It wouldn’t have been my first choice as a beer tasting venue.
I’d imagined the Botanist, tucked away between the steepled stone of Trinity Church and the sweeping concrete and glass of the similarly-named shopping centre, was more closely focused on its deli boards and grills, its cocktails and champagne. Perfectly good, but by no stretch of the imagination a beer lover’s paradise.
Yet a splendid evening in the company of Kieran Hartley was sufficient to convince me otherwise. I should have guessed. The Anthology of Ales, a 76-page guide to the Botanist’s beers on every table, should have suggested that there’s more to this place than is apparent to the eye.
Keiran’s about half my age and his job title is Assistant Beer Guru. Truth be told, both these facts made me doubt whether this was going to deliver much by way of enlightenment and entertainment. “Assistant Beer Guru”, oh please, I’ve been writing about beer since you were in short pants, lad. And when he approached the table with three very familiar beers to begin his tutored tasting, I did wonder if this was going to be a waste of time.
His regular tastings run to three themes – The Best of British, The Best of Europe, and The History of Ale – and for this event, a fusion of all three, we began with the gentle, golden Honey Dew from Fullers, sessionable Lancaster Bomber from Thwaites in Blackburn, and St Austell’s excellent Proper Job. All fine, of course, but I can pick these up in my local supermarket.
Yet from here, the tastes and the experience took a serious diversion, as Kieran talked us through some Belgian and Flemish beers, the sparkling, Cuvee Rene Oude Gueuze and the sweet and fruity Lindeman’s Kriek.
Next up was a wheat beer, the spicy, clovey, full-bodied Gentleman’s Wit from Camden Brewery, before we moved a mile or two across north London for a couple of canned beers from London’s Beavertown Brewery, one of the absolute rising stars of the craft beer world. First we tried their Black Betty IPA and then their flagship ale, Gamma Ray with its dazzling, Pacific fruit blend of five strains of American hops added at different points in the brewing process.
This was for me one of the standout tastes of this quick-fire romp through the Botanist’s fridges, though Kieran still had one serious surprise to spring upon us, when he delivered the Duchesse of Bourgogne to our table. Not the actual Duchess, who would have been welcome of course, but the stunning beer which bears her name (see Beer of the Week, right).
And for those who like their beers dark, smoky and toasty with oily textures and rich coffee sweetness, there were two, the Einstok Toasted Porter from Iceland and the uber-smoky Bambergs Rauchbier – perfect with bratwurst and saiuer kraut maybe, but I couldn’t find it on the menu. Instead, the Botanist blends pub food favourites – steak pie (£10.95), fish and chips (£12.95), gammon (£12.50) – with barbecued meats cooked to order (from £10.50), colourful deli-boards (£9.95) and their trademark hanging kebabs (from £10.95) which are worth ordering, for their theatrical presentation alone.
By now we we were nearing the end of our two-hour tasting, and Kieran told me a little more about himself. “I came quite late to beer,” he said. “It was while I was at University. I started trying some of my dad’s beers and found myself moving towards ale rather than lager – and I started trying a whole range of beers and that’s where my passion grew.
“There’s nothing quite like this job for allowing me to spread that passion.”
He’s right, it’s infectious.
Address: Boar Lane, Leeds
Type: Cocktail bar – with a serious beery twist
Opening Hours: Noon-midnight Sun-Thurs, noon-2am Fri-Sat
Beers: Good choice of ales and lagers on draught from around £3.90 a pint – also including Sam Adams (£4.50), Heineken (£4.10) and Guinness (£4.30)
Wines: High quality wine list
Food: Wide ranging menu served daily, with traditional roasts available on Sundays.
Disabled: Slightly tricky access
Children: Not especially suitable
Entertainment: Cocktail and ale tasting masterclasses; live music every night
Beer garden: Outdoor tables close to the front
Parking: City centre parking areas nearby
Telephone: 0113 2053420