FINDING a good pub in Scotland can't be that hard, surely?
It's not like Scotland doesn't have enough of them, catering to almost every taste imaginable. Finding the true gems among the neon-lit theme pubs, however, is becoming increasingly difficult as traditional pubs succumb to the inevitable advances of modernisation and commercial pressures to compete in the ferocious bargain-drinks market.
Thankfully, a small number of independently owned pubs have opted to stay much the same as they were when they first opened their doors - places you are unlikely to find two-for-one promotional drinks served up in a chrome-laden, sterile environment. These traditional pubs have quietly created their own niche, concentrating more on the quality and diversity of the drinks while providing an affable atmosphere to enjoy them in.
Now that we've awakened your thirst, join us for a taster of the great pubs around Scotland where you can enjoy a good pint in congenial surroundings. Admittedly, we couldn't possibly list all of the fine traditional free houses, so please use the comments section below to tell us of your personal favourite and what makes it stand out from other pubs not controlled by a brewery.
Bon Accord: 153 North Street, City Centre, Glasgow
Tel: 0141 248 4427
Considered to be the best real-ale pub in Glasgow, Bon Accord features more than 500 different beers each year, relying predominantly upon smaller, independent brewers. The malt whisky selection is substantial, with over 140 to choose from.
Review by Raymond Travers, Scotland on Sunday
Bow Bar: 80 West Bow, Old Town, Edinburgh
Tel: 0131 226 7667
A real Victorian pub boasting one of the finest pints in the city, Bow Bar prides itself on the quality of its real ales, as well as stocking a broad range of whiskies, rums and gins - housed in a massive carved mahogany gantry. The Grassmarket location means the pub is surrounded by brewery-owned theme pubs, which makes this a welcome haven for beer connoisseurs and traditionalists alike.
Clutha Vaults: 167-169 Stockwell Street, City Centre, Glasgow
Tel: 0141 552 7520
Considered one of the best venues in Scotland for live – free of charge – Scottish and Irish folk music, Clutha Vaults is a bustling taste of Glasgow life, situated close to the banks of the River Clyde. The dcor may be a little drab, but that's considered part of its charm.
Review: Scotland on Sunday
Steam Packet Inn: Harbour Row, Isle of Whithorn, Newton Stewart, Wigtownshire
Tel: 01988 500 334
Watching the world go by is not much of a pub hobby, but Steam Packet Inn has some stunning views of the harbour from its large, front-facing windows. The theme is – unsurprisingly – nautical, and the bar food comes courtesy of the fishing boats moored just outside. There is a good selection of ales and whiskies to choose from and a small number of rooms available if you wish – or need – to spend the night.
The Clachaig Inn: Clachaig (A82), Ballachulish, Glencoe, Argyllshire
Tel: 01855 811 252
The Clachaig Inn is a small hotel deep in the heart of Glencoe that offers quality draft ales, inexpensive food and modestly priced accommodation – a popular stop off for hikers, skiers and weary tourists. There are three bars within the hotel, all with either log fire or wood-burning stove. The adjacent lounge provides a comfortable spot to relax and share your tales of great walks enjoyed in the surrounding hills.
The Clachnaharry Inn: 17-19 High Street, Clachnaharry, Inverness
Tel: 01463 239 806
The Clachnaharry Inn has been licensed since 1836 and is now a local institution. A five-time winner of the Inverness and Highland Pub of the Year Award, the bar offers ales from Inverness, Black Isle and Isle of Skye breweries, as well as a few select beers from independents based around the UK. The beer garden – with its nice views of the Caledonian Canal and Beauly Firth – makes this a popular haunt in the summer months.
The Guildford Arms: 1-5 West Register Street, City Centre, Edinburgh
Tel: 0131 556 4312
The Guildford Arms has been family owned for generations, and despite the refurbishment trends that have consumed so many of Edinburgh's traditional bars, the Guildford has managed to maintain much of its Victorian grandeur. The small gallery restaurant upstairs provides a great view into the bar below. The real draw however is the quality of the real ales – which you can sample before buying – and the comprehensive selection of malt and blend whiskies.
The Grill: 213 Union Street, Aberdeen
Tel: 01224 573 530
One of Aberdeen's oldest family owned pubs, The Grill has changed very little since its conversion from restaurant to pub in 1926. As well as offering a good selection of cask and keg beers, it's the whisky that makes this establishment so famous - with over 400 to choose from, including a number of foreign-distilled imitators.
The Mishnish Hotel: Main Street, Tobermory, Isle of Mull
Tel: 01688 302 009
Standing out as one of Tobermory's most illustrious pubs, The Mishnish has been in the Macleod family for generations. There is regular live traditional music in the bar and lounge areas, with the former ale cellar used for ceilidhs and larger music events. The pub also hosts the yearly "Mishnish Festival", attracting musicians from all over Scotland. Although the beer and whisky selection is not the most comprehensive, the atmosphere alone makes it worth the trip.
The Masonic Arms: 10 Ann Street, Gatehouse of Fleet, Dumfries and Galloway
Tel: 01557 814 335
A 2005 Scottish Pub of the Year winner, The Masonic Arms is a quaint village pub offering a number of real ales and a decent selection of wines and whiskies. The food is described as being a blend of "Pub Grub" and "Posh Nosh".
The Old Forge: Inverie (A820), Knoydart, by Mallaig, Highland
Tel: 01687 462 267
The Knoydart area is considered to be one of the last true wildernesses left in Britain. The remote Old Forge is a welcome sight in what is a vast, unpopulated area. The pub is a popular stop for outdoor adventurers, and the private moorings mean the boating fraternity can enjoy the pub's comforts too. There is a good selection of real ales and whiskies to choose from and pub food that is a step up from the usual fare.
The Old Inn: Gairloch (A832), Wester Ross, Highland
Tel: 0800 542 5444
Located on the eastern shore of Loch Gairloch, The Old Inn epitomises the Highland drinking experience: an open fire, good food and a good selection of locally brewed beers – the Blind Piper of Gairloch brew being a pub specialty – accompanied by a reasonable selection of malt whiskies. There are also regular live music performances and accomodation if you're really enjoying yourself.
Review by Nick Drainey, Scotland on Sunday
The Stein Inn: Waternish (B886), Isle of Skye
Tel: 01470 592 362
The views from the pub are spectacular, looking out from Skye towards the Waternish peninsula and the small island of Isay to the north-west. The Stein Inn has changed little since it was built in 1790, and the old peat-burning fire makes for a warm and welcoming environment. There is a good selection of local and independently brewed ales - including some from the award-winning Isle of Skye brewery - as well as more than 100 malts to choose from. The sunset views from outside the pub are said to be legendary.
Tibbie Shiels Inn: St Mary’s Loch (A708), Selkirkshire
Tel: 0175 042 231
Overlooking St Mary's Loch in the Central Southern Uplands - on the road between Moffat and Selkirk - Tibbie Shiels Inn is a worthy stop for literature buffs who wish to drink in the atmosphere of a tavern frequented by such literary figures as Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Carlyle and Robert Louis Stevenson. There are also rooms available for those who wish to stay the night after exploring the surrounding countryside by day.
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