Friday, 1 February 2008

Micros Fail to Impress

I was in Leeds yesterday to meet some former colleagues and had the opportunity to try some beer in four of Leeds premier free houses, the Scarborough, The Prince of Wales, The Duck and Drake and the Palace.

The Scarborough

A fairly shambolic Mini Beer Festival was kicking off in this well known free house by the station. This involved going to the festival bar, being told it was token only, then going back to the packed ordinary bar and buying a token. Bollocks to that! The bar featured all the current beer list from the fairly new Leeds Brewery. I tried the Leeds Best, a 4.3% pale beer with good body and a decent hop finish. Midnight Bell (4.8%) was an earthy, imprecise beer with a strange malt taste. Not enjoyable. Giving up on Leeds Brewery for the time being, I tried Outlaw (Roosters) Dry Irish Stout at 4.7%. This does what it says on the tin, being bone dry and roasty, but where on earth were the hops? A disappointing beer. Finally, a pint of Salamander Mud Puppy was pale dry, hoppy and tasty, but kind of died in the glass, leaving me (and my mate Andy who was also drinking it) less than satisfied. I intended to call back later, but this was not to be.

The Prince of Wales

Just a few yards away, another Leeds Brewery Festival was promised here by a large banner outside. Inside only one Leeds beer was ready. You've guessed. Leeds Best! It was much better here though, with all previous attributes harmoniously delivering. Enjoyable and moreish. I forewent the Taylor's beers and went to:

The Duck and Drake

This is an old haunt of mine from my 10 years working in Leeds. It hasn't changed a bit. In this case that's not a compliment, as it is all looking very shabby indeed. You could film an episode of "Life on Mars" here without changing a thing. A huge selection of beers were on offer. Apart from Theakstons Bitter and OP, York Guzzler, Dent Aviator, Abbeydale Absolution, Rudgate Viking, Oldershaw Caskade, Landlord. Hambleton Goldfield, Goose Eye Barmpot and Hobgoblin were on offer. I tried halves of the Goose Eye and Hambleton. I liked neither. The Goose Eye which was new to me smelt of unwiped bum, tasted like plasticine and was just downright poor. I do know Goldfield though. This was a very poor sample with grape pip bitterness and a sharpness throughout. I left most of it. Time precluded trying any more though I could have had pie and peas for two quid!

The Palace

Another old haunt and where I was meeting my friends. In contrast to the nearby Duck and Drake, this former Melbourne and Tetley House, is clean, shining and welcoming. I hit a bad patch on the beer though. Saltaire Blonde was hazy. I've yet to see it otherwise and was honeyed, sticky and hard going. Now Coach House aren't one of my favourite micros either and here I had a new one on me, Cheshire Gold 4.1%. This had the typical Coach House slight smokiness, good body, but malt, malt, malt, malt malt! No bloody hops! I passed on Rudgate Viking. I don't really care for Rudgate beers either and had a half of Saltaire Hazelnut Coffee Porter (4.6%). This was mid brown with a strong espresso nose, a sharp/sour hazelnut overlay and a harsh sharp finish. It was a deeply unpleasant beer. My friends tried it and their expressions of disgust told of their enjoyment. Roosters Yankee was thin, one dimensional and lessish if you know what I mean. In desperation I ordered a pint of Tetley Bitter. This was in great nick, with that typical sour /sweet / bitter palate that Tetley can have when on form. With the brewery being only 300 yards away it ought to be! It was a good beer and I had a few of them.

We finished up, not at the Scarborough as I'd hoped, but in the Prince of Wales where pints of Leeds Best restored my battered faith in micros somewhat, before I returned to the right side of the Pennies on a freezing cold wreck of a train. Cheers Northern Rail.

Maybe I chose poorly, but on the day at least, micros failed the test. What conclusions if any should I draw from this? One really I think. Micros like major players, need to consistently deliver. Sometimes they just don't!


Bailey said...

"Unwiped bum"!? I've just been sick.

Nice round up. Ta.

Paul Garrard said...

You do seem to have been very unlucky - I wonder if beer like this came direct from the breweries or through a distributor. Having dealt with Micros on a business level I do know that they often don't know whether they are coming or going so I'm sure QC goes out of the window, in fact I know it does. I'm not making excuses as no business deserves to survive if it turns out shoddy work but Micros do often have less control over distribution than they would wish. The distribution process can often f**k up a beer good and proper.

"Unwiped bum" - great description !

Tandleman said...


I'd say on balance, unlucky. I look after beer at two beer festivals and this was unusual and I have been in the odd free house or three without such problems. Maybe others would have enjoyed the beers I had more, but you have to tell it as you find it!

Bailey said...

Me and Boak do tend to chicken out of criticising the products of smaller breweries. It feels a bit like kicking a puppy.

Tandleman said...


I do know what you mean but if you take, Roosters, Goose Eye, Coach House, Saltaire and Hambleton, these are all established and big enough to look after themselves!

John Clarke said...

A surprising number of people seem to hold the Saltaire beers in high regard. Personally I have yet to find one that was even half-way enjoyable.

Alex said...

Saltaire are, when kept well, usually excllent ales. I've had some good pints of Blonde and some very good pints of Pale Ale. Their Chocolate Stout (not my sort of drink) was much admired at Bury Beer Festival but we know who looks after the beer there, don't we!

maeib said...

I'm surprised to read bad things of Yankee.

Do you normally like it and was this sample just badly kept, or do you normally enjoy it?

I think it's a lovely session beer.

Tandleman said...

I think Roosters are living on past glories and there seems to be an "Emperor's new clothes" attitude to it..

Two things about this beer and Sean Franklin's beers in general. One, they are nearly always under conditioned and two they are nearly always thin. I could add that they always used to taste better. It wasn't ever thus and I do get better samples from time to time, but sadly, rarely. I had a brewery visit there a few (short) years ago and the beer was embarrassingly poor.

We don't order it for our beer festivals any more. It used to fly out. Now? It won't sell in any way as well as it did.

Alex said...

50/50 with you on Roosters. One thing that has to be said is that the memory cheats. When they first came on the scene people were blown away. Since then they've been copied (and improved on) by various brewers and our palates have adjusted accordingly. So I judge them on the here and now and not retrospectively.

A GBG pub I frequent is a big Roosters fan and so I get to sample a lot of their beers. I always thought Yankee was their best and have had a few good pints of that. However, having said all that I've tried several of the new beers and they have been decidely thin. The pub now has two sub 4% Outlaw beers as regulars and whilst pleasant enough, they can't hold a candle to the likes of Copper Dragon

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

Im a big fan of the Saltaire beers, i have ofcourse only had them in the bottle.

a swift one... said...

Was looking forward to a trawl round Leeds in the near future but thinking twice now! Are you sure it's the breweries and not the pubs? Having to resort to Tetley's is desperation indeed and that's the first nice thing I've seen written about them since the seventies!
Huddersfield has been named best town for quality real ale by Cask Marque recently, so if you're back in the region any time soon...

Tandleman said...

I think I was a bit unlucky. I wouldn't be put off any of these pubs. Sometimes you just hit a bad patch, but the Tets was good!

Huddersfield is a hop and a skip for me. Sounds like a good idea though maybe not just because Cask Marque says so!

a swift one... said...

Indeed! Spot on about Roosters though, I thought I was the only one to have noticed. Their beers are held in such reverence around here that speaking out against them is sacrilege.

Chris Burian said...

I had the Saltaire Hazelnut and Coffee Porter at NERAX 2008, and it was my favorite beer of the show. It's perfectly balanced, sweet and nutty with a smooth coffee nose and flavor without a hint of harshness or bitterness. Maybe the sample you tried had been mishandled.