Visited: Tuesday 22 December 2009
Leeds is a city I have mixed feelings about. A lot of people I’m very fond of have lived here; some great bands are based here; and a good deal of exciting gigs and creative stuff go on here. And there are some decent pubs. At the same time, it’s not a place that puts you at your ease. Everywhere you turn are loud lads. Everything feels edgy and charged with aggression. The whole city seems forever on the brink of a massive fist fight. Sometimes I wonder if this goes on everywhere and that I only really notice it in Leeds, or something like that. But it is a fact that tonight, just as I arrive at the Brewery Tap, lean on the bar and order, then take a first glug of my pint, a group of half a dozen men to my left start to chant: “Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!”
From the outside, the Brewery Tap is the least likely real ale pub I have ever seen. Its facade is presented in the same dismal battleship grey as Leeds’ soul-sapping railway station, two minutes’ walk away. Its name lights up in red, a modish, industrial logotype. It looks like the sort of place where you’d expect not so much to gulp a comforting pint of porter as to neck a freezing bottle of Becks in two minutes flat because you and your mates have got tired of pretending to hear each other talking over a barrage of techno, or whatever obscure subgenre thereof.
Modish, industrial logotype. Photo: Simon Wilson
Leeds is also, it seems to me, the epicentre of Yorkshire patriotism. Everywhere you look it’s Yorkshire this, white rose that, Geoff Boycott the other. Back home in Sheffield, we have a sort of local pride, but it’s just about Sheffield really, rather than Yorkshire. Here in the Brewery Tap even the menu is an assertion of the county’s supremacy: toad in the hole is Yorkshire toad in the hole, or something, and rather less obviously there is also a Yorkshire feta. Just to kick against the pricks I’ve ordered a pint of Lancaster Blonde. Bad call: Lancaster Bland, more like.
I’m here to meet my mate Si for a pre-Christmas drink. It’s quite dark so I can’t see a great deal. Ominously, there’s a CCTV screen behind the bar, looping through surveillance images of the pub’s various bits, spread over two floors. It’s dead loud and busy as anything for the time of day and day of the week – about six o’clock on a Tuesday – but I guess a lot of folk are celebrating the end of work and the Christmas holiday. When Si arrives, he tells me about the pub. It has an entrepreneurial provenance and ‘ambition’ that seem unusual on the real ale circuit. Apparently, the Leeds Brewery owns this and two more pubs. If you go upstairs here, you can see into the brewery, with all the tuns and what have you. They thought Leeds would be the right place to try and get people to drink cask beer who wouldn’t normally go for it. Word is they want to build up a big business and sell it on.
You can read into that whatever you like about the brewery, or Leeds, but the Brewery Tap brings us to the discussion, very much worth having, about the coincidence that some people who like real ale also like rock music, role-playing games and ponytails and the effect this has on the perception and appeal of real ale. Some of my best friends like rock music, role-playing games and ponytails, but it’s not hard to see how these associations might deter wavering drinkers from dipping their toes into the cask. (If I were less of a noob to the pub blogosphere, I’d be able to post links to these kinds of discussions online. Sorry that I can’t; please post a comment if you can fill the gap.) To its credit, the Leeds Brewery uses clean, modern design for its pump clips – a surprisingly big influence, I suspect, on drinkers choosing beers at the bar – and avoids giving its ales names like Dribbling Old Dogthrottler.
There’s not enough to keep me here, though, and most of our night is spent elsewhere in Leeds. Just before we move on to the Victoria Family and Commercial, I try a swig of Si’s pint of Leeds Best, effectively the house bitter, and it doesn’t really excite me any more than the Lancaster stuff. But while this Brewery Tap is far from being my cup of tea, if it introduces more people to real ale then I shan’t be demanding its demolition just yet.