Leeds is absolutely beer obsessed, so if you know your hops from your barley, there’s no better place to visit.
Over the last few years, Leeds has earned itself a reputation as the ‘Beer Capital of the North’, but it’s not just a case of serving up a quality pint. From local breweries leading the way nationally to the biggest celebration of independent beer and breweries in the North, you’ll soon see why Leeds has a beer scene like no other.
A long history of brewing
Beer has long been a part of the fabric of Leeds. This is, after all, the birthplace of Tetley, once the largest producer of cask ale in the world. While the brewery may have closed in 2011, our love of beer has never diminished. In fact, you can still drink a pint of Tetley at the old headquarters, now aptly named The Tetley, as it’s been turned into a unique independent art space, complete with bar, restaurant and all manner of artefacts from the brewery’s past.
And you know what they say – when one door closes, another one opens. That’s certainly the case here, because Tetley has been replaced by Leeds Brewery as the biggest brewer in the city. They can now produce up to 200,000 pints a week, sending them out across Yorkshire and beyond, and you can get a taste of their beers in some of the city’s finest pubs, including The Midnight Bell, Crowd of Favours and Lamb & Flag.
They’re accompanied by a series of smaller, but equally respected Leeds breweries, like Kirkstall, Wharfe Bank and Whippet, all of which specialise in real ale. But if you want to drink your beer straight at the source, you need to try the city’s two craft beer breweries. Northern Monk and North Brewing Co, both nestled on the outskirts of the city, both serve up their interesting and sometimes even experimental brews in their taprooms.
An absolute abundance of bars
Be it craft beer or real ale, you’ll have no trouble finding it in Leeds. In fact, there are so many pubs and bars that serve a great pint that you’ll need to come back and try them all. Looking for a traditional pub? Try Whitelock’s, The Cross Keys or The Head of Steam. After a huge range with something you’ve never tried before? North Bar is a Leeds institution, the original craft beer bar you might say, and you’ll find over 150 beers here. They’re now joined by Tapped, with 27 draft beers and hundreds more in bottles, while ShuffleDog has 35 lines to go with its three 22 foot shuffleboard tables.
Needless to say, you’ll find beers from all over the world in Leeds, but there’s also a real passion for local brews here. Try Candle Bar, down by the waterfront – it’s owned by Ossett Brewery and showcases their own beers alongside other local favourites. The Social, The Parkside Tavern and Wapentake all handpick local beers too, giving you a chance to try Yorkshire’s finest, with ales from small, local breweries in Huddersfield, Ilkley, Bradford, Skipton, Masham and beyond.
And then there are the multi-taskers, the bars that don’t just pour a perfect pint, but also pull off delicious food, intriguing exhibitions and live gigs. You’ve got Friends of Ham, who are as famous for their charcuterie as they are their beer, while Bundobust will serve you up an Indian street food feast before you try their Bombay Dazzler. The Brunswick is a relatively new addition, where you’ll find craft beer downstairs with an art gallery upstairs, and if you make your way to sister bars Headrow House and Belgrave Music Hall, you can drink your beer up on the roof terrace, at one of their live gigs or alongside their absolutely scrumptious food.
A slew of cracking beer festivals
If you’re looking for an excuse to come to Leeds, the city’s beer festivals are a good bet. The most revered is Leeds International Beer Festival, which takes place every September at the Town Hall. It’s now the biggest celebration of independent beer in the North, bringing together over 50 breweries from all over the world. Alongside the beer, which you can drink in the tents outside, down in the prison cells beneath or in a unique underground forest designed by local duo Lord Whitney, you can enjoy street food, live music, large scale art installations and DJ sets.
September’s a big month for Leeds’ beer scene, as the newly launched Leeds Beer Week straddles August and September, offering up ten days of beer-focused events, ranging from beer tastings to tap takeovers, food matching and unique collaborations that result in one-off beers.
If you miss that one, you’ve got plenty more to look forward to, with Brew-denell Beer Festival bringing together street food, live music and as much beer as you can drink at Brudenell Social Club come January. A couple of months later, CAMRA have their turn as their annual beer festival takes over Pudsey Civic Hall in March, and then it’s time for LS6 Beer Festival, which takes place at the beautiful Left Bank Church in May. In fact, 19 beer festivals take place in Leeds across the year, with even more within easy reach – so why not make Leeds your base for exploring?
Whitelock’s image copyright Ollievision.