“We don’t do weird and wacky.” While some brewers base their business around innovation, Sam Moss makes no apologies for Leeds Brewery’s determination to stay in the mainstream.
When Leeds Brewery began production in 2007, it was one of just two breweries in the city. Tetley’s was still a massive force, a huge employer, and its products were everywhere.
Eight years on, and the game has been turned on its head. There are now a growing handful of breweries in the city; Tetley’s is long gone and Leeds is the biggest.
And for founder Sam, the company’s continuing success can be ascribed to that old philosophy of doing the simple things well. “We’re not doing anything revolutionary,” he admits. “We are incredibly proud of the beers that we do and we would back them to sell better than other beers on any bar.”
It’s a bold claim, particularly when the market has become saturated with brewers keen to give their customers new experiences and extremes of flavour. But it’s based on a commitment to ensuring the quality of their flagship beers is spot on, every time. It’s a model which worked for Tetley’s for almost 200 years.
“Other brewers might want to do a 10% raspberry saison, for example, but we don’t, and we never will. If it was a choice between that and doing more Leeds Best so we could get it onto the shelves at Sainsbury’s, I’d choose the supermarket every time.”
In my experience, they’re getting that right. Crisp, refreshing Leeds Pale is well established as the city’s classic cask ale, a reliable performer on bars across Leeds and further afield. And as more brewers have entered the market, Sam is proud that Leeds has more than held its own, winning new business in the face of stiff competition.
“We still have a real focus on being local. It’s great that our beers are on sale in Scotland and London, but what really matters to us is being on in places like the Adelphi.”
And by ringing the city centre with a great chain of its own pubs, Leeds Brewery has the means to showcase all its beers, and by extension, the talents of baby-faced brewer Venkatesh Iyer.
His classic Yorkshire bitter Leeds Best and rich, dark Midnight Bell are now a familiar sight on handpulls across the city, while sessionable Leodis Lager, juicy Monsoon IPA and smoky, chocolatey Gathering Storm stout have extended the range on keg, allowing the brewery to get into restaurants, hotels and bars which the cask beers would never reach.
“This almost sums up what we are,” says Sam. “We don’t do 25 keg products, we do three, but do them really well and this gets us into places like Oporto on Call Lane.
“There may be more breweries in the market, but we are winning new accounts and keeping the ones we already had.”
And with growth in sales comes a need to grow capacity. Although the brewery started with a decent-sized 20-barrel kit, they have gradually had to expand to the point where their premises are almost at bursting point. Currently on an industrial estate near the Armley gyratory, they face having to move, or expanding into premises next door which may become vacant soon.
But their growth will remain organic and stay true to the brewery’s principles. “We have the two pint test,” says Sam. “We want people to like our beer enough to order a second pint. They might have a half of someone’s weird and wonderful hop-bomb, but we want them to come back to us.
“Maybe that marks us out as mainstream. But to me that’s no bad thing.”
Owners: Sam Moss and Michael Brothwell
Standard bitter: Leeds Best (4.3%) is a classic Yorkshire ale with a gentle bitterness and dry more-ish finish and widely available on cask and in the bottle
Pale ale: Leeds Pale (3.8%) is a refreshing straw-coloured, easy-going pale ale which can be found on pubs around the city
Mild: Named in honour of their first pub, Midnight Bell (4.8%) is a rich dark mild of borderline premium strength but still very sessionable
Keg products: Leodis lager (4.6%) first developed at the Leeds Brewery Tap, juicy and refreshing hop-rich Monsoon IPA (4.1%) and dark and mysterious Gathering Storm stout (4.4%), plus occasional seasonal ales.
Address: 3 Sydenham Road, Leeds, LS11 9RU
Telephone: 0113 244 5866