yesterday I decided to do something that I'd been intending to for a while. I had made the first faltering steps back in June 2011 (described at length here ) but now I decided I should go the whole hog and spend a day visiting some of Leeds' city centre watering holes. I photographed the excellent Leeds CAMRA city centre beer guide and set off with a thirst and an insatiable curiosity.
On arriving I tried to find a cash machine, without success. A Leodisian glitch that would also affect procedures later on, however soon, by luck rather than planning, I arrived at my intended first stop, Friends of Ham, on New Station Street.
Friends of Ham describes itself as a bar and charcuterie. It sells real ales, Keykeg and bottled exotica, a selction of unrivalled meats and cheeses and good wine. Beer, meat and cheese. Heaven.
Upstairs you enter a small busy bar area with limited seating. This is where you do important things like buy beer. You can stay up here if you want (and its quiet) but assuming its not too hot and stuffy its best to head downstairs for a more comfy and less "off the wall" selection of seating (annoying bar stools, humph). That said, downstairs its still not run of the mill.
Here it was busy and warm and featured the all important menus. I won't go into too much detail about the decor as that's already been done with aplomb by the Beer Prole here , instead I'll concentrate on the beer. I had a pint of Tynebank Cherry Stout, 5.2% to start, at an "interesting" £3.80 a pint, AKA about 80p too much. It soon became obvious that this wasn't the place to come if you were watching the pennies. The Tynebank was well kept and delicious, but a look through the beer menu showed fearful numbers such as Thornbridge Halcyon at £7.00 and Moor Old Freddy Walker (albeit in a 660ml bottle) at £10.00.
I think its a case of if you want to try something unusual or difficult to get, and there was oodles of that from breweries such as Redchurch, Beavertown, Quantum and Hawkshead, you may well be less concerned with things like the price. The only reason I can compare the price of Halcyon for example is its quite easy to get, but the fact that its under £5.00 a bottle at Dada makes this a less enjoyable comparison.
Still, I went back for a more reasonably priced Magic Rock Curious at £3.20 a pint. The Curious was enjoyable, but lacking in balance and not really reminiscent of the amazing examples encountered earlier in the year, which was disappointing. What was good though was my splashing out on a selection of three of the meats, which was £11.00. And that wasn't bad value. Because this was a porcine treasure box of delicious flavours and incomparable quality the likes of which I have never encountered before. Quite simply, the meat selection I tried, including the instant heart attack that is Lardo, was mesmerisingly brilliant.
And its for that reason that I will ignore the absurdities of the cost of the beers and remember my visit fondly with a determination to return. For more info see their new website.
Off next for a fruitless search for a working cash machine (15 bloody minutes, Grrr!) only to come all the way back to New Station Street to pop in the equally untraditional, but nonetheless enjoyable Leeds Brewery Tap. There were 6 Leeds beers on the bar here with a few guests. I started with a pint of Leeds Gathering Storm (£3.00) which was an enjoyable strong dark ale, although it faded a little toward the end, followed by halves of Leeds 7 spires, which was dry and hoppy but ultimately lifeless, and Hawkshead Cumbrian 5 Hop, which was fantastic - one of the best beers of the day.
It was starting to get really busy in the Tap so I decided to head off for pastures new, using my camera to find addresses of pubs and the numerous street maps to navigate my way to Whitelocks First City Luncheon Bar.
Its a good few years since I was last here (last century) and my overwhelming impression, that being that it was rammed, has not changed. I did manage to get a beer quite quickly, halves of a 4.2% Goose Eye beer that I could not read the name of, and Kirkstall Pale, which I supped sat on benches outside. I really must come back on a Monday in February to really get a look at this place!
I dallied with the idea of visiting some of the other alleyway pubs further on, the Packhorse did nothing to tempt me and a bilious drunk burping in my face in the Sam Smiths Angel was hardly a recommendation, but the Ship was a great pub. Also completely rammed, I somehow made my way to the back where there was seating and took with me two excellent real ales from a range of about 5 - halves of Ilkley Fireside Porter and Ilkley Siberia Saison.
The staff seemed knowledgeable (and helpful in the seething scrum) and the beer was well kept and interesting. I also got directions to my next pub from here, which wasn't too far away.
Admittedly in the dark and with my poor eyesight I missed North Bar, but luckily a helpful soul pointed me in the right direction. Inside it was busy, but most noticeably dark, making choosing my tipple a lengthy squinty process. I settled on halves of North Prototype 3, and Ridgeside Black Night, and repaired to the back of the pub to share a table.
The prototype was uninteresting but the Ridgeside was really good. Also excellent was the music - much better to have interesting "edgy" (dear god!) music played loud than the tired old MOR fare that dirties the airwaves at an irritating just discernable volume in some pubs. At this stage I also decided, quite unwisely, to have a half of Red Willow Ageless- £2.20 a half but then it is 7.2%, and was incredibly good. The only down side was that it left significant holes in some of my later recollections....
Off along the Headrow next to Mr Foleys where I have no idea what I had to drink, but it was very nice. Presumably. That's literally all I have to say on that one! I then headed back down Briggate and off to the Duck and Drake on Kirkgate.
Firmly a more traditional music led pub, this reminded me of the (Grinning?) Rat in Keighley or the Shakespeare in Sheffield. Large, with bare boards and no frills but homely and with an emphasis on good beer. I had halves of Naylors Pinnacle Mild and Revolutions Brew Bela Lugosi's Dead, named after the iconic Bauhaus song of the same name - alas none was plated at the time.
Things were getting a little tiring now and I ended up in the Scarborough where I had a half of, erm...dark beer. I don't mind the Scarborough but also have a niggling dislike of the place that I can't explain. Still, the doorman was friendly and gave me an estimate of how long it would take to get to my last intended stop, the Adelphi. I decided instead to sensibly get the train home.
Once back in Sheffield after my sleep, I decided to finish on a few beers in the Sheffield Tap. I chose halves of Williams Bros 7 Giraffes, their Fraoch, and Magic Rock Rapture. To my disappointment the Magic Rock was poor, very one dimensional and ill at ease with itself. Perhaps the brilliance couldn't last forever? That's a good few Magic Rock I've had recently which, even taking into consideration vagaries such as cellar skills and wacky weather, have been quite poor. Lets hope this is just a temporary blip, the likes of which every brewery has. The Fraoch was dreadful by the way.
So, a fantastic trip out featured some new pubs to me and some great beers. Pub (or bar) of the day was a tie between North Bar and Friends of Ham, but the beer was far better in the North Bar - F.O.H wins plaudits mostly for its amazing food.
And beer of the day? The Hawkshead Cumbrian 5 Hop. Better even than the Red Willow.