A Tour of Leeds Brewery

This week, I got the opportunity to visit Leeds Brewery, as it celebrates its 10th anniversary. Incredibly, even though the brewery is local to me, I’ve never visited before. So it was great to tick this one off of my list.

Out of the Shadow of Tetley’s

Leeds Brewery was founded in 2007 by Sam Moss and Michael Brothwell. A bold move as, at the time, the Leeds brewing scene was still dominated by Tetley’s Brewery. It did mean, though, that when Tetley’s brewery closed in 2011, Leeds Brewery became the largest established brewery in the city. Over the course of the next few years, the brewery grew a pub estate and established its core products across the city. Today, you’ll easily find Leeds Pale, the brewery’s flag ship beer.

The recent visit was as part of a Leeds CAMRA social event, which was incredibly well attended. As I walked towards the brewery entry, I was greeted by two large grain silos. It looked fairly new too and gives you an indication of how much the brewery has grown since its birth.

“Look closely, you can just about see the mash tun”

Inside, Ed greeted us, who hosted on behalf of Leeds Brewery. Ed also introduced us to Rob and Vinnie, two members of the brewing team. What immediately stood out as we looked around, was how shiny and new the brewing equipment looked. All branded with the Leeds Brewery logo, and looking well maintained.

After the introductions and the first pint poured of beer (A choice of Yorkshire Gold, a 4% hoppy session bitter, or Reindeer Porter, a 5.5% Winter seasonal), Ed handed proceedings over to Rob who took us on a tour around the brewery. As he started our tour, Rob took the opportunity to share some great information on the growth of the brewery. Let the beer geekery commence!

Beer Geekery

Two years ago, owners Sam and Michael, recognising that the current brewing kit wasn’t suitable for the volume demands, invested significantly in increasing the brewery size. I did make a quick assumption that funding for this came from the sale of the pub estate to Camerons Brewery. However, that happened in 2016, whereas the brewery investment came earlier. As part of this investment, Leeds Brewery doubled in size from a 20 barrel plant, to a 40 barrel plant. If my math is correct, this means they can produce around 11500 pints per brew.

New and old

Rob went on to tell us about the outdoor grain silos I mentioned earlier. These are capable of storing 21 tonnes of grain each. Each brew uses around 1 tonne of grain, and these silos allow bulk purchase to keep costs down. This also enables the brewery to keep the cost of selling casks down, and therefore the pint you get in your hand at the end of the process. The grain malt is milled on site, immediately before the mashing process, so that it’s as fresh as possible for the brew.

As we continued the tour, we then checked out the mash tun, kettle and fermenting vessels. The mashing process (the extraction of sugars from the grain), usually takes around an hour for the cask ales, longer for Leodis, their lager. Rob described the mash tun as a “giant sieve”. I’ve not heard it called that before, but it’s a fitting description! Around the back of the mash tun and kettle were a number of fermenting vessels. They kept the original 20 barrel plant vessels alongside the new 40 barrel ones. A tight space here, but one where lots of beer can be made!

The brewing teams here use the mash tun and kettle to brew twice a day. So as one team are filling the fermenting vessels, another team is getting ready to mash in again. That’s a lot of beer produced on a daily basis! Fermentation for the ales takes around 4-6 days, the lager up to 3 weeks.

Thanks for having us!

If you’ve visited a brewery before, or you are or know a brewer, then you’ll also know that brewing isn’t the largest part of a brewers job! 60-70% of the job is actually cleaning. I can testify to this as a home brewer myself. A sterile environment is critical for beer. So, as well as keeping the brewing equipment clean, cleaning the casks is equally as important. Here, the cleaning is done manually, which is time consuming. A labour of love but essential for healthy, good quality beer.

Once the beer is in its cask (or keg), then it’s moved to the cold store. A large warehouse like space, here they shared that their beer is usually on a bar somewhere within 3 weeks of it being brewed. That’s a fresh product and also shows how quickly they go through product.

Should You Stick to What You Know?

What was also interesting, is their ongoing commitment to their existing brands. Leeds Brewery have a core range of products with some seasonal beers, but they don’t have an extensive portfolio. Instead, they choose to perfect the brands they have already. On cask, Pale, Best, Midnight Bell and Yorkshire Gold. On Keg, Leodis, Monsoon, Hell Fire and Gathering Storm.

My personal view is that this is the recipe of success for a brewery to survive. Consumer tastes continually change, but I don’t think brewers necessarily have to also continually release new products, like many do. I think this introduces problems with consistent quality, and just one bad batch could seriously damage reputation. In 10 years’ time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it’s the more traditional breweries with core products that are still standing. Like Marston’s, Fuller’s, Thornbridge, Adnams and Timothy Taylor. I can see Leeds Brewery in this group as well.

Not sure these are fit for consumption

At Leeds Brewery, they also predominantly use British hops. In a hop loving beer world, It’s great to see them supporting the British market in this way. In the ongoing uncertain political and economic climate, I also think this is a wise move to help control costs. Any significant reliance on US and European hops at the moment could prove to be too costly in the coming years.

As the tour came to an end, we were invited to enjoy more beer whilst getting a bit of a free roam. There were a couple of other areas of interest. Set just aside from the brewery is a small meeting room. Inside here, is a collection of old bottled beers, most of them still full. It was interesting to see some of the old bottle designs and brands that have stood the test of time. Fuller’s London Pride amongst them.

I wonder what’s in here?

Barrel Aged Beer

Finally, in the brewery hall, were 4 large barrels that once held whiskey. In there, is a brew of New Moon, soaking up the wonderful whiskey and wood flavours. New Moon is a black IPA brewed as a seasonal a few years ago. This could become something very special!

It was great to see how Leeds Brewery has developed from new kid on the block in a Tetley dominated world, to Leeds’ largest, most well established brewery. It was great to see behind the scenes and I’m told the Leeds Brewery team are looking to host more events like this, so keep a look out.

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