Edinburgh Cocktail Week 2018: A Survival Guide

As Edinburgh Cocktail Week returns with an expanded programme and more bars than ever, we present a survival guide to the land of cocktails and big ol' crowds

Feature by Peter Simpson | 09 Oct 2018
  • Edinburgh Cocktail Week

Edinburgh Cocktail Weekend’s debut run last year was… well, it was pretty busy. Long queues, bars running out of stock hilariously early, and a scene in the Skybar off Lothian Road that resembled a drinks soiree crossed with a Hollywood disaster movie – it was like The Towering Inferno but with more snazzy shoes and no actual danger of any kind. The whole event was still a great idea (cut about the city’s many bars, trying out specially-planned cocktails for low, low prices), but as it returns under the banner of Edinburgh Cocktail Week, it does necessitate something of a plan.

The first thing you’re going to want to do is to take a midweek day off work. For one thing, your wristband will work out slightly cheaper (OK it’s only a £2 difference, but that’s half a cocktail in these circumstances), but it’s also much easier to enjoy sippable drinks when there aren’t hordes of people taking up all your space and knocking your drink six feet in the air before you’ve got away from the bar. Have a Wednesday off – you’ve earned it.

Next, you’re going to want to plan your route. You might think ‘Ooh, if I start on George Street there are about three million bars I can head into’, but this is faulty reasoning because it’s what literally everyone is thinking. Case in point: a friend of The Skinny’s who camped out on George Street for the whole of Friday last year and hit 14 bars in the process. Fourteen. That’s what you’re up against, and frankly, you’ve got other places to be.

We recommend starting down in Leith at somewhere like the Asian street food and cocktail haven of Miss Woo’s, or one of the Sofi’s/Boda/Joseph Pearce family for a nice chill opening to your evening. Head to the outliers like The Blackbird in Tollcross, or The Voyage of Buck in the West End; get some food to go with your cocktails at Dishoom or Baba; hide from everyone in the snugs of the Voodoo Rooms or amid the chill vibes of The Fat Pony. Approach your evening with military precision (and without confronting the enemy head-on too early) and you’ll have a good time.

The Whiski Rooms
The Whiski Rooms, Edinburgh Cocktail Week

The other thing to do to ensure you get the most out of this kind of event is to embrace its most off-beam and hard-to-come-by elements. This means making a headlong dash to Chivas Regal’s whisky-themed escape room at Nightcap; you’ll be locked inside a “labyrinth of flavour” with only your love of whisky and what we assume will be some fairly strong hints to help you along. You'll wind up with your own personalised whisky blend for a cocktail to celebrate your escape, but you’ll also be able to say you were in a whisky-inspired maze, and that’s a pretty good story.

There’s also a tour of the Sweetdram distillery to book yourself onto; tickets are £4 if you’ve got your wristband and you’ll be in prime position to ask questions such as ‘why did you make this gin-like drink instead of just making a gin?’ before being placated with some tasty rum. And there’s also a pop-up from Wemyss Malts and Darnley’s Gin that hosts a series of masterclasses on the finer points of the art of the cocktail, before turning into a showcase of some of Scotland’s best bartenders. Plus, there’s an underground snug in which you can hide from the baying hordes outside; after all, it is always a good idea to have a backup plan.

Edinburgh Cocktail Week, 15-21 October, weekday wristbands £6, weekend wristbands £8