BrewDog Leeds opened this week, seemingly against the odds. I’ve previously discussed the difficulties this bar had obtaining a licence, which raises its own issues as to whether all drinkers should be tarred with the same brush.
In the time since it was announced, I’ve had several doubts about BrewDog Leeds. It’s a terribly small site. It’s at an end of town that’s already loud, boisterous and overcrowded on weekend evenings. It’s just another bar in a chain.
All of those things are true. First, the size issue: I think it would be uncomfortable to have more than around 60 people over the two floors. But there are a couple of nice booths upstairs, comfortable stools, shelves to rest a beer dotted around and, overall, the space is used to its full potential. And cosy can be friendly: on the shareholder night, we chatted to our neighbours about the beers and got to know people we hope to see again, as the trains rolled by outside the windows.
It is at an overcrowded end of town. However there are good places to eat nearby and some pretty decent bars on Call Lane, although five year-old memories of others do still make me shudder.
It’s also not a million miles away from North Bar and you could easily do Leeds’ new holy trinity of small craft beer bars (North, Friends of Ham, BrewDog Leeds) in an evening and still make it back to the last train.
And yes, it’s a part of a chain. This one looks exactly like the others: reclaimed gym floorboards on the walls, brick bar, stripped-back grey industrial chic. But that works well and right now the BrewDog bars remain a great chain with an ethos that credits its customers with an interest in and enthusiasm about good beer.
I’ve not been to a BrewDog bar that I didn’t like, where I didn’t get excellent service, or where I wasn’t a little excited by the selection of beers, particularly the imported ones. On the opening night, I enjoyed beer from Ballast Point, Mikkeller and De Molen, and even managed to squeeze a couple of BrewDogs in around the edges.
So if you live in Leeds, be sure to add BrewDog Leeds to your list of regular haunts. If you happen to be visiting Leeds city centre for a few beers, that holy trinity of North, Friends of Ham and BrewDog Leeds is worth the pilgrimage.
Next month I’m going to Sweden and should be there for the opening week of BrewDog Stockholm, provided the ship full of gym floorboards and trendy beards makes it through the Øresund strait. It’ll be another bar in a chain, but I still can’t wait.
BrewDog Leeds, White Cloth Hall, Crown Street, Leeds, LS1 7RB @BrewDogBarLeeds
Further to my previous post on the initial licensing decision and as you may have read elsewhere, BrewDog were successful in their appeal of the initial refusal to grant a licence to their Leeds premises, and the new bar is intended to open in early 2013.
The initial decision concentrated on the crime figures linked to the existing late night economy in the immediate area. The District Judge was apparently rather more convinced by BrewDog’s submissions about promoting the educated appreciation of craft beer and their discerning clientele. I found the following paragraphs of District Judge Anderson’s* decision particularly interesting:
No doubt when the 2003 Licensing Act came into being, no-one foresaw the emergence of an operation such as Brewdog. They are a Scottish company specialising in craft beers with a devoted clientele. They do not operate large public houses selling cheap lager or cheap food. They have outlets in other cities including in cumulative impact areas where they operate well and without police objection. Now they seek to come to Leeds. […]
The company takes a didactic approach, with books on brewing, and customers invited to watch instructional videos playing at their premises. Their customers could be described as “alcohol geeks.” They are not run of the mill or everyone’s cup of tea, but there is a demand for outlets selling a good quality of beer. […]
If I accept, as I do, that the enterprise sells expensive beers in expensive measures, then I think I can conclude that the people likely to be attracted are not “get it down your neck” drinkers but rather better heeled customers. The type of clientele a premises attracts has a material part to the play in the decision, because if I am not worried about their clientele and am impressed by the running of their bars elsewhere, it follows that it is unlikely that their clientele will have any adverse impact on the area here.
Personally I’ll be glad that BrewDog has a presence in Leeds, if only so I can claim my shareholder discount, as a moderately-heeled alcohol geek who will buy expensive beer in expensive measures, provided I can convince myself I’m getting a bargain.
*Not to be confused with Judge Anderson.
For IPA Day this year I thought I’d demonstrate why I don’t do beer reviews any more. I had three beers in my fridge which are all, to some extent, talked-about IPAs: Italian, American and Danish/Scottish. Reviewing really doesn’t get more half-arsed than this:
Brewfist Spaceman India Pale Ale
What we know: IBU 70, 7.0% from Codogno near Milan in Northern Italy. Has had some good press and, to my knowledge, has only very recently been available to buy in the UK.
Appearance: Orangey, slightly hazy with a nice white head which dissipates reasonably swiftly.
Aroma: The sweet breadiness that you’d get with a quite pedestrian English pale ale with some onions and grapes.
Taste: Pleasant, not too sharply bitter. Building dry bitterness, with a kind of dull, not quite savoury but perhaps slightly sour acidic taste to it. Nice enough, but a bit less citrussy than I would prefer.
Conclusion: The Babylon Zoo of beers: a lot of excitement and hype, but ultimately merely satisfactory.
Bear Republic Racer 5 India Pale Ale
What we know: 7.0% überhyped, überhopped US IPA from Healdsburg, Cloverdale, California. Similar hens’ teeth availability in the UK, fuelling that excitement as travellers to the US return to speak of it in hushed tones.
Appearance: Orangey-gold, clear as a bell, decent head.
Aroma: Immediate sticky sugary fruity sweetness, like a Wham bar. One of those plastic sweets that sticks to your teeth as you tear off a hunk.
Taste: A definite sweet orange-lime bitterness, but with an obvious alcoholic aftertaste. Thinner than a barley wine, so the alcohol doesn’t necessarily blend naturally into the mix until it sits for a while. Then it just adds to a really nice beer.
Conclusion: A massively enjoyable IPA. Lacking in depth, perhaps, but nonetheless a summery, citrussy, plasticky joy of a beer. The Californian ska punk of IPAs.
Mikkeller/BrewDog I Hardcore You
What we know: 9.5% Dano-Fraserburgian IPA blend from two archetypal US-inspired European “craft” brewers, each of which has grown large enough in influence, profile and perhaps even obnoxiousness to start suffering a minor backlash. One more so than the other, perhaps.
Appearance: Considerably more reddy-brown than the other two, with a creamier-coloured head.
Aroma: Clearly sweet, with toffee and even a little menthol, although the booze might just be confusing my nose.
Taste: Big, uncompromising, with a rough burnt sugariness immediately developing into a carbonic sourness. I immediately suspect that the other two beers have killed my palate. Swapping back to the Racer 5 though, it still has all the light treble notes whereas this is all big bass. I’m sure there used to be more mango in this beer – in fact I’ve had more than one conversation about that whilst drinking it – and I’m only getting a hint. Is this old or is the newest batch just not as good? It doesn’t help that there’s no date information at all on the bottle.
Conclusion: A bit too heavy for what it’s trying to be, or at least what I want it to be today. A love ballad by Black Sabbath. A lullaby from Joy Division.
Despite my poor, hop-ravaged tongue, the best of the bunch for me was clearly the Racer 5. If you want a rounded, sophisticated IPA you might go for something else, perhaps even something a bit more English. But for me, Racer 5 is the only one of the three that lives up to both the hype and my memories of it. Of the others, I prefer the Spaceman to the I Hardcore You, which doesn’t match my memories of the latter beer at all.
IPAs are great beers to have in your fridge and are a gateway drug for craft beer as a whole. However, in the last year my tastes have changed a little and each of these seem quite sugary and acidic to enjoy in large quantities. The best IPA I’ve had in the last two weeks is still an amazingly fresh bottle of Goose Island IPA, which (I’m surprised to say) I would pick over either of these three for repeated drinking. But right now, believe it or not, I just fancy an Orval; which is basically a kind of Belgian IPA, right? Right?
Last week I went to a bar in Leeds that I wouldn’t normally associate with interesting beer, only to find they had BrewDog Punk IPA in the fridge. And I really didn’t know whether to buy it or not.
I’m a BrewDog shareholder and, in a measured way, could be described as a fan of BrewDog’s bars and many of their beers. I would probably even qualify as a “scamp” (*shudder*). I do find some of their marketing tiresome, so I try to look past it; I’m not interested in paying a small fortune for their 330ml limited edition bottles, so I don’t. The trouble I have is that, over the last year or so, their flagship beer, which was a favourite of mine (including after the new recipe), has become one of the least consistent beers I’ve ever experienced. I’ve had bad keg, canned and bottled Punk. Now I’m close to giving up on it entirely.
Moreover, it’s getting a bad reputation. It appears to me, from various drinkers’ and bar workers’ posts on Twitter, that there’s a serious and persistent problem. There’s the odd great batch, but interspersed with terrible ones. This reflects my own experience: a few weeks ago I decided to give Punk another chance to see if the problem had been resolved, so bought a couple of bottles from an off-licence. They were lovely, fruity and crisp – a real return to form. A week later I bought two more bottles from Waitrose and they were undrinkable.
I know that consistency is not a problem that’s unique to BrewDog, and I’ve also experienced occasional disappointments in the consistency of certain other forward-looking breweries recently. I know that BrewDog are aware of this problem and have said they would deal with it, but six months on from this post I’m yet to see the resumption of consistency and a corresponding restoration of trust.
I am conscious that BrewDog are in an interim phase in their growth, as they stand on the edge of crossover success, and that they’re having problems keeping up with the demand they’ve created with supermarkets. However, “mainstream” drinkers are used to the rigorous quality control and consistency they get from the multinational brewers, so when they pick up a bottle of beer from the supermarket shelf, they rightly expect that it tastes like it was intended to taste. For the “scamps”, or at least for me, if the “craft” ethos is to mean anything, it has to imply a minimum of quality and pride in your product: “first and foremost, great tasting beers.”
I bought the bottle of Punk in the bar last week. It was better than some I’ve had and actually drinkable, but still not as good as it should have been. Perhaps I’m simply judging each bottle too harshly because I’ve accrued such a prejudice against it. Whatever the case, it didn’t have me scampering back to the fold.
Back in the mists of time, when everyone was on the previous version of the iPhone and the world was on tenterhooks waiting for Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott’s version of Robin Hood, there was a deli-come-grocery on the cobbled Dock Street in Leeds called Simpson’s. Simpson’s was quite expensive, but the young professionals of Brewery Wharf and Clarence Dock liked the fresh bread and the impressive selection of bottled ales, including Ilkley and Saltaire beers.
Simpsons closed, possibly due to competition from a cheap but souless Tesco Express that had recently opened, and there was due wailing and gnashing of teeth about the death of independent shops and quite a lot of discussions about whether it could be re-opened as a social enterprise. Of course no-one really knew what a “social enterprise” was, but that nice polite Mr Cameron seemed to be in favour of them, and anyone who didn’t really like the word “social” was in favour of “enterprise” and vice versa, so it seemed like a reasonably admirable idea at the time without really gripping anyone.
Ultimately, in November 2010, Dock Street Market opened on the site of Simpson’s, run by “a group of independent local food traders“. I think the line-up may have changed over time, but at the moment there seems to be a deli counter, a bakery and a bar. The bar currently sells cakes and Prohibition-chic “teapot cocktails”, which Kate enjoyed.
The fact that I was most interested in the selection of beer will not come as a surprise, but the selection itself might. As well as cask Black Sheep (it’s still Yorkshire after all, even if it is young, hip, waterfront Yorkshire) there was also Anchor Steam, BrewDog Punk IPA and Ilkley MJ Fortis on keg. The bottle selection was even more impressive, including Brooklyn Lager, BrewDog 5am Saint, Chimay Red, Orval and Anchor Old Foghorn.
I had a Goose Island Matilda, an Orvalalike which was initially surprisingly bretty, but later pleasingly so, followed by a De Struise Pannepot 2010, a darkly delicious but drinkable 10% spiced Belgian strong ale which really needs that bit of cake to soak it up.
As well as the beer selection, I was impressed by the relaxed atmosphere of Dock Street Market, which leaves it somewhere between a cafe, a bar and a common room; seemingly a successful third place. Its neighbours, the Leeds Brewery pub Pin and Mitchell and Butler’s Adelphi are another matter: Pin, whilst similarly having an impressive imported selection thanks to James Clay, can seem sadly quiet and has stripped down its food menu. The Adelphi, whilst being one of Leeds’ best food pubs and having a great historic interior, has had quite an unimpressive cask selection the last two times I’ve been in.
Dock Street Market, for seeming to have come together at random and for its Cath Kidston-esque bunting and cake stands, has nonetheless ended up being perhaps the best place for a beer in the area. They’re even planning a ticketed Anchor tap takeover/food and beer-matching dinner with Ben from James Clay on 6 June 2012, a US craft beer festival on 4 July 2012 and a BrewDog tap takeover on 1 August 2012, each of which is as good a reason as any to pay your first visit, if you haven’t already.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who regularly reads this blog (hi, you two) that one of my favourite pubs is Mr Foley’s in Leeds. As I’ve mentioned before, the careful selection of interesting cask, keg and bottled beers that makes Mr Foley’s what it is, has until now been down to the manager Dean Pugh.
In a trans-Pennine transfer, Dean has now moved on to manage the newly-opened BrewDog Manchester, becoming @BrewDogBarDean in the process. A few of us went to see the new bar at 35 Peter Street on Saturday.
I was impressed. If you’ve been to one of the other BrewDog bars (I’ve visited Glasgow and Edinburgh) you’ll know what to expect: an interesting range of keg beers, no cask beers, an excellent selection of imported bottles, good music and a stylish slightly industrial decor using reclaimed materials. Manchester is over two floors, and I think it’s probably one of the biggest of the bars.
Kate and I enjoyed a few great beers. On keg we had:
BrewDog Dead Pony Club, the rew 3.8% session ale, which had a lot of fruit flavour with a significant amount of grapeskin;
BrewDog Dogma, a pleasantly sweet dark honeyed Scotch ale; and
Mikkeller 19, a deliciously sweet and complex IPA using 19 single-hopped beers (and a successor to Mikkeller 10).
The bottles we enjoyed were:
Mikkeller Belgian Tripel, a pleasant example of the style brewed with coriander and orange peel;
Mikkeller Single Hop Citra, a single-hopped beer that Kate found enjoyable in its own right (rather than just a tutorial on the characteristics of the hop);
Port Brewing Mongo, a big, citrus-fresh Californian double IPA; and
BrewDog Anarchist Alchemist, the new 14% “triple IPA”, which tastes like Hardcore IPA with a bit more barley wine character, but not so much as to be overpowering.
With all those strong beers, it’s a good job that there’s some food on offer, and the burger and pizza menu (three of each) designed by Masterchef winner and occassional BrewDog collaborator Tim Anderson, is very tempting. I tried a slice of a tasty veggie pizza with breaded aubergine and had a Milwaukee burger: an excellent pork burger with pickles and sauerkraut.
Manchester is already well-served with great pubs, from the Marble Arch to Port Street Beer House. But if I were a Mancunian I would be very happy to welcome BrewDog to the city: a nice place to spend an afternoon with some great beers and good company.
Following the visit, I’m pinning my hopes on the BrewDog Leeds licence application being successful. The recent AGM presentation suggests that, if it the licence is granted, BrewDog Leeds will open in September 2012.