It is once in every blue moon when myself and my wife get a full day to ourselves to just do what we want, but the blue moon actually occurred last week both from an astronomical point of view and in regards to being released from the joys of our 3 and 9 year old children for 9 hours to go and enjoy the alcoholic delights that Leeds had to offer to celebrate me entering my 37th year.

For my birthday I already had a bottle of Nogne O Pale Ale from Norway sitting in the fridge, but going to Leeds was all about going to the bars and trying beers I keep hearing about from fellow beer lovers.  We visited 2 bars twice, The Brewery Tap and North Bar (at top end of the city centre).  Originally planning to visit Friends of Ham, sited near to the Brewery Tap, its popularity meant that there wasn’t room, but gives me an excuse to visit the city again for the same purpose.  The only disappointment was the lacklustre pint of Asahi Super Dry, a beer I have a soft spot for in bottle form from the indie bar we dived into to dodge the rain.

The Brewery Tap, located on the railway station approach, is a modern bar, but one with soul, and the number of pumps shows it is all about the beer and they have some cracking ones on tap.  They do bar food as well a full bistro upstairs and on the day we visited they had a beer and food matching 5 course menu, sadly starting too late for us.  First up was Saltaire Stateside IPA, which I have had a couple of times before, but this well balanced hoppy 6% beer certainly was up to standards, and started the day perfectly.  To accompany this I had Ilkley Brewery MJ Summit, launched last year as part of their handcrafted artisan ales range.  Although only 5.4%, the golden beer, on first tasting, had a deep range of flavour from the big hop elements to the malty, slightly sweet body, overall a very good beer.  Upon returning here later before catching the train, I tried a couple of the -Leodis beers, brewed on site under the Leeds Brewery badge.  The Lager and Wheat are both refreshing beers with plenty of character, the wheat having a more bitter taste and cloudy as is the style, and are beers that could easily extend into a session.

Moving onto the North Bar, I skipped a pint of Magic Rock Human Cannonball in lieu of buying a camera bag as there was very little difference price wise (it appears that this statement is incorrect due to a mistake / misinformation on the pricing of the beer by a member of staff who has now left, actual price is £8.80 a pint as of 24/10/2012), but the 4 beers I had over the 2 visits were all excellent.  A combination of pints of session strength ale and halves of the extra strong beers started off with the 3.8% North Bar Prototype Number 3 developed with Kirkstall Brewery.  A lovely beer, with nice depth and good hop flavours, one which would withstand repeated tastings handsomely.  However the Thornbridge General Sherman at 8.3%, an Imperial Red Ale, is a different beast.  With a big rich sweet body and tropical hops coming through on top, this is a beer which leaves the taste buds demanding more, but your liver begging for mercy.  On my return I sampled the Sierra Nevada Mersey Cream Stout and Buxton Axe Edge.  The Mersey is a lovely 3.8% stout, deep earthy flavours and creamy texture, going down a bit too well without feeling heavy, as a good stout should do.  The last beer, Axe Edge is a 6.8% double IPA which masks its strong ABV well.  It demonstrates what a good beer does well, giving a transition of hops from sweet to dry, adding several deeper flavours in the body of the beer to the overall taste.

As expected some of these beers are not cheap when compared to the price of a normal pint, but I always wondered if they were worth the extra money.  This question was answered the day before when I paid £5 for a pint of Lambic Kriek (Cherry Beer, 3.8%) at Knott Bar in Manchester.  The term Lambic comes from the brewing method where the beer is exposed to the wild yeasts and bacteria native to a valley close to Brussels.  This gives the beer a more sour taste, and really worked well in the fruit beer, which belied its low ABV.  In Leeds, the beers I had at that higher price range, most expensive being the General Sherman equivalent to £7.40 a pint, certainly justified the price, but is something I would use as an occasional treat, not a regular session beer.  There are plenty of very good £2.50 – £3.50 pints out there which do an excellent job of providing my regular fix.