An American woman at the bar summed this place up beautifully as she sat at the bar with her husband recently: “I’ve been here several times but the last time was 15 years ago. It looks and smells exactly the same as it did then.” Let there be no doubt, this was a positive comment.
Situated down at the Shore area of Edinburgh, the Malt and Hops looks like it could be stuck in a time warp, were it not for the constantly updated beer list on the mirror behind the bar showing what’s on and what’s racked. It’s a sign of the priorities here – beer and people.
In an age of modern craft ale pubs like the Hanging Bat and Jake’s Place, the Malt and Hops staunchly sticks to its roots. The decor is whisky and beer mirrors that have been in situ since time immemorial, while the ceiling is bedecked with hops, old foreign banknotes and the odd fishing rod, reminding us that this pub’s outlook is the Water of Leith. A comforting real fire sits in the middle of the wall, coal scuttle beside it. Of a lunchtime, when a barrel of ale is not being delivered, the coal man is often bringing in a bag or two of natural heating.
Speaking of lunch, there is only one word for it here: limited. Toasties and stovies are generally available most lunchtimes while bar meals are seemingly served in one two-hour window – 12pm till 2pm on a Friday (it might sometimes be available on Wednesdays and Thursdays but best to check directly). During this golden time, you can enjoy the likes of fish and chips or Cumberland sausage and chips (not that you’d often know it, as menus are often like gold dust in here). And the chips are great. They’re not triple-cooked, hand-cut, highly-seasoned Heston-style accompaniments, these probably arrive frozen but they’re very tasty, proper pub chips – the kind that taste heavenly with a bit of salt and vinegar. I’ve often been the only diner of a Friday and been thanked by a grateful barmaid as one customer ordering chips means the fryer’s on and she can have a bowl too.
The ale here is excellent – a fine example of somewhere that has a constantly-changing selection of some old favourites alongside new and little-known brews. This post was written while enjoying a lunchtime-friendly 3.6% Orkney Best from the Highland Brewing Company. For those that like it fizzier, there is also a local Leith Lager for a reasonable £2.50 a pint. The bossman here, Calum, seems to know his stuff and takes genuine care and pride in his offering. For this, his regulars are appreciative and loyal.
The Malt and Hops comes alive of an evening and is the perfect, cosy after-work venue for lovers of proper pubs. The staff are generally excellent and won’t make a fuss if you’re 5p short but will make a fuss of your dog if you bring one in.
As I write this, I see Calum has a laptop behind the bar. This modernism is quite jarring. I can only assume this is for organising the annual Leith Jazz & Blues Festival that he and the pub are main drivers behind, as I like to think that the pub itself is run by doing the books by candlelight with only an abacus and a ledger for company. (Like Scrooge’s office in A Muppet’s Christmas Carol but without the rats. Or the frog.)
As for our American visitor, she has left with two XL Malt & Hops t-shirts, bought for £12 each. Having wanted them in large, only to find out they were out of stock, the young Glaswegian barmaid was quick to point out that hers had shrunk since she got it so the XLs would probably be fine. Great thinking on your feet. Hopefully such loyalty and love will keep this place going for a long time yet. After all, there’s still a little bit of carpet not yet worn away to a shine.
The Malt & Hops is at 45 Shore, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6QU