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
Why, Sir, you find no man, at all interested in beer, who is willing to leave Belgium. No, Sir, when a man is tired of Belgium, he is tired of beer; for there is in Belgium all that beer can afford.
— Not Quite Samuel Johnson
I loved our trip to Bruges last summer and got to drink some remarkable beers in lovely places, like t’ Brugs Beertje and Staminee De Garre. The one thing that I did notice, however, was that the amazing beer menus were almost exclusively Belgian. I had hoped that there might be some Dutch beers on offer as well, as I had become very excited about the range of innovative breweries in the Netherlands following my short visit to Amsterdam, and the fantastic In De Wildeman.
Fortunately, back in West Yorkshire, North Bar’s annual Belgian Beer Festival has expanded its remit and annexed Holland; the 2012 version, running from 22 March 2012 to 5 April 2012, is a Lowlands Bier Festival. Kate and I visited yesterday when North was quite empty, suffering slightly from the lack of a beer garden in the unexpected March sunshine. Along with a waffle, we enjoyed four really good beers: bottles of Watou Tripel and Struise/Mikkeller Elliott; and from keg De Molen Op & Top and Emelisse TIPA. So that’s really two Dutch Beers, one and a half Belgian beers and a rogue half a Dane.
I was really impressed with the beer list, which also includes delights from the likes of Boon, Cantillon, De Dolle, all the Trappists you can shake a crosier at, as well as a couple of beers from rarely-seen breweries like Brouwerij De Prael, which I’ve never seen outside Amsterdam. I’m going back and this time I’m having cheese. I recommend you do the same.
If you’re above the Low Countries, perhaps preferring your beers single-hopped, Aberdonian and canine, on 28 March 2012 from 6pm North are also hosting a BrewDog IPA Is Dead Launch Night, a sequel to last year’s. The new batch of four single-hopped IPAs are Galaxy, Motueka, Challenger and HBC.
I don’t know exactly why my employers decided to hold this year’s group conference in Amsterdam, but it initially seemed like an interesting experiment in dangling temptation in front of your staff. However, in the end it was unusually well-behaved and good-natured; very far from the orgy of toking and poking that those with less faith in human nature might have predicted.
The frustrating thing about being taken somewhere as fascinating and beautiful as Amsterdam on a work conference is that you inevitably get plonked in an enormohotel a number of miles away from the city centre and handed a packed schedule that makes it very hard to escape the building. Nonetheless I was determined to get into the city centre, and thanks to the tram network I managed to do so twice.
Initially armed only with a Rough Guide To Amsterdam and some personal recommendations, I got off the tram and headed towards De Bierkoning (“The Beer King”), a famous specialist beer shop centrally located near Dam that Rob from Hopzine had recommended. Unfortunately it had just closed for the evening when I arrived, but I admired the selection of De Molen bottles through the window with a faint sense of relief that I didn’t have to fret about which of over 1,000 beers I could sensibly afford and carry around with me. It looks like a great shop and I’ll definitely be back at some point.
I decided to try and find Gollem, Amsterdam’s oldest specialist beer cafe. I was looking forward to visiting this small bar with a huge selection of beers. Rather sadly, when I found it in an alleyway off Spuistraat it was also closed, but seemingly permanently. The sign in the window was in Dutch, but suggested that whilst Gollem and a second Gollem in the de Pijp area had closed, their third bar, the larger Gollem Proeflokaal (tasting room) on Overtoom, is still open. I added this to the list of places to try next time I came.
However I was very happy to see The Cracked Kettle open opposite the closed Gollem. This was another excellent specialist beer off-licence and I was pleased to see a very large selection of primarily Dutch and Belgian beers. I was spoiled for choice and began to realise quite how little I knew about Dutch beer styles. I decided not to laden myself down with an armful of bottles for the rest of the evening and opted for just one: a Brouwerij De Molen Bommen & Granaten.
It’s a 15.2% Barleywine made with champagne yeast that came in a small bottle with the top already sealed with red wax. It says that it should keep for 25 years, which is an admirably bold assertion. Subsequently reading about the beer online, I now realise that “Bommen & Granaten” means “Bombs & Grenades”, which made it probably the least airport security-friendly beer in the world. Now that I managed to get it back in Yorkshire without incident, it should be a nice souvenir of the trip until I lose patience and crack it open.
The other thing I picked up in The Cracked Kettle was Tim Skelton’s Around Amsterdam in 80 Beers. Filled with photos, it has a page each for the 80 best bars and beer shops in Amsterdam and a suggested tipple for each. It would turn out to be an invaluable guide for the rest of the trip, helping me to navigate and prioritise, taking me to a couple of brilliant (and open) beer bars. I’ll get on to those in my next post.