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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.

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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