Leeds Beer, Boozers and Breweries

Leeds Beer Week

It’s been in the pipeline for some time, and now we can start getting our diaries out and stockpiling bacon/berocca/naproxen as the events for Leeds Beer Week have been announced. I’m beyond excited, and if you’re not, here’s why you should be.

Firstly, it’s a week, but longer than a week, running Sunday 28th August to Tuesday the 6th September – which gives us all a day’s rest before Leeds International Beer Festival. So, plenty of time to get involved, and as there’s events spread across the 10 days you won’t be short of options.

Northern Monk, Ilkley and North Brew Co are taking the lead locally, organising events that give us an insight into their history and inspiration, as well as beer dinners and food matching events. Friends of Ham, Bundobust, Ox Club and the Greedy Pig are all also hosting events that showcase the best of Leeds’ dining with expertly selected beers. 

The week’s events celebrate not just the local beer scene and what it has to offer, but they also bring the pick of UK and European breweries to town. Northern Monk are inviting De Molen over, North Brew Co are hosting Manchester’s finest, and Tapped and Headrow House have a packed programme of individual Brewery tap takeovers. Bundobust and Wapentake also have US and Yorkshire themed draught lists respectively
There’s far too much for me to go into detail about here, but I urge you to dive in and attend as much as you can. I’m grateful that the organisers have taken such time and effort to assemble this programme of events, and hopefully it’ll be the first of many in years to come. 

Leeds Beer, Boozers and Breweries

Town Hall Meeting

Writhing in the abyss of a hangover, wrestling with fatigue and thirst, random images, thoughts and sentences dig their way out of the recesses of my mind. Adulterated by booze and increased sodium levels, some are fined and bright, others lost in the hazy murk of repetition. Exaltations as the phrase ‘finish him’ flashes past my eyes. Resting a glass on the roots of soft and wispy trees growing from a concrete floor surrounded by people wearing flashing headphones. A blue and red man covered in hands thrusting his many flapping fingers into the throng.

What’s clear is that Leeds International Beer Festival exceeded expectations this year. Take your average City beer fest, double the amount of Bars and Beers, add a load of food of extremely high quality, unique varied and exciting entertainment and a room of free classic arcade machine and you’ve got what amounts to a huge, friendly, bustling house party in the grandest gaff in town.

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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.
Leeds Beer, Boozers and Breweries

Golden Pints 2014

Golden Pints Logo

One of the favourite times of the year as a Blog reader over the past couple of years has been Christmas, and checking out other people’s end-of-year posts. Other people’s Golden Pints is something I always make a point of seeking out and seeing so many Bloggers come up with their lists has been a good mental refresher for me of the year in Beer – highlights, remembering a great beer I might have forgotten and recommendations for new things to try.

Hopefully, my list will prompt a similar response, let me know if you agree with my selections. If you disagree, your opinion is factually incorrect….

Best UK Cask Beer High Wire – Magic Rock Brewing Company
High Wire really is my go-to Beer, one of those that if I walk into a pub and it’s on, I will invariably order a Pint. The Cask version for me is slightly preferable to Keg, if only for the contrast between the Citric, Bitter hop profile and the creamy sparkled mouthfeel that we get in the North (and even as a Southerner, I’m happy with a Sparkled Pint). Honourable Mentions go to the wonderous and mind-altering half of Beavertown Bone King I had on an unexpected lunchtime visit to Friends of Ham, and also to Kirkstall Brewery’s Black Band Porter.
Best UK Beer Keg BeerCannonball – Magic Rock Brewing Company
Predictable? Yes. Named by plenty of other bloggers for their Keg choice? Check. Do I care? No! Best Keg beer for me by far. Wonderfully consistent, increasingly, and in Leeds readily, available and a guaranteed flavour bomb. Other memorable beers include Northern Monk’s black IPA ,Dark Arches, and Summer Wine’s Pacer – a superb Pale Ale that enabled a heat-hating bloke to a relax with a Summer-y pint on a hot day.
Best Bottled/Canned BeerBottle – Wild Beer Co – Ninkasi Premier Cru
Ninkasi was my favourite Beer of 2013, and to see the Premier Cru version being launched made me initially feel a bit wary. At the time, I’d had a few Barrel-Aged or special edition version of other Beers I’d enjoyed that didn’t particularly add to the original, or felt like a sideways step into ignoring the strengths of the original version. On opening the Premier Cru, the aroma immediately dispelled any negativity. The Brett character of the original was enhanced, with a sharp apple tang but also a smooth, satisfying feel. Moreish in the extreme. For these reasons, it also gets the nod from me for Best Overall Beer.
Best Overseas Draught Beer – Freigeist Bierkultur – Salzspeicher (Raspberry)
Some Beers defy style, some seem to invent new ones and having this on tap at North Bar during their Oktoberfest was slightly mind-blowing. A sour Raspberry Porter, I felt a bit reticent to try this at first but the combination of the tart berries and roasted maltiness won me over. I only had the evening to try this and haven’t seen it anywhere since, but those three halves were a memorable experience.
Best Overseas Bottled/Canned Beer – Odell Brewing Co –  Myrcenary
A huge double IPA with an even huger aroma, this had me immediately online ordering more. I also drunk a few six-packs of Ska Euphoria over the summer, and Brewfist’s Czech Norris punnery was forgiven when I tasted an Imperial Pils that kicked more ubiquitous Italian Lagers in the Crotch and spat on their neck.
Best Collaboration Brew – Magic Rock/Lervig Farmhouse IPA
Simultaneously fresh and hoppy but also with a saisony earthy quality, this beer was an instant entry into my year’s top beers. Looking forward to seeing how this develops, I think some was kept in reserve for Barrel-aging. Runners-Up medals go to Stone/Smuttynose Cluster’s Last Stand, and Buxton/Omnipollo Stolen Fruits.
Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label – Wild Beer Co
Simple, yet distinctive – clear brand recognition and informative, yet uncluttered front labelling. Classy.
Best UK Brewery – Magic Rock Brewing Co
For a smaller brewery to produce such consistently good and innovative Beers must take such dedication and hard work. One of the strengths of Magic Rock is that they don’t rest on their laurels. With an expanded brewery on the way and a canning line being fired up, 2015 is going to be their biggest and hopefully best year yet. Along with Wild Beer Co and Summer Wine Brewing, I always scan the shelves or stock list of online or offline Beer Vendors for their products first.
Best Overseas Brewery – Odell Brewing
I think with the increasing number of US Breweries that are becoming available to Beer consumers in the UK, Odell have been slightly overshadowed for some reason in the search for the ‘new’. For me, Consistency and quality are paramount when it comes to divvying up the monthly Beer allowance and Odell almost always feature in my basket. Not only are their core beers reliable and often fresh as a daisy, their seasonal specials also seem to make the long trip East intact and loaded with flavour.
Pub/Bar of the Year – Northern Monk Refectory and Best New Brewery – Northern Monk Brewing Co
Like many in Leeds, I was hugely excited when it was announced that Northern Monk had chosen Holbeck just outside of Leeds City Centre, and even more enthused when they announced their plans included a 20-tap Refectory. Around 10 of their beers are on tap at any time, and accompanied by Grub and Grog Shop’s fancy, but not fancily priced food it is truly a Beer destination for Leeds to be proud of. Northern Monk isn’t exactly a new Brewery, having released cuckoo-brewed Beer and Collaborations previously, but with a new home and a buzz around them, it feels right for me to select them after a great year. I’ve also been encouraged by the beers I’ve tried from Atom Beers of Hull and look forward to slurping my way through more soon.
Festival of the Year – Leeds International Beer Festival
2014 was the Festival’s third year, and aside from the fact that I was the only Festival I got to, it is a worthy nominee. In the grandiose setting of Leeds Town Hall, the event felt slightly larger than the previous year’s – it certainly seemed busier and the Saturday evening session was rammed. I spent most of my time in the main hall circling the centre of the room where the Northern Monk/Kernel/Magic Rock bars were located, with an occasional foray to see outside on the Town Hall steps in the warm evening sunshine.
Supermarket of the Year – Waitrose
Enough said really, I don’t shop at Supermarkets for beer often but when we pass a Waitrose I’ll pop in for a few bottles.
Independent retailer of the year – Bierhuis
My nomination for this Category goes to Bierhuis mainly as it’s my local Beer retailer, and one with a great range of bottles at good prices. If you’re looking to sample a range of bottles from Yorkshire’s smaller micros I’d recommend here above the other shops in the area due to the sheer depth of their range in this department. They also stock a good range of Belgian and World beers, and often get one-off deliveries of Beers which I havent seen available elsewhere in West Yorks. This is probably one of the tougher categories for me to pick a sole nominee, also being a loyal customer of Beer Ritz for a good few years, and greatly appreciative of and excited to see Tall Boys opening a bottle shop in Leeds City Centre – something that was sorely lacking before.
Online Retailer of the Year – Beer Merchants/Ales by Mail
I’m going to duck this one slightly as I don’t buy beer online often, being pretty well served by the businesses above, but both Beer Merchants and Ales by Mail have been exemplary in my personal experience and both stock great ranges.
Best Beer blog or website – Boak and Bailey
Boak and Bailey don’t just write interesting and well researched articles that cover the whole spectrum of Beer and Pub related topics, they also encourage and collate efforts from other bloggers and draw attention to subjects that may have otherwise been overlooked.
Best Beer App – Twitter
My main source of info about new Beers, Breweries and Blog posts is Twitter – via the people and businesses I follow and interact with, my knowledge of the ‘scene’ and issues and news surrounding Beer has increased exponentially. Beer is nothing without people, and getting to know people and read their thoughts and opinions on Beer through Twitter has been great. The occasional paddys/meltdowns/furious rants that pop up on my timeline are also very entertaining.
Simon Johnson award for best beer Twitterer – Broadford Brewer
I’ve followed David since joining Twitter, and have been continually entertained by his timeline’s mix of Dad jokes, doodles, thoughtful blog posts and general good-egg qualities.
Best Brewery Website/Social Media – Brewdog
Slick motherhubbards doing their thing.  You like what they do or you don’t. No further explanation needed.
So, there you go, just my thoughts on what has been a good year for Beer. Much expansion planned by some of my favourites Breweries and Bars, so 2015 already looks like a year to remember.
Leeds Beer, Boozers and Breweries

Something Beery this way comes…Tall Boys Beer Market



Leeds is great for a Beer, as you probably know. Pubs and Bars galore serving up all manner of treats for the thirsty foam fanatic. However, we all have those responsibilities and reasons for being called away from the Bar and back home before Beer O’Clock strikes, and it’s in these instances that that Leeds City Centre has limited options for those looking to stock on supplies for the Craft-inclined.

Exciting news then, with the emergence of Tall Boys Beer Market and their plans to establish a specialist Beer Shop in Thornton’s Arcade. Located at the upper end of Briggate, passing through to Lands Lane, the ornate Arcade is home to other independent retailers such as OK Comics and Chimp, and is one of Leeds’ hidden shopping attractions, nestling between the more brash commercial surrounds.

In order to get the lowdown on what might be in store, I dropped a line to Tall Boys  for a quick chat.

Firstly, can you tell me a bit about your background to start off with – have you been involved with any previous/related ventures, or worked for any other beer-related businesses? 

Tall Boys Beer Market is an independent bottle shop opening in Leeds City Centre. We are Ben, Cody and Nick and collectively have around 20 years experience in pubs, bars, music venues and festivals around Yorkshire.

Why have you chosen to start the business? Will you have a particular focus for the shop (e.g local beer/a specialism in beer from any particular overseas locations), or will you be looking to stock a wide range of Beer from a variety of sources?

We aren’t going to pretend you can’t already get a good beer in Leeds, we believe that we have some of the best bars in the country and that Leeds is at the forefront of exciting new food and drink offerings. But people’s desire for good beer is continuously growing and we can provide an alternative to your standard city centre off-license and a more affordable option than a bar. Our range will consist of the best brews from around the UK and the rest of the world and we’ll have growler fills, monthly beer parties and an online store too. 

We will aim to have an ever-expanding range of different beers from all over the world, but one of the most important things we want to achieve is a customer-curated range. If the people that buy with us are getting excited about American craft brews, we’ll stock them, but if they want more locally brewed ales, then we will gear the list towards that. We want it to be collaborative. The shop will also have a number of draught beer options available in growlers, which we are really keen to be bringing to Leeds at an affordable price.

With a strong lineup of specialist retailers in the Arcades, how you you see your position in relation to other shops and businesses in the area? 

Fortunately, we’ve already got a great relationship with lots of local independents, and the support we’ve had so far has certainly been encouraging. We’ve worked with a lot of the good bars and breweries in Leeds already but it’s been great to see other sorts of businesses rallying behind us, such as Village Bookstore and Laynes Espresso. We’ve also been working with Awesome Merch and we are super excited to have Leeds based illustrator, Idiots Pasture on board.

With an established business such as Beer Ritz in the suburbs and the prospect of Brewdog converting their current bar in to a Bottledog branch, you’ve got some tough competition! Do you anticipate hosting events and tastings?

We think Beer Ritz is great, but we want to give Leeds a city centre option. As for anyone else opening, there could be ten more around the corner, but we’ve identified the need for a good beer shop in town and we’re just excited about that for now. 

Within the shop we have two floors to play with. We have some exciting plans for the first floor in the future, but for the time being it’s going to be a drink-in beer café for our monthly events.

Do you have an anticipated opening date yet?

We haven’t released our opening date just yet, but it’s sooner than you’d think, so follow us on twitter, facebook and instagram (@tallboysleeds) to stay updated!

So, very soon the Beer Geeks of Leeds will have another location to congregate and converse within. A dedicated beer shop in the City Centre will be a welcome addition and once they open, I’ll be straight there to check what’s on offer. I just hope I can keep a lid on the Growler until I get home, otherwise I’ll find myself on the Tall Bloke’s Job Market…

Leeds Beer, Boozers and Breweries

Northern Monk Refectory Preview Night

Sitting at my office desk in Holbeck, just over the south side of the River Aire from Leeds City Centre and the main commercial and leisure hub of the City, I have justifiably been constantly checking and re-checking my twitter feed for the last few weeks in eager anticipation of the opening dates for Northern Monk Brew Co‘s Refectory.

While this area of Leeds is far from a beer desert, it’s an understatement to say that the prospect having a multi-tap bar in the area has been causing a minor meltdown in the minds of LS11-based beer geeks.

Since beginning as a nomadic, collaborative project, Northern Monk have been sporadically creating interesting beer with a variety of well respected and established Breweries across the UK.  At the time Northern Monk set its stall out as Nomadic Brewers, putting hard work and effort into working on unfamiliar equipment and trying to create something unique and original. At the time of release, New World IPA and Strannik both struck me as accomplished, if not necessarily especially innovative, but with plenty of promise

So far so good, you might think. However, another facet of Northern Monk’s approach was also their clear ambition to continue expanding their range, and perhaps it was with this ambition in mind that news emerged that they were looking to put down brick and mortar and finally have a solid location for their own brew kit.

In between this announcement and securing a site, Brian Dickson, formerly of the Grove, Huddersfield and their in-house Brewery, was appointed as head brewer, and spoke on their blog of not only his desire to create left-field offerings but also of good brewing practice and the importance of learning how to produce consistently good beer.

A few months came and went, but in March of this year it was announced that the site at Marshall Mills in Leeds had been secured and that work would begin in haste on installing the new equipment. Further collaborations with Four Pure and Atom Brewing followed, building the anticipation of the first brews coming from the new HQ.

Finally over the last few weeks, all was slowly revealed and ‘The Brethren’ who had signed up for their mailing list in the early days were invited to preview nights at the Refectory on the 22nd and 23rd of October. My diary was cleared (it was already pretty clear) and I ventured down with a few work colleagues to see what was on offer.

The building itself is an old flax mill, part of the industrial heritage of the area and one of the few buildings that survived the creep of offices and apartment blocks. Nestling just along from Temple Works, the location certainly has a singular sense of place in contrast to the re-imagined surroundings of the City.

Entering the building, the Brew kit and malt sacks are immediately visible before the staircase leading to the Refectory. We were met with a friendly welcome and a token for a half of one of the house brews, and I immediately chose to go for Monacus NZ Pale on cask. At 4.5% abv this is a light, supple pale with a sweet citrus aroma, easy on the palate and suppable beyond belief.

Having quickly finished my first drink, I sprung straight back to the bar and from the 16 Keg choices on offer I chose to go dark and stormy with another house beer, Chennai Export Porter. Dry-hopping was clearly a strength of the Brew team in this occasion, as a smooth caramel/choco aroma was neatly supplemented with a dank, almost spicy finish.

For a quick contrast, I moved onto a half of a collaboration beer – a Kiwi Saison brewed with the staff of the Grove and the people behind Indy Man Beer Con. Saison has had a popular year and a half amongst Brewers and Drinkers alike and I sense that while adjuncts are still favoured for new brews, focus has also moved back to the main qualities of the traditional saison. This beer combines both a trad approach with a subtle and refreshing Kiwi influence, I just wish the nights weren’t drawing in so I could enjoy this in more balmy conditions.

Moving on from Northern Monk’s creations, I was pleased to see Summer Wine’s Twiggy English IPA on the bar. Using all-English hops, it struck me as almost unusual that what some brewers consider old-hat and ancestral in terms of ingredients was used in such a succulent and substantive way. Which, of course is odd in itself. Further proof if any were needed that great things come from Holmfirth.

In between beers, The Grub and Grog shop provided us with samples of the dishes from their menu. Having had their delicious stews and sandwiches at Street Food events across Leeds over the last year or so, I’m very much looking forward to popping round for lunch on a regular basis.

My night was drawing to a close, so I quickly ordered a Baby Faced Assassin by Roosters to cut through the Ox Tongue Hash and finished off with a Mocha Porter, another in-house Beer. The coffee and chocolate flavours convinced me it was time to give up while I was ahead.

Lightly toasted, I skipped off in town to ride the Arriva trundler back to no-man’s land.

A good evening was had, and my enthusiasm for the opening was not left waning. Having an up and coming Brewery producing progressive beer on my daytime doorstep isn’t something everyone can boast of, and I can see my after-work future being spent in the Refectory for some time to come.