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.