You can’t go wrong with a CAMRA beer festival. Well, you can but when I heard about Leeds Beer Festival happening this last weekend in conjunction with a rare Saturday off I thought “why not?”. A beer festival and the chance to explore a new city? Probably my ideal day off.
I grabbed the first train out of Lincoln I could manage without falling asleep en route to the station. Approximately two hours away from Lincoln on the train Leeds is an okay distance for a mini adventure though let’s not think about the ticket prices. Enough to make any beerventurer wince.
Leeds CAMRA’s beer festival was in fact in New Pudsey, only a quick 10 minute train outside of the city centre. Pudsey’s Civic Hall wasn’t the most inspiring of venues but the festival itself was pleasantly surprising.
As well as around 200 real ales and ciders there was a bottle bar (more on this later), a stall selling a variety of pies and mushy peas (the North is cute), the standard selection of CAMRA merch and membership stalls and then a frankly astonishing snack stall and an engraving stall with a 3D printer. Yep, a 3D printer. Kitkats, pick and mix and 6 different kinds of scratchings on one side of the hall…. 3D printed daleks on the other. I can’t say that Leeds CAMRA’s beer festival didn’t have some kind of odd charm to it.
The system they used at Leeds was definitely a new one on me, but a very welcoming one for a girl who loves her schooners. Rather than ⅓, ½, and pint measures you could buy a small or large. A small was a third and a large was two thirds, one or two tokens each – each token costing £1. Not too shabby. I bet plenty of festival regulars would have bemoaned not being able to have a pint but I found the oversized lined schooners perfect.
The first beer I had was a really tasty milk stout. Smooth, creamy and went down exceedingly well. I was really impressed by the selection of dark beers at the festival. Too often CAMRA festivals have many variants of light brown and pale ales but there was a great selection of milds, dark milds, porters and stouts. A very happy bunny was I.
The highlight of the festival was a toss up between Otley’s Oxymoron Black IPA (burnt hops and a heavy body – blissful!) and Rooster’s Baby Faced Assassin (the kind of IPA I could drink all night – citra awesomeness). The lowlight was definitely Intrepid Brewing’s saison. Every CAMRA festival seems to have a token saison and I tend to zero in on it. This one was bland and thoroughly disappointing.
Before heading off I wandered over to the bottle bar and I was pleasantly surprised. Often CAMRA festivals can be a standard selection of Belgium goodies but this one also had some great stuff from local breweries and I even came away with a 750ml bottle of Brooklyn Sorachi Ace for less than £9. Kudos, Leeds CAMRA.
After exiting the festival, full of beer and pie, I jumped on the train back into the centre and went to check out some of the bars near the station. My first stop was Friends of Ham. I’d been so excited about this place but I’m sad to say I was disappointed. It felt like a restaurant and it was a little jarring to be going in for a drink and someone tries to present you with a menu. To be fair, Saturday afternoon would have been one of the busiest times to pop in. I hope I can get back there on a quieter day, try the food and get a better feel for the place because the beer selection was beautiful.
Feeling the need for food – worse than standing awkwardly at the bar in Friends of Ham would have been sitting on my own on a table – I headed around the corner to Tapped, Leeds’ very own brewpub. I fell for this place straight away. The American style bar had a brilliant atmosphere and the hulking fermentation tanks along the wall looked amazing. I plonked myself in a squidgy chair at the bar and ordered myself a half of Tapped Brew Co’s Matuska ESB with a 7” pizza (only £4.90… my kind of place). Even late Saturday afternoon the bar was comfortable and relaxed, even if it was busy. I got to watch my pizza being cooked (by a gent with hops and chillis tattooed down his arm… cool) and supped my ridiculously fresh beer. I definitely need to get myself to this bar again for a session.
After making my way back through the crowd I thought I’d go and grab my train. Instead, however, I turned the other way and made my way to Bundobust. Recommended by a friendly barman in Tapped and Atom Brewery on the Twitters. They specialise in craft beer and Indian street food. As soon as I walked in I was wishing away the pizza I’d just scoffed. The food looked and smelled amazing. I grabbed myself a nice pale ale and sat down in the beer garden.
This was the moment when I started a conversation with two nearby guys who’d been talking about beer. Half way through said conversation one says “Wait… are you Suzy?”. Yep, even in a city I’d never set foot in before does someone recognise me from Twitter. I’ve made it. 😉 (Hey, Mark! *waves*)
Thanks for the day out, Leeds. I’ll be back.