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?
Phew, it’s been a challenging weekend for my liver. On Friday I went to The Grove in Holbeck for the leaving drinks of my friends Tom and Holly, who were regulars there but are now moving to Masham. Fortunately I understand that it’s not hard to get a beer in Masham, so I’m looking forward to visiting.
I started with Moorhouses’ Premier Bitter, but wasn’t entirely convinced so moved on to Elland El Divino, a “blonde premium bitter” which was excellent. Good beer, food and chat in a great pub.
Saturday night found me out on Lower Briggate and Call Lane, the latter swarming with underdressed posers. However the Smokestack was reasonably good fun and surprisingly had bottles of Anchor Steam and Liberty Ale in the fridge. Then on to Call Lane Social, a relatively new bar opposite Oporto which had decent music and both Brooklyn Lager and Anchor Porter in the fridge, but was crammed to the rafters.
Two nights that had ended in the purchase of kebabs should sensibly have been followed by a quiet Sunday in front of the Antiques Roadshow (or indeed Last Of The Summer Wine). However Dean from Mr Foleys had invited Kate and me out for a few drinks with James and Andy from Summer Wine Brewery.
With just a bacon sandwich to recover with, I had Crown Brewery HPA; Summer Wine Blizzard and Heretic Black IPA; and Revolutions The Original 45 Porter in Mr Foleys. Dean’s clearly been buying in a lot of great beers recently and has nefarious plans for lots more.
Summer Wine’s Heretic is a fantastic example of the black IPA style, with only a very slight roastiness at the start and a pleasant wallop of bitterness. Great as it is, James said that they’re going to tweak the recipe for the next brew.
The Original 45 Porter is Revolutions’ first commercial beer, and it’s a very promising start. I’ve had a lot of porters in recent weeks and this is one of the best. Worth keeping an eye out for.
On to the Victoria, where nine pumps were rapidly dwindling to three. I had a North Peak Vicious American Wheat IPA, which seems to be in every single M&B pub in Leeds just now (Palace; Adelphi, Scarbrough). It was an unusually hoppy wheat beer – not as big and punchy as Schneider Weisse Tap 5 but at the same time less thick and sweet, seeming less than 6%. It was very good but due to the limited choice we moved on to North Bar.
North had O’Dell IPA on keg, which James and Andy informed me uses Citra hops. I’ve liked this beer for a long time and it’s great on keg. Another example of knowing something’s great but not knowing why. Andy came back from the bar with a bottle of De Dolle Stille Nacht, which was 12% and incredibly bubblegummy.
After a Leodis Lager in The Brewery Tap and a final Timothy Taylor’s Landlord in the Scarbrough Taps (both had slightly disappointing selections), we headed home. It was very kind of Dean to invite us along and it was great to chat with him, Andy and James about beer and pubs. I have a lot to learn about brewing but once again they were really friendly and their passion for exciting beer is infectious. Thanks lads!
After all that, I should be ready for the Christmas party season…
(For much fuller and more informed notes on some of the beers above, see Leigh’s latest post on The Good Stuff, in which he tries Heretic, the 45 Porter and Vicious.)
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.)