuesday night as usual, it was neither quiet nor busy, but just about right. There was a mixture of young and old, and an even balance of ladies and gents, perhaps surprising for what looks like an “old man” pub. It gets a lot of regulars as well as tourists. Weekend evenings can get incredibly busy, but the friendly staff always seem to keep their cool. Personally, I prefer it a bit quieter, it’s much more relaxed that way, no music and the TV will often be off.
As one of the three pubs run by Edinburgh Real Ale, it’s in good company along with Cloisters and The Stockbridge Tap. All three pubs are excellent.
The cask beers are served via old-school Scottish tall font/fount taps, a once common sight, now relegated to just a few bars in town. There are no hand pumps involved, the beer is driven by air pressure via a “water engine”, at least traditionally.
Cask: Top Out Staple Pale, Alechemy Bowhemia (house beer), Higland Island Hopping, Wylam Jakehead IPA, Fallen Black House, Wylam Collingwood, Highland Duke IPA, Partners Triple Hop.
Kegs: Anderson Valley El Steinber, Furstenberg, Elixir Sugar Lumps, Williams Joker IPA, Stowford Press cider, Thistly Cross strawberry cider.
The bottled beer selection is good too, with good stuff from all over the world. You’ll even get a decent alcohol free bottle or two, not a common sight.
There’s a huge selection of whiskies, something in the region of 200 I believe.
The cask beers average out at £3.46. Guest kegs were more expensive, up to £6 a pint, but they’re special.
Lunches only I believe. Good, simple choice of 3 or 4 pies at something crazy cheap like £2.50 (not sure exactly). I recommend the steak and blue cheese. Mmm…
There are various beer festivals throughout the year, my favourite being the mass blind taste tests, the most recent of which was the “IPA Challenge” where over 25 different cask and keg IPAs were lined up over several days, but with no labels on the pumps. The results went up just a few days ago. It’s not perfect science since everybody rates things differently, but in a crowded bar I can appreciate that a simple system is probably better.