It’s fair to say that after London, Leeds is the UK’s second city for beer. A city with great brewing history, a great beer bar scene and now both Leeds International Beer Festival and Leeds Hop City under its belt. Suffice to say, the city has great form for showcasing some of the best domestic and international breweries out there. So Amber and I were delighted to head up to Leeds to help pour beer on behalf of Dugges (who we represent in the UK) at the latest addition to the Leeds festival calendar: Leeds Dark City.
Following Hop City in April this year, a celebration of all things pale and hoppy organised by Northern Monk brewery and Leeds Beer Week, the natural progression was a similar festival showcasing dark beers. The beer list was teased out via social media, generating a real buzz. There were an awful lot of very special beers lined up, including some incredibly exclusive and never-seen-before things on tap; Good King Henry on cask for example.
Image credit: Little Leeds Beer House
Just over two hours out of London and off the train, we headed straight to a favourite bar of ours - Friends of Ham. Impassioned hospitality from Ted and Cal left us needing food. Onto Bundobust, another Leeds staple for dinner. After a Vada Pav (the beigest, most carb-on-carb comfort sandwich you can possibly imagine) dosa masala and a paneer and mushroom tikka kebab we were ready to take on the world or, less inspirationally lofty for now at least, a few more pints. A quick sojourn into Little Leeds Beer House to have a chat with owners Bryony and Rich, who were hosting Chris and Andrew from Brew By Numbers for a tap takeover. Having ‘boshed some juice’ we headed to Whitelocks, a beautiful, ancient side alley boozer - all dark lighting, cosy nooks and copper everywhere that is part of the Mason & Company/Five Points Brewery family. We then headed to our final resting place for the evening, the oldest and original beer bar in Leeds - North Bar. Amundsen beers were pouring and an eclectic mix of great Tequila and Mezcal kept things rolling till the early hours.
Next day, the festival was underway proper. Hosted in the Northern Monk Refectory, a beautiful old three storey former mill which has a small brewery on the ground floor, a restaurant and bar on the second and an events space on the third. We were pouring two beers on the first day: ‘Orange Night’ a black IPA with citrus and ‘BA Anagram’ a bourbon barrel aged blueberry cheesecake imperial stout brewed in collaboration with Omnipollo. The BA Anagram was one of the real pulls for people to come to the festival and the Dugges bar was rammed from the start of the session right till the very end of day one. So much so, that the Anagram was the festival’s first keg to kick. We replaced the Anagram with ‘Big Idjit’ a stronger version of Dugges’ normal imperial stout ‘Boxed Idjit’. Meanwhile, Colin from Northern Monk and JK from Marble had a DJ battle playing some old gold. Hair metal, 90’s and early 00’s emo and nu-metal, pop-punk, nothing was off limits or deemed too cheesy. It was roundly decided that either Col or JK had won the DJ battle and that music was the winner of the competition instead. After a clear down, an early night was needed. After all, this was not a race, it was an endurance test.
Day two and we were pouring ‘Cinna Mon’, a beautifully balanced cinnamon imperial stout and more of the ‘Big Idjit’. There was much more of a relaxed atmosphere on the Saturday. The serious tickers who were willing to take a day off work to chase those elusive rarities had been and gone. That is not to say that the crowd on Saturday were a bunch of casuals, mind you. I’ve never worked at a festival where the attendees have been more clued up about the beer, breweries and styles they are drinking. It was really refreshing to see, especially with the prevalence of ‘ladsy’ groups and stag do parties asking for ‘a pint of the strongest one you’ve got please mate’ that I’ve seen at some other festivals.
Again, we were busy at our bar with festival staffer Bob (@BobtheBeer on Twitter) stepping into the breach admirably, covering for both us and Cloudwater who were directly next to us. I finally got a chance to have a wander and a chat with some of the other breweries at the event and to drink some of their beer. Particular highlights included the Old Chimneys ‘Good King Henry’ on cask which, as a bottled rarity, was the best beer in the UK for over a decade on Ratebeer. Brew By Numbers 10|10 Imperial Coffee Porter was fantastic, especially when blended with their white stout, 08|08. Marble’s barrel aged resurrection of Gales ‘Prize Old Ale’ was fantastic, as was Dry and Bitter’s two year aged barley wine. Finally, Mikkeller’s RaspberryQuadrupelbock was soft, rich and just dry enough to want more, belying its strength.
For the final evening session we were down to our last keg of ‘Big Idjit’. The live music started with Nomasta playing first. Crunchingly heavy, fabulous riffs and a great combination of melodic and ‘bellow as if your life depends on it’ vocals pulled a decent, appreciative crowd. Second up, Hark played an eclectic mix of ‘at the drive in’ flavoured technical post hardcore with some sludgy, riffy breakdowns. Finally, Barbarian Hermit headlined, pulling an enthusiastic crowd who were all too happy to mosh appreciatively.
With only a couple of pints left in the keg both metaphorically and physically, the evening wound down. Pack down was all happening tomorrow so most of the staff, volunteers and brewers downed tools for a couple of pints of Magic Rock’s very lovely dry hopped lager and a chat. Plans were hatched for a trip to Whitelocks then onto North Bar. I’m afraid lacking in energy and with a 9am train to catch I wimped out and headed back to the hotel.
Within a couple of weeks of Dark City finishing, Hop City 2018 has been announced for Easter weekend on April 29th, 30th and 31st. I hope to see you all there!