Signs of a Healthy Beer Culture: Leeds
I read Boak and Bailey’s blog post this morning with some enthusiasm. Why? Because it’s succinct, not too-navel-gazy, kind of fun, and puts the idea of definable beer culture in a box. Which I like, actually; It’s something to hold onto. Anyway, in the way that the best blogging does, it’s been niggling at me since, and I’ve yet resisted temptation to apply it to my stomping ground, Leeds. That is, until Bailey asked me directly how Leeds would fare in the comments.
So, here are my thoughts. Feel free to agree, disagree, or generally call bullshit…
1. There is a drinking establishment within walking distance of where you live where you like to spend time, and which serves decent beer.
– Yes, plenty. Bear in mind this is where I live – not you – but in general, I can’t answer this without much more certainty than Leeds has a decent amount of pubs and hopefully there’s one where you can at least have a pint of beer in decent condition and a good chinwag with your mates or watch the footy. For me (I live in Bramley), it’s The Rodley Barge, The Abbey Inn, and – from about three weeks ago – The Bridge Inn.
2. If you are skint, there is an acceptable drinking establishment within walking distance which sells decent beer at ‘bargain’ prices.
– See above, to be fair; although there’s a strata of pubs that I don’t – and wouldn’t – frequent.
3. If you fancy something special, there is a pub or bar within reach on public transport which sells imports and ‘craft beer’.
– Well, perhaps we’ve been spoiled with North Bar’s existence for the last few years. Add the likes of Friends of Ham and BrewDog Leeds to the mix and you’re set if you want to jump into the next price point up. Oddly, I also have the advantage of being able to spend the same travelling time going to Bradford and dropping in at The Sparrow – although I don’t do that as much as Leeds. The reality is many pubs – in the centre, perhaps – may have a pedestrian bar but will have a few Belgians and Americans lurking in the fridges.
4. The nearest town/city centre has a range of pubs serving different demographics, and offering between them a range of locally-produced beers alongside national brands.
– I can’t even really go into too much detail here without bumping up wordcount; but yes. Leeds has it all from a pub point of view; perhaps most importantly pricing/demographic range. Craft Beer, Sports Bars, Gastropubs and Pubs of all levels of beer choice, pricing and clientele; from Whitelocks and The Adelphi to out clutch of Wetherspoons to the likes of The Angel Inn (Smiths) and one Brewpub in The Fox & Newt.
5. There is a well-established family/regional brewery.
– Leeds doesn’t have one per se since the demise of Tetley’s; but of course we have the likes of Samuel Smith’s, Timothy Taylor, Theakstons, Black Sheep & Copper Dragon being popular in the city. Interestingly, it may not be too long (perhaps in the next five years), that the output of the likes of Ilkley, Ossett, Saltaire and Leeds could push into this category, such is the popularity and exposure Leeds has to those brewery’s beers.
6. There are several breweries founded since 1975.
– Well, again see above – not Leeds per se, but plenty from ‘the region’ (being the middle part of Yorkshire). Rodham’s (Otley) enjoy popularity amongst a crowd who perhaps remember the beers being more widely available than they are now.
7. There is at least one brewery founded since 2005.
– Well, there’s three main ones for Leeds: Leeds, Ridgeside and Kirkstall. If you go further afield into the surrounding areas you can pull in Ilkley, Wharfebank and Salamander in Bradford. But again, that’s kind of cheating. There’s smaller outfits like Sunbeam Ales and Bobage.
Now this is the one that really got me thinking – and spurred a little debate on the original blog. It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. The main issue for me is that Leeds has no specialty since Tetley’s disappeared elsewhere to be brewed; it was, at its peak, a beer that would only taste right here. Those days are probably gone.
I would stick my neck out and say that Taylor’s Landlord has usurped many ‘standard’ pumps across the city as the ‘local, dependable, popular’ beer. However, two modern choices come to mind; Leeds Pale, which has an incredible footprint in terms of both popularity and availablilty, and Kirkstall’s Black Band Porter – probably available less, but incredibly popular when it’s on. But the term ‘must drink’ is the part that brings subjectivity into it; that depends on the visitor. The reality is that Kirkstall and Leeds are insanely popular in Leeds; and that’s reflected in their beers. I’d recommend both to visitors, of course. Perhaps that’s the kernel of the question.
9. There is an independent off licence (‘bottle shop’).
– Beer Ritz. Nuff ‘said really.
10. There is a shop selling home brewing supplies.
– Er, technically yes; there’s Abbey Homebrew on Kirkstall Road. When it opens, or who it sells to, is an entirely different question…
11. There is at least one beer festival in the region.
– Take your pick. Occasionally it feels like there’s one every weekend within a bus ride!
So…those deliberately vague terms kind of skewed my thinking – in a good way. I wanted to write about Leeds, but realised when I started that so much of what makes Leeds Beer Culture ™ great is that it’s a mix of everything. This sounds obvious – and you can draw parallels with Leeds’ multicultural makeup in possibly everything else we do, such as food, art and fashion – but it’s easy to take it for granted. Leeds seems to want for…well, not much, to be honest, in Beer terms. The suburbs will fare less well, of course; but perhaps that’s another plus point for Leeds; it’s small enough to get to the town centre relatively quickly.
I’ve spent whole days drinking in Leeds and can remain, if I want to, drinking entirely ‘Yorkshire’, ‘Northern’ or ‘Other’, in whatever setting I want; that’s the beauty of my home city. That’s my Beer Culture; I’m incredibly lucky, and perhaps a little spoiled, to have it.
Drinkers of Leeds, let me know what you think. This blog was written and posted up quickly on purpose, as to allow not much time for research or thinking, because that’s how questions like this should truly be answered.