What a wonderful week. The last time I visited a pub was back in October last year and although many of us have missed being able to go for whatever reason, I don't think you can truly appreciate how much you have missed it until you return.
I'll write about my pub experiences shortly, but I wanted to start off by saying how fantastic it has been in the last week just to walk around Leeds City Centre and soak up the wonderful atmosphere. On my first trip out last Monday, a walk from North Street and down Briggate was excellent for the soul. The bars of New Briggate with outdoor seating, all full by early afternoon, gave a continental feel. The buzz of conversation and laughter amongst shoppers as they zig-zagged their way through the high street stores of Briggate. Buskers playing upbeat music surrounded by a small crowd watching on with interest and excitement. I don't think I've ever felt such a widespread positive vibe in Leeds. It is good to be back!
On Monday, I visited two old favourites, the legendary North Bar and The Cross Keys in Holbeck. It was great to see General Manager Cal in North Bar. Although behind a facemask, no doubt his mouth was smiling just as widely as his eyes as he welcomed people back. It was like a family Christmas day as the tables filled up and Cal had to setup emergency chairs and tables for others as more people arrived (socially distanced of course). It was the usual excellent choice of pioneering beer you expect in North Bar and I settled for the newest Leeds-brewed lager - North Brewing's Springwell Pils. I have had this in can after a friend kindly gave me some for my Birthday earlier this year. It's a good beer in cans, but it really shines on keg.
It was a short visit as there was a table booked at The Cross Keys. If people remember a previous incarnation of my blog, The Cross Keys is a top five pub of mine. It's now in the fantastically capable care of Rich Fiddaman and I expect it will only get better and better. Arriving at The Cross Keys and it was a who's who of the Leeds beer scene, which is testament to how much respect, admiration and love Rich has from his industry peers.
The Cross Keys will forever hold the honour of being my first pub pint of cask ale in 2021. Kirkstall Brewery's Three Swords was tasty, on form and unbelievably welcome to my palate. The service was excellent, professional and friendly. As the Sun dipped behind surrounding buildings, with it went the warmth of the day and so pub day one of 2021 was brought to an end early evening.
On Wednesday, it was the turn of Piglove Brewing. Piglove are based a short walk/ride from the south of Leeds City Centre in Cross Green. A warm welcome was waiting as we were amongst the first to be seated in their new outdoor space. This, my friends, could be one of Leeds' best kept suntrap secrets. No breeze, just sunshine for as long as the clouds and time of day allow.
If you haven't yet heard of Piglove Brewing, they have been around since 2019 and produce Venezuelan-inspired delicious beers. They don’t yet have their own brew kit, so currently work with both Quirky Ales and Legitimate Industries to brew. I have been to Piglove during last Summer's temporary opening of hospitality. This time, if felt the beers had benefitted from time, experience and quality and it was a good step forward. Beers from both the Maloca and Phantiscum Series' are well worth seeking out, with my favourites including Calida Drift a 5.4% ABV atypical porter. Atypical in that a porter doesn't usually include flavours of Papaya.
Sunday was billed as Super Sunday, with visits booked into North Brewing's new Springwell home and the wonderful Whitelocks. This also marked the first occasion out, in-person, with a small circle of friends.
If you've seen the photographs, or perhaps done one of the lockdown virtual brewery tours, then like me Springwell was likely to be in your top lists of places to visit as soon as restrictions allowed. There's no point in lying, the surrounding area around the brewery isn't the most eye-catching, so Springwell is a diamond in the rough, but I genuinely feel the new brewery and taproom will be a much needed boost for the area and in a few years' time, the whole place could be thriving.
Springwell itself is very polished. A high quality build project that actually makes you feel like it's been here much longer. The familiar faces of North's excellent staff were on hand to welcome people in and serve up delicious beers. The outdoor area well laid out and with plenty of tables and chairs. Inside, well decorated, light, airy and once we're able, I imagine a place to lose a day with friends. The beers were all excellent, but the pick of the bunch for me was Sea of Nectar, a New England-style pale at 4.8% ABV.
The final stop of the week was Whitelocks. The outside has received a lick of paint in recent weeks and it's given it a cleaner, polished look. It was fantastic to see the staff we all know and love back doing what they do best. Warm welcomes, friendliness, attentiveness - Whitelocks pioneers excellent customer service. There was, however, an immediate disappointment. Timothy Taylor's Landlord had gone! However, thankfully it was just a barrel change needed and after a pint of Five Points' tasty Best, it was time to sample one of the finest ales ever. In the end, I think we had six each. It certainly felt like it the next day.
Sheer excitement at being able to go out and fabulous weather no doubt played a part in such a positive opening week for me, but wow it was so good to be able to visit places again, see friends in person rather than on-screen and soak up the experience of an atmospheric pub or taproom. In just a few weeks, indoor hospitality opens up and will bring with it a whole new set of feelings and emotion. I cannot wait to get back inside Whitelocks and enjoy the beautiful interior, or see what old-favourite Wapentake is like under new ownership.
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