With Leeds International Beer Festival cancelled this year, we've been off the lead and pootling around the ginnels of Leeds, going from brewery to brewery to pick up some fresh treats. Naturally, some of them made it into our LEEDS AND LEEDS Crate. Keep reading below for a cruise around the breweries.
First of all, here is a brief outsider-insider's view, if you're not familiar with the place. (Several of the BeerHoundsUK team have lived in Leeds at some point)
When I came to Leeds as a teenager, it seemed quite an unwelcoming place. My Yorkshire nan had already told me that the people up here force rhubarb, and place names like 'Meanwood' and 'Sheepscar' just didn't sound inviting to me. They only seemed to add to the image of a wild, uncaring world where only the strong survive. Even the civic coat of arms is somehow callous - three owls nonchalantly do some yoga while a sheep is suspended by rope in mid-air. Is it dead? Is it in pain? No one knows, but the owls are definitely indifferent.
However, as I got to know and love Leeds, I learned it to be a massive, small city where you'll occasionally see deer at a bus stop. Lasting bonds, memories and relationships have sustained while the face of the city has changed many times over the last twenty years. Like any growing city, as the personality and characteristics of one area change, that then leads to evolution elsewhere, allowing the creative, cultural character and spirit to find a home in other corners.
Leeds has always been a brewing city, so its German twin city, Dortmund, is a good choice of sibling. However, in 2011 Tetley's Brewery ended their centuries-old association with the city, moving production to its current site in Wolverhampton. With much of the old brewery converted (bull-dozed) into a lumpy car park, all that now remains is 'The Tetley', a community-centred arts and exhibition space.
The craft ale breweries up here grabbed the brewing baton and ran with it, becoming an increasingly larger feature of this changing face. In the process, these breweries have grown into some of the most industrious, popular producers of craft beer in the UK. Many Leeds-brewed beers are now widely available in UK stores, so even sticklers for elsewhere have to admit; Leeds punches well above its weight for craft beer variety and quality.
As we emerge from Memory Lane, our first stop is Ridgeside Brewery. Between canning sessions, we are invited over to take some samples. Nearby, we pass a local storage unit and admire the branding. In a one-club city like Leeds, using club colours for a business must be good marketing.
We arrive, and the workers at Ridgeside are nice, busy, and chuffed to be nice and busy. We take home some beers that are colder than anything in our fridge. Cheers!
The Ridgeside Helles is definitely a decent beer – a really good-bodied maverick, but we opt for Comfortably Crumb Sour, Objects in Space Pale DH, Muffin Compares 2 U Stout and 'Rhadler', a rhubarb shandy. All are delicious, balanced brews that complement our range nicely.
Later, it's off to Kirkstall Brewery. We pick up some All Together IPA (their collaboration with Other Half Brewing) and a few other bits and bats, and I compliment the bar staff on the smell of the place. I start rambling on about pomegranates, starlings, and that bit in The Simpsons when the pubgoers and churchgoers exchange venues ahead of the final reckoning. It must be because we came through Armley - I've come over all Alan Bennett.
The Kirkstall Brewery frontage/terrace looks great, even in near-driving rain. Mind, I'm not keen on the Veltins umbrellas. The drinkers underneath seem happy with them, but they just remind me of Shalke04. As a plastic Loiner, I'm very fond of BVB (Borussia Dortmund).
We come away past the Emmerdale experience (really) and recall livelier times in The Cardigan Arms and Kirkstall Bridge Inn, which is the old 'The Olde Bridge Inn'. The bridge bridges the Aire, so the riverside beer garden is great if you like to peacefully ponder the dissolution of monasteries and spot the odd grey heron while having a jar. Still with us?
While digressing, Northern Monk get in touch, so it's back to the Armley Gyratory. Surprisingly, this is not a Yorkshire Kama Sutra thing – it's just a roundabout.* Near the brew site, large, crumbly buildings and warehouses nearby seem to want to help us get lost.
I start to regret that the pick-up wasn't scheduled at the Northern Monk Refectory taproom at The Old Flax Store, south of the river in Holbeck. I know where that is, for a start. Also, it's a pragmatically beautiful building that nods to a functional, industrious past (It's a good 10 minute pacy walk from Leeds station, but worth it.)
Then suddenly, the (relatively small) brew site sticks out like a beacon .We pick up some Patrons Project Northern Tropics Gold (The seventh in the Drew Millward artistic collaboration range). No surprise, it's a truly special drop! We fail to find the sales office to say hello, but we manage a peek at the brewery. It smells lovely.
With little time to dwell, we head to North Brewing Co, which was set up by the founders of North Bar. Always a popular nightspot, it's said to be the first craft beer bar in the UK. From NM brewery it's a short ride past the piano shop and the pet food place (the one with the prosthetic primates outside) into Holbeck, going not far from the NM refectory and past two decent craft Beer pubs, The Cross Keys and The Midnight Bell. Around the corner from North Brewing Co we find ourselves on smoother roads than they used to be. Merci, Tour de France!
The brewery site is busy, but one of the the sales team still helps us to load up. We pick up crates of Running in Pairs SIPA, The Leafcutter DDH IPA, Split Moon DIPA and two collaborations, the North x Paria SIPA and the North x Leeds United x Square Ball Cali-style pale ale. (The Square Ball is a Leeds United Fanzine - the diary section is hilarious, even for non-Leeds fans) Understandably, we go home ever so pleased with ourselves, and wonder what Jennifer Aniston is up to these days.
The next day, we jump on the ringer (the Leeds inner ring road) and call at Ridgeside again, where they have just finished canning. The car park smells of grilled, syrupy Weetabix and the spent malt actually looks pretty appetising. I'm just wondering to myself how it would compost combined with dried privet, when one of the team explains how it goes to be used as animal feed. Seems sensible. The staff also show us the recently-acquired canning machine. It looks to be quite a labour saver, but is apparently pretty hard work. Blessed are the canners!!
We grab the fresh cans and they come with a rogue, free sample of 'Thicket', Ridgeside's Bramble Sour. Nice! Then we head for home after a busy one-and-a-half days' work, with a nagging feeling that we should have bought more Muffin Compares 2 U.
That evening, I enjoy my bramble sour from Ridgeside – the blackbird on the can is well handsome. The new batch wasn't canned before we left, but it's a lovely balance of tart, fruity notes. A friend tells me that, ordinarily, he would be at the Leeds Beer Festival now. I nod a silent 'me too'.
As we prepare to bid goodbye to Leeds, it seems we have already sold out of Wilde Child's Insatiable Circumstance, a lush caramel latte porter. Keir (the owner-brewer) has also sold out, so we don't feel so bad. It is Sunday and the brewery is closed, but we still drive by the brew site/taproom as if cruising by an old friend's house. It's a similar feeling as we pass Elland Road on our way to the M62. Then it's back to the kennel for a wide-eyed stock take, where we plot to take Hampshire and West Sussex.
More on that soon...
The BHUK Team
* It's not just a roundabout