Pub review: Head of Steam, Mill Hill, Leeds

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MILL Hill is one of the oldest parts of Leeds, once the site of a medieval manor house established shortly after the Norman conquest.

Over the centuries, successive lords of the manor built and rebuilt halls, manors and farmsteads, until the emergence of Holbeck as a centre of industry rendered this a less desirable address. By the time of the notorious Leeds United court case, Mill Hill had become a place you might generally steer clear of, unless you were scurrying to the station or the evergreen Scarbrough Taps.

How things change. The wonderful recent flourishing of beer and brewing has brought a fresh dimension to plenty of places which might otherwise have withered and closed.

This is certainly true in Mill Hill, where new owners are breathing life into the Prince of Wales, now rebranded as The Bar Tap, and across the road at the Head of Steam, which for years laboured uncomfortably as the edgy, seedy Spencer’s.

“It’s a very different world,” says general manager Paul Stephenson, who was this week hosting a tap takeover by Cameron’s, the Hartlepool brewer which owns a Head of Steam chain, which now stretches across the north, concentrated on premises in close striking distance of railway stations.

For 60 years, the company’s ruby red Strongarm has been the backbone of their trade, but now a smaller craft brewing plant has been intalled to enable them to try some low-volume alternatives and a whole host of seasonal brews.

HoS customers have been guinea pigs for several of them: “Often we put a trial beer on, so that we can get feedback from customers and the brewers can tweak them to get them just right,” says Paul.

“This event is the culmination of all the work we have done over the past 18 months,” says Paul, proudly showing off a line of handpulls and keg lines annexed by the brewer.

They include the golden, refreshing Press Gang, and I start with this easy drinking, citric sessionable ale with – perhaps apporiate to the name – a bitter finish. Paul is keen to show off the Tontine stout (see beer of the week), while the splendidly full-bodied spicy wheat beer Haze was cooked up by two employees as part of a “brew your own” contest.

Although Cameron’s ales are the stock-in trade here, local brewers are also represented, takeovers aside.

“We always have Leeds Best or Leeds Pale, and one of the Timothy Taylor’s beers, usually Boltmaker or Golden Best. There is always a handpulled stout or porter, a great choice of craft keg ales, and quality lagers.”

And by offering this great choice, HoS has become a key player in a great little circuit which includes the Bar Tap, Scarbrough, Griffin and Black Prince.

Even the nearby Yates’s has seen the light, installing three real ale handpulls.

“Things are certainly on the up,” says Paul. “The whole area had a really good Christmas trade. It’s become a really nice place to go.”

His own pub is right at the heart of this circuit, and stepping inside you arrive at a circular central bar, from which radiate a number of distinct drinking spaces.

There are prints on a railway and brewing theme; the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming, the staff knowledgeable about the products.

These changes have attracted back customers who might not have ventured in here for decades. “A lot of people have found us by accident and discovered the range of beers we serve,” says Paul.

“These are very exciting times. It’s such a great time to be in the industry.”

FACTFILE

Type: An alehouse renaissance

Host: Paul Stephenson

Opening Hours: 11am-midnight daily

Beers: Changing selection of 30 keg beers and cask ales including at least one from Leeds Brewery and one from Timothy Taylor (£3.30-£3.80-pint), also San Miguel (£4), Mahou (£4), Moretti (£4.10) plus about 180 bottled Beers from around the world

Wine: Decent choice

Food: None, but new menu starting soon

Children: Not especially suitable

Disabled: Slightly cramped access and some split-level areas inside. Toilets are upstairs

Entertainment: Sunday evening jazz sessions; occasional themed events

Beer Garden: None

Parking: City centre car parks nearby

Telephone: 0113 2436618

Website: www.theheadofsteam.co.uk

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