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Chapel Allerton Arts Festival: Live At North Leeds

September 6, 2012 1 comment

Chapel Allerton Arts Festival is an event held each summer in the North Leeds village (suburb), during which Regent Street is closed off, a stage is set up, and local businesses set up food stalls. It’s run entirely by volunteers and the entry fee is an optional donation of £3.

Previously Roosters used to run the beer stall that supplements the overstretched Regent, but this year the festival bar was especially good and diverse, featuring local cask beers (mostly suitably summery pale ales) from Kirkstall, Ridgeside, Wharfebank, Leeds Brewery as well as Roosters. They even had kegs of Leodis Lager and Kirkstall Framboise.

On the Friday night, whilst Hope And Social played an appropriately optimistic and community-spirited set, I had a Ridgeside Desert Aire and Kirkstall Three Swords, which were very tasty if, unavoidably given that the temporary bar had just been set up on the street, still a bit green.

If Friday was nice, Sunday was brilliant: the sun had come out, the New York Brass Band (more accurately the new York brass band) were playing horn covers of A Message To You Rudy, Take On Me and Sweet Dreams, the Sukothai stall was doing mixed skewers and ribs for a fiver and Kirkstall Dissolution IPA (a robust IPA that takes quite a few sips to adjust to how good it is) was in absolutely perfect condition at £3 a pint. People’s clear enjoyment of the whole weekend was a tribute to the health of Leeds’ local breweries as well as the hard work and good taste of the volunteers.

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Live & Dangerous: Live Beer Tasting at The European Beer Bloggers Conference #EBBC12

May 20, 2012 4 comments

Below is a collection of my tweets and photos from the live tasting and beer blogging event at the European Beer Blogger’s Conference yesterday afternoon.  Let them serve as an example of why:

  • tweets are of the moment, best tossed into the ether never to be seen again;
  • I’m a woeful beer taster; and
  • after 10 beers in an hour, I’m an even worse beer taster than I am normally.

Thanks to all the brewers for the beer.  The conference was great fun and there will be further posts to come, even though they’ll be perfect examples of the type of incestuous intrablogger back-slapping that proper writers like Adrian Tierney-Jones warned us against at the conference itself.  Although Adrian didn’t use the term “back slapping”…

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.

Going Solo: Leeds Brewery’s Single Hop Range

April 20, 2011 10 comments

Whilst some of us are able to swan off to Copenhagen to enjoy 19 single-hopped beers at the Mikkeller bar, I find myself more firmly rooted to the ground in Leeds crying into my parkin as my shivering whippet empathically pines alongside me.  Still, there are some compensations for the wan, potbellied Yorkshire-based salaryman, as we’re currently enjoying our own homegrown single hop event.

As Jerry notes, single hops are so hot right now.  Mikkeller did their first range of single-hopped IPAs a while ago and a lot of other breweries have done similar things.  Most notable in recent months is BrewDog’s IPA Is Dead release.  As I mentioned at the time, I’m very much in favour of this type of thing as it serves to interest and educate the budding beer geek who doesn’t know quite enough about brewing (i.e. me and presumably a few others, but mainly me).

Leeds Brewery’s single-hopped range is called “So1o” and each of the four beers is brewed on the small brewkit on the premises in The Brewery Tap, near the entrance to Leeds station.  They’ve brewed four identical beers but for the hops used. However, as the base beer, rather than using a 7.5% strong IPA like IPA Is Dead, instead they’ve gone for a light 4% session pale which would fit into their range more coherently.

I started with the Sorachi Ace, the Japanese hop which had produced an intriguing and divisive IPA in the BrewDog release, with pepper, herbs and lemon cheescake amongst the multitude of tastes it was compared to. By contrast this beer had a delicate aroma. It was a light lime cordial smell, subtle but fresh rather than bready. This carried through to quite a light taste and bitterness in with the relatively full creamy mouthfeel which characterises most Leeds beers.

Northdown is an English hop apparently often used in stouts, although I’m not familiar with it specifically. The beer had very little nose and initially little in the taste. The beer was quite cold however and as it warmed I noticed a subtle traditional English bitterness and also a very slight plastic/bubblegum undercurrent. The aftertaste was satisfyingly bitter and rounded in the style of an English pale ale.

I thought I knew what to expect from Cascade and I usually really enjoy the astringent grapefruity bitterness. This beer had a little grapefruit in the smell although it did seem more like watered down grapefruit juice than the fresh stuff. This mildness carried through to the taste and aftertaste which, whilst refreshing, didn’t really make the best use of what can be a spiky, interesting hop that makes you sit up and pay attention.

Hallertau Mittelfrüh is a traditional German lager hop. The beer had a fresh herbal to grassy nose and a nice lagery bitterness on the swallow. Being a relatively low ABV beer which was less strongly hopped than an IPA, I thought this worked really quite well, showcasing the hop bitterness to a much better extent than lagers usually allow for.

We’re being asked to vote for the hop that makes it into the regular range, and I duly filled in my card, deciding to opt for the Hallertau. The Cascade and Sorachi Ace are both nice hops and made for pleasant beers, but I wanted them to be more forthright than they were. Northdown was fine if lacking in aroma, but didn’t produce a beer that was different enough to Leeds Brewery’s usual range. The Hallertau beer simply made the best use of the hop.

I tend to think of Leeds Brewery as being cautious and playing to a mainstream audience. Their core range (Pale, Best, Midnight Bell) is fine but of those I’ve personally found only the last to be both consistent and interesting. Their ambitions to step into Tetley’s shoes are quite clear in the upcoming events around the time of Carlsberg’s sad closure of the site as reported by Leigh.

However things like the So1o range (including the willingness to enter into a dialogue with their customers on what they think of them) and their recent Gyle 479 suggest that Leeds Brewery are branching out and doing more experimental things. This might start to get people genuinely interested in and talking about their beers, even if they’re not going to be at the front end of innovation, capturing headlines with offal beers or 55% eisbocks. It’s fine winning the loyalty of the mild and bitter drinkers of West Yorkshire who want a default beer to have time and time again, but let’s keep some spice in the relationship, eh?

Alley Of The Kings: Whitelocks First City Luncheon Bar and Leeds Whitelocks Ale

February 4, 2011 3 comments

After a very hectic January I was actually able to leave the office for lunch yesterday, only to have an annoying visit to the bank when I had to speak to four different members of staff before one of them was able to slightly amend my postal address on their system. 

I got it in my head that what this situation required was a half of session ale and a sandwich in an old pub, and decided to pop in to Whitelocks, what with it being a “luncheon bar” and all.  One of several pubs tucked down one of the alleys off Briggate, Whitelocks is one of Leeds’ most famous landmarks principally due to its beautiful if narrow interior: big shiny copper bar, stained glass and tiles.  It was even gushed over at length by John Betjeman in 1968 (at 3 mins 25secs): “what a rest and what a welcome this place is on a windy day, when you come in from the streets …” (Ta to Leigh for the link, I encourage you to watch it).

It remains a beautiful pub with a long history – far more so than these scrappy iPhone photos suggest.  A blue Leeds Civic Trust plaque notes that the first license was issued to the site in 1715, although the current building is Victorian.   The food tends towards the simple and hearty.  I went for a hot roast pork and apple sauce sandwich (served with a handful of crisps, salad and coleslaw) and a half of Whitelocks Ale by Leeds Brewery, which I hadn’t seen before.

Whitelocks Ale turned out to be a nice pale hoppy session ale.  Slightly green-gold in colour (or maybe that was simply the unreal light of the pub refracting through it) it had the typical Leeds Brewery thick creamy texture.  Lightly hoppy, it wasn’t a beer designed to blow your socks off, but rather, as is appropriate to Whitelocks, was a perfect companion to a weekday lunch.

Sitting on my own, conscious of attracting attention by taking photos with my phone and scribbling notes on a scrap of paper, I couldn’t help but overhear a contented group of friends sat next to me extolling the simple virtues of Whitelocks: great for a weekday lunch; can hear yourself talk.  All this is true.

I’ve been put off by the service in Whitelocks in the past: mistaken orders brazened out rather than rectified; an attitude to the customer straight from the 1970s and defiantly English in a not entirely positive way.  However, perhaps that was a blip, as the service was very friendly and speedy on this occasion.

The selection of beer was good too: Hobson’s Town Crier; Theakston’s Old Peculier; Ilkley Mary Jane; Shepherd Neame Master Brew; Wyre Piddle In the Hole.  Good, solid, English ales and mostly beers capable of being enjoyed without standing in the way of an afternoon’s work.

When my parents come to Leeds I often bring them to Whitelocks.  It’s a good place to have a pint and a sandwich with my Dad whilst my Mum goes to Marks, but it’s also a unique part of Leeds.  Whitelocks is to Leeds as The Crown is to Belfast: shiny; grand; historic; needlessly intricate and elaborate; otherworldly; anachronistic.

Except it’s unlike The Crown a couple of ways: firstly, it’s a real, vibrant pub, not owned by the National Trust;  and secondly, the beer is much better.

Leeds Brewery Reel Ale

November 5, 2010 Leave a comment

    

Last night Kate and I went to the opening gala of the Leeds International Film Festival, which was a special showing of The King’s Speech at the Town Hall. They had erected a big screen on the stage and, as is relevant for the purposes of this blog, a bar in the foyer.
 
Leeds Town Hall already has a rather cramped bar down the side of the main room, but it wasn’t open last night. Leeds Brewery were one of the sponsors of the festival and so the festival bar stocked only their beers and was presumably run by them. They had bottles of their other beers in the fridge, but on tap there was Leeds Pale and the “official film festival beer” Reel Ale.
 
AnCnoc whisky are also a sponsor of the festival and they gave away free shots of single malt. I’m afraid I’m not sure which age the sample was, and to be honest I know next to nothing about Scotch despite having spent four years in St Andrews. I had a half of cask Brewdog Paradox in North Bar earlier in the week and I’m still tasting the peat. I’ve always preferred smoother Irish whiskeys, but I’m not one to turn down free booze and the sample was nice and smooth.
 
The Reel Ale (£3.50 and served in a plastic pint glass, but hey) was 4.4% and tasted like a lower ABV, less flavoursome version of the Midnight Bell, which I discussed earlier in the week. It’s a creamy dark mild with a bit of chocolate. Perfectly pleasant but nothing to particularly excite. Kate had the Leeds Pale, which was on surprisingly good form, and I slightly regretted not going for that, but not overly.
 
We got to take our pints in to see the film, which I’d only done a couple of times before, including when I saw Watchmen at a cinema in Milton Keynes. As I did then, I again inevitably had to bother everybody by getting up an hour into the film to go to the loo.
 
If you’re interested, the film was actually brilliant. I was a bit wary about going to see a Colin Firth period film about the Queen’s dad, but it had a well-pitched script, beautiful cinematography and a superb cast, including Geoffrey Rush, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon and Helena Bonham-Carter.*
 
It was great to see the film with such a sense of occasion in the grandly decorated room, and if you get the chance you should try to catch any other films they’re showing there during the festival, especially if you get to have a pint of the Leeds Pale at the same time.
 
We left the film in good spirits and went on to North Bar, which turned out to be full of transvestites, evil scientists and women in suspenders, as Rocky Horror had just finished at the Grand. It was a great atmosphere and as friendly, festive and welcoming as North usually is.

 

North has a lot of Brewdog in at the minute, including the aforementioned cask Paradox, cask Trashy Blonde, keg 5am Saint and will also have, as of today, manager Matt’s own stag party beer, “Alice Porter”. We had a couple of great pints of the hoppy, citrussy Trashy Blonde and capped off the night by splashing out on a big bottle of Stone Double Bastard 2009, which was a syrupy, hoppy beast full of rotten fruit that should be any sensible person’s last drink of the night. We went home very happy.

*As the Queen Mum! Wasn’t she doing filthy things with Tyler Durden last time I saw her?

Into The Mild: Brewdog v Tetley’s v Leeds Brewery

November 3, 2010 3 comments

I’ve just started reading Martyn Cornell’s fascinating book Amber, Gold & Black: The History Of England’s Great Beers. So far I’ve learned an lot about each of the styles covered and their history, which seems inseparable from the beer itself.

A style which has always confused me is mild. I simply didn’t know what it was. This wasn’t helped at all when I tried a bottle of Banks Mild recently, which is a light chestnut colour, and tasted completely different to the predominantly dark milds I’d tried before. Even in relation to dark milds I’m not sure where the dividing line is with porter.

I now realise, from Cornell’s book, that this variation comes from mild’s historical definition as simply a beer meant to be drunk young.  Mild is not monolithic, although many modern examples are dark.  It seems that modern milds are either a persistence through history of variations on a style that wasn’t rigidly defined to start with, or a retrospective recreation of something mostly lost.

I decided to put theory into practice and compare a few different cask milds. It was an ideal time to do this as Brewdog have released their own take on a weak mild, Edge.  It’s available in many JD Wetherspoons now as part of their ale festival, but I tried it in Nation Of Shopkeepers on Great George Street, where for some reason it monopolised three of the four handpumps.

Brewdog Edge is a 3.2% dark mild, which made it easier to excuse a whole pint at lunchtime. It was a lively pour with a creamy head, but one that soon disappeared. It tasted quite… er, mild; and thin the point of watery.  There was a hint of cola as it tingled on my tongue and left a roasted bitter aftertaste.

Compared to Brewdog’s core range and expensive specials – and indeed their recent press releases – Edge is completely contrary. It’s a weak cask beer, that lends itself to drinking in considerable volume.  It’s a pleasant enough drink but I can’t imagine anyone getting too excited about it.  But how does it compare to the local competition?

I went to Leeds Brewery’s Brewery Tap near the train station after work, as I knew it would do both Leeds’ own Midnight Bell and Tetley’s Mild, the latter of which may or may not currently brewed by Marstons for Carlsberg (according to Wikipedia it is, but there seems to be some debate).

I confess to confusing myself over the similar looking halves on the way to the table, but when I tried them it was easy to tell them apart.  Tetley’s Mild has the same dominant taste as Tetley’s Cask Bitter, that almost chemical sulphur taste that I presume comes from the “Burtonising” salts, albeit in a pair of beers traditionally from West Yorkshire.

Beyond that taste, there wasn’t much to the beer at all.  It was similarly thin, and perhaps even more watery than Edge.  It was refreshing enough and there were some puny roast flavours struggling to compete with the sulphur in the aftertaste, but failing.

I’m not completely sold on Leeds Brewery.  They have nice branding and some good pubs, but their beers tend not to be particularly exciting (relative to the local competition such as Roosters and Saltaire) and I’ve been left quite disappointed by a few dodgy pints recently.  That said, the Midnight Bell was by far the best of the three milds for my tastes.

It had more of a smell than either of the others, mostly cocoa.  That came through in the taste, which was a nice balance of chocolate and mildly roasted coffee.  More than anything, it had a much creamier feel in the mouth, and seemed much more satisfying than the others.

However, it’s worth noting that the Midnight Bell is described by Leeds Brewery as a 4.8% “premium dark mild”.  This is 1.5% above the Tetleys and 1.6% above the Brewdog. I suspect any comparison should not be regarded as like-for-like.

However, Cornell makes it clear that, at least just before WW1, there were some very strong milds.  Moreover, former “Champion Beer Of Britain” Rudgate’s Ruby Mild (which I’ve previously tried and liked) is 4.4%.  So, with the qualification that my tastes probably tend towards stronger milds, I’m happy to declare that on this occasion I enjoyed a Leeds Brewery beer more than a Brewdog one.

(Rigorous experimentation over, we stayed for some dinner.  The Midnight Bell also tastes very good in the Brewery Tap’s steak and ale pie.  However, I ordered a stout and Kate a pale ale, both from Abbeydale.)

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