With Yorkshire slowly on it’s way to becoming the capital of craft beer, Jessica Murray headed out with Brewtown Tours to sample some of the city’s finest brews…
I have to start this article with the admission that I literally know nothing about beer. Until very recently my interest in and passion for beer extended to Royal Park Pub’s two pound pints on a Tuesday and that’s about it. So when I was invited on a tour of local breweries in Leeds by Brewtown Tours I was a bit unsure – four whole hours of learning about beer? But if I’ve learnt one thing in life it’s that you never turn down free alcohol, so I thought I would give it a go.
Brewtown run tours in both York and Leeds, with the Leeds-based tour running every Saturday. I want to say I turned up on the day bushy tailed and bright eyed, ready for a day of beer education, but of course I wasn’t. It was Saturday morning and I was hungover. Nevertheless, I was determined to power through, and we were greeted by our guide Mark who picked us up in his customised Brewtown Tours minivan and escorted us to the first venue: North Brewing Co.
In his Australian twinged Northern accent, Mark eased us in to the trip with friendly and relaxed conversation, before taking us through the history of beer (Britain was actually quite late to catch on to the trend), and how it’s made. In the lofty space of North Brewing Co. comfy sofas, fairylights and table tennis sit side by side with huge beer distillery tanks, stacked up kegs and water hoses, creating a really unique space where the beer takes centre stage.
After trying the light and ‘quaffable’ (beer lingo for easy to drink) Herzog, we were handed a taster of Sputnik, a much more citrusy beverage. Mark handed me the glass and encouraged me to smell the liquid; ‘What are you getting?’ he asks. I give it a sniff and screw up my eyes, trying to conjure flavours in my mind. ‘Beer’, I conclude, ‘It smells like beer.’ At this early point in the tour, I had yet to fully understand the multitude of flavours and dimensions that can go in to a single pint of ale. That was soon about to change.
The Pinata had a very fruity and floral taste, Full Fathom 5 tasted like a shot of coffee and Bulkhead had warm hints of chocolate. While some of the flavours were too strong for me to crave a full pint of them, I found myself liking a lot more than I expected. The cobwebs of the morning’s hangover were swept away as we made our way to Northern Monk Brewery down in Holbeck.
Northern Monk have taken Leeds by storm in the past few years. They’ve had offers from a number of big supermarkets chains desperate to stock their produce, and the bar above their brewery is regular packed to the rafters. And you can see why. The first beer we were introduced to was the Bombay Dazzler, which contains delicious exotic flavours of cinnamon, cardamom and ginger. It still tasted distinctly like beer, but beer like I’ve never tasted before. I started to see how beer tasting could become a hobby, like wine tasting has been for years. Creating good beer is a craft and an art, and we should probably start learning how to properly taste it, rather than just guzzling down pints in order to get drunk every week. And with more microbreweries in West Yorkshire than anywhere outside London, we’re in the best place for it.
The final stop of our tour was at the Brewery Tap, a brew-pub down by the train station serving both site-brewed beers and a wider offering of others. Each beer we tasted was paired with food designed to bring out its flavours; so Leeds Best, which had the perfect balance of savoury and sweet flavours, was paired with a pork pie which used a bit of the beer in its pastry. Alongside traditional stout Gathering Storm (like a lighter Guinness) we had pork ribs glazed with a reduced version of the beer, and alongside the rich Midnight Bell, heavenly chocolate brownies. Just in the same way we do with wine, it became clear that pairing beer with certain foods can enhance our taste buds too.
If you haven’t done so already, it’s about time you embrace the beerevolution. The rise of local breweries like North Brewing Co and Northern Monk show just popular craft beer is becoming, and if you haven’t branched out from your usual Carlsburg, I thoroughly recommend you do so.
Brewtown Tours run a tour of Leeds breweries every Saturday. To find out more information and book a tour, head to www.brewtowntours.co.uk.