Do you remember that feeling? Having just flown into England excited to experience a different country's culture, food and, most importantly, beer – only to walk into your first pub to see Fosters on tap. Heart-wrenching? Possibly. Deflating? More likely.
The good news is this is but a taste tester of the unique brews you'll find in the Queen's heartland. Begin your journey in Leeds, where we've unearthed the top 10 craft beer pubs.
It is Bundobust’s Indian street food that has been grabbing headlines but this raw space – all bare brick, chipboard, corrugated steel – bills itself as a bar and takes its beer seriously. It carries a core of entry-level ales (including an intriguing house pils perfumed with roasted coriander seeds) but across 12 taps and a similarly recherche bottled menu, Bundobust is very much a connoisseurs’ bar – with such delights as Mikkeller Green Gold on draft – and one where the beers can cost a small fortune.
Devil’s Rest from Burning Sky is a hugely complex new-wave IPA but here, it costs a staggering £7.50 ($A15) for a 330ml bottle. This is no place for a rip-roaring drinking session then, but somewhere to sample a few very special brews.
My £3.50 ($A7) half of Brew By Numbers’ wheat-spiked White IPA was seriously pricey, but wonderful: thick, spicy, electrifyingly bitter, full of ripe tropical fruit flavours. The clued-up staff will happily talk you through the menu or, for instance, explain what that contraption on the bar top is (it is a Randall, used to infuse draft beer with fruit, herbs and such like).
Across 27 cask and keg lines and a veritable phone book of a bottled list, Tapped runs the gamut not only of Britain’s, but the world’s best brewers. Whether splashing out on a 750ml bottle of Odell’s special-edition Footprint (£19/$A38) or enjoying unusual draft beers from, for instance, America’s Left Hand Brewing or Italy’s Birra del Borgo, beer geeks will be in heaven.
On top of all that, Tapped also brews several beers on site. A gleaming brew kit runs along one wall and the beers are served fresh and unfiltered from huge bar-side tanks.
Weisse Weisse Baby – a wheat beer whose typical banana, lemon, pepper and coriander flavours had been given a hugely refreshing, thirst-quenching lick, thanks to an unusually generous dose of Saaz and Perle hops – was very good, as was Tapped’s caramel-bodied, briskly hoppy, US-style session pale, Rodeo. Incidentally, if prizes were awarded for witty beer names, Tapped (Magnum PA, Downtown Abbaye, Normal Lager and more) would sweep the board.
3. Friends Of Ham
They are not just matey with ham, here. This informal bar/restaurant is close friends with craft beer, too. Geeks are best grabbing a seat at the bar, under dangling legs of jamon iberico to best scrutinise the exotica – for instance, Bristol Beer Factory’s 10% Wheat Wine aged in bourbon barrels and blended with cold-brew coffee; or Mad Hatter’s Cranberry and Beetroot Wit – offered across 10 keg and four cask lines.
As ever, prices get pretty crazy for the stronger, rarer beers, but the house session IPA from Summer Wine, Pacer (£4/$A8), is very drinkable, and the cask beers are cheaper. From those, Magic Rock’s Rapture, a chewy rye beer with a sprightly bitterness, was as lovely as ever. Behind the bar, two bottle fridges are packed with great beer from Buxton, Brooklyn, Brussels and beyond.
4. Northern Monk Refectory
A 15-minute walk from the train station, in a former industrial zone where the warehouses are being repurposed as offices and studio spaces, this site is home to the Northern Monk Brewery Co and, on the first floor, a ruggedly handsome tap room.
Naturally, Northern Monk’s beers feature prominently (long on flavour, the zesty, citrussy Eternal Session IPA was in great form) but some 20 lines include plenty of space for potent (in all senses of the word) guest beers, most of them also served in thirds.
On this visit these included Kernel’s Export Stout, Cromarty Brewing’s fantastic AKA IPA and Magic Rock’s famous, if not notorious, Human Cannonball – dangerously drinkable at 9.2%. Keep an eye out for brewery open days, tastings and launch parties for new Northern Monk beers.
5. Head Of Steam & Brewery Tap
There is possibly more good beer available within a hundred metres of Leeds’ station than anywhere else in the UK. Tapped, Bundobust and Friends of Ham all stand out, but the bar at the White Cloth Gallery also carries a compact range of regional craft beers, while several pubs in the vicinity, such as The Hop, serve some amazing keg and bottled beers.
But at the Head of Steam, I was taken aback: first by the gang of lads in full jockeys’ colours standing at the bar on a Thursday afternoon, and next by the range of US and Belgian draft beers available (Odell’s Cutthroat Porter, Goose Island IPA, Delirium Tremens, La Chouffe, Kwak). Two tall fridges further flesh out that dedication to brilliant beers from California and the Low Countries.
Similarly, outside of its mainline Leeds Brewery ales, the nearby Brewery Tap had Sierra Nevada’s explosive Torpedo on keg. It carries a sound range of US imports and, among its guest cask beers, tends to feature creations from forward-thinking breweries such as Summer Wine. The latter’s Hitman was sweet and sherbety, as South Pacific pales are, but had an unusual, very pleasant vegetal edge.
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6. Black Swan
It has been a few years since Call Lane constituted the epicentre of Leeds’s bar scene but the newish Black Swan – it is considerably cooler than that sounds – is doing its bit to introduce the revellers who still congregate here to the joys of craft beer.
Ten keg and two cask pumps dispense such treasures as Magic Rock’s High Wire, Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch Belgian IPA and Beavertown’s hop-forward, session-ale classic Neck Oil. Black Swan’s bottle collection, meanwhile, takes in such A1 breweries as Great Heck, Camden Town, Anchor and Kernel.
7. North Bar
North Bar was serving wild, innovative beers back when many of today’s craft aficionados were still drinking Carling and, despite fierce competition, it remains Leeds’s pre-eminent craft beer bar. And it’s one that, certainly at weekends, still feels like a boozy, unpretentious late-night DJ bar, rather than a place of arid, uptight beer connoisseurship.
From North’s Prototype (a quintessential northern pale ale created with Kirkstall Brewery), to such seldom-seen draft guests as Brewfist’s Bionic or Stone Brewing’s dark kolsch Sprocketbier, you will rarely drink anything here that is less than impressive.
Of course, the prices of some of those barrel-aged, hard-to-find beers may make you choke on your pint (Brooklyn’s Wild Streak, 750ml, £30/$A60, anyone?) but North does a good job of offering quality at all levels. For instance, on this visit, the cask pumps included two modern classics: Oakham’s Citra and Magic Rock’s Ringmaster.
Keep your eyes peeled for regular tap-takeovers, beer launches, parties to celebrate the arrival of rare US imports and several annual beer festivals. North’s parent company runs other venues around Leeds (the Cross Keys, Alfred, Preston, Further North), all of which feature tasty beer.
8. Tall Boys Beer Market
This is primarily a bottle shop but customers can also sit in and enjoy Tall Boys’ stock (discerning choices from the likes of Wiper and True, Mikkeller, Wild Beer, Mad Hatter and Nogne O), in the upstairs cafe which is open all week long.
The owners (neither of whom is very tall; the name is a reference to 500ml cans), are very hot on keeping beer as affordable as possible and, whether you are drinking a can from the fridge (Evil Twin Hipster Ale £3/$A5.90, Flying Dog Easy IPA £2.50/$A5 plus 50p/$A1 corkage), or filling a 'growler' – a refillable takeaway jug – to drink in, there are bargains to be had.
For example, Siren’s oatmeal pale Undercurrent or Beavertown’s Gamma Ray cost £6.20 ($12.30) and £8.30 ($A16.40) a litre respectively. If pure, concentrated beer appreciation is your priority, Tall Boys is a must-visit.
9. Mr Foley’s Cask Ale House
This is a typically large and, in many ways, unlovely city-centre pub. Early evening, midweek, it was noisy with random music; busy with large groups post-work; and high on one wall (my personal bete noire, this), a lonely TV relayed BBC News 24 on mute.
But, boy, does Mr Foley’s serve cracking beer. Outside of its core range of traditional York Brewery beers (owned by its parent company, Mitchell’s Inns), you can work your way through cask beers from, say, Thornbridge and Leeds’s excellent Golden Owl, before moving on to specialist keg ales from Left Hand Brewing, Newport’s brilliant Tiny Rebel, Wharfe Bank or Magic Rock. These are beers that you rarely see in a high-street boozer.
The bottle range (Partizan, Wild Beer, Kernel) is even more daring, as is Mr Foley’s range of artisan ciders. You may have reservations about Mr Foley’s as a space but these will soon be superseded by the tingle of hops on your tongue and the warm glow of high-grade alcohol in your veins.
10. Belgrave Music Hall & The Reliance
Despite being owned by Ed Mason, who runs Hackney’s Five Points Brewing, Leeds’ most famous pub, the historic Whitelock’s Ale House, rarely stocks Five Points beers. If you do want to try its pale ale or Railway porter, head to the very different Belgrave Music Hall.
This invariably packed, late-night bar, canteen, gig venue and club space carries a fine range of cask, keg and canned craft beers from both pace-setting UK outfits and the US breweries that inspired them – such as Ska, Founders and Smuttynose.
Alternatively, if you find the vibe at Belgrave Music Hall a bit too vibe-y (all that dance music and bustle), walk up the road to the more mature Reliance. Wild Beer’s unfined Bibble – fresh as a daisy and as hoppy as can be – and Magic Rock’s chipotle-laced chocolate porter were highlights from the cask and keg selection this time around.
The bottled menu, meanwhile, is a constantly evolving collection of goodies, ranging from beers from new breweries such as Beak, through to prized collaborations between the scene’s hottest names, such as Siren and Mikkeller’s Whiskey Sour.
(Lead image: Getty)
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by Tony Naylor from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.