Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
Last week saw me leave London behind for a couple of days and journey up north to the fair city of Leeds. I had been invited to a guitar trade show and as the company I was visiting had offered to pay for my train tickets and put me up in a swanky hotel it would have been rude of me to refuse their offer. After convincing my Boss that it would be worthwhile for me to leave the confines of my desk behind and let sales reps ply me with food and booze I then set about making other plans. I made sure when booking my return train that I would have just enough time to sink a few swift halves in one of Leeds' excellent bars and after many excellent suggestions of where to visit on Twitter I decided that I’d settle in North Bar for a few beers before I returned to the big smoke.
They REALLY love beer at North Bar
Yorkshire has become something of a hub for craft brewing in the UK with brewers such as Magic Rock, Mallinson's and Summer Wine all calling the County home and Leeds seems to be the epicentre with it’s plethora of excellent bars and bottle shops. It’s no surprise that Leeds was chosen as the host city for this years European Beer Bloggers Conference, which after reading the many blogs that followed I was sorely disappointed to have missed but have pledged to get there next year wherever it may be.
I arrived in Leeds city centre in the early afternoon and bolted down Briggate like a desert explorer who hadn’t seen water for several days. When I arrived in North Bar I was pleasantly surprised with what I found, a modern style establishment that wasn’t too polished which I immediately felt comfortable in. The décor and layout reminded me of the Colorado beer bars where I first discovered how great beer could really taste and the large array of tap handles drew me in towards the bar. My friend Lauren who works at Further North, a sister establishment to North Bar, was waiting for me when I arrived and introduced me to the duty manager Jim. It took me less than a second to decide what I wanted to drink, as soon as I saw the hazy green glow of the Magic Rock Cannonball IPA logo I had to have one. ‘This is the freshest Cannonball you’ll have ever tasted’ said Jim ‘they dropped this keg off 20 minutes ago!’ As Jim was pouring out my half I noticed he had already poured himself a pint, excellent to see that quality control is important in this establishment.
The price was a pleasant surprise; I paid £2.50 for my half which is roughly a pound cheaper than when I’ve had it on tap in London. The imported beers were roughly the same price as you'd pay in London which wasn’t a surprise considering they've travelled roughly the same distance. After the Cannonball which was quite frankly AMAZING I moved on to the Buxton Imperial Black which was on cask. I had only tried this beer for the very first time a week beforehand and was suitably impressed with it’s dark, bitter charms but was actually surprised to see it on cask rather than keg (I shouldn't have been as Jim informed me that Buxton don't keg any of their beers.) I genuinely think a flavour forward, high ABV beer such as this would benefit from a little extra carbonation to help the flavours burst on to the palate and without this it tasted more like a strong porter with a little extra hopping rather than what I would class as a black IPA. A true black IPA, for me, should be a beer that befuddles the senses and defies expectations and while Imperial Black wasn’t on this occasion it was a thoroughly enjoyable drop but I definitely preferred the bottle I had the week beforehand.
One of three cellars within North Bar
Shortly after my second drink Lauren had to shoot off to work but I still had an hour to kill before I made my way to the train station so I threw caution to the wind and ordered myself a half of Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine. I’ve not had much luck with Stone beers recently as more regular readers will have seen but as far as barley wines go it was just about as perfect as they come. Huge slabs of candied fruits, orange pith combined with chewy toffee and a hint of burnt sugar, it was absolutely marvellous. At 11% ABV it was perhaps not the best choice of beverage for four thirty in the afternoon but who cares, it was DELICIOUS and that alcohol was barely undetectable through the waves of pithy flavour that it produced.
North Bar was starting to fill up with post work drinkers and regulars and the bars atmosphere was getting more welcoming and warming the drunker I got the busier the bar got. I had been chatting away to a chap at the bar for a while and couldn’t help thinking I’d seen his face somewhere before, turns out it was Rob, editor of Hopzine and it was a great pleasure talking to someone who obviously knows a hell of a lot more about beer than I do! If you have time and you haven't done so already be sure to check out some of his excellent video reviews.
When ordering the Old Guardian I had assumed it would have lasted me until it was time to leave, sadly this was not the case. I’m not quite sure how but I seemed to rinse the glass of its contents in an inexplicably short length of time. The advantage of this was that it meant that I had time to squeeze in another half of Cannonball which was beyond superb. Although it’s been around for only just over a year I’ve drank quite a bit of Cannonball, it’s my favourite beer in Magic Rocks range but I swear that it tasted even better than before. If there were any kinks that they were trying to iron out then they’ve definitely succeeded.
So, North Bar, a stunning little gem of a bar tucked away in the heart of Leeds City Centre, a visit is definitely worth an hour or four of your time.