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I said that Indy Man Beer Fest had ruined all other beer festivals for me.
I was wrong.
That was before I knew about Leeds International Beer Festival.
It was a warm and sunny early September day and I’d just come back from eight days in Northern Italy, where besides one amazing day in Venice I’d been stuck with fairly average beer. I was properly craving something great to drink and boy did I find it in Leeds.
One of the many highlights of Indy Man is its iconic venue, Victoria Baths.
It may still have a slight edge but the beautiful, 160 year old Leeds Town Hall gives it a run for its money as a quality venue.
The outside is impressive enough but inside is simply stunning with its grand organ and fancy ceiling. Just a brilliant setting for a festival.
The event took place in areas all around Leeds Town Hall, including many that aren’t usually open to the public such as the historic old courtroom and even Victorian jail cells!
As a first timer, navigating was a bit of a challenge initially. Oddly the more I drank the more familiar I got with the place. Plus there was a handy floor plan in the program.
One of the things I liked best about Leeds Beer Fest is that rather than have beers from random breweries thrown together on the same bars, many – including the likes of Magic Rock, Kernel and Cloudwater – had their own setups in the main hall, complete with their own branding. Making it much easier to find the beers you wanted.
Other bars were grouped by region like the U.S room, which housed Firestone Walker, Founders, Odell’s, Sierra Nevada and Oskar Blues amongst others, and almost as excitingly contained free arcade games!
Downstairs was decorated like a forest and featured DJ’s playing ‘silent discos’ (with the cunning use of headphones).
It looked great and was also home to the ‘European Bar’ with beers available from breweries such as Pohjala (Estonia), Jopen (Netherlands), Galway Bay (Ireland) and several from Italy. Danish brewing legends Mikkeller had their own bar opposite.
Yet more bars could be found outside.
The Kiwi bar by the ‘New Zealand Beer Collective’ (Three Boys, Renaissance, Tutura, 8 Wired and Yeastie Boys) was one of my favourites.
While a large marquee held local brewers such as Roosters, Northern Monk and Ilkley Brewery along with the likes of Beavertown, Hawkshead, Brew By Numbers and Manchester’s very own Marble Brewery.
According to Untappd I managed to make my way through 14 beers. Not bad considering I had to leave early to catch a train.
There was only one that I didn’t particularly like, Grevensteiner a Kellerbier from German brewery Veltins.
A couple of others were a little underwhelming including Tiger Baby by Mikkeller, a fairly mediocre ‘mango & passionfruit’ pale and Fresh Hopped Black the RIPA, a special version of a Renaissance Brewing beer that just wasn’t as good as the original that I’d previously loved.
Mostly though it was hit after hit.
My Top 5 Beers At Leeds International Beer Festival 2015
#5 – Siren – Barrel Aged Daydream (13.5%)
I loved the original version of this ‘white stout’ in collaboration with Mikkeller. The barrel aged version tasted sweeter and much boozier, with bourbon and warming alcohol flavours joining the chocolate and vanilla.
#4 – Mikkeller – Sort Kaffe
A 9.2% black IPA. Less hoppy than I’d expected but very enjoyable. Super rich and smooth with bucket loads of coffee flavours.
#3 – 8 Wired Brewing – iStout
Despite the stupid name this is one of the best imperial stouts I’ve had for a while. Quite fresh and light for a 10%er but still full of chocolate and roasted malt flavours.
#2 – Cromarty Brewing – Udder Madness
Definitely the most unusual beer of the night. It tasted like a sour version of those milk bottle sweets. I’ve no reference point for a ‘Vanilla Milk Sour’, or any idea how they packed so much amazing flavour into just 1.6% but I just loved it. It really is a remarkable beer.
#1 – Mikkeller – Blå Spøgelse
The beer of the night was a beautifully coloured, absolutely stunning blueberry sour. Really tart but tasting entirely of blueberries and with an amazing thick mouthfeel.
Something many beer festivals get wrong is the food but Leeds had that covered too with their outdoor street food market.
I did my best to eat as much as possible.
Firstly, fish and chips with a twist from ‘Fish &’ where I greedily ordered the sharer that was meant for two.
The chips could’ve done with a bit longer in the fryer but the goujons were great, perhaps not quite as good as Manchester’s Hip Hop Chip Shop but way better than your average festival chippy.
Then pizza(s) from ‘Scream For Pizza’, I’ve got a bit of a thing for sourdough pizza and both of these were up there with some of the best I’ve had.
Gorgeous soft, thin and light bases with just the right amount of topping, cooked to perfection in their ultra hot wood fired oven.
The ‘Wor Margaret’ is a simple margarita, just tomato, cheese and a touch of basil. Simplicity at its best.
While the ‘One & Only’ took the flavour up a notch with the addition of pepperoni and chilli oil.
As I was leaving I headed over to ‘Crackerjack BBQ’ hoping to grab something special and meaty from three times BBQ champion Andy Annat.
But I’d left it too late and he’d virtually sold out of everything. Gone was the fillet of lamb, the wild boar burgers and the rib eye pork.
All he had left was a ‘Mega Tender Rump’, not what I would’ve picked but the hefty steak sandwich certainly filled the alcohol induced hunger.
The only negative thing I have to say about Leeds Beer Fest is that they’d run out of stemmed glasses, so I had to make do with this pint glass, which was pretty ugly in comparison.
Otherwise it was an outstanding event all round.
Almost perfect in fact; the venue, weather, beer selection, food, organisation etc. couldn’t have been any better. It was excellent value too, at just £7 a ticket and drinks seemed much cheaper than comparable events.
The final plus point was the fact that tokens could be spent at the bottle shop. So we used up our leftover tokens on this 11.2% beauty for the train. Not the most sensible idea we ever had but oh so good. A perfect end to a great day.
As you can probably tell I had a fantastic time at Leeds International Beer Festival, I’d go as far as saying it’s the best festival I’ve ever been to. I’ll definitely be returning next year and hopefully for more than just one session.
With Indy Man only two weeks away I’m now worried that there’s no way it can live up to Leeds.
Date of visit: 05.09.2015Follow @BeerGeekBlog Follow @FoodGeekUK