Leeds Beer, Boozers and Breweries, Reviews and events

Unexpected Renaissance

There’s not many gloomier booze sensations, then opening a beer or sitting in a pub and thinking…what happened here? 

About 8 years ago Mr Foley’s Cask Ale House opened in Leeds, replacing Dr Okell’s, a pub based in the ground floor of the grand Pearl Assurance building on The Headrow and run by Okell’s Brewery of the Isle of Man. This coincided with my increased interest in all things Beer and the Bar and I agreed to form a mutually beneficial partnership. It would open to serve beer, I would visit to drink said beer. 

It worked well. Despite being primarily an outlet for York Brewery, the guest ales were good, the staff were great and knowledgeable and they became one of the first bars in Leeds to have a permanent Punk IPA tap, a rarity back then. I had many great nights, and one memorable stinker. This was the Jewel in the crown on my 30th birthday crawl, and I even saw the ‘Aguerroooo’ moment in the bar with a City fan. 

Then, not long after, things changed. Management left for new challenges, the Leeds scene moved on (Friends of Ham had just opened) and the place didn’t seem the same. Perhaps due to the limitations of the building, there had always been an ‘Aroma’ to the place, and this pissy stale smell was now not outweighed by the Beer selection, which had become unloved and lukewarm. Cellaring now seemed to occur in the disabled toilet at ground level, which seemed sadly, lazily, apt.

Having given the place a wide berth for a couple of years, bar the odd pint when I visited Leeds Town Hall, I’d been encouraged to give it another go by an expanded Beer range noted via twitter and Tony Naylor’s piece on Leeds’ best craft beer pubs.

Always a busy place, last Friday night was no exception, four deep at the bar and all seats taken. Foley’s has a unique layout, with a large back room, a raised seating area to the front, and a Gallery perched over the main bar area. Alongside York Brewery’s cask range, there were at least eight guests on handpump, and six keg fonts, all displaying interesting and varied selections. 

I asked for an Arbor Ales Half-Day IPA and, I’ll admit, didn’t have high expectations with regard to the expected condition of my Pint. As the title of this post suggests however, I was pleasantly surprised. Cellar-cool, pungently hoppy and with a superb neatly sparked head, I was knocked back. Another Pint came quickly, followed by beers from Pilot and Thornbridge. I talked myself out of a Jaipur X or Cannonball, partly because the night was young and I was already a bit giddy, partly because it gives me a further reason to return soon. My only slight criticism was that nearly all of the beer on sale was 5% and above, but I can’t really blame a pub for offering to get me drunk…responsibly. 

Pleased with my visit, I wandered off into the night, happy that a place I fell out of love with was making me want to come back. And I will…

Leeds Beer, Boozers and Breweries, Opinion and rants, Reviews and events

Jan/Feb Round Up

Long time, no blog! Well, given that most of my January was spent lurgy’d up, the thirst has taken a back seat for most of the year so far. Having missed out on Brewdenell due to poor financial planning on my part, things didn’t get off to a great start, and once the return to work malaise had truly bitten and I’d inhaled a skip full of other people’s germs, even a few bottles at home proved a challenge. A visit to Northern Monk refectory for Hopzine’s Humulus Lupulus tap take over was something I was very much looking forward to, with Rob selecting his choice of the best Beers the UK has to offer. Magic Rock, Kernel and Buxton all made the list, with the only drawback being that in my haste to taste I ended up ‘crafting’ myself into a taxi prematurely…which I think hastened the manflu onset.
The only beyond Leeds expedition was a train journey through the fug to Bradford, where I managed a couple of pints at the relatively recently opened Record Café. Located within walking distance of the establised Sparrow, the focus is not only on a quality, affordable line up of Cask and Keg, but also Charcuterie boards and, of course, Vinyl. If I worked for the Telegraph, I’d probably describe it as a ‘H*pster Paradise’, but of course that would be a poor use of an insipid term to describe what is a welcoming bar with a mixed crowd. Not having a turntable after digitising all my Shakin’ Stevens LPs, I didn’t venture up for a browse through well stocked music section, but a draught selection from Blackjack, Bridestones and Camden ensured I’ll be coming back for a return visit.
Last week, I and many others trotted along to North Bar for a Beavertown Tap takeover, and being a Beer Evangelist (bore) I also brought my Brother-in-Law along for an introduction to Gamma Ray et al. ‘Rare Casks’ said the flyer, which turned out to be a sole Cask of Smog Rocket – not exactly disappointing, but I had hoped for something slightly more exotic. Regardless, it was on form and so were the rest of the selected Keg offerings. I was especially impressed with the Dogfish Head collaboration, Londonerweisse, which was cheek-suckingly sour and lemon sherbet-esque. Appelation, a Bramley Apple Saison with Champagne yeast also impressed, and the Spiced Pumpkin Stingy Jack also made me reconsider my outright indifference to the style. As well as working my way through the tap list, I had a good catch up with other Leeds (and beyond) based twitterers and bloggers, which is partly responsible for making a resumed effort to jab away at the keys now.
March is looking up for drinking opportunites, another tap takeover is planned for North Bar on the 11th March, with Weird Beard the guests this time. I’m also planning a birthday weekend in London, my first in a couple of years, and hope to take in at least one brewery visit and a good bar crawl after. Its also the first Leeds bottleshare evening at Northern Monk on the 26th March, again organised by Rob from Hopzine. All tickets have been sold, but given how quickly they went and the enthusiasm for the event, I can see it becoming a regular fixture already.
Finally, I was lucky enough to participate in one of LearnToBrewUK’s brewing sessions in January, and have just taken delivery of the end product. The day is a crash course in all-grain homebrewing, with all equipment and materials provided. Hosts Steve and Andy run through the process step-by-step in a light hearted and informative way, giving you all the knowledge you need to go home and begin brewing immediately. I paired up for the day with Pete from PlusOne Magazine and we created ‘Clowning Glory’ a light pale, dry hopped with Amarillo. Pete wrote a blog about the day, and Rach (Look at Brew) has also interviewed the guys on her blog. I’d heartily recommend you book your spot on one of their upcoming days, as not only is it a great introduction to Homebrewing, but you get 20 bottles of your Brew a few weeks later. Mine is young, but tasting good and I’ve been told our effort has also been sent to the guys at Beer O’Clock show as part of their upcoming podcast featuring Homebrewed beer, released 13th March.
Hopefully, I’ll be inspired to update this blog more often in the coming months, and hopefully give you an insight into the Leeds beer scene and what’s coming up. The city is now, in my opinion, one of the premier destinations for a weekend away and I would urge you to get yourself on a train this spring/summer.