The best drink pop-ups at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Cocktail expert and blogger the Mixolosopher gives us a guided tour of the hottest transient spots to grab a drink during the Fringe.

Published 18th Jul 2017
Updated 8 th Aug 2023

It’s a cold, dank, drizzly July day which can mean only one thing – the summer festival season is hurtling towards us.

The cream of the world’s finest artists and performers (as well as the odd student with a loud voice and access to face paints) will be descending upon Scotland’s capital and, since gorging on so much culture can leave you pretty parched, The Scotsman has compiled this thirst-quenching list of pop-ups, one-offs and special events at which your whistle may once more be wetted.

Sips In The City

(Niddry Street, behind Radisson Blu – 2nd to 26th August)

Any seasoned festival-goer of drinking age will know only too well about the general lack of variety when it comes to liquid refreshment.

Most venues default to household names; safe but bland brands of gassy beer.

Thank the Hop Gods, then, for Sips In The City. Sandwiched between Venues 9 and 39, this pop-up beer bar will be serving craft brews from the likes of Williams Bros, Brewdog, Fierce, Tempest, Beavertown and Magic Rock as well as Thistly Cross ciders, Stirling Gin and some interesting canned cocktails from Finnieston Distillery.

Open until 11pm every night, there’ll even be some live acoustic acts playing between the nearby venue shows as part of the Free Fringe.

Pickering's Gin Jollies

(Summerhall, Summerhall Pl, Edinburgh EH9 1PL – throughout the Festival)

Picture: Pickering's

This is a special year for the Fringe as it celebrates its 70th birthday – an anniversary it shares with Pickering's Gin. While the gin itself has only been at its home in the Summerhall venue for a few years, it’s made to an authentic recipe dating back to 1947.

In honour of this mutual milestone, Pickering's are dedicating this year’s batch of Original 1947 Gin to the Fringe.

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More importantly they will be hosting regular Gin Jollies around the Summerhall; for just £10 you can take a tour of the distillery and meet Gertrude and Emily (Pickering's’ two copper stills, named after the founders’ grandmothers) and sample the full range of gins. Included in the price is a P&T or – in true ‘defying the norm’ Fringe fashion – their anniversary concoction of Original 1947, Campari and Irn Bru.

Whisky On Water

(Start/Finish at Akva, Fountainbridge, Tues-Sun at 7pm from 6th to 27th August)

If you take my advice there’s nothing so nice as messin’ about on the river.

Especially when that messin’ about involves a comprehensive whisky tasting and food pairing experience. Solid Liquids – who run regular gin cruises on the Union Canal – have teamed up with Dewar’s Whisky and their ‘Scotch Egg Club’ to transform the Lochrin Belle narrow boat into a floating history of whisky.

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During a leisurely two-hour meander along the canal you get to sample various whiskies from Dewar’s stable, paired with everything from scotch eggs to cheese to chocolate.

A perfect way to unwind after a day full of Fringe frivolity.

The Edinburgh Cocktail Festival

(New Waverley, Sibbald Walk – midday to 10pm, 4th to 28th August)

Picture: The Edinburgh Cocktail Festival

In a city famed throughout the world for its festivals – be it film, jazz, science or magic – it comes as no small surprise that Edinburgh has yet to play host to a regular cocktail festival.

Enter Glasgow-based creative agency The Drink Cabinet, who will be taking over the shiny New Waverley development for an entire month of mixological marvels.

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Picture: The Edinburgh Cocktail Festival

Bartenders from some of the city’s finest cocktail bars will be on hand to stimulate, educate and intoxicate, while top-notch street food will be provided by the guys behind Food + Flea, all the the tune of up-and-coming musical artists and DJs.

The space is open to all but access to the masterclasses, talks and special events – such as the Ketel One Bloody Mary Kitchen or the Tanqueray Gin Forest – requires a wristband.

For just £15, though, this wristband will last for the entire month and also give the wearer a very agreeable discount on cocktails.

Bramble x Custom Lane

(67 Commericial Street, Leith – Fri to Sun, 14th July to 27th August)

Picture: Bramble

Edinburgh stalwart and permanent fixture in World’s 50 Best Bars, Bramble will be branching off to Leith for the summer.

Collaborating with Custom Lane, a new creative space beside Leith’s historic Customs House, the Bramble boys will be offering a bespoke menu of cocktails for a weekend outdoor bar.

The menu will feature the same top quality quirkiness and surprising value for which Bramble is famous, along with some excellent craft beers.

The Thinking Drinkers

(Underbelly:Ermintrude, Teviot Place – 2nd to 27th August)

Picture: The Thinking Drinkers

Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham have been performing under the banner of the Thinking Drinkers for several years now and return to the Fringe for the seventh time with their most expansive show yet – The History Of Alcohol.

The pair will prove that booze has influenced absolutely everything that has ever happened in the entire history of human civilisation – and possibly even before humans existed – with a hilarious and informative show.

Tickets start at just £7 and include five free drinks.

The Last Word Riverboat Casino

(The Last Word, St Stephen Street, Stockbridge – from 7pm, 6th to 10th August)

Buffalo Trace bourbon is taking its Roaming Buffalo Bourbon Empire across the country and will be stopping over at The Last Word for a week of Deep South shenanigans.

Expect poker tables, bluegrass mash-up music from The Banjo Lounge 4 and a whole host of whiskey-based drinks showcasing Buffalo Trace’s vast array of spirits.

Don’t be surprised to find yourself adopting a languid Southern drawl by the end of the night, either.

Nightcap Free Fringe Comedy

(1-3 York Place – from 4pm, 3rd to 27th August)

Cocktail nook Nightcap bar will once again be hosting nightly comedy shows as part of the Free Fringe while knocking out some first class cocktails to sup between the chuckles, giggles and guffaws.

Revellers will have two bars to choose from and Nightcaps extended licence could mean it might well be dawn before the good times come to a close.

Paolozzi @The Arches 

(East Market Street – 8th to 28th August)

Pop-up meets Pop Art as the Edinburgh Beer Factory collaborates with several local businesses to showcase their wares and celebrate the work of Leith-born sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi.

Picture: Keiran MacDonald

Refreshments will come in the form of the Cocktail Kitchen’s artisanal spirits, wines from Smith & Gertrude and EBF’s Paolozzi Lager and experimental BUNK! range with street food from The Pitt in Leith, as well as nourishment for the soul provided by Edinburgh art collective place+platform.

Iain Meldrum (aka Mixolosopher) has over a decade of experience at the top of the drinks industry as both a bartender and trainer. He is passionate about all things alcoholic - though in a responsible and philosophical way, of course.
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