“YOU have to do something that you’re passionate about.”
Matt Dix is explaining why he chose to give up a PhD in history at the University of Leeds, and dedicate himself to the pleasures of the here and now.
“After a while I realised that I didn’t want to go into an academic career, where you generally have to accept any job, anywhere, just to get started. I love Leeds so much, I couldn’t bear the thought of moving away.”
So he stayed, ditched the doctoral ambitions, and is now one of the driving forces behind Leeds Indie Food Festival, which started last weekend and runs until the end of the month. And this year there will be a serious boozy element to the proceedings as the organisers are pitting beer against wine in a bid to find the ideal accompaniment to food.
The Keg vs Cork event, staged over Friday night and Saturday, will see the city’s best independent pubs, bars, bottle shops and breweries fighting their corner in a battle between progressive craft beer and stylish, interesting wine.
The event is taking place at Duke Studios in Sheaf Street, a short walk south from Crown Point Bridge in a former belt factory which has been converted for a range of predominantly arts-related businesses.
“We thought Leeds Indie Food was the perfect time to throw a big party,” says Matt. “There are so many amazing bars and pubs who pour their heart and soul into what they do, and we wanted to celebrate them with an event that was fun for everyone, not just beer aficionados or wine snobs. There’ll be great booze served by people who care about it, and music, film and food too, so there’s something for even the most casual drinker.”
Alongside pop-up bars from Leeds stalwarts including North Bar and The Reliance there’ll be fresh faces like Tall Boys Beer Market and Northern Monk, both of whom have established themselves as firm favourites on the city’s drinking circuit over the last couple of years.
The event gives them a chance to really show off, so you’ll find Bundobust teaming their amazing curries with Bavarian wheat beer Schnieder-Weisse, and North Bar offering a ‘classics’ menu which celebrates the best drinks from their first two decades. Those looking for something a little more summery will also be able to grab an Aperol Spritz or a Negroni from drinks brand Campari, while the Reliance is bringing some of their natural wines, made without sulphites or additives.
Alongside tasty street food, the chefs from Headrow House restaurant Ox Club will be taking over the outdoor barbecue to serve up award-winning steak and chips for hungry drinkers.
“I’ve been to plenty of beer festivals and plenty of wine festivals – and they each have a different vibe,” says Matt. “We wanted to do something of our own but make it more accessible to those people who might find a beer festival or a wine tasting, niche or up-market. So rather than focussing on the breweries, we have made it more about the city’s bars, to give them a chance to show off what they provide.
“We want to be a good showcase of what you can get in Leeds – and so it’s great to get them all into one place.”
An event which carries the word “versus” in its title really needs to have some competitive element. And Keg vs Cork will have a World Cup-style group round and knockout phase until a winner finally emerges. Though Matt admits: “We’ve not really worked it out yet.”
And reflecting on his decision to quit a life in academe, he adds: “It’s a lot more fun running food and drink festivals, but perhaps a bit less stable.”
Keg vs Cork
Address: Duke Studios, Sheaf Street, Leeds
Hosts: Matt Dix
Sessions: 6-11pm Fri; noon-5pm and 6-11pm Sat
Admission: £7.50 (Leeds Indie Food Passport Holders £6.50) for the food and drink event; £10 (£8 to passport holders) for the Drink Along Film Screenings. Admission includes a tasting glass, custom pencil and scorecard.
Bars include: North Bar, Bundobust, Northern Monk Refectory, Tall Boys Beer Market, Sheaf Street Cafeteria, The Reliance, Latitude Wines, Campari
Food: A whole host of pop-up restaurants offering a range of different dining styles
Disabled: Welcomed, reasonably straightforward access
Children: Not especially suitable
Entertainment: Film showings and music
Beer garden: Some outdoor tables
Parking: Some on-street and pay and display parking nearby