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Leeds Brewery: Bright As A New Pin

November 15, 2011 5 comments

Leeds Brewery has at various times delighted and perplexed me. For the uninitiated, it was set up in 2007 and produces a core range of beers including Leeds Pale, Leeds Best and Midnight Bell, the last of which is my own personal favourite, a 4.8% chocolatey dark mild.

I don’t think I’m being unfair in saying that the range of beers has focussed on the mainstream of the real ale market, trying to capture the affections of the traditional Yorkshire ale drinker and in particular attempting to usurp Tetleys as the city’s favourite local brewery. They have not, as a result, particularly excited beer geeks or inspired their devotion.  That said, they also do seasonal beers and have been experimenting with less conservative styles recently, especially at The Brewery Tap where the specials brewed on the small kit on the premises have included a range of single-hopped session pales and a keg saison.

Leeds have quickly established an estate of five pubs, including the Midnight Bell in Holbeck, the historic and beautiful Garden Gate in Hunslet (of which it’s not exaggerating to say that they rescued) and newly-reopened and equally historic White Swan, connected to the Leeds City Varieties. The pubs each have a different focus depending on their location and size, but most have an emphasis on food which is usually done to a fairly high standard.

They have some excellent branding, including perhaps my favourite beermat, “Leeds In A Pint”, and a good website with profiles of the brewers. I’m gratified to see that Alex and Sarah’s favourite non-Leeds beers are Raging Bitch and Jaipur, which surely bodes well. However I would like Leeds Brewery to explain their claim to be “the city’s only independent brewery“.

My conflicted views of Leeds Brewery were represented by Pin, their second and smallest pub, on Dock Street close to the Adelphi. Pin started well, as a cosy modern pub with a decent range of cask and bottled beers and a very nice food menu.  It had the feel of a common room or cafe; an ideal place for an lazy weekday evening meal out or a Sunday morning with the papers.  When Kate lived on Clarence Dock, we used to visit regularly, but there was a marked change of emphasis and what I came to regard as a crisis of identity.

The food remained very good, but the cask beer selection dwindled, with guest cask disappearing altogether, as more cellar space was given over to new keg lines including, frustratingly, Guinness; surely you could convince Guinness drinkers to try Midnight Bell?

Moreover the quality of the cask went downhill with the Leeds Pale resembling vinegar on a number of occasions, which perhaps indicated an inability to shift cask, but also a failure of the staff to check the quality of the beer. The bottled range seemed to make no sense, as the fridges began to fill with a needless range of identical Spanish-American pilsners. I came to regard The Adelphi, three or four doors down, as a better option on almost every front.

However the good news is that the tarnished Pin has been polished up and is looking shiny and new, figuratively, with a focus on an exciting range of imported beers. When I went in on Friday evening they had Flying Dog Doggie Style and La Trappe Dubbel on keg and a good selection of Belgian and American beers amongst the bottles in the fridge. They even had a guest cask in Rudgate Viking.

Continuing the Viking theme, I had a bottle of Nøgne Ø Pale Ale, which even came with an impressive oversized Nøgne Ø branded wine glass, followed by an Orval in similarly appropriate glassware. The food seems to be pared down to platters prepared by the bar staff at the moment, but usefully these are available all night. The bar looks good as well, with new large atmospheric photos of Leeds sights on the wall, adding to the relaxed café lounge décor.

Pin will be hosting a launch event of Leeds Brewery’s new bottled beer Hellfire on Thursday 17 November. We had a free sample of this pale ale, which is one of Leeds’ most hop-forward offerings. I found the nose a little bready, perhaps not surprising from a bottle out of the fridge, but the taste and aftertaste surprised with a fairly sharp lemony bitterness and a long finish.

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Our Wedding Beer: Summer Wine Covenant

November 10, 2011 13 comments

I’ve already written about the origins of our wedding beer, Summer Wine Covenant, and how grateful Kate and I are to James and Andy for suggesting and following through on their very kind and thoughtful idea.  After the brewday we had tentatively left it in James and Andy’s capable hands until collecting two casks on the Saturday before the wedding.

Driving up to the venue, The Plough at Lupton, all I wanted to do was try the beer, but knew that we wouldn’t be able to do so until we were married.  I knew what we intended the beer to be like; I just didn’t know if it would turn out as I imagined or whether our guests would like it.  It was always a bit of a concern that we had to walk a line between a beer that Kate, James, Andy and I would be interested in, but that wouldn’t be too extreme for our guests to enjoy from the first sip.

We had made Covenant a central part of our wedding.  The beer was free to all guests, but I wanted to make sure people knew about it and tried it.  So I wrote a bit of blurb explaining the background to the beer and even a bit of a fingers-crossed tasting note (referring to “a rich citrus fruit aroma and medium bitterness“), which ended up on two blackboards in prominent positions in the venue, along with some photos of the brewday.

We also named the tables after the ingredients (eg: Amarillo; Crystal; Carafa; Chocolate; Godisgoode – because you can’t call a table “Yeast”) and the top table after the beer itself.  We had told the priest about the beer and given him a bottle of Summer Wine Barista to try.  He went on to mention the beer during the sermon, making reference to the Marriage At Cana.

The beer even ended up being represented in icing on the cake, decorated brilliantly by Kate’s sister Tess, as you can see.  So it’s fair to say that we placed a lot of emphasis on Covenant and only later did I begin to worry a little about how much of a damp squib it would be if it wasn’t quite right for the occasion.

However, when I had my first taste about an hour into our marriage, it wasn’t in any way disappointing.  Covenant, thanks to James, is a triumph.  It’s a beautiful vibrant amber/red colour and has a superb aroma.  Possibly because of the range of hops used (it uses an unusual number of hop varieties, although all were American), the smell doesn’t immediately conjure up one dominant descriptor to point to, but instead it has a wonderful and unique mix of fresh, fruity citrus and a little pine.

I was certain that the beer was going to smell good, because we deliberately asked for a low bitterness but a good aroma, so James put the emphasis on late and dry hopping rather than bittering.  However I was a little concerned that it might be all nose and no teeth.  Fortunately the beer didnt disappoint in this respect either, as it has both a great lightness of taste and just exactly the right amount of satisfying bitterness on the finish.  It ends the experience perfectly, like a satisfying “ka-chunk” as a car door closes.

I was actually expecting a lower bitterness, but in the end I think it probably is considerably more restrained in that respect than a lot of Summer Wine beers, but perhaps on the more bitter end of what more mainstream British drinkers might be used to.  But it’s just right for the beer and as a result our guests, who were not all experienced ale drinkers, reacted really very positively to it.

For a 5.2% beer with a strong aroma and flavour, it’s a very drinkable beer, in all the right ways.  My friend (whose favourite beer is the excellent Moorhouses Pride Of Pendle) commented that I didn’t understand session ales, but our beer drank like a session ale.  After having enjoyed beer all night at the wedding and again this week at Mr Foleys (with some work colleagues, Dean and Neil), I’d have to agree.  It’s a beer that is meant to be consumed in long, refreshing mouthfuls; a great fruity waft at the front and a satisfying kick at the end.

My wife and I (*wait for applause*) think that Covenant is a great beer and are incredibly grateful to James and Andy for brewing it for us. It added a very personal note to our wedding day, which our family and friends really enjoyed.

Covenant’s been on already at Mr Foleys and I know it’s in a few pubs around the country including the Free Trade Inn, so look out for it at #Twissup.  With all the weddingness Kate and I won’t be able to make it to Newcastle, but please do let us know what you think of it if you get to try some.   Also, if you’re quick you may also be able to buy some bottles from the new Summer Wine shop!

BEER is proof that CAMRA loves us and wants us to be happy

November 8, 2011 2 comments

Kate and I are back home after our honeymoon in Scotland, all wed up.  The wedding went pretty much perfectly, as did Summer Wine Covenant, but I’ll come on to that in a separate post.

One thing that’s taken the edge off returning to Leeds after a very relaxing 10 days in Scotland is the new Winter 2011 edition of BEER magazine which was waiting for me, with a snowscene cover as festive as the Christmas Radio Times.  I’ve enjoyed BEER since I first bought a copy in Borders a couple of years ago, with its quality beer writing and clean design, so I was very glad to be able to respond to a Twitter appeal for a few hundred words on “My Local” with a short piece on Mr Foleys.

I’m thrilled that they published it and was surprised when they sent a photographer to take some photos of me in the pub to go with the article.  It was a bit daunting to see that the photographer, Will Amlot, had taken portraits of Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan for publications such as the Sunday Times Magazine.

As Dean can testify, Will had me in quite a few poses for a number of hours getting the photos right.  It included flipping beer mats; catching slopping pint glasses slid along the bar; and even pretending to have pork scratchings for claws.  I asked whether Will had given the same treatment to Mandela, but apparently not.  Certainly a man of Mandela’s age would probably have felt even worse after the afternoon drinking (for art’s sake) than I did.

I think it’s mainly down to Will’s excellent photography that they ended up with three pictures of my awkward, doughy face in the magazine.  My little article was knocked off in less time than this post after work, but it reflects that there are no shortage of good things to say about Mr Foleys.

I’m just glad to have a bit of writing published in a beautiful magazine alongside that of a writer of the quality of Adrian Tierney-Jones, not to mention a few of my favourite bloggers in Simon Johnson, the CAMRA-shy Mark from BeerBirraBier, and Bailey of Boak & Bailey.  It’s a lot more than I could have hoped for a year ago when I started this blog.

BEER magazine is free to all CAMRA members either in hard copy or online (which is reason enough to join CAMRA), or you can buy a copy in some larger newsagents.  However you can’t get it in the WH Smith in Oban, where two shop assistants, due to a conflict of accents, thought Kate was asking for “Bear” magazine (about teddies) and then, increasingly red-facedly, “Bare” magazine: “Och, no hen, we dinnae stock that sort of magazine” (or similar).

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