I bloody love Leeds. I recently visited Leeds for the annual Leeds International Beer Fest and managed to get a few hours in the afternoon to visit some new and old favourites. In comparison to Manchester, Leeds feels so much more comfortable in itself and provides a relaxed drinking experience. Manchester in my opinion seems to jump on the trends. Filthy American-style food is popular; there’s one on every street. Craft beer is in; every bar now has a chalk board outside stating “Craft Beer here”. Leeds doesn’t have that feel. It’s growth feels more organic as it aims to develop its own style and trends.
Have a beer in North Bar and you could be in many a trendy craft beer bar in the UK with its cool décor, poster adorned walls and artwork exhibitions. But; North Bar could be considered the UK’s first craft beer bar being the first to serve beers from breweries such as Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn on draught; craft beer originals now replaced by multiple keg and cask lines serving some of the finest UK and international beer available. Also note that North Bar is at the end of a busy shopping street, whereas anything deemed “Cool” in Manchester has to be in the Northern Quarter. A trend which I am hoping Café Beermoth’s location will soon curtail.
Bundobust is another go-to Craft Beer Mecca with its collaboration of Indian street food and a great selection of beers it has created a niche all of its own. Don’t get me wrong; there are places in Manchester that do food, and do craft beer, but in my opinion one is always outweighed in quality by the other. With time not on our side before the festival we didn’t get chance to go to Bundobust but they had a stall on at the festival alongside other great street food outlets of the north, such as Piggie Smalls and Dim Sum Su; so there was no missing out.
Another thing that stands out in Leeds is the services at the bar. Considering it was the beer festival weekend on a late Friday afternoon, on three memorable occasions we were glued to the bar in deep conversation with the staff. At Northern Monk’s Refectory detailed discussions of the coffee used in the new porters as part of their Patron Project kept our attention and questioned whether we actually wanted a coffee instead of beer. The slightly higher beer prices in The Brunswick had us regaling stories of our times in Copenhagen and Tallboys commenced the old Manchester vs. Leeds debate which was bound to crop up at some stage of our visit. Tallboys is a wonderful little place. Settled in down a beautiful arcade this quaint bottleshop features five taps of keg beer with a small seating area in the window and upstairs where you can site back and watch life in Leeds go by.
Back to the main reason for my visit on this day, Leeds International Beer Festival. It is a fantastic beer festival; easily on a par with Indy Man Beer Con. Set in the beautiful town hall the event spills out onto the grand stepped entrance where a great atmosphere develops amongst the food stalls and bars. Inside the main hall, UK breweries serve beer from their own bars around the edges of the large hall and a small hub in the centre. A room full of free arcade machine classics such as Street Fighter, Paperboy and Pac-Man are on the same level and the basement hosts the European and American breweries. The breweries always bring there A-game to Leeds with Cloudwater and Buxton standing out on this occasion. Cloudwater serving a bone dry Bretted Cream Ale and a fruity and sweet Rum BA Custard Porter. The ever reliable Buxton were dispensing their acclaimed Lemon Meringue Ice Cream Pie with its sharp and bitter bite alongside two new fruit IPAs.
Please note that I do love Manchester. It has been my home for over five years and moving here is one crucial factor in my love for beer. We have many of the best breweries in the UK. We have many more than Leeds. But with the stellar rise of Northern Monk recently and all the superb beer outlets in Leeds, the competition is definitely going to get fiercer and I am all for it.