Preview: Leeds International Beer Festival

COSMOPOLITAN CELEBRATION: Leeds International Beer Festival.
COSMOPOLITAN CELEBRATION: Leeds International Beer Festival.
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ENGLAND’S cricketers play this afternoon at Headingley; Chapel Allerton will be packed for the annual arts festival on Saturday; then next Thursday sees the opening of the Leeds International Beer Festival.

If you want to grab a last piece of the city’s summer, before the students come back and the leaves begin to turn, now is the time to do it.

For me, Leeds International Beer Festival has become the summer’s last hurrah, a wonderful cosmopolitan celebration of food and drink from right across the world, staged beneath the barrel vaulted ceiling of Cuthbert Brodrick’s spectacular civic space. A ‘Goodbye Sunshine’ party for all the people.

In panels high above the room are a series of Latin mottoes: inspirational and moral messages set down by the city’s Victorian fathers to guide the life and business of those below. One translates as “Industry Overcomes All Things”, a message which will resonate with the brewers trading briskly on the auditorium floor. In the teeth of global financial meltdown, theirs is an industry which has thrived, diversified and expanded. The thirsty and knowledgeable crowd which will be shoehorned into here for four hectic days provides the clearest evidence that world brewing is in great shape.

Now in its fifth year, Leeds International Beer Festival is already an established feature of the local calendar. While the CAMRA beer festival, held every spring, may have some 20 years head start, its September rival scores far more highly in several boxes, not least the venue. Say what you like about Pudsey Civic Hall, it’s not a patch on the marbled, colonnaded, organ piped splendour of Leeds Town Hall – which boasts the architecture, history and central location to make this event really stand out.

It has something of a rock festival feel, with live music on the main stage and a cosmopolitan spread of food stalls and market tents sprawled across the broad apron beneath Brodrick’s brooding lions. Over the four days of the festival, something like 9,000 punters will make their way up these steps and into the cavernous hall, lined with bars dedicated to brewers from around the UK and overseas. Breweries which have been in thevanguard of the craft revolution, such as Magic Rock from Huddersfield, Beavertown from London, Derbyshire’s Thornbridge and Manchester’s Cloudwater are among the myriad great brands in this most spectacular of shop windows.

The festival is also a celebration of beer’s cross-cultural nature, with products from right across the globe. The obvious countries are well represented: Odell and Founders from the US, Jopen from Holland, Veltins from Germany, But Lervig from Norway, Mikkeller from Denmark, Three Boys from New Zealand – and a host of wonderful Italian craft breweries – demonstrate how the simple combination of water, yeast, hops and malt has such universal appeal.

The sheer size of the festival creates some logistical headaches for the Town Hall team who put the event together – and they have some serious tips for punters keen to beat the queues and get straight to the bar.

The most obvious of these is to buy a ticket in advance, as hundreds of people were turned away last year when the hall reached capacity. Online sales have now closed, but bars such as Tapped, Northern Monk and the Cross Keys are all selling them.

If you want an early taste of the festival, get to the Kirkstall Bridge on Saturday to try New Zealand beers and award-winning food by barbecue champion Andy Annat.

FACTFILE

Leeds International Beer Festival

Venue: Leeds Town Hall

Opening Hours: 5-11pm Thurs, noon-5pm and 6-11pm Fri-Sat, noon-5pm Sun

Admission: Prices vary from £6 to £8.50 depending on the session. £60 festival ticket includes a pass to all sessions, a commemorative glass and £20 in beer tokens. Tickets available in advance.

Beers:Amazing selection of beers from the UK and overseas.

Food: Top quality festival food from acclaimed bars and restaurants. Indian street food specialists Bundobust bring their award-winning formula from Mill Hill up to the Town Hall, where they are joined by Friends of Ham, Boss Burgers, Piggie Smalls hotdogs and more.

Entertainment: Live music all day with a range of acts playing on the main stage, in the marquee outside and in the Town Hall crypt

Disabled: Disabled access and wheelchair-adapted toilets

Children: Welcomed at the family session on Sunday

Beer garden: Outdoor drinking space available

Parking: On-street and multi-storey parking available nearby

Website: www.leedsbeer.com

Email: leedsbeer@gmail.com

Tel: 0113 376 0318

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Pub review: Mother Shipton Inn, Knaresborough