Visits to Leeds always mean some sort of exciting ale trail along with some great company. This time I had seen Tony Naylor’s timely best Leeds craft beer article in the Guardian, but my Uncle had gone one better and cut it out, alongside various flyers and menus in anticipation of our visit. Anyone who knows will realise just how deliriously happy the prospect of a pub crawl, plus a handful of takeaway menus can make me; and that's before we'd even left the house.
Research done, the first stop on our sodden Sunday trek was to Bundobust, a craft beer bar and Indian street food hybrid. Whilst the concept - combined with the plywood benches and exposed brickwork inside - may seem peak hipster, the award nominations, mass internet adoration and weekend queues prove they are obviously doing something right.
I started off far less than sensibly for an all-dayer with the Skor Brun, a Belgian strong ale from Mikkeller at 8%. This was pretty decent, if a little sweet, with plenty of caramel, apples and dried fruit although probably best consumed in small quantities.
My Uncle and the Ewing went with the crisp, spiced house coriander pilsner - which is brewed by a small family run Czech brewery - that pairs perfectly with their range of Indian street snacks.
To eat we shared a selection of dishes including a great masala dosa stuffed with potato & onion and served with lentil soup and coconut chutney; the idli sambhar rice dumplings served in lentil soup with chutney; and the gobi bhaji, a crispy fried orb crammed with onion, cauliflower & spinach, served with a tamarind & red pepper chutney and modelled by Uncle John. On Sundays you can also get brunch, with a bloody mary with their egg bhurji (a kind of spicy scrambled eggs) for a tenner.
Next there was a moment of confusion where we thought we had headed to the Head of Steam, but had actually ended up at nearby Tapped, a welcome mistake as not only do they serve a huge selection of cask and keg beers, including ones they brew on site in their own microbrewery, they also serve Big Dan's homemade pizzas.
It took a while to decide what to drink, but in the end I went with the Roosters Baby Faced Assassin, a nice enough pale ale brewed in nearby Knaresborough, whilst the Ewing chose the Magic Rock offering, Dark Arts: Surreal Stout, a mix of four malts and bags of hops. If my memory serves me right - and after all that beer who knows - Moyra tried the Magnum PA single hopped ale which was a Irn Bru orange hue, with plenty of grapefruit and spiced rye flavours.
They serve a selection of pizzas, but the one you really need to know about is the N'duja Want Some? Complete with the eponymous spicy sausage, pickled jalapenos and red chilli (you can have scotch bonnets if you're a real maniac) and a good splash of Dan's beer 'n' chilli sauce with pineapple and hop oil.
The rest of the pizzas we tried - including the special with sausage and broccoli rabe and one with blue cheese, rocket and walnuts - were great, but the Fishy One (a Napoletana by any other name) that Moyra ordered is also well worth a mention if you're into your capers and anchovies.
The Midnight Bell, the Leeds Brewery flagship, is a good old fashioned pub with plenty of good old fashioned beers. They produce four permanent casks; Leeds Pale, Yorkshire Gold, Leeds Best and Midnight Bell, alongside seasonal ales and kegged beer including the Leeds brewed lager, Leodis, the Roman name for Leeds.
I do love me a pint of Leeds Pale, a brew that I have grown accustomed to drinking at the annual Thorner (the village my Aunt and Uncle live in) Boule Tournament, alongside sausages grilled expertly by my cousin, Will. This year the Leeds Brewery also sponsored the annual Thorner Comedy festival, which we had attended (and drunk a few pints at) the night before. It's a proper Yorkshire bitter, and none the worse for that, and at a respectable 3.8% it's also deceptively easy drinking.
Alongside our beers there were peanuts, as who doesn’t love a pint and some peanuts, although they also had a special pie menu for Pie Week that saw each pub in their stable of six in Leeds showcasing a different pastry product as well as Leeds Best battered fish, Yorkshire gammon and steaks and Swaledale sausages.
Our next and furthest stop was the Northern Monk Refectory, trendy bar and microbrewery in Holbeck which is housed in a grade II converted flax mill. Arriving buffeted by the rain and wind, we found the initial lack of coat pegs and tricky to get your leg over (steady) communal benches didn’t make the warmest welcome, but once we had got firmly ensconced - and discovered their bookcase full of beer geek books and board game - things started to look steadily up.
They improved even further with the beers; mine was a Northern Monk Monacus, their New Zealand hop-packed pale ale, while Uncle John loved the Chennai, a dark, spiced porter. The Ewing’s tipple was a Belgian wheat beer, recommended by the bar man and one that seems destined to forever remain nameless due to forgetfulness and intoxication (I swear there were oats involved - TE). A real shame as this was a cracker, being fresh and hoppy whilst having the citrus, banana bread and bubble gum characteristics of a great wheat beer.
We shared dishes of parsnip and hop cakes with glazed beetroot, crispy cavalo nero, salsa verde and lentils; and an ox tongue hash with celeriac mash, pickles, kale, hop syrup and stout gravy. Both were outstanding, both in value and flavour, with the tongue being the standout, although overall the flavours veered a little towards over-sweetness for my tastes.
Moyra also tried a slice of their vegan carrot cake. Whilst I think she found it a little dense and claggy I have to say I found it pretty delicious, although sadly I’m not sure the lack of animal products and the addition of extra veg could possibly have categorised it as a health food.
Finally the rain had stopped, so we swapped the industrial chic of Holbeck for the history of central Leeds' Scarbrough Hotel - or Scarbrough Taps to the Loiners - a popular pub by the station that has been taken over by Nicholsons.
The special of iberico pork and chorizo burger with chips was too good for my Uncle to resist and it was a pretty decent effort, the juicy and well seasoned patty studded with big chunks of garlicky sausage and housed in a squishy glazed bun with lashings of mayo and salad. Crisp battered onion rings, at a quid for a bowl, were equally appreciated by my Aunt.
Last stop was perennial favourite, Brewdog Leeds, just in time for the release of their small batch Bourbon Baby, a baby (5.8% abv) scotch ale which is then bourbon barrel aged to add a smoky vanilla and brown sugar intensity. Smooth and easy to drink - with plenty of shortbread, honey and raisins – but with a lower alcohol punch than the taste belied.
I went off piste with the Mikkeller guest beer, Wheat is the New Hops, an India Pale Ale brewed with wheat and fermented with brettanomyces. This had a clever balance of grassy hops with a touch of clove and lemon wheat underpinned with a slight brett funk. Drunk rather too quickly, so we wouldn’t miss the once hourly Sunday service back to the sticks, this was one fine final fling that set us up nicely for an evening of gentle snoozing and reruns of the Chase.
Many thanks again for our partners is crime, Moyra and John, in the making of this production. Who yet again risked biblical floods and battering winds to make sure we were sufficiently overfed and inebriated. It was a pleasure as always.