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In Pictures: The Second Leeds International Beer Festival

September 6, 2013 5 comments

I went to the opening day of Leeds International Beer Festival yesterday evening. With the caveats that I’ve never been to Indy Man Beer Con, GBBF or the Copenhagen Beer Celebration, and the fact that I’m not actually that keen on traditional beer festivals, it was definitely the best beer festival experience I’ve had. It’s on a grander scale than last year and the organisers, bars and breweries involved have put a lot of effort into making it really special, as can be seen from the photos below.

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There was a greater use of the possibilities of the Town Hall this year, with the food vans, Friends of Ham’s teepee, the Brooklyn truck and Flying Dog caravan out front. One hidden gem was North Bar’s pop-up “Atomium” in the old cells under the Town Hall, where The Day The Earth Stood Still played on screen whilst drinkers downed shots of tequila and pickle juice.

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If you get a chance to attend over the weekend I would highly recommend it. Tickets can be purchased from the city centre box office.

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Brooklyn, Barges, Boaters and Booze: Garrett Oliver in Rodley

July 20, 2013 1 comment

This week I went to an evening of rare Brooklyn Brewery beers organised by James Clay in advance of their pop-up bar opening on The Calls. The new venue isn’t ready yet, so the event was held in a beautiful open air location by the Leeds-Liverpool canal in Rodley, on an amazing sunny July evening.

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It was one of those occasions that documenting might have got in the way of enjoying, so I won’t give you tasting notes for the various barrel-aged Brooklyn “ghost bottles” we tried or attempt to recount Garrett’s stories. He was in great form though: as charismatic, passionate and funny as ever, even leading a sing along with the bluegrass band.  I did manage to get a few photos though, so here you go.

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Full disclosure: the beer, cheese and entertainment for the event was provided by James Clay and Brooklyn. One of the owners of North Bar paid for my taxi home.  Free scintillating conversation and tolerance of my inebriated ramblings was provided by members of the Leeds on- and off-sales community and other bloggers.   Basically I’m a complete freeloader.  Garrett Oliver’s hat appeared as itself.

See a selection of more artistic photos from the evening by Mike Watson here.

BrewDog Leeds: The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost Deer

March 15, 2013 5 comments

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

See also: Rob’s post at Hopzine and this interview with manager Sophie at Leeds List.

BrewDog Leeds, White Cloth Hall, Crown Street, Leeds, LS1 7RB @BrewDogBarLeeds

Stringers Sharp & Dry Damson Beer with Damson Cobbler

September 16, 2012 8 comments

I’ll be putting up quite few posts about Cumbria over the next couple of weeks, following a week’s holiday there and an only partially successful attempt to walk the Cumbria Way. The full 72 mile Cumbria Way starts in Ulverston, and it seems appropriate to mention Stringers, the excellent brewery based there.

Presumably only due to Stringers’ capacity, we don’t get a lot of their beers in Leeds, but you can buy their very satisfying Amarillo-hopped bottled IPA in Booths and recently North Bar did a tap takeover event. I managed to pop in to North for a couple of halves after work and picked up two of their special bottles to take home with me, one of which was a damson beer.

Damsons are small plums and are particularly associated with Westmorland, specifically the Lyth and Winster valleys near Kendal. Unfortunately there has been a particularly poor crop in Cumbria this year, so I’m not sure if this beer was actually made with local damsons.

To go with the beer, we (primarily Kate) made a damson cobbler/crumble from a recipe by Dan Lepard. The small, sharp damsons that we used were from Kent and had been bought from the new fruit and veg stall that has recently filled a greengrocer-shaped hole in Chapel Allerton.

The beer itself is billed as being sharp and dry, to make it clear that although it is a fruit beer, it won’t be sweet. Pouring as dark as a Belgian dubbel, it had a crisp blackcurrant nose and a dry, tart and, in fact, slightly lambic, gueuzey sourness.

I enjoyed the beer a lot, but I think the sweet, sharp damson crumble wasn’t necessarily the best match for it. Next time I have one of these beers I think I’ll try it with a nice creamy hard cheese, perhaps a Lancashire, to balance the acidity.

First Fifteen: Celebrating North Bar

June 28, 2012 3 comments

North Bar is 15 years old, so it can finally rent Air Force One on DVD, which came out in the year of its birth. North Bar opened in Leeds at the same time as British rule ended in Hong Kong and since then has become an integral part of the renaissance of the UK beer scene. You can read a more indepth article about North’s founders and history from The Good Stuff’s Leigh Linley on Culture Vultures here.

North’s official birthday is Sunday 1 July 2012 and I’m looking forward to going to the party. In the run up that, They’ve been putting 15 very special beers on the bar, a new one each day, many of which were brewed specially for the event and some even with manager Matt Gorecki and the staff. You could almost put them to the tune of the 12 days of Christmas. Except it would have to be the 15 days of Northmas. Hmm…

On the first day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Roosters North Pale Ale ,
On the second day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Lindeboom Special Pilsner,
On the third day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: BrewDog Belgian Pale Ale,
On the fourth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Thornbridge General Sherman Imperial Red Ale,
On the fifth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: FLYYYYYYYYYYY-ING DOOOOOG! Kujo Coffee Stout,
On the sixth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: O’Dell Milk Stout,
On the seventh day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Nøgne Ø Oak Aged Sunturnbrew,
On the eighth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: FLYYYYYYYYYYY-ING DOOOOOG! In De Wildeman Farmhouse IPA,
On the ninth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast,
On the tenth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Marble Aged Little Jim,
On the eleventh day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Cantillon Gueuze on Cask,
On the twelfth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Sierra Nevada Solar Storm,
On the thirteenth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Kernel IIPA,
On the fourteenth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Gaffel  Kölsch from the wood…
 

That’s the makings of a veritable first XV from some of the most exciting British, European and American breweries, especially considering the strength of some of them. In the interests of surviving until North’s 30th birthday, I’ve managed to be fairly restrained and have tried just four so far: the O’Dell Milk Stout was lovely, the cask Cantillon was a wonderful experience (acidic pear/apple clean sourness, oddly drinkable), the Thornbridge General Sherman stands out as a superbly fresh hopmonster which tastes a lot less than 8.3% and the Gaffel Kölsch from a wooden cask had a wonderfully smooth mouthfeel and a crisp herbal bitterness.

North is a bar worth celebrating and these beers are worthy of toasting it with. What’s more, there’s still at least one more to come. See you there!

Beneluxurious: North Bar’s Lowlands Bier Festival

March 26, 2012 5 comments

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.

Oliver’s Army: At The Brewmaster’s Table With Garrett Oliver

March 15, 2012 5 comments

As you may have already read on David, Leigh and Ghostie’s blogs, I was amongst a fortunate few West Yorkshire bloggers invited to lunch with Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster Garrett Oliver at Mr Foley’s this week. Given that Garrett is basically the patron saint of beer and food matching, it must have been a pretty daunting experience for chef Tyler Kiley to put together a menu for him.

However, Tyler knocked the ball out of the park, with a very tasty and substantial meal to go with the beer.  Here’s a quick summary of what we had:

Brooklyn Blast, an 8% IPA made with both American and English hop varieties (including Goldings, Target, Challenger) and usually draft-only, was served bottle conditioned from a “ghost bottle” and paired with some chicken wings with a fruity but robustly spicy sauce.

Brooklyn Mary’s Maple Porter is a 6.9% Porter made with an enormous amount of maple syrup. It was a perfect match for Tyler’s labour-of-love pulled pork sandwich, home-made sauce, coleslaw and thrice-fried chips.

For dessert we enjoyed a truly decadent Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout float, which you can read about on Leigh’s blog. The only thing that’s better than a delicious 10.6% Imperial stout is a delicious 10.6% Imperial stout with a scoop of ice cream in it.

The Companion was a 10% wheat wine brewed in collaboration with Garrett’s collaborators on The Oxford Companion To Beer, Horst Dornbusch and Thomas Kraus-Weyermann, to celebrate the launch of the book. It was a really interesting beer, as strong as a barley wine but kept light and refreshing by the wheat.

Finally we enjoyed a very special beer: “Cuvée De La Crochet Rouge Rose“. This experimental beer isn’t for sale at all; as Garrett said, “If you’ve had this beer you’ve almost certainly met me“.

What it is, if I can recall correctly, is Brooklyn’s strong Belgian pale ale Local 1 aged in a bourbon barrel with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay lees (yeast and other deposits from the process of winemaking). The “Crochet Rouge” bit is because the lees was from Red Hook Winery in Brooklyn, and the “Rose” part is because a slight pink hue has been added to the beer by the Pinot Noir lees.

What results is a truly remarkable beer: at first very slightly sharp and acidic like a gueuze, with some pink champagne character and a little Brett whilst remaining very light and drinkable.

So some wonderful food and beer, but what I’ll take away from the day is what an inspirational ambassador for craft beer Garrett is. He spoke assuredly and compellingly about the possibilities of beer, the importance of drinkability and balance and, despite the “big beers” we tasted, his belief that sessionability is an important and growing movement in American beer. He talked about the influence English and Yorkshire cask ales had on him before he started home-brewing and noted that Americans still struggle to get cask ales to the customer in good condition.

It was also really interesting to speak to Brooklyn General Manager Eric Ottaway (who had flown in from Helsinki that morning), particularly about the business side of craft brewing. Brooklyn has always contract-brewed a large proportion of their beer at FX Matt Brewing Company in upstate New York, and indeed started out in 1987 solely with contract brewing. It’s worth considering that if a UK craft brewery is going to meet the increased interest and demand from supermarkets, pub chains and foreign buyers, they will have to adopt these models, but at the same time maintain the consistency and quality that made their name in the first place.

Part of the lunch was recorded for BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme, and speaking to the media is par for the course for Garrett. I think it’s a shame that we don’t really have an equivalent to Garrett (or even Sam Calagione) to be the public face of British beer to the mainstream media: not just a beer writer or CAMRA spokesman, but actually an inspirational brewer with an inclusive, positive and thoughtful attitude who has the personality and authority to shape people’s opinions of beer and make them really think about it, in the same way that a celebrity chef can do for food.

Thanks very much to Dean, Tyler and all at Foleys; to Garrett, Eric and James Clay; and also to the usual suspects for keeping the party going into the evening to the Brooklyn/Nøgne Ø meet the brewer(s) at North Bar.

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