Sunday, 21 September 2014

Cultural Exchange - A Night in Leeds

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have ventured north once more to the fine and fair city of Leeds, there to meet with two erstwhile colleagues who remain good friends. I was shown the pinnacle of hospitality (and I'm not randomly exaggerating that at all!) and had a really good night. I managed to play the hand I was dealt rather poorly but we still had some fantastic beer, good conversation and a reet good night. Also, Leeds happened.

And it goes a little something like this...

In the process I was treated to not one but TWO home brews by my host and, the following day, a much needed romp in the woods. through an old and almost unknown POW camp from the Second World War. His girls were much enamoured of the toilet block (what remained of it) and I loved the references to 1996 that were spray painted on listing the X-Files that may have happened there. All in all, a great weekend (albeit last weekend) and one that deserves a blog post. So, here it is.

For the faint of heart and those with medical conditions, there is a line break here as a salve and shield for your sanity. Would you like to know more?

The evening kicked off with a lovely curry from Rodley in the house of my host and good friend with his family. This was a brilliant idea all round. His children are great fans of proper curry and I got to try some things that I had never had before chosen by people who knew what they were talking about. Loud conversation was had and I was introduced to the home brews.

First up was Bubba's American Pale Ale weighing in around the 5% ABV mark.
This was bottle conditioned and yet poured beautiful and clear with a reddish tinge to the colour that was a good indicator of what was to follow. There was a great sense of the malt in this but with a definite bouquet on top - hoppy adventure that spoke more of floral tones than sharp citrus - and a comfortable feel about the whole thing. Good fizz, nice head and well chilled. First taste had one in mind of something from Point as suggested by the name but that hops won over. Started with a burst of full and fruity hops before letting a smooth and quiet malt usher proceedings along the tongue. A final burst of hops with the bubbles and then it settled in for a pleasant aftertaste. This was a good starter and I can recommend it with something spicy.

The next was the second offering from Host Brewery, Milestone IPA, again, weighing in around 5% ABV.
This arrived unchilled due to my enthusiasm to try it, but you may recall that I rather like my ale at room temperature because I am a heathen. This had a much drier aroma to it, dominated more by the malt and the yeast rather than the hops, but the taste gave the lie to this hint. A good selection of citrus hops opened. In this I learned the difference between dry hopping and not doing so and I came down in favour of dry hopping. There's a tang to it on opening, carried by the bubbles, and then the light malt rolls around before ending on a bittering note. It was a good companion to the meal and to the company and will no doubt do better alone (and I shall be having it alone again) but it was somewhat overshadowed by its hoppier stable mate that, from me, gains the crown for the home brews on offer.

Then we went out into the wilds of Leeds city centre, there to meet the third member of our party at the Brewdog pub from our last outing and to carouse like natives. Less rain and cold this time round, as one would expect from the end of summer, and so we arrived in better time and in finer fettle. Lacking the need for food we could get comfortable and set ourselves up. Luckily, our comrade in arms had bagsied some chairs on the top floor.

Oh my poor phone camera...
I convinced my friend to try some Brixton Porter at a sensible 5.7% ABV with me but, as I was placing the order at the bar, I noticed a Molotov Cocktail and I couldn't so very well ignore that whilst wearing a t-shirt with Lenin on it. Duly bought I took it upstairs where I discovered it poured not a little unlike golden syrup. It was 13% ABV. It was, perhaps, not a beer to try on a night when I wanted to try lots of ale. Still, it smelt wonderful - full of fiery hops and spice like I like my beer - and the first taste revealed it to be absolutely dangerous. It tasted like a decent 5% Pale Ale heavily influenced with Fuggles hops and some decent malt. And it just kept delivering. It was a fantastic way to follow a curry and would have settled for a night. If I hadn't been out on a beer tasting I fancy I would have got on to a second and just let them carry the night. Despite the strength, and the fact that it is brewed by the infamous Evil Twin Brewery, I can heartily recommend it. Most quaffable and highly dangerous. It was also the only bottled ale but for the home brews of the night.

Next up was Russian Doll by Brewdog that was brewed in the pub itself. This came in three versions, hence the name, and the fourth, a pale ale version, was unfortunately missing from the line up having previously sold out.
From left to right: 6%, 8% and 10%
We got the 6% ABV, the 8% ABV and the barley wine 10% ABV versions. All of them shared an aroma with little distinction between them. The 6% had a chestnut aspect to it that had the feeling of something careful and wise, an old owl, and showed some maturity and resttraint to a decent flavour and not too much hops kicking off. It relied on a strong malt and a well balanced brewing process to carry the day. Next up the 8% version had something deeper to the flavour. A slightly mellower colour, this had a good start and ended up being the one that I had until it was finished. I liked the depth of the hops on this one and the fact that the malt ended up playing second-fiddle, it seems I was on something of a hops hit. Finally, the barley wine version did not deceive with the strength of the brew. Heavy and warm, it did what it needed to do and would have been a sine finish to any long day at work out in the fields or just because. Definitely a winter warmer and, despite the fact that it remained an ale, it could have given a stout a run for its money as a hearty winter ale, to be had with wine, women and song by vikings in a dark forest huddled against arctic blasts and the tales of Grendel in the woods. A hunting lodge ale.

After this we went to the Brewery Taps as a previous visit there by my comrades had found a truly enormous selection. We were not disappointed. There were 18 ales on offer and so I plumbed for the local ones to start our tour of what they had.

This was a Kirkstall Pale from Kirkstall Brewery at 3.8% ABV.
I had passed Kirkstall Abbey on the way in to the city for the meeting and so I was very intrigued by the concept of a brew from there. It was hard to place the aroma, I think by this time the amount of alcohol was beginning to tell, but there was a definite feeling that this was a subtle and crafted ale. Some hops, some malt and some yeast were discernible but I would be hard pressed to give a better account. Suffice to say you wouldn't mistake it for a bottled IPA or something creamy and smooth - and I mean that as a compliment to this ale. Taste was on the malty side, the hops playing a good accompaniment to a mellow guitar lead and soft vocals promising something or other. More Levellers than Blur, Dodgy than Oasis. A good colour to it, plenty of fizz but not over-powering and an aftertaste that refreshed but left you wanting more.

Desert Sessions was next, Thornbridge Brewery. I failed to get a picture. It was 5.8% ABV.
This was a good ale, plenty of character. A nice soft citrus hop, a little like grapefruit and oranges but without being over powering. Mind you, it also lacked the full fruitiness of the Bubba's earlier in the evening and so came off slightly badly in comparison. Dry, as the name suggested, on the tongue and a pleasant ale. In the august company of the ales of the evening it did not fare well but compared to something commercial and a little same-y, like Pedigree (link), this does very well indeed. It was a good one to accompany discussion about age and the values of different time periods as well as the need to be corporate in the right places. Standards were discussed, of course they were, and the merits of various styles were firmly put in their place. In that sense, then, this is a philosophical ale - able to fade quietly into the background and let adult conversation rule.

Finally, there was Urban Assault from Anarchy Brew Co. at 5% ABV.
This was a deliberate call-back for me to the Molotov Cocktail and I couldn't not have it. It was also the replacement for the Kirkstall Pale after that had run out behind the bar. I enjoyed it. There was a musty aroma to it, all dark and deep hops submerged in a sea of malt, and the taste was powerful but murky - as the name suggested. Despite the sensible ABV of 5% this was something of a hard hitter and it let you know upfront that this was going to be heavy. Less dangerous than the reason for my having it but still a proper addition to any revolution in the streets. Good amount of fizz without going silly and resistant to the smoothness that usually comes from being on draft. It had a ragged edge to it that I liked and welcomed at this end of the evening. It did pierce the fog of my lack of preparation for a heavy night of drinking and stayed in my mind as we went home with the most unnecessarily combative taxi driver I have ever known.

He asked us for directions, disagreed with our assessment and we deferred to him. He then continued as if we'd told him off, gave dire warnings about the final price being down to us, whilst we continued to say we were past offering argument and would agree with his judgement - he was a taxi driver, we were drunk - and he continued to treat the conversation as if we'd threatened to punch his lights out. All very odd. I am, after all, a tired drunk rather than an angry drunk. Maybe it's because we were slightly loud. No, I was slightly loud, my host was not.

All in all, a great night out. I have been gifted some more home brew and I am looking forward to trying them both again, without the company of other ales, so as to appreciate them properly. Reviews, obviously, in due course! My thanks to my partners in crime for the evening - we must arrange for you both to come to my end and try out the local hostelries in my area. Less craft, but more space and less busy.

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