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Drinking in the history

You might have noticed but beer is having a bit of a moment.

Micro-brewer Andrew 'Barney' Barnett samples his new tea-flavoured Eteaket Lapsang Porter; below: a tasty kebab at The Potting Shed in EdinburghPhotograph: Gordon Terris
Micro-brewer Andrew 'Barney' Barnett samples his new tea-flavoured Eteaket Lapsang Porter; below: a tasty kebab at The Potting Shed in EdinburghPhotograph: Gordon Terris

Not the fizzy, mass produced stuff that comes in cans on what seems like permanent special offer in your local supermarket, but the real stuff. Edinburgh has some of the leading exponents of the craft beer revolution so we put down our glasses and headed to the capital on a weekend away.

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Richard Taylor, of beer blog thebeercast.com, says: "Edinburgh has such a great beer scene because it has a near-perfect balance of bars, bottle shops, and drinkers. There are so many great places to head out for a beer, of every spectrum, that breweries up and down the country see Edinburgh as an important market. With so many people drinking - and talking - about beer, it's inevitable Edinburgh is considered a great city for our national drink."

We uncapped our eastern beer odyssey at The Potting Shed, a hot tip for Best New Bar in the 2014 Publican Awards. It's a quirky, spacious pub, fresh out of Steptoe and Son, and it does top-notch food in a hotch-potch style, and boasts an impressive range of beers. Local specials and Scottish ales rub chilled necks with English bitters, London porters, European lagers and American pale ales. It's a ramshackle palace for lovers of hop bombs, double IPAs and imperial stouts.

The decor is haphazard and idiosyncratic - clay pots for lampshades, old bikes on walls, juice served in jam jars - but the staff and clientele edge towards stylish and mostly young.

On entering, a large chalkboard boasts what beers are on tap. I tried a schooner (in between a half-pint and a pint) of the eye-wateringly bitter Circus of Sour from Magic Rock in Huddersfield. First taste was like sooking on a lemon but it eased off into an enjoyable, yet tart, encounter.

My palate kicked into consciousness, we had a gander at the menu. The food, like the decor, has a reputation for quirkiness, and the menu consisted old favourites given a twist. The beer offering, on draft and in bottle, makes the Potting Shed a worthy destination, but the food, too, is reason to visit.

My beef kebab was a rock solid start to the afternoon. Dods of beef and roasted veg hanging from a skewer atop a bed of colourful salad, the juices dripping into the dressing made for a messy but marvellous meal; accompanied by an Epic Saison by brewing magicians Wild Beer Co of Somerset, a feisty farmhouse ale with a bittersweet, hoppy flavour. Jealous eyes stared at the vegetarian option, made with halloumi.

One of the local breweries on offer was Barney's Beer, an Edinburgh brewery at the heart of the craft beer evolution. Owner Andrew Barney has established a name for himself producing a handful of cracking beers as well as a selection of specials for cultural bashes. Based in an old industrial unit in the Summerhall arts venue, I couldn't resist a visit.

On arrival we were blasted by the aroma of hops and fermenting malts, and were treated to a tour. Having tried a few of Barney's beers before, I was keen to try one of his specials: the Eteaket Lapsang Porter, a smoky, peaty porter brewed in collaboration with a local tea shop.

Barney has been in the beer business since he was 16 years old, and his enthusiasm for his trade means he's in regular collaboration with creative businesses, organisations and artists (he brewed a special for the Edinburgh International Science Festival using yeast from the world's first culture strain, isolated in 1883).

He says: "Edinburgh was Scotland's centre for brewing in the 19th century, and Summerhall itself was a brewery for 200 years up to the early 20th century. Barney's Beer is bringing back a bit of heritage."

Nipping round to the Great Crog Bottleshop (300 different beers and counting), we stocked up on a few bottles from Inveralmond, Black Isle and Isle of Skye breweries. Then it was a 20-minute car trip to Dalkeith, just outside the city, to the stunning Sun Inn.

Overlooked by the soon-to-reopen Borders railway, the four-star Sun Inn has a solid reputation. Recent awards include Scottish pub of the year, Scottish Gastropub of the Year and AA Pub of the Year.

The restaurant was mobbed, and the gentle hum of folk tucking in was testament to the quality of the food. After starters of mushrooms and scallops, the venison, with poached pear, gamekeeper's butter pastry pie, celeriac puree and bramble jus, was a delight of sweet, tart and hearty flavours and a medley of textures. On the other side of the table, the munchkin pumpkin risotto was delicious, proving you need neither meat nor dairy to make a magical meal. A side of giant deep-fried onion rings brought a bit of class to our table.

As well as its ingredients, the Sun Inn locally sources its beer, with Pentlands and Scottish Borders breweries on tap. Scottish Borders's Dark Horse was a choice accompaniment to my rich venison, while the Pentlands IPA closed the meal off perfectly.

After a long, hard day on the beer trail, our bedroom was restorative and reviving. The massive four-poster bed, deep copper bath at the foot of it and large wall-mounted TV dominated the stylishly rustic-looking room, while the bowl of fresh fruit and Broons guide to Scotland added deft wee touches of character.

The food, service and beautiful bedrooms (there are only five) mean demand can be high so you're best booking ahead, especially if you're in search of a spot of eastern sun.

l Colin Campbell was a guest of the Sun Inn, Lothianbridge, Dalkeith. Bed and breakfast starts at £75. See www.thesuninnedinburgh.co.uk or call 0131 663 2456

l For beer, see www.thebeercast.com, www.thepottingshededinburgh.co.uk, www.barneysbeer.com, www.greatgrog.co.uk

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