24 August 2016

The last crawls

Sadly, when we arrived in from Huddersfield, Zak had better things to be doing than showing me around the pubs of Leeds and left me with just a slew of recommendations. I began with a detour to a run-down industrial quarter where Northern Monk Brewing Company is forming the nucleation point of revitalisation by placing its Refectory right in the middle. The brewery is on the ground floor of the refurbished building with the bar above it. A roomy beer garden is out front and punters were making the most of that when I arrived. I had the main bar almost to myself.

With the entirety of Leeds to cover in a single evening, I just had the one: New World, an IPA from their core range. It's 6.2% ABV and unsurprisingly chewy but with a light and juicy middle section and lots of fun fruit flavours. There was a definite haze which manifested as a yeasty burr in the taste which did spoil my enjoyment a little: cleaned up this would be a corker.

Back to the town centre and a couple of pints in Tapped Leeds, a sister brewpub to the one in Sheffield station that I mentioned on Monday. They don't seem to be any better at brewing here, unfortunately. Mojo is a pale gold bitter at 3.6% ABV with an unpleasantly weird sackcloth and nettles flavour. The slightly darker, slightly stronger Rodeo had a similar mustiness but is saved by a sweet biscuit flavour rendering it drinkable but only just. Neither beer tasted especially fresh which, when drinking at source, is pretty much unforgivable. Tapped does have nice pizzas, though. I'm sure the guest beers go great with that.

Around the corner is Friends of Ham, a pigmeat-themed restauranty pub. I sat at the bar and ordered the house beer, Pig's Ear. It's another big and heavy one, 6.7% ABV and designed for food, I guess, which is fair enough. I got a feel of bock lager from it: that sort of chewiness, plus a raspberry and redcurrant flavour in the middle and a touch of lactic sharpness on the finish. Definitely not one for session drinking.

I thought I was stepping away from the craft when I went to Whitelock's, Leeds's oldest pub, situated down an alley off the main drag, but they had a beer from Roosters, collaborating with Odell, on the bar, so I had a go of that. It's called The Accomplice and is 5.7% ABV. Marmalade coloured, it has a spicy marmalade citrus bite which fades to become a sweet fruit-chew candy flavour. Although I was in the mood for something lighter, this hit the spot nicely, though is probably better suited to a quiet afternoon in the Victorian splendour of Whitelock's rather than a slightly raucous Saturday night.

I got what I was looking for a little further on at North Bar, the pub which put Leeds on the modern beer map and staks a claim at being Britain's first "craft beer" bar. It runs a brewery elsewhere in Leeds which is where they produce the pale ale Sputnik. This offers an array of hoppy delights including lip-smacking piney resins and luscious pineapple and mango. It absolutely screams freshness, and manages all these fireworks at a very sessionable 5% ABV. I'm glad I got to it last as I'd have been tempted to stay on it all night if I'd found it sooner.

But it was bedtime for me, if not for Leeds, which was still partying at 6am judging from the sounds outside my hotel window. I was up and out early for the final city of the trip, arriving in Manchester on Sunday afternoon just as the pubs opened.

Along the concourse running up to Manchester Piccadilly station is The Piccadilly Tap, an odd sort of arrangement, with the stand-up bar space in an otherwise empty room on the ground floor and then a handful of tables upstairs. I guess it's designed as a gulp-and-go joint for the commuters.

My breakfast was Summerwine Resistance, a mild. It's a damn near perfect interpretation of the style in my estimation: you get your coffee roast backed by a light milk chocolate sweetness and then a touch of dark forest fruit in the centre. Absolutely perfect wholesome drinking.

I stuck my head in at Albert Schloss when I was passing, and suspended ticking activities momentarily to quaff a pint of Pilsner Urquell from the tanks. But mostly what I was drinking in was the surroundings. It's a huge place, expansively and expensively decorated as a grand central European dining hall, with stained glass, monumental fireplaces and chandeliers. Worth a visit for the grandeur alone.

Further wandering brought me to The Brink, a recently-opened miniature pub in a hard-to-find basement. It's lovely, though: bright and simply furnished with a wide range of beers. My first was a bit of a dud, however: Pop, a "citrus IPA" by local outfit First Chop. I guess they were relying on the added orange to substitute for hops but it hasn't really worked and it ends up quite dull and husky with a dose of honey which is totally out of place for something promising citrus.

My  next picks were better, however: two single-hopped sour beers from Chorlton Brewing. Amarillo Sour is a deep orange colour and despite a hefty enough 5.4% ABV tastes like a very straightforward Berliner weisse: lightly sour, lightly textured, but with a bonus hit of Amarillo's signature jaffa orange once the tartness fades. It is supremely refreshing and insanely easy to drink. But instead of ordering another straight after, I switched to the Citra Sour which does do a lot of the same things in its flavour but swaps the oranges for a light lemony taste. Both are perfect summer's day drinking.

Next on the list was Café Beermoth which I had imagined as a quiet intimate sort of place, so I was surprised to discover it's a rather cavernous bar in a modern glass-fronted building. The beer that really jumped out at me from the draught selection was Frankenstout, a collaboration between Copenhagen's Warpigs brewery (itself a collaboration between Mikkeller and 3 Floyds) and yeastmaker White Labs. Apparently, 96 different yeast strains went into this. No, I don't know either. The end result is a rather decent but unexciting imperial stout at 8.9% ABV. It's classically dry with a touch of peat and some pleasant red raspberry fruit. The yeasts can't have been particularly hungry as they've left a thick and sticky texture, accentuating a molasses bittersweet flavour. It's still quite drinkable, however, which is always a bonus with out-there experiments from achingly hip brewers.

Time was marching on, so I was as well. I couldn't beer my way around Manchester without finally dropping by Port Street Beer House in the Northern Quarter. It's quite a traditional pub, for all its craft cred, and even early on a Sunday evening was hopping with drinkers. And obviously I couldn't leave Manchester without a token Cloudwater beer under my belt. Port Street was pouring the White IPA: Comet, so that's what I went for. It's a big 'un at 6.5% ABV, thickly textured and quite hard to drink. White IPAs tend to have a soapy quality for me and this had it in spades, by turns medicinal as well, with an aspirin metallic edge and heavy brown sugar. As a white IPA it's an ideal version of the style; as a beer it definitely wasn't for me.

A bit of a bum note to go out on, but that's random beer ticking for you. Nothing for it but the train to the airport and the flight home. But... you may have noticed a very obvious absence in this week's posts. I'll be addressing that tomorrow.

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