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A Two Day Revisit to the best beer in Leeds - Day One

There’s a mystification that comes with visits to Leeds that didn’t exist when I lived in the city seven years ago. The problem you have before each visit is the need to try and draw up an itinerary – the need to ask yourself the question, ‘Where am I not going?’

An absurb amount of choice is not a negative thing. Leeds and it’s surrounding county has a lot of good beer and good vibes to give out. But I don’t think I’d ever know where to go myself should I still live in the city. It’s a difficult choice between returning to places you know are brilliant and visiting new places with great potential. A disappointment can lead to finding a hidden treasure. A wrong turn can lead to a delightful detour. You could return every month and somehwere new will have inevitably opened.

If you lined up the worthy places to visit In Manchester, you could do the city easily on a day trip. It's just their sporadic nature that makes this difficult. Leeds is different; it is enclosed and neighbouring but there's just so much to go at you couldn't possibly see it all

So, whilst on a two day visit for a gig recently, I tried to plan my time carefully, visited an incredible number of excellent bars and still sacrificed visiting many other terrific haunts. Leeds was, in my time as a resident, a cross city trek to whatever beer you could find, but now there is wonderment at every turn. I've never felt the need to share information about my visits before, but this time I wanted to.

It just so happened to be the starting day of Leeds Indie Food Festival upon my arrival – a factor I had not considered – that only complicated the plan. This is a kickstarter backed celebration of all the excellent indepedent food and drink the city has to offer - an excellent idea that wasn't part of my itinerary. This changed my plans slightly as I now opt to start my new Leeds venture with a return to Friends of Ham – the much changed but once wondrous golden child of Leeds with its Guardian accolades. However, after once exclaiming it my “Favourite Place on Earth,” it’s refurbishment left the devoted cold, with plain table seating and forced bar tabs. It is at it’s best away from rush hours, where everybody is more relaxed and approachable – and where popping in for a drink isn’t a confusing rarity

Sadly for me, the scheduled BatPig tap takeover - a takeover by Edinburgh heroes Hanging Bat -   that was to form Friends of Ham’s addition to the Leeds Indie Festival had not begun. I take a seat at the bar, browse the menu that shows a lot of taps that are to contain these future beers and look at the staff all wearing respective Batpig merchandise feeling a little disappointed. I opt for a half of Pilot's Ultraviolet - too much Parma Violet for me personally but then I never liked the sweets - and decide to move on, in no doubt that Friends of Ham mk II is still lovely in off peak times, but was more preferable to me in its original form. 

Leaving Friends of Ham - and regrettably walking by the decent Leeds Brewery Tap - I decide to quickly visit the Northern Monk Refectory for only the second time. However my half of beer in Friends of Ham seems to have slightly disillusioned me as I manage to walk in completely the wrong direction and only realise when I notice Brewdog Leeds in sight. Those familiar with the city will understand just how wide a detour this is.

At this point I realise how close to my hotel I am - the Ibis Budget. The existence if an Ibis Budget is like the existence of Lloyd's No. 1 Bars - to give further shame to the already ashamedly cheap. My stay is made somewhat interesting when I accidentally walk through a set of doors I believe to lead to the hotel reception, only to be faced by a very spacious, if not generically decorated, hotel bar named Tyke Bar. The bar with many screens is near empty; with an enthusiastic barman along a long trail of fridges housing warehouse-loads of Kopparberg and Peroni and a bar that suggests more Magaluf than West Yorkshire. But, what makes this so typical of modern Leeds is is the option of three cask ales. And not just any cask ales: Local Yorkshire cask ales that seem to be kept well from Kirkstall, Little Valley and Revolutions. I opt for a Little Valley Tod's Blonde and think how impressive it is that such a disappointing bar can still offer a decent range of cask beers.

Once the farce of the hotel has passed - something that needn't be discussed here - I venture back along the road I've come into Leeds with the intention to nip into Calls Landing bar, that I have known about since they started following me on Twitter years ago but know little about and have never had chance to visit. It's a little downstairs bar below the Stew & Oyster eaterie, still in the heart of the city but away from the hub. On entry I am greeted with one sight: suits. I barely have time to admire any of the interesting internal decor and spacious outside as I fight my way through suit after suit. It is quickly apparent to me in my Hip Hop gig attire that I am very underdressed. Still, once I have distainfully wrestled my way to the front, I am forced to make a quick decision by the barman and opt for the straight-in-front-of-me Vocation Brewery Pride & Joy. This is a Hebden
Bridge brewery I've never seen before this weekend but who I soon find are popping up across the city. The beer is decent here, as I accidentally order a pint, but the setting is wrong. This is an interesting little bar that seems to offer a good beer range, but the crowded suited bar area gives me no chance to acknowledge this. I am just a few feet from the tidal waves of Topman best with no view of anything on tap. Whilst it's nice to be in a bar with fewer beards, there is a noticeable lack of beer in a lot of glasses.

I decide to walk the short distance to Brewdog Leeds for a break before my next stop. This particular chain bar happens to be my favourite of the anarchy pup's family and this visit reaffirms that. It seems the rumours that it is to turn into a bottle shop so it can be replaced by a larger scale version across city are unfounded (though there is still to be a second Leeds bar.) This is one of the few Brewdog bars that could replace the branding and still feel like a unique, independent place. After a quick chat and third of the disappointing Pilot 007, I plump for the big guns in the shape of a Stone Brewing Old Guardian. It was coupled with a delicious pie (I forget the flavour) I bought due to some excellent sales technique from the bar staff. Perhaps it was the gravity of the barley wine but I was really enjoying myself propped up against the bar here, something I don't feel comfortable doing in other WetherDog's.

Running slightly late for the next event in my Leeds Indie Food Fest day out, I shoot over to the Corn Exchange that now houses Little Leeds Beer House. This is a lovely little beer shop I will speak more about on my return to it the following day in part 2. Right now there is a tasting with Zapato Brew - brainchild of Matt Gorecki who is infamous in these parts for his onvolvement in North Bar. There are four beers to try and whilst the weakest - Kunsido Table Beer - was a tad disappointing, the strongest - Dawn is Your Enemy - was a delicious bitter and heavy effort. I look forward to more.

From here, I dash to Bundobust to meet my brother who is my eternal Hip Hop gig homeboy. We're having some quick food here and a couple of decent beers before moving on. Though I've visited, and ate at Bundobust several times before, it is a place that continues to impress me but also has a unique and definitive identity, something a lot of newer "craft" bars sorely lack. It's mix of Indian street food and great beer has made it iconic within the city. The passionate and helpful staff and cool beer-garden-come-conservatory are just individual bonuses. Amply stuffed with three small dishes that I failed to finish, it's time to head to my gig.

Mobb Deep are at the O2 Carling Academy - once known to me as Creation in my drunken student days - and they are superb. The drinks, however, are not. This venue is one of those disappointing gig venues that offer nothing but thousands of plastic bottles of bad lager. The bar has been raised to me since I watched Freddie Gibbs at Manchester's Deaf Institute whilst drinking bottles of High Wire. Nothing has been good enough since. Still, so many drinks down and screaming along to Shook Ones pt II meant this didn't dampen my day.

We finish the evening by stumbling into Call Lane's Black Swan - a bar I'd never even noticed the existance of before. I'm surprised but pleased that it has an ample range of keg beers, many from Beavertown (it would appear there was some form of tap takeover in the days prior.) I don't recall what I'm drinking, and didn't have the forethought to check it into Untappd at this point, as I nod off in the corner. I get the impression that this is a place in Leeds that could excite me, with it's excellent-looking coffee, pizza kitchen, snug and good choice of beers, but needs a more sober visitation. My mild photography skills are reduced to blurry selfies at this point as the exhaustion and earlier barley wine exploits wash over me. This day is definitely at an end.

I thankfully awake in my hotel room with an uneaten takeway strewn across the bed. Leeds didn't defeat me, I just allowed its reverance to embody me. A truly fantastic day with some of my favourite drinking holes comes to an end. But there is certainly more to come the following day...


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