Leeds bars and pubs: Great beer fights back

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Nationally, pubs have closed downed at the rate of one every eight hours - and Leeds has been hit as hard as anywhere.

But a clutch of new breweries and revitalised bars has seen great beer fights back as Simon Jenkins reports.

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On a low-rise Seventies cul-de-sac a mile out of Leeds, the city's most beautiful pub is enjoying a timely renaissance.

After a period of gentle malaise, Hunslet's Garden Gate has been revived by Leeds Brewery, a stripling company which has done more than anyone or anything to change the face of drinking in Leeds.

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Well, just as long as you're prepared to overlook the still greater

contribution of successive tax increases on beer, the smoking ban, the malign influence of the mega-powerful pub chains and the global recession – whose combined effect has been to send dozens of businesses to the wall.

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Drive along just about any of the city's arterial routes, or into any of its major housing estates, and you'll find a boarded-up boozer, or a brownfield site where one used to stand.

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Listed building status has long preserved the Garden Gate from a similar fate. Leeds Brewery should ensure it thrives, alongside its portfolio of great bars: the Midnight Bell in Holbeck, the Brewery Tap beside City Station and the Pin Bar, itself just a minute's walk from the sprawling Tetley site.

Leeds drinkers are now resigned to the fact that the brewery will close next year, its Danish owners Carlsberg shifting production to Northampton. A few years ago, such a prospect would have been unthinkable, and not simply because Tetley Bitter courses through the veins of every self-respecting Loiner.

But with the Firkin pubs closed and the Fox and Newt brewing only intermittently, losing Tetley's would have left the city without any local brew.

Those same drinkers – even the ones who have vowed to never touch a drop of "imported" Tetley – can now be a little more sanguine about the company's departure. Leeds Brewery is already well-established; to this same marketplace have now been added Wharfebank from Pool-in-Wharfedale and Ridgeside from Meanwood, quality brewers both.

They've begun to make headway, pushing their beers into a string of quality pubs and bars run by licensees keen to outdo each other in their choice of products.

At the same time, bars like the Reliance, Foley's and the Hop, chains like Market Town Taverns (Arcadia, East, Veritas) and North Bar (North, Further North, Cross Keys) have revitalised the whole way in which real ale is marketed to their customers.

Rather than "trendy" bars simply having one handpump tucked away at one end of the bar to cater for those curious folk who knew their Ringwood from their Rooster's, these places have put handcrafted British bitter absolutely centre stage.

The image of a real ale drinker as a bearded, woolly-pullied sandal wearer has been consigned utterly to history.

These newcomers pose no threat to the city's great old pubs, Whitelocks, the Adelphi, the Victoria, which continue to serve great beer, their trade bolstered by their history and reputation. Others, like the Grove, the Palace, the Duck and Drake and the Scarbrough, trade on varying combinations of atmosphere, beer, food and entertainment.

Thanks to a host of confident Yorkshire brewers – Copper Dragon, Black Sheep, Ossett, Cropton, York among them – most of them do

a roaring trade in local beer too. Milds, porters, stouts and pale ales, all familiar to customers 50 years ago and more, have each been revived, renewed, and won fresh approval.

After years of neglect, drinkers are now living in a genuine age of real ale enlightenment.

And lager drinkers, so long restricted to a choice between one type of fizzy pap and another, are being equally courted. Interesting niche beers from Germany, Holland, and particularly Belgium, have found their way into many of these pubs, as have fruit beers, Abbey beers, wheat beers and dark lagers, opening a whole new world of flavours, textures and traditions.

Few of these beers come cheap, but perhaps, as money becomes more tight, customers become more discerning about how theirs is spent. They might pay 3 for one pint of quality real ale or interesting Belgian lager, rather than 4 for two pints of something bland and mass-produced.

No doubt some of these bars will by vying to stock "real" Budvar, when the Czech Brewer allows a few select bars to stock its amazing yeast lager, which is unpasteurised, precisely like an English real ale.

This beer, hitherto only sale at a few dozen hand-picked outlets in the Czech Republic, is a lager that even the most hardened CAMRA member can warm to.

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