(pic : Victorianweb.org)
“Why did we ever come so far? I knew I’d seen it all before.
Tall buildings reach up in vain. Tinseltown is in the rain”
(Tinseltown In The Rain – The Blue Nile)
How I love the voice of Paul Buchanan! And, for a fully paid up Lancastrian, how I love the beautiful city of Leeds. Stunning architecture, excellent shopping (or so I’m told!) friendly people, great bars. I, it would seem, am well catered for!
It was almost a year to the day when the doors opened at Leeds Town Hall for the 1st Leeds International Beer Festival, which, from recall, was a two-day event held – almost in its entirety – within the main ballroom of the building. The festival was the first to open my eyes as to how these events can evolve into a great experience across all demographics – Young/Not so, Male/Female etc – and I loved it (see here https://beersmanchester.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/the-first-leeds-international-beer-festival-08092012/ for one of my earlier efforts!)
Having left Bolton at an unfeasibly early hour, Manchester was living up to its nickname of The Rainy City. I packed my raincoat, yet hoped that the other side of “the hill” would be somewhat brighter. Sadly, the White Rose was not in bloom today. So coat on and hood up, a brisk walk to the Town Hall was in order.
I was aware that the festival had been expanded to 4 days. I’d also read that there would be more beers, from more breweries than last year. What I wasn’t prepared for was the sight that greeted me on approach to the magnificent Town Hall. The area around the town hall was fenced off for access purposes. There were huts/sheds, marquees, mobile catering trucks, even a Tipi! Last year, there was ONE facility outdoors – Fish &. All became apparent on entry. The food vendors were all outside this year.
Entering the “compound”, I got my glass and (monopoly style!) beer money/tokens from different huts outside. Ignoring the food vendors for the moment, I entered the main building to be confronted by the magnificent room above, simply stunning, with its feature at the far end, the mightily impressive pipe organ. It was immediately apparent, that there were more beer providers this year, including a substantial number from London on the London Brewers Alliance bar, featuring liquid joys from Weird Beard, Five Points, Partizan, Pressure Drop and more. More later…
However, being from the western side of those hills, my first decision was easy once I spotted a couple of pumps from Quantum. No Mr Krause this year (on MY visit at least), but I toasted him with a glass of his English Pale Ale. A hazy golden 3.9% ale with a “Saisonnesque” aroma laden with yeasty funk notes. A tad warm this, but a lovely fruity balanced pale with contrasting sweet pineapple and tart gooseberry in the mouth with a very dry, lightly bitter, finish. An excellent primer!
The beauty of this festival (and IndyManBeerCon – its almost “sister” festival), is the opportunity to chat to the alchemists who make these fine brews. It was with this in mind, that I abandoned my usual social reserve and approached the London Brewers Alliance bar where I spotted two gentlemen sporting the latest in promotional “beer wear” fashion T-Shirts, Logan Pant from Beavertown of Hackney and Gregg Irwin from Weird Beard of Hanwell. Both nice blokes, passionate about what they do and banging out some astonishingly good beers.
Whilst chatting, a certain Mr Bailey from Hardknott of Cumbria wandered over to further discuss with Gregg what may turn into a future collaboration brew. Keep your eyes peeled for that one! A brief chat with Dave (get me, all familiar like!) revealed another really nice bloke who also loves what he does. He’s also bloody good at it. One of his beers (Infra Red) has been chosen as one of the 20 beers by Sainsbury for their annual Great British Beer Hunt (beertoday.co.uk). Wish them well with this, if successful, this may be the spark for a considerable expansion for their excellent brewery.
Getting slightly busier by now, it was time for another beer, this time Railway Porter from the excellent Five Points Brewing Co of Hackney. I’ve had a few of their bottles from Damian O’Sheas’ excellent stall at Castlefield Market. Now for some draught on keg. A very dark brown beer which I left to warm slightly. Bitter chocolate and spicy hop nose on this, with more gentle bitter chocolate in the mouth, Nice hopping led to a dry bitter finish. Nice! I caught up with Ed from the brewery later, another top bloke taking time out to chat to customers!
Being a thoroughly sensible (some may substitute “boring” if they wish!) I stayed at the lower end of the abv scale now with Mary Jane by Ilkley Brewery at 3.5%. Another golden beer with an aroma of fresh mown grass whilst also slightly fruity. This was really refreshing and clean with some melon and kiwi hints. Nice dry finish for this which would be great beer for a session. But not the best from Ilkley today….oh no!
(“Oh I do like to be beside….er…wait a minute…!)
Having had a brief breath of fresh air (still raining!), it was time to wander back in for a Kirkstall Pale Ale at 4% abv. Another nice juicy golden beer with a light fruity hop aroma with a flavour which, to me, seemed to feature white grape and kiwi. Another really refreshing beer with a dry and slightly bitter hoppy ending.
One of the things that stands out for me about this new breed of festivals is the friendly nature of the people that you meet. Today we met a lovely retired couple from near Skipton. Janet and Derek were their names. I sat with them at our table for most of the afternoon and the chats were a joy. Both sharing an obvious love for good beer, Janet loving her Hophead and American Pale from Darkstar and Derek swapping tasting notes (and occasional sips!). Derek and I had chats encompassing politics, craft beer (and the rather poor regard from some parts of CAMRA – making him think of lapsing his card) and a whole gamut of other stuff. One of a few things that made my day. If they read this – Thank You!
(A class act!)
This was a slow easy drinking day. No rushing, just good conversation, good food – including the odd Scotch Egg – and superb beer. Which brings me to my beer of the day!
I had a chat with the guys at the Ilkley bar earlier, including Nick, one of the brewers. I shared my thoughts on – amongst other things – the barrel aged Speyside variant of their classic Saison, Siberia. I was then pointed in the direction of the kegged Dinner Ale, which I had previously tried in bottle and been left feeling that there was something missing – even at 3.3% abv. I had had it after something stronger, so my taste buds may have been impaired because THIS is a CRACKER!
To look at it, you’d immediately think “Lager”. It is REALLY pale. Again, being kegged, I let it warm slightly as it was quite cold. I am so glad I did. Hugely lively at the font, by the time it had warmed slightly I was getting a delicate floral aroma with fruity hints of maybe sugared lemon of tangerine. In the mouth there was a hint of perhaps elderflower before a quite zingy lemon hit me square in the mush! Quite a dry shock that but a beer that rewarded with every sip. Just goes to show that it ain’t always the abv monsters that win the day. Today, Ilkley’s David beat the Goliaths!!!
I was conscious (no…really!) that I hadn’t had a good look around the venue at all there was to offer. For instance, I didn’t venture at all into the American Craft bar (to be found en route to the – ahem – conveniences). But I did nip outside into the Micro Ham Tipi (a “pop up” from Friends of Ham – more later)
A quick scan of the pop up bar within revealed 6 beers from the Wild Beer Co in Somerset. I had already sampled the Collab beer with Fyne Ales “Cool as a Cucumber” at the Marble fest on cask. I therefore hit up a fresh hop beer called er….”Fresh” at 5.5% abv. Another hazy golden beer (unfiltered) which was sharp, fresh and fruity with traces of mandarin. A really bitter spicy green hop resinous finish with this. Coped well with the excellent pulled pork sarnie from the Castros pop up. A really excellent mouthful.
(It’s like a little village!)
Time was marching on and with only 30 minutes to go, it was time for something ludicrous to burn those tokens! Holy Hoppin’ Hell from Weird Beard at 9.7% abv, a Double IPA. This is a seriously BIG DIPA. Sweet malt. LOTS of sweet malt. Intensely fruity and chewy like an orange caramel toffee. Warming with lots of lingering resinous hoppiness.
Just time for a quick palate cleanser now. A casked Sambrooks Red Rye at 4.something % (last digit obscured – not my vision!!!). Ruby red beer with dark fruity nose. The bitter rye character came through with some blackberry. An excellent palate cleanser following the Holy Hoppin’ sensory slaughter!
This, my chums, is a fabulous festival of beer. Celebrating what is best about the current progressive UK beer scene in a stunning venue. with huge room to move and breathe, it feels both civilised and incredibly friendly. The brewers are approachable and generous with their time. This event has expanded beyond belief from last year and the organisers are to be applauded for the bravery in this. I feel sure that they will be rewarded today by a bumper crowd.
It’s still on. What are you waiting for???
(All that – and a lovely glass too!)
Two things really made my day. One was the conversation and company with/of Janet and Derek as stated above. The other was meeting an old friend.
I hadn’t seen Bob in nearly 20 years. We went to college together and were buddies for quite a long while but drifted apart as you sometimes do. It sounds a cliché, but he really hadn’t changed. Still loving live music (he has always had excellent and eclectic taste) and an admirable taste in beer, it was a joy to catch up and chat – albeit, all too briefly. I do hope to get over to Leeds again soon to renew acquaintance in less time straitened circumstances.
A quick beer with Bob in both North Bar and Friends of Ham ensued, both bars being excellent with great beer and cracking funky tunage. I hope to reacquaint my self with both of them soon! Bob runs an excellent music website. If you like good tunes, check it out here.
So. All that was left was to say farewell and catch that there train back over the hill, get to Bolton, open the door and “Hi honey, I’m home!”
A truly excellent day out with friends old and new.
On that note…’til next time!