BE of good cheer, these are wonderful times for the beer lover. Never have drinkers been offered such a dazzling choice of beers, nor so interesting and diverse premises in which to enjoy them.
If one local company which embodied this remarkable flourishing of beer culture, then it must surely be the North Bar Group. From modest beginnings in Briggate, the group has built organically, roughly keeping pace with its growing reputation for quality beer, knowledgeable staff and laid-back atmosphere.
This formula works at the lively Cross Keys in the heart of Holbeck’s ‘urban village’, in suburban Alfred and Preston in Meanwood and Roundhay, and has been rolled beyond the city limits to Otley and Harrogate. None of which is to mention my personal favourite, the tiny-but-practically-perfect Further North in Chapel Allerton.
It was perhaps only a matter of time before North was further seized by the spirit of the times to open its own brewery. Though its bars have largely concentrated on bringing to their customers interesting ales, quality craft keg beers and distinctive imported products, for some years now their entry-level handpull has been Prototype, for a long time brewed at Kirkstall.
Though Prototype will remain a stock-in-trade, the opening of North’s own brewery has enabled them to diversify into the weird and the wonderful; the addition of an on-site bar gives customers the opportunity to browse the entire range.
It’s in the appropriately-named Taverner’s Walk Estate, a row of industrial units off the bottom of North Street. In pub crawl terms it’s a little off the beaten track, particularly as the famous Eagle Tavern is currently clad in scaffolding and desperately in need of someone to show some love. Even so, it’s worth a diversion from the well-worn pub crawl around the Belgrave and Reliance, Sandinista and Shuffledog, though bear in mind that it’s only open on Fridays and Saturdays.
Apart from the few hours a week when the bar is open, this is primarily a brewery. So the room is dominated by the shining steel of the four fermentation tanks where brewer Sebastian Brink works his magic.
“I’m completely self-taught,” he tells me over a beer at the bar. “I started off in home brewing.” He widened his experience at the city’s Golden Owl microbrewery, before joining North Bar, where he has been given the freedom to experiment with some novel recipes. He clearly appreciates that these are specal times to be living and working in. “We are in an environment where there is lots of quality beer,” he says.
Seb’s own brews are dispensed through taps in the white-tiled back bar. And while I’d be more than happy to hold our conversation over a pint of refreshing Prototype (3.8%) or his traditional nutty caramel Yorkshire ale Bulkhead Brown (4.5%), Seb is keen for me to browse the more esoteric end of the spectrum.
A case in point is the unappetisingly-named Bog Myrtle (5.5%) which is named after a scrubby Scots plant known since Viking times for its remarkable properties as both a pick-me-up and an insect repellent. It predates the use of hops – and here Seb uses it as an alternative to the piney, citric characteristics of the Simcoe hop, a favourite of some American brewers.
Toasted coconut porter Full Fathom Five (6.5%) and Belgian-styled Bret (4.7%), made with wild yeast, give Seb further opportunity to stretch his legs as a brewer. “We were supposed to have an Imperial Stout too, but something went wrong with the brew. I’m going to throw it out and start again.”
Address: Taverner’s Walk, Sheepscar
Type: Brewery tap
Host: Brewer Sebastian Brink
Opening Hours: 4-10pm Fri, 2-10pm Sat
Beers: Changing selection of beers from the North Brewing range, including the core range (all prices for half pints) Prototype (£1.50), Transmission (£2.50), Sputnik (£2.30), Full Fathom Five (£2.40), plus specials such as Bog Myrtle (£2), Bulkhead Brown (£2), Saison (£2.30) and 100% Bret (£2.20)
Wine: Small selection - including Prosecco on tap
Food: Occasional street food offerings - but customers are welcome to order take-away meals to eat in the bar.
Children: Not especially suitable
Disabled: Straightforward access
Beer Garden: None
Parking: On-street areas nearby
Telephone: 0113 345 3290