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Leeds International Beer Festival: Build It and They Will Come

Loaded Kitchen and Northern Monks

Loaded Kitchen and Northern Monks

Around the start of 2010, Dean Pugh and I (soon to be running the show at BrewDog Shepherd’s Bush) were having a lunchtime chat in Mr Foley’s Cask Ale house. We were musing on Beer Festivals, and what seemed to be missing from the ones we were used to attending. Decent food was high on the agenda, as was a little keg beer, too. Bottles, perhaps, but not just bottle-conditioned ones. Beers that were different to the ones we normally saw – and the ones we can get all the time. A nice, different setting – one that speaks of the place where you are. Also, and this was a big one – in the middle of Leeds. You know, so that everyone can come – not just those prepared to jump on the train.

This isn’t anti-CAMRA, by the way – not at all. But it’s heartening to see that, a few years down the line, Leeds has the beer festival that it’s (and by that I mean me) been asking for. Last years’ LIBF was green shoots; promising, well executed, different – but with room for improvement. This year, it’s safe to say that improvements have been made – and what’s more, I don’t think it’s even finished yet. Because Darren Potter, Kirkstall Brewery and the myriad band of organisers have certainly set the bar high, and will have to attain it all again next year.

What struck me the most was the sheer effort (and money) put into the bars and ‘pop-ups’ (shoot me now for using that phrase). They looked brilliant; The Kernel’s rough-hewn wood an extension of the branding, Friends of Ham’s teepee, resplendent with bar, fire, folk band and Jamon, Bundobust’s Bollywood blast of colour and aroma. Rooster’s, Ilkley, Magic Rock and Northern Monk cosied up with Timothy Taylor’s and Ossett, Kirkstall, Hardknott & Thornbridge. Italian Beer. American Beer. London Beer. Maggie Cubbler was offering truffles to compliment Northern Monk’s Strannik Imperial Stout, and Beer-Ritz had gone on the road again to remind the people of Leeds that we do have a world-class bottle shop in the city.

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Kitch of Friends of Ham, pleased with the Fire.

So what was good? This isn’t really a post about the beer per se, but I only drank one beer not to my taste all night. Rooster’s 20th Anniversary IPA was a masterclass in balance between Malt and Hops, and Weird Beard’s Amarillo Belgian IPA pulled off the same trick at the same time as injecting it with a streak of Banana, Cinnamon  and Rose. Hardknott’s Lux Borealis and Kernel’s Sour both cleansed, refreshed and revitalised jaded palates.

We (I was joined by a crack team of Hopzine Rob, Chris King and Nick Mitchell) strolled, sampled, laughed, ate, sampled, ate some more and laughed some more. We caught up with the brewers, the twitter folk who you don’t see much of in person, and generally treated the whole affair like the best pub in Leeds ,for three nights only. It was a triumph not only for beer, but for the Yorkshire businesses that put so much effort into bringing their best out on show.

Talk turned to Indy Man Beer Con; perhaps inevitably. Manchester’s excellent beer fest casts a long shadow – one that stretches across the Pennines, for sure. I think Leeds has always looked up to Manchester in a big-brother sort of way, whilst developing a typically Yorkshire spirit of Underdog/Evil Twin at the same time; so it’s timely that Leeds has got the beer festival many think it needs – nay, deserves –  at last. Onwards and Upwards: next stop – Indy Man Beer Con. 

All Day Breakfast: Rooster’s Londinium & Tap East Coffee In The Morning

IMG_3398Two beers spiked with coffee came my way recently – both donated by the brewers, I hasten to add. Coffee’s one of those flavours that is a natural bedfellow for stouts and porters – probably because you get those smoky, aromatic notes in darker beers anyway –so as a flavour it’s a no-brainer. Team up with your local Coffee purveyor (as in both these cases), and you’ve got a community project, to boot.

First up, Tap East’s Coffee In The Morning (5.5%abv). Hiding away like a bijou oasis of calm and casks in London’s sprawling Stratford City Shopping Centre, Coffee In The Morning seems like both a brave and natural beer to bless the brewkit with. With coffeebeans supplied by fellow Stratford indies Grind, you can sense the bustle of London in it. The label is an explosion of coffee-stained paranoia – you wonder whether to pour it into a mug or a glass.

For new brewers they’ve done a really good job. The nose was much fruitier than I expected, which probably vouches for the quality of the stout to begin with. There’s not much in the way of a head, but it tastes great. The body is full, sweet at first then nutty – then finishing sweet again with a grainy,  mocha-like note. Hidden in there somewhere is an almost Malteser-esque crunch, and the whole package ends up both surprisingly complex and assured – and with plenty of espresso voltage. It’s a wonderful Coffee Stout, and one that I’d love to try on Cask, just to get that extra bit of condition to fluff everything up. Well done, guys.

londiniumRooster’s have recently bottled a few of their beers (more on the others to come), and Londinium (5.5% abv) is a welcome addition to their core range. I first encountered it last autumn on Cask around Leeds, and although it’s initially jarring to drink a dark Rooster’s beer (but welcome, obviously), it would seem that those initial casks were pretty much prototypes. The recipe has now been refined, and, with coffee supplied by nearby Taylor’s of Harrogate, the final results are out there for coffee-loving fiends to get their mitts on.

The result? Well, I hate to stereotype, but Coffee In The Morning’s northern review-mate seems much more relaxed brew. Tan of head and hiding a ruby streak when held up to the light, there’s distinct malt in the nose; smoky, rich, deep and again, nutty – specifically Hazelnuts this time. It carries on in the same vein in the sip, but adds a dose of sweetness to proceedings before drying out with waves of mild, comforting cappuccino. It works well in the bottle and I’m sure will win over a section of fans of Rooster’s who were perhaps looking for something more robust for the colder months.

The coffee scene and beer scene share common ground; both have fans and obsessives, and both have a world of flavour that mass-produced brands don’t achieve. Bespoke Coffee – and Tea – merchants are now popping up at Independent beer festivals such as IndyMan, and it’s great to see the two linking up and working together for the community.

*Don’t forget, of course, recent adventures in Tea and beer such as this and this. For other northern coffee-spiked brews, seek out Saltaire’s Hazlenut Coffee Porter, Tyne Bank’s Mocha Milk Stout and Summer Wine’s excellent Barista.

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