The animated bells of the grand clock in Thornton’s Arcade were just chiming one as I strolled beneath the arched glass roof towards a bar I’d been meaning to visit for the best part of a year.
For in a city which has embraced enthusiastically the worldwide renaissance of beer, Tall Boys does something most of our pubs do not – they let you take it home.
“It was something missing from the city centre,” says co-owner Cody Barton joining me for a drink. “Some of the bars sell amazing beers, but if you wanted a great choice to drink at home, you really had to go to Beer Ritz in Headingley.”
Tall Boys closes that gap in the market, with floor to ceiling shelves stacked with a dazzling array of beers from independent brewers around the world. The choice changes almost daily – a policy which lands Cody with a recurrent headache: “Ordering can be quite a challenge. Every week there are new brewers and new beers coming into the country. We focus on smaller breweries and on things that are a bit different. We try to get things in for people to try. For example, if they like cider, we’ll say: ‘Why not try this sour fruit beer?’
“We listen to customers and if they request a particular beer that they have tried elsewhere, then we will do our best to find it. Unless it’s some brewery in the middle of nowhere that only sells its beer locally, then we can usually get it in.”
So I’m slightly surprised to see Samuel Smith products on sale. “Don’t forget they are an independent Yorkshire brewery and some of their beers are incredible,” says Cody.
“Sam Smith’s Imperial Stout is really well loved in the USA. We try to avoid using the word ‘craft’. What we’re really into is good beer.”
I ask which of his current crop of beers Cody is most energised by, and he points out Cross Pollenation, a honey and heather beer from Huddersfield’s wonderful Magic Rock brewery.
“One of the things we have been really pushing recently is Scandinavian beer,” says Cody, singling out for praise Sweden’s Omnipollo brewery and their pineapple gueuze, ice cream pale and wood stout. If we’re excited about a beer then we try to make sure that people are drinking it.”
Cody and fellow owners Ben Chatterton and Nick Loftus have been in the vanguard of the Leeds drinking scene for a while. They met while working in Nation of Shopkeepers and moved together to the Belgrave before opening up here – a progression which echoes the developing taste of a city maturing into its love of beer.
And Tall Boys is more than mere off licence. Along one wall a row of taps dispenses draught beers to be enjoyed in the small drinking space upstairs, which doubles as a gallery showing off work by local artists.
“We do Growlers too,” says Cody. Now, when I was a lad a growler was a pork pie: a proper one too, with jelly and everything. In the Tall Boys context, a growler is a container which they will fill with these beers, pressurised to give it the character of a cask or keg ale which you can enjoy at home.
This fusion of bottle shop and Belgian-styled beer cafe makes Tall Boys unique on the Leeds scene.
Its success is a mark of just how that scene has developed. “Beer is coming much more into the consciousness,” says Cody. “And as people perhaps think more carefully about how they spend their money, they like to know where something comes from and how it’s made, just like with food. And we can give them that.” In doing so, they have even opened up a market for large-bottled artisanal sharing beers at £20 a pop.
“We’re comfortable with where we’re sitting, in among all this. But we’re still growing, still learning.”
Tall Boys Beer Market
Address: Thorntons Arcade, Leeds
Type: Belgian-style beer cafe
Hosts: Cody Barton, Ben Chatterton, Nick Lofts
Opening Hours: 8.30am-8pm Mon-Wed, 8.30am-10pm Thur-Sat; 8.30am-6pm Sun – with beers served from 11am daily.
Beers: Changing choice of five beers on tap, plus amazing range of bottled beers from around the world
Food: Artisan breads and sandwiches served until 6pm daily
Children: Not especially suitable
Disabled: Tricky access and rather cramped inside. Drinking area is up a tight flight of stairs.
Entertainment: Occasional special events
Beer Garden: No
Parking: City centre car parks nearby
Telephone: 0113 391 2525