In a city once dominated by Tetley's Brewery, Leeds Brewery find themselves in the strange position of now being one of Leeds' oldest operating breweries; they turn 14 this year. I caught up with co-owner, Sam Moss, to see how they are getting on. I've long been an admirer of Leeds Brewery. They popped up on the beer scene here just before Carlsberg started to wind-down the Tetley's Brewery operation & a little while longer before the thriving modern brewing scene we see today. They could be called modern pioneers, helping others see what was possible in a city that was once all Tetley's and nothing else. Although my chat with Sam would at some point veer towards how things have been during the pandemic, the first thing I really wanted to talk about and see was their new home. Yes, that's right, Leeds Brewery have moved.
Previously they operated out of a unit at Sydenham Road (LS11), but took the opportunity of an expanding next door neighbour in Northern Monk to handover the site to them and lay new roots a little further away. They now operate out of Park Farm Industrial Estate, still in LS11 and a stone's throw away from South Leeds' John Charles Stadium.
"We loved our site at Sydenham Road but having been there for so long, we started to become a bit blind to some of the quirks of the site that weren't right for us" said Sam. "With Northern Monk moving in next door and continuing to expand, we decided to move on. Our new home works much better for us."
You can see why. A more modern industrial unit with plenty of space, inside and out, which gives Leeds Brewery lots of flexibility in their operations. The centre piece, of course, is a brand new 32 hectolitre brew kit. In old money, that's 20 BBL. Or in very simple terms, that's approximately 5,600 pints per brew. "We've reduced our brew length in the move. The smaller size helps us when we're trying to sell beers like Midnight Bell in the Summer" explained Sam. Midnight Bell is their 4.8% ABV premium dark mild, traditionally more popular in colder months.
The new brew kit was manufactured by SSV Limited, who hired former Leeds Brewery Head Brewer, Venkatesh Iyer a few years ago. The kit has come with all the modern bells and whistles you'd expect, from internal vessel lighting, to a self-cleaning mash tun. They also have new on-site kegging facilities, however bottling remains contracted out to Robinsons Brewery in Stockport.
"I like the idea of manually digging out the mash" said Sam. "I think it make you really feel part of the beer you are making, although Rob (Warriner, current Head Brewer) probably disagrees!"
Leeds Brewery's focus has always been premium quality cask ale and this is still the case. "We've always been more traditional than craft and we love cask ale. I really enjoy drinking something like Leeds Pale in the Adelphi." Leeds Pale is their flagship 3.8% ABV pale ale and the Adelphi is one of the finest examples of a late Victorian-design pub you will find in Leeds. It was a good opportunity to start talking about pubs. Leeds Brewery previously managed a number of outlets in Leeds, but they were taken on by Camerons Brewery a few years ago. However, they continue to sell Leeds Brewery beers and are still affectionately known by many as Leeds Brewery pubs.
"We still own the Garden Gate and we have recently taken on a couple of pubs in North London" said Sam. The Garden Gate is a nationally recognised heritage pub in Hunslet, South Leeds. Whilst the new pubs are The Albert in Primrose Hill and The Belrose Pub in Belsize Park. They are also helping out with The Cross Keys in Holbeck, Leeds. "Neither of these new pubs are being branded as Leeds Brewery pubs. We didn't think it made sense to do this in North London. They will remain independent free houses but we do sell some of our beers there, like Yorkshire Gold." Yorkshire Gold is their cask 4.0% ABV Golden Ale.
I asked Sam if there were any plans to open a taproom at the brewery. "We're planning on hosting things like brewery tours, tastings and training for our customers, but there are no plans for a permanent taproom." It makes sense. Although there is more than enough room for a permanent taproom, the location isn't ideal to guarantee regular custom.
I've avoided it so far, but it's time to talk pandemic. What impact did it have on the brewery? "Like everyone else, it's been a struggle" said Sam. "At the start of 2020 we ended our supermarket contracts as they weren't worthwhile for us, but that would have been a really useful cashflow during the pandemic! Our landlords have been great though, for both the brewery and the pubs" "(Looking forward to the end of the pandemic) it's like starting all over again, being in a new brewery and reconnecting with our customers. I am really looking forward to enjoying a pint of cask ale in a great pub." It sparked a lengthy chat about great pubs and delicious cask ale. What was clear was Sam's appetite for both has not diminished in anyway. In fact, the glint in his eye, the smile on his face and the excitement in his voice was enough to know that Sam is a man who is passionate to get back to what he loves. Leeds Brewery have started brewing again and you will be able to find their beers in Leeds-based pubs like the Midnight Bell and Lamb and Flag, from 12th April. A big thank you to Sam for inviting me to the new brewery and for being a great host. Like Sam, I am now almost mouth drooling at the thought of a pint of well-kept cask Leeds Pale in a fantastic pub surrounding.