The smell of beer slopped on wooden tables, the glint of light in the top of the chalice, the sounds of a deck of cards and the clink of glasses.
I’m in a bar in the north country but my senses are across the sea and howling winds, in the bustle of a backstreet bar in Belgium.
Four pm on a sunny Friday, sampling the beers of the Low Countries in a bar in Leeds, dreaming of being back in Brussels, Bruges or even Amsterdam. Or those other low cities I’ve not yet visited – Antwerp, or Ghent.
It’s North’s Lowlands Bier Festival and the fridges are jam packed with beers across a spectrum of prices and slapstick names: ‘Willy’ and ‘Klap’ are both (hopefully) lost in translation.
Even though the light of day is starting to fade, a winter ale seems wrong in the mild climate, but Dutch beers are on tap and that doesn’t happen often in the north of England.
De Molen Klap van de Molen (Hit by the Mill) is a dark viscous affair to wrap up in, dominated by apple skin sweetness and too much spice. Suffice to say it packs a punch (and nothing more sinister).
It’s quickly turned into an impromptu meal – add a cheese and meat board: a spot of raisin and walnut bread, a few slices of salami and a wedge of cheese. Sticky raisins and beer, peppery salami, mellow cheese umami; the beer is a prickly Calpol food softener and suddenly my mind is back in Belgium, in the evening din of yet another backstreet bar surrounded by stemmed glasses of dark sweet liquid and rye heavy bread, thick yellow cheese and pink elephants on the walls…
A cheeky kriek freshens things up (that’s the great thing about Belgian beers) and the menu is open wide once again.
Tripels, bocks, IPAs, Trappists, English bitters. The festival is nothing short of testament to the diversity of modern lowland beer culture. Add some Jupiler and it’s got almost everything! There’s a lot to celebrate here and celebrate it we do. Plus there’s time for a quick half of North’s very own exclusive beer brewed by the managers: a rasping Roosters style bitter.
As the darkness of night approaches we’ve drunk these beers in a topsy turvy order, and if we get stuck to into many more of the myriad lowland biers on offers, topsy turvy is where our heads will be too.Tags: Belgian Beer, de molen, Dutch, kriek, north bar
November 10th, 2011Beer Reviews
Orval is the sort of beer spoken about with reverence. I like to think the same goes for North Bar.
It should have been me and my friend Tom sat there, dissecting Leeds United’s yo-yoing fortunes, laughing at the Howson Is Now blog and deliberating the creaminess of the Orval cheese whilst sat on the classroom chairs and the well leaned on tables.
But it’s my brother partnering this trip due to Tom’s tight schedule as a relatively new father, North being one place us siblings have a record of sharing together, along with a sense of adventure and an intuition for getting pissed. And brother Fletch is not going listen to me rabbit on about the brettanomyces qualities of the difference between yeast-in and yeast-out, or how the bitterness of this anti-quintessential Belgium beer cuts through the cheese (which it does) …
And so I’m drinking one of my favourite beers with a cheese I’d actually craved (made by the brewers) and I’m chatting about Leeds United’s yo-yoing fortunes, laughing at the Howson Is Now blog, and… generally forgetting about the beer and cheese North’s manager had so kindly put to one side for me because I couldn’t make Orval Day earlier in the month.
That North Bar had enough bottles of aged Orval to reserve some is very kind. That they could even get some of this coveted cheese let alone put some aside for me speaks of their customer service ethos. That I scribbled a hasty one liner on my smartphone as my only tasting note is just plain disrespectful to their efforts.
But here’s the thing. Sat in the dimly lit confines of North, veiled in conviviality and that twilight between sober and drunkenness, the yellow light of North illuminates a certain truth about beer.
So the two-year aged Orval tastes good, and is probably worth waiting to experience. So the cheese is rare and barely seen outside of Belgium. And not to mention the bread – so luxuriously soft and cleansing – which is to die for. So what? Is beer not meaningless if not enjoyed in a place that’s bright with conversation, buoyed with gesticulations, rich in the patchwork diversity of people, and splashed with beers of colours Yates or Lloyds or Scream could never imagine.
If an evening spent extolling the virtues of Ken Bates leadership of Leeds United could be improved in anyway, it’s surely by the creamy monastic cheese paired with the musty, peppery Orval and all its always-changing quirks of character. Does it matter that I thought the end of the bottle shared the same earthiness of the bottom of a well made mojito?
No, because it was a good night out with great beer. We saw the hygge, we tried aged Orval, we put the world to rights, and we liked it.Tags: Beer and Cheese, cheese, football, hygge, leeds, north bar, Orval
November 4th, 2010Beer Events
Roosters Brewery, whose beers are the staple diet of many a Yorkshire pub, marked this Hallowe’en with a pumpkin beer. No ordinary pumpkin beer though, a pumpkin beer served in nothing less than a giant pumpkin. A really, really giant pumpkin.
Pumpkin 5 Spice Ale was tapped at North Bar in Leeds, in front of Calendar news and a small selection of excitable beer lovers. Arguably a more delicate task than tapping a cask, the job in hand was left to Sam Franklin of Roosters Brewery.
And what of the beer? Well, it’s eminently drinkable: sweet without being at all syrupy; conditioned to perfection with just a hint of carbonisation; spicy but not hot – nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves dominate, ideal for warming the spirit on a cold day.
Everything in moderation including moderation they say. Strangely perhaps, Roosters 5 Spice Pumpkin Ale is a beer that you could drink with little moderation. One of the best session beers of the year.
And it’s served from a pumpkin. A giant pumpkin. What more could you want on a lazy Saturday afternoon in autumn?!Tags: north bar, pumpkin, roosters, yorkshire
April 1st, 2010Beer Events
I wouldn’t normally nip as far as North Bar for a quick half in Leeds, not when the Grove, Cross Keys, Commercial and Midnight Bell are all realistically crawl-able. It’s cask ale week though and North had acquired two beers that don’t normally frequent West Yorkshire bars – Crown Brewery’s Stannington Stout and Tawny from the team at Marble on the dark side of the Pennine’s.
It’s Stuart Ross’s Stannington Stout was the dark one of the pair though, a jet black mocha-fest of chocolate and coffee with an aroma to die for and so dark that opaque doesn’t do it justice. Marble’s Tawny – a one-off cask I’m told, although I’ve heard a few people have tried it from a cask in other years – was far more aromatic than the bottle I had been underwhelmed by a few months ago. Piney hops make this a brown bitter deserving of it’s name and earns it a pedestal above subtler beers purely on impact.
Two half pints (and now two half-pint-sized beer reviews ) later, the real world called and unfortunately I had to leave North Bar. Well, I grabbed another half of Tawny seen as it’s a one-off. Mmm mmm. I’ll be back later today though as they have Duchesse de Bourgogne (which I adore) on draught. And I’m hoping that the Cross Keys has Marble Pint this weekend (the ‘coming soon’ board has been tempting me with it for a week or so!). Cask Ale Week will be wrapped up with a couple of local beers at the Grove before Leeds’ crunch match against Swindon on Saurday (fingers crossed.)
All in all, a pretty good beer week!Tags: cask ale, cask ale week, Commercial, cross keys, north bar, The Grove
BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin Tasting at North Bar, Leeds
One of the best things I’ve found about living in Leeds, or a larger city for that matter, is the variety of events that take place that you don’t always find in less adventurous urban areas (maybe I was just brought up in a particularly boring town?!).
In the three years I’ve made Yorkshire’s modern capital my home, I’ve enjoyed Leeds International Film Festival, the West Indian Carnival, the Christkindelmarkt, a couple of League One Play Off Semi Finals and (less fortunately) a huge Robbie Williams concert at Roundhay Park (don’t ask) and countless other dates in the diary that are a feature of dwelling in a cosmopolitan city.
As well as these large scale events it’s actually the smaller opportunities that appeal to me most: being able to see Almodovar films in the ancent Hyde Park Picture house, attending a Flying Dog beer and food evening and the chance to see actual rock stars whilst playing 5-a-side (if you classify relatively obscure post-rock bands as rock stars!).
So when Zak Avery asked me if I’d like to take part in a live video tasting of the newly released and lavishly expensive Tactical Nuclear Penguin by BrewDog, the strongest beer in the world, not only did I jump at the chance but I carved another notch on my list of reasons to live in Leeds… Read the rest of this entry »Tags: BrewDog, hopzine, leeds, north bar, tactical nuclear penguin, zak avery
October 3rd, 2009Beer Events
Flying Dog’s Matt Brophy hosts a night of Beer Tasting at the Cross Keys in Leeds, organised by James Clay & Sons and North Bar.
Being big lovers of Leeds and its reasonably eclectic beer scene, we were excited at Real Ale Reviews HQ when we heard about a special event at the Cross Keys in Leeds. None other than champions of the American craft brew scene and award winning brewery Flying Dog were coming to town to let us sample their beers.
Led by Matt Brophy – Executive Brewer at Flying Dog – with a little help from Nigel (Sales Director) from James Clay & Sons and Rick from Bier & Co – an evening of beer tasting and anecdotes soon followed.
We kicked off with some the legends and stories surrounding Flying Dog’s heritage – the brands origin after an unlikely ascent (and most poignantly subsequent descent) by Flying Dog’s founder George Stranahan, and the development of the brands distinctive and rebellious bottle designs courtesy of Ralph Steadman, thanks a mutual friendship with the late Hunter D. Thompson – loads on this at the Flying Dog site).
It wasn’t long before the Flying Dogs themselves came out, spearheaded by the very light and typically drinkable Woody Creek White, a wit style Belgian ale. Matt assured his audience that Flying Dog’s beers were all designed to be drinkable, a commendable trait in any beer.
Following was Heat Wheat, a Hefe Weizen beer which was overloaded with banana aroma and taste. The wheat styles kept coming with the wonderfully labeled Garde Dog, a French style with a little more malt than its predecessors and less aromatic (bloomin’ nice it was!). Read the rest of this entry »Tags: beer tasting, cross keys, flying dog, leeds, matt brophy, north bar