Cold Town glory: Reconnecting beer to pubs

Peter Ranscombe visits Edinburgh’s Cold Town brewery to hear how head brewer Ed Evans takes inspiration from pubgoers.

WHAT inspires brewers?

For some, it’s the hops, and the arrival of more and more varieties from around the world.

For others, it’s the malt, and the challenge of balancing the depth with the freshness.

For Ed Evans, head brewer at Cold Town Beer in Edinburgh, it’s his customers.

Cold Town Beer was launched in 2018 by Signature Pub Group, which runs 24 bars, restaurants, and hotels, including The Black Bull in Edinburgh, Church on the Hill in Glasgow, Nox in Aberdeen, The Meadowpark in Stirling, and The Saint in St Andrews.

Its flagship site is Cold Town House, a pub in a converted church in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket.

“The fantastic thing about Cold Town House is that you have a direct line of communication to your consumer,” Evans explains.

“That’s where a lot of breweries can miss out – it’s very easy to brew a beer that you like and slap yourself on the back and say, ‘That’s great’, but having the opportunity to observe people drinking your beer and hear their feedback really allows you to improve.

“You’ll be given that feedback whether you like it or not, so you’d be a fool not to listen to it – you grow much better as an artisan.”

From kegs to cans

That connection with the group’s pubs brings another benefit too, with Evans involving bar staff in product development, listening to their feedback about what’s selling and what’s not selling.

“When we launched Cold Town, no one had heard of us, but within two years we were the best-selling product in all our bars, outselling the likes of Heineken and Tennent’s,” he adds.

“That’s down to the quality of our beers, but it’s also our bar staff being advocates for our beers.”

That influence from bartenders can be seen in the four beers in Cold Town’s new core range of cans, with the inclusion of a pornstar martini ale, which takes inspiration from the popular cocktail.

Joining the pornstar is a chocolate cake stout, a New England India pale ale (IPA), and the Cold Town lager, the brewery’s maiden beer.

Cold Town’s brewery began life in a former taxi repair garage on Edinburgh’s Dunedin Street in 2017, with Evans joining shortly after the start of the project.

The main brewery has expanded over the past year to cope with demand for the brand’s canned beers; with pubs closed during lockdown, the company made the successful switch to selling directly to consumers and has now installed its own canning line.

Cold Town House opened in 2018 complete with its own micro-brewery on site.

The brand takes its name from the city’s Calton Hill Brewery, which brewed Britain’s first lager in 1835, and which in turn took its name from the Edinburgh suburb of “Caldtoun” at the foot of the slope now known as Carlton Hill.

Part of the community

As well as its four core brews, the canned range also features eight seasonal beers.

Those cans are available from the brewery’s website – with the company introducing a click-and-collect service in response to local demand – and from shops including Margiotta’s chain in Edinburgh, The Cave in Glasgow, and Woodwinters in Stirling.

Next steps include the launch of “Proud As Helles”, a Helles-style lager brewed in partnership with Stonewall and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community, with Signature making a £2,500 donation to the charity and hiring its consultants to review the company’s policies to make sure it’s a welcoming environment.

Father’s Day packs are also on the horizon, along with Father’s Day tours of the micro-brewery at Cold Town House.

In the meantime, here’s my selection from Cold Town’s core and seasonal range…

Eight of the best from Cold Town Beer

New England IPA (5.5%)
My pick of the bunch from Cold Town’s core range, with tonnes of juicy mandarin aromas and flavours, plus a sour lemon kick on the finish. It’s perfectly balanced, with a touch of malt too.

Pornstar Martini Ale (4.6%)
Golden-orange in the glass, the nose is heavy with peach and lemon. Peaches galore on the palate too, with fresh acidity that lasts all the way through to the finish, where it’s joined by a sweet spun sugar note.

Chocolate Cake Stout (4.8%)
What’s most impressive about all Ed Evans’ beers is their balance – even this heavier stout has freshness. There’s traditional malt and coffee notes on the nose, but it’s the sweeter vanilla and chocolate fudge cake aromas and flavours that are the stars of the show.

Darjeeling Table Beer (3.2%)
The toasty caramel aromas from the nose continue through onto the palate. Again, there’s great freshness to the beer, and a nice bitter finish.

F*** 2020 (5.2%)
After the yo-yoing between hospitality being opened and closed, it’s no wonder Cold Town wanted to say goodbye to 2020. My tasting note for the resulting beer is littered with the word “juicy”, from the pine and cereal notes on the nose through to the mandarin, lemon, and peach flavours on the palate.

Chinook Smash Pale (4.1%)
Light aromas of spun sugar and lemon lead into a much fresher and more bitter palate. Herbaceous asparagus and green bean notes join the sour lemon flavours.

Hopped Up Wheat Ale (4%)
Heavy is the head that wears the wheaten-crown. Roast meat, sour lemon, and green apple on the nose, then crisp acidity on the palate, with those roast meat aromas morphing into smoked meat flavours, alongside more sour lemon and lemon rind flavours.

Peach Summer Ale (4.1%)
Peach by name, peach by nature. You know what you’re getting on the palate from the tinned peach aromas on the nose, but again it’s the freshness and balance that’s most impressive. This is no novelty beer, but instead it’s a sessionable summer treat.

Read more of Peter Ranscombe’s beer, wine, and whisky reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain