My younger brother’s birthday was a great excuse to re-visit my no. 1 drinking away day, the beer rich city of Leeds.
My last visit was a very pleasant surprise for me, finding real gems within walking distances of the train station, and I was keen to repeat the visit, this time taking in a few bars I missed out on.
As we managed to get an earlier train, we decided to hold off our planned lunch stop at Friends of Ham (more of them later), instead heading the other side of the station to find the brewery tap for the fantastic ‘Northern Monk’ brewery. The brewery is situated in a lovely area, renovated industrial buildings which now host what looks like media agencies and trendy bars. The Northern Monk brewery building stands alone, and it’s an impressive sight. It’s not well signposted though, and we weren’t sure we were even entering the right door to get in, as we initially tried to get into the brewery store room. Instead we headed up the stairs, and found the tap room, a lovely bright and light industrial bar room with large tables to pile food and beers up on. There was no mistake you were in a brewery walking up the stairs, the smell of yeast gobbling up malt sugar filled the air.
The beer selection was impressive, with most of the Northern Monk range, plus lots of guest keg (and a few cask) beers on offer. There’s even a small (but decent!) selection of bottles (and of course craft cans) in one corner to take out.
One tip if you do visit this brewery tap, while it opens early (8am during the week, later at the weekend), it doesn’t start serving alcohol till later – in our case on a Saturday visit, until 12 noon. Luckily we only arrived at 11:50, so 10 minutes to have a look around and study the beer menu!
We went for a flight of three 1/3rd pints, and while the picture looks like we had the same, it’s not the case. Well we both had a glass of their American pale Faith, a very refreshing fresh hopped 5.1% pale. Very drinkable and hop forward – a great beer. I had their 6.2% ish IPA, which was sweeter and obviously stronger. I ended with their black IPA, which was pretty good but I felt could have been more highly hopped. My brother’s session (4.1%?) IPA, Eternal, was good, and the chocolate coffee stout (Northern Star) was VERY good – it has fresh ground coffee and dark chocolate in it, and they stand out in a very smooth stout. A real after dinner beer.
That set us up for the day, and we set off ready for more! Instead of heading straight to our lunch, we stopped over in one of my listed ‘bonus pubs’, the Hop, set in a new waterside development. An Ossett brewing pub, serving their and other northern brewery beers. The pub looks like it’s a big music venue, and it’s a pub for all, with decent real ales, and the usual array of premium lagers.
We’d drunk up a hunger by this time (about 1.45pm), so off to “Friends of Ham” we went! I’d visited ‘Friends’ last time I was in Leeds, and knew it would be a perfect place for my very well travelled brother, as he loves his food, and has been all over Spain trying their tapas. Friends of Ham is a non pretentious bar/restaurant where you just turn up to eat (no booking ahead of time, first come first served). It has 14 beer taps, with a just a few regular beers, the rest constantly changing guest craft beers. To go with that fantastic selection are very high quality meats and cheeses. Unless you’re just having the bread and oil (£1.50), this isn’t a cheap place to eat, but you’re paying for the quality. £15 got us a Spanish sharing plate, with cheese, meat, and a little bread, a herby crisp flatbread, and what tasted like a sweet tomato set ‘jelly’, topped off with small pieces of fig. They really went together fantastically, sweet, savoury and smokey.
We didn’t skimp on the drinks, wanting to try as many as possible, so we ordered a flight of six beers (£11, or three for £5.50). That’s great value – as some of the more specialist/strong beers can be £5 a half. I ordered targets as varied as a Velgins Pilsner, the Magic Rock Magic 8 Ball, a strong black IPA with loads of hops, to Phobos & Deimos – a rye IPA from Atom. We did the European thing and took our time with our meal, swapping the 1/3rd pints between us so we could try all six beers.
Re-fuelled and ready for more I took us up to one of the oldest ‘craft’ pubs in the UK, the simply named “North Bar”. It’s much more like a ‘normal’ boozer, one thin and long room with a long bar down one half of it. Not at all arty or pretentious, this pub doesn’t try and follow any trends, it just serves good beer. A much more varied clientèle, with lots of locals coming in for pints of their own ‘prototype’ ale – a traditional golden bitter, smooth, about 3.8% and easy drinking. We where there for more exotic drinks of course, so we went after a very decent amber (Quantum: American Amber), as well as Magic Rock Cannonball (which is hops, hops, and more hops), and Thornbridge’s Otto (a dark German style wheat bock @ 8%). We just stood at the bar and chatted with the staff, while enjoying a few recommendations.
We then hit another ‘bonus pub’ on my list, the nearby Whitelocks, which I’d visited before. It’s a proper traditional pub in an amazing set of buildings, pretty much in it’s own side street off the busy shopping area of Leeds. It’s meant to be the oldest pub in Leeds (1700’s), and it oozes history. It actually has a decent mix of beers – traditional and a few more modern twists, but it will be a happy home to traditional CAMRA real ale enthusiasts.
Food Round 2!
A real MUST VISIT for anyone going to Leeds is Bondobust, just a stone’s throw from the train station, which servers a potent mix of keg and bottled craft beer, and a small but perfectly formed vegetarian Indian menu of “street food”. It was my first visit, and I’ll definitely try and return. It says it is a craft ale bar that also does food, rather than a restaurant where you can get good beer. So there’s no booking tables, and it does have the look of a very upmarket take-away, but with a bar down the end. The menu is small, but perfectly formed. It’s all vegetarian, but as if often the case with great Indian food, you really don’t miss the meat. The highest priced items on the menu is £6, going down to £2.50 / £3 for the smaller nibbles. We were impressed with every one of the five dishes we ordered – the flavours were amazing, and all different. The guest keg Siren soundwave IPA went really well with it too.
The food comes served in waxed paper containers, and you eat on paper plates and with plastic forks – but my brother told me that’s far closer to the experience you’d have in the stalls in India, so it is probably all part of the experience.
My favourite probably was the potato ‘burger’ – which was hard to describe – just have it!
We had time for one more pub visit, and happily the next pub on my hit-list was literally across the road – the “Head of Steam“. Now this pub felt much more like a normal evening night out boozer – with a big crowd of people out for a good night. Not really a craft beer crowd (not the bearded sort you get in London anyway!), but it was lively and friendly enough.
From watching the bar-staff, most of the locals were drinking the standard cider and bitter – totally ignoring the American craft beers on offer. And wow there was some good-uns, with three keg Stone beers available (and Stone is cracking beer). There was also a big selection of craft bottles on offer – from a number of good breweries, not the normal range you get in a Wetherspoon’s that’s for sure!
So a real pub for everyone this, I think it has DJ’s and does a standard range of pub grub – it’s like an all bar one but with a load of exciting bottled and keg beer. I think we counted ten cask real ales too – so it’s not all just fizzy cold keg stuff (as traditionalists would call it).
A great day out – and one I would probably like to repeat again very soon! I think next time I’ll make it to the Brewdog Leeds, and go back to Tapped, which we didn’t have time for this visit.