On Tuesday, I packed my notebook and jumped on a train to Leeds, accompanied by BrewDog Mancs’ Dani, a couple of bottles of Jackhammer (7.2%), and an XL Bacon Double Cheeseburger to line my stomach (yes, I’m a classy bird). The reason for our trip? Leeds is one of my favourite places in the world – I went to uni there, so it holds a special place in my heart – and it was about to become that little bit more fantastic, due to the opening of Tapped Leeds, the new venture from The Tapped Brew Co.
Walking down from the station, we clocked Tapped pretty quickly, neon burning away through the chilly Leeds gloam, calling pilgrims through those newly opened doors – though before we could venture inside, we had a couple of other places to visit. Friends to meet, charcuterie to nibble… But our first port of call was, of course, BrewDog Leeds. Despite only being over the hills at BrewDog Mancs, to my great shame I hadn’t managed to make it across the Pennines to visit our Yorkshire pals until now; they opened after I left uni, so this cosy bar was all new to me. In comparison to our spacious Peter Street building, it’s utterly diddy, but I like it a lot. They have an old-school game console or two (don’t ask me what they are, I’m not au fait with games that aren’t desktop/laptop-based; I had a GameBoy Colour when I was a child and then moved on to Civilisation, The Sims, and World of Warcraft), so people who like that sort of thing can do their gaming while drinking good beer in a nice, social environment, and for we who have neither the inclination nor, let’s be honest here, the co-ordination, there is a good little selection of board games. Give me Leeds Monopoly over jumping on turtles any day.
After perusing the fridges, we decided to go halves on a bottle of To Øl Jule Mælk (15%), in all its spicy creamy smooth sweet dark goodness. Ahem. Fifteen percent could be a bit of a big one to start on, but we were sharing, and after all, our train beer was Jackhammer. The Jule Mælk slipped down far too easily, and soon we found ourselves splitting a Mikkeller Hoppy Lovin’ Xmas (7.8%), as research for a pairing Dani had put together for the BD Mancs beer dinner – seven courses! – which, I hear, went swimmingly, so kudos to her and our chef Matt for pulling off that feat of decadence. The Hoppy Lovin’ Xmas was suitably festive, with shitloads of ginger and pine. Not quite my bag, but decent enough, and it does what it sets out to do.
All too soon it was time to set off to our next stopping point, so after enlisting Nat to join our band of merry men, we trotted off to somewhere I was very excited to finally explore – Friends of Ham. (See what I did there? Trotted? Trotters? Oh, fine then. Go on, get out.) This was another place that opened shortly after I left uni, and for the last god-knows-how-long I’ve been meaning to visit, but it just hadn’t happened. Finally, after hearing friends rave about it for yonks, I was walking through the door. The bar had a good selection of beers to choose from, but I was drawn straight away to the Magic Rock The Big Top (8%). I bloody love big red ales, and was really looking forward to trying this, but it did let me down a little. It was a good beer, just not quite to my taste; there was something about it that I didn’t like, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I’ve since found out that it has lots of Australian hops in, which I haven’t tended to be a huge fan of – in fact, I can only think of two beers using primarily Aus hops that I’ve enjoyed, one being Dark Star Hophead Galaxy (3.8%), and one being Al‘s Vic’s Secret (7.2%). The Big Top just wasn’t as world shaking and beautiful as I usually find Magic Rock‘s range. Anyway, at Friends of Ham the star attraction was, quite rightly, their food menu.
Dani and I shared a platter of two meats and two cheeses. After looking over the menu, we chose the Serrano Gran Reserva ham, which had been cured for fourteen months, and Salame Toscano, which featured garlic, red wine, and whole black peppercorns. Um, get in my face. Cheese-wise, Brie de Meaux was an easy decision, and the Oak Smoked Lancashire, which had been smoked over old oak whisky barrel chippings, also sounded good. The meats and cheeses arrived accompanied by crackers, olive oil-drizzled bread, cornichons, and mini pots of chutney and chilli jam. It made me feel almost glad that I no longer live in Leeds; if I did, those meat and cheese platters would quickly become a vice that I can’t quite afford, and I would balloon to the size of a house. The Serrano was intense, the Salame was excellently garlicky, the Brie was outrageously good, and the Oak Smoked Lancashire actually came out as my favourite of the whole platter. Good food, a great selection of beer, and lively surroundings. This place has a whole lot of soul.
And then, to Tapped Leeds. I do love how different all of the Pivovar bars are; some appeal to me more than others, but of course, the beer is marvellous across the board. I’m a Pivni girl, myself. Low wooden beams and darkness speak to me. Tapped Leeds is a bit bright and shiny looking, a bit new wave, a bit clean and clinical, but then, they are brewing beer there, so, you know. You could probably brew lambics in Pivni just by leaving the beer under those wooden beams and letting whatever causes that permanent slightly odd smell do its stuff..! The beers were looking good though, with 13 cask and 14 keg, if I read the signs over the bar correctly, and everyone was obviously enjoying opening night. I finally got my grubby paws on some Burning Sky, after my attempts to get some in the excellent Snowdrop Inn earlier this year were thwarted (although I did love their collaboration with Wild and Good George in the glorious Schnoodlepip). I’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to try some of Mark’s new stuff, and Saison à la Provision (6.5%) was everything I’d been expecting. Peppery, funky, gorgeousness – I’m not generally a huge fan of Saisons, but this was bloody lovely.
Tapped Leeds have been tweeting about their first brew being in progress, so I’ll definitely have to nip over again when that’s ready. I’m also excited about trying one of their pizzas, which Dan (previously of Pivni) was slaving over in his chef’s gear. They looked pretty insane, but after our feast at Friends of Ham, I couldn’t face one that night! Anyway, the time to catch our train back to Manchester was drawing near, and we couldn’t very well leave Leeds without one final stop, so we powered up to the Headrow… And to North Bar.
Oh, North, my old fortress of solitude, my island in the sea of madness of student life. I spent far too long in this place when I should have been writing essays, and I don’t regret a second of it. It hasn’t changed a bit, apart from the addition of a photo booth. What?! Insane, but amazing. We didn’t have long to spend here before getting our train, so a snap decision was made, and we split a bottle of something I’d seen online and been intrigued by, but never actually encountered in person before: Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale (5.8%). It really did do what it said on the tin. My tasting notes for this, hastily scribbled in my notebook, read “super fucking maple syrup bacon”. Well, doy. It was sweet, a little salty, and surprisingly refreshing. Not one I’d necessarily go for again any time soon, though I’ve been assured by Twitter that the chocolate banana peanut butter version is worth a try. I’ll keep an eye out for that, but I actually liked this version far more than I thought I would.
And with that, we dashed down to the train station and hopped back on the train to Mancs – after picking up a couple of bottles of Punk and a KFC, of course, we travel in style – and, bidding goodbye to Leeds, I vowed that I’d be back soon.