It’s hard to imagine what drinking whisky must have been like in Leith when it was the epicenter of Scotland’s whisky industry. Port towns have always had a certain relationship with alcohol, and Leith was no ordinary port town. It was simultaneously one of the busiest ports in Europe and the epicentre of the Scotch Whisky industry.
Whisky and the associated trades the industry supported was the main source of employment. Nowadays, things are very different, and whilst for the first time in a long time whisky is being produced in Leith, the connection is but a whisper of what it once was. Thankfully though, you can still get a decent dram in Leith, and below we wander round a few of our favorite Leith watering holes.
You can find out more about Leith’s whisky-making past on this journal post. (LINK)
To many in Edinburgh, Leith is now a part of their city, valued for its vibrancy and diversity. But speak to many in Leith, and you soon discover it maintains a very proud and individual character that is somewhat separate from the city that now engulfs it.
For us, Leith is abundant with inspiration that comes from two sources; historic relics of the golden age of an urban whisky industry that used to define the area and industry, and a contemporary area of Edinburgh that has completely reinvented itself. Whilst there are those who worry about the gentrification of Leith, many are proud of a diverse, vibrant, creative scene of makers, small independent startups that make it one of Edinburgh’s most dynamic areas.
Leith’s got a fantastic bar and restaurant scene. At one end of the cultural spectrum, proudly boasting one of the highest concentrations of Michelin starred restaurants in the world. But its the more down to earth bar and pub scene that’s, in our book, more impressive. Their offerings, atmosphere and history add up to create something quite special. Leith’s got passionate locals that frequent their favorite locals, adding to the texture and charm. Here are our picks of the bunch that each offer something a little different: not all are extensive whisky bars with endless list of malts to choose from, but we promise in each we guarantee you’ll find a warm welcome and something super tasty to drink.
142 Duke St, Edinburgh EH6 8HR
Owned and operated by born and bred hospitality mavens Iain MacPherson and Kyles Jamieson, Nauticus is a contemporary bar proudly serving the finest Scottish Produce. Eschewing the well-trodden cliche’s of the tourist-traps that scatter the city, Nauticus seeks out really quality offerings and presents them in interesting ways. In our book, it’s a proud symbol of modern Scottish hospitality and creativity. Quality cocktails, well thought out, sometimes niche discovery offerings and impeccable attention to detail are the hallmarks of their operation. During the pandemic, they’ve partnered successfully with a host of Edinburgh street food operators and kept hundreds of peckish residents of Leith filled up with cheer.
Malt & Hops
Single room, cosy traditional style pub with superb selection of ever changing ales and whiskies. THe malt and hops has been a tavern since 1747 and whilst its tidy, clean and well maintained you do get a sense of the history that that room has played host to. It’s prime position on the shore gives it a special feel right at the heart of Leith. The knowledgeable and passionate team keep the range interesting, but this is a good ole’ fashioned boozer, and in our book one of the best places for a few half n halfs in Leith. Either grab a seat right at the back and watch the room fill up, or a table right at the front that gets incredible light as the sun goes down on the shore. It’s the sort of place you can go alone, but leave with friends.
1a & 1c Dock Place Edinburgh EH6 6LU
Situated in what used to be a waiting room for a ferry service that ran from Leith up to Aberdeen, “Teuchters” (the term is slang used by Lowlanders to describe someone from the highlands, and not considered complimentary!). What makes that okay is that Teuchters is owned and operated by highlanders, and calling someone a “Teuchter” is only really an insult if it’s coming from someone who isn’t one. Teuchters Landing is a cavernous venue with a tiny entrance, but within you’re greeted with solid food offerings, a 100+ malt selection as well as interesting whiskies from other parts of the world, which is pretty forward-thinking and appreciated in our book especially! Teuchters rolls from morning to late, and always seems to nail the atmosphere whether it be basking in the sun or a raucous sports weekend. The food is hearty, the service unfussy and the staff really clued up on the offering.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society
The Vaults, 87 Giles St, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6BZ
“The Vaults” is the epicentre of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. A global whisky club that bottles casks of Single Malt at Cask Strength for its members. It also operates venues, and the oldest, most famous and in our opinion, the best lies in the heart of Leith - in one of the oldest warehouses used for storage of wine and whisky; The Vaults.
Membership is circa £80/year but gets you access to all the venues they operate in the UK and abroad. The benefit, is access to an ever-evolving array of unusual single cask whiskies, from distilleries all over Scotland (and increasingly the world). Each is available to purchase by the dram in a very easy to navigate, colour-coded system. The staff are all whisky geeks of the most freakishly committed kinds, so visits are without exception an educational experience for even the most seasoned whisky drinker. Everything is cask strength, non-chill filtered - tiny jugs of water pepper the room and you can watch some of the world’s most committed whisky tasters exhibit noteworthy skill in the little-appreciated art of “dilution”. As the liquids are plentiful and potent, there’s a traditional but very well executed menu that sits alongside things. The sausage and mash and the haggis offerings are both recommended by us. At its core - the vaults is a big, comfortable room with a warm, pleasant atmosphere for a serious night’s whisky drinking. Chess too, to keep the brain firing, we assume. It has a timeless charm about it, but we must point out that the society has a whole range of events, tastings and other facets with which you can engage should you choose to. (we never make it past the whisky).
23-24 Sandport Pl, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6EW
Occupying a fantastic location just across from the Shore the Roseleaf is a locals bar that’s something of an institution. Famed for it’s eclectic decor, It’s been lovingly and proudly family-run since 2007 and it shows in the feel of the place. The offering has evolved to meet the changing tastes of those that frequent it and now you’ll find a super comfortable, friendly and welcoming pub offering cafe bar fayre from bunch until late. It’s an ideal spot for a casual catch up with an old friend or liquid with lunch meeting. The whisky offering isn’t as extensive as some of the other venues we’ve highlighted but all tastes are comfortably catered for and the Roseleaf isn’t trying to specialise in the subject. They’re one of the largest supporters of local producers so if you want to get a handle on what’s coming out of Leith’s craft beer scene then there is no better place to start. Good vibes, great food and friendly service underpin a solid offering in a lovely setting.
44a Constitution St, Leith EH6 6RS
Nobles is a lovely neighbourhood pub that caters for all tastes. Whilst its not a whisky specialist, it’s a magnet for locals due to its great food offering, friendly staff and casual, neighbourhood eatery atmosphere. A Sunday afternoon in Nobles with a couple of drams and the Sunday papers is a wonderful place to be.