Pub review: Turk’s Head, Leeds

PIC: Simon Hulme
PIC: Simon Hulme
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A beer-tasting event this week brought me back to this lovely little craft ale bar, once the weekend overspill from Whitelocks, but now restored and rediscovered as a venue in its own right.

With the pub now under the same ownership as new wave London brewer Five Points, it should be no surprise that at least part of the operation has now embraced the fast-changing culture of drinking.

The tasting is led by renowned beer writer Pete Brown, and drew a healthy crowd both to hear his words of wisdom and to sample an eclectic little selection of ales.

He begins with an apology that Whitelocks only rates a passing mention in his latest book on pubs, before diving headlong into the inevitable “what is craft ale?” debate before dismissing the question with “Who cares? Is it made with passion, is it flavourful? These are what matter.”

The first beer he introduces us to is Cloudwater Pale (4%) – one of the renowned Manchester craft brewer’s final cask beers before making its controversial and highly-publicised switch to all-keg production. This one proves a fine refreshing start, slightly sweet on the palate with the lingering presence of tropical fruits mango and papaya, but without the tangy sharpness that colder keg dispense might lend to it.

Next is the curiously-named Dutch stout Oedipus Panty (6%), a strong, priestly black ale which delivers the heady aroma of espresso before smothering the palate beneath a warm and comfortable blanket of dark continental chocolate and liquorice. Again temperature is an issue, and I suspect that serving this one just a little closer to room temperature might release some richness of flavour.

Then it’s Oude Kriek Boon (6.5%), which comes from one of the country’s most renowned producers of lambic beers – a style whose fermentation relies on the beer reacting with the uncontrolled wild yeast from the air, rather than the addition of carefully-cultured brewers’ yeast. The result here is a sour, flat, deep red ale – the name “Kriek” denoting the inclusion of sour Morello cherries. Its aroma is old red wine, its texture dry and flat, its taste so sour that no amount of mouthfuls properly steady the palate to its determined assault.

Which all lays the groundwork for the only Yorkshire beer in the tasting to stand head and shoulders above the others. Old Peculier (5.6%) is a legend, of course, named after the ancient ecclesiastical court of Masham, and the beer which really put the town and the Theakston name on the map. And on this occasion we are treated to the beer drawn directly from one of the wooden casks which are hand-crafted by cooper Jonathan Manby.

Remarkably, head brewer Mark Slater is only the eighth in Theakston’s 190-year history. And though he has been allowed free rein to experiment with some new beers in the range. The recipe for Old Peculier has stayed absolutely unchanged. Always good in cask or bottle, it is an absolute revelation from the wooden cask. Its tight ivory head lingers and laces the glass in time-honoured fashion.

The evening ends on a high-octane note with a glass of the robust and significantly-hopped Nebuchadnezzar (8.5%) from the pioneering Swedish brewer Omnipollo. Describing their products as “beers of dramatic flavour”, Pete contrasts the remarkably smooth, aromatic, subtle experience of this beer to the full-on, oily assault of Carlsberg’s similar-strength Special Brew. This addictive, intoxicating pale ale’s iron fist is well wrapped in a citric, hoppy, resinous velvet glove.

“There has never been a better time to be a lover of good beer,” says Brown, warming to his theme. “The choice facing us is unprecedented.”

And the Turk’s Head is an ideal venue for sampling that choice.


Briggate, Leeds

Host: Owner Ed Mason

Type: Quality modern ale bar

Opening Hours: 11am-midnight Mon-Thur; 11am-1am Fri-Sat; 11am-11pm Sun

Beers: Changing selection of keg, bottled and handpulled beers

Wines: Good selection

Food: Meals served in Whitelocks noon-9pm Mon-Sat and noon-8pm Sun

Disabled: Pub is on one level, but access is rather tricky with a step and narrow entrance

Children: Not especially suitable

Entertainment: Occasional themed events - including summer beer festival July 27-30

Telephone: 0113 2423368