I'm very fortunate to have friends who celebrate their birthdays at beer festivals. This time I had an opportunity to visit the Leeds Internation Beer festival at the Leeds Town Hall.
My first impression was how popular the event was. The requirement to buy advanced tickets for specific sessions indicated how many attendees they expected. We got our tickets for the 12-5pm slot on Saturday, finding a happy medium between the availability of early beers and the accessibility of a weekend visit.
On the day, we got the train to rainy Leeds arriving at 12 o clock we found our fellow ticket holders queuing round the block, everyone eager to get hold of the beer. As the Town Hall is next to Leeds art gallery we took the opportunity to see the stone exhibition at the gallery, rather than standing in the rain.
When we returned there was only a small queue so we acquired our wristbands and entered the arena.
I'd never been to Leeds Town Hall before, and if I had I might have found the forecourt unrecognisable due to the installation of the food vendors and the Maine Beer Box. This is something I'd read about beforehand - it's a shipping container filled with an awful lot of beer from the state of Maine, USA with a specially constructed chiller and 78 keg taps. It was an impressive welcome to see a huge range of unfamiliar, but exciting sounding keg beer which was shipped over for our delectation.
Although eager to get myself a beer I first had to queue for tokens which gave me a chance to review the programme. So many beers were available, categorised by region then sorted alphabetically by brewery - UK, European, US, a special section for Australian and New Zealand brewers - and numbered in the hundreds.
My first call was a Phil Brown Ale from the Maine Box - I assume it wasn't named after the former Hull City manager. 6% and a tasty brown ale. The Maine beers were £6 per pint, but also available in halves and thirds.
We went to explore inside, the place was sorted into many different bars - breweries ran their own bars, plus there were bars ran by other companies like Raynville superstore. I'd not been to Leeds town hall before so it was the first time I'd seen the impressive interior. To be honest, i was a bit overwhelmed by the range on offer and the sheer number of people arranged somewhat unpredictably.
For a second beer I was lucky to come across the collaboration between Turning Point and De Molen - Afterglow, a 12% gingerbread stout. Very nice.
The main hall contained most of the UK breweries, each with their own stand, often well decorated! The basement (very hot) had European breweries and the windy subterranean corridors had some trendy looking extra bars.
Although it was initially difficult to track down a specific brewery, it certainly wasn't difficult to find a good quality interesting beer nearby.
We enjoyed beers from Verdant, Amundsen Bryggeri, Behemoth, Fierce and many more.
I would definitely go back.