On beer scenes

A craft beer bar.

We’re currently working on a big piece about the Leeds beer scene, hopefully to go live next weekend, which has got us thinking about the very idea of ‘scenes’.

To qualify as somewhere with a ‘beer scene’ there are a few requirements, we reckon:

1. Multiple interesting pubs, bars or beer exhibition venues. One micropub, taproom or bar does not a beer scene make. And they really do need to be within walking distance of each other – the basis of a crawl. There probably has to be at least one legendary, must-visit venue.

2. Punditry. If you’re visiting Boggleton, who do you ask for advice? Who’s written a local guide, whether as a book, website or blog post? Have Matt Curtis, Jonny Garrett or Tony Naylor been in town taking notes?

3. Events. Bottle-shares, meet-the-brewers, tap takeovers and the like. We don’t particularly like events but there’s no denying that they bring scattered beer geeks together, creating and signalling the existence of a community.

4. Festivals, plural. Not just the local CAMRA festival, although those are important, but alternative events organised outside that infrastructure. Especially if they’re focused on particular niches – lager, sour beer, green hops, and so on. (Again, we rarely go ourselves, but…)

5. Faces. The people who make things happen, are at all the events, who drink maybe a bit more than a civilian might and put their money where their mouths are. They’re also the source of low-level soap opera (Thingumabob’s fallen out with Wossname; So-and-so’s left Venue A to work at Venue B). And, of course,  they’re the ones to watch when it comes to the next generation of bars, breweries and beer business.

6. Tourists. If beer geeks build their holidays around your town, city or region, it’s probably got a bona fide beer scene. In general, it needs to be a city or larger town. Falmouth almost pulls it off, as did Newton Abbot for a while, but there almost needs to be a sense that there’s just too much to get into a single long weekend.

What do you reckon? Anything obvious we’ve missed?

4 thoughts on “On beer scenes”

  1. In the late 80s I moved to Manchester and my parents retired to Brighton, where they struck up friendships with several couples in a similar stage of their life, many of them gay. Quentin Crisp claimed to be “one of the stately homos of England”, and a lot of my Mum’s friends had that quality to them – quiet, dignified, not camp in any obvious way, but quite definitely not straight. Then there was my Mum’s friend John, who you could pass in the street a hundred times without ever thinking he was gay, or ever thinking anything about him at all (except “there’s a man in a suit”). He was gay, and so was his partner, and he was happy to live in a town where being gay was perfectly normal – Brighton was ahead of most places in that respect. But the gay scene held no interest for him whatsoever; it could have vanished overnight and his life would have been unaffected.

    I feel a bit like John. I’m happy to live in a city with multiple contemporary breweries and more craft bars than I can name, because it means I’m always going to be able to find something decent to drink. But, despite having lived here all this time, I don’t know who the local pundits are (unless they’re mates of mine in CAMRA) and I’ve absolutely no idea who would be considered a local ‘face’ (unless they’re mates of mine in CAMRA, although that doesn’t seem very likely).

    Beer city good. Beer scene… not bad, exactly, but it leaves me cold.

    (Although if you were going to use this language about Manchester, I think you’d have to recognise Stockport as a ‘scene’ in its own right.)

    1. Funny you should refer to the ‘gay scene ‘ of the past. I replied to the beer one on Twitter but also echo your sentiment,and was thinking at the time about a low on the radar but very well established gay community in Blackburn in past years .It was totally under the radar compared to Manchester & Brighton in a similar fashion you describe & I allude to on Twitter regarding the criteria listed in the piece. Totally endorse what you say including Stockport.

  2. I’m not long back from being a ‘beer tourist’ in Leeds and the north. I had to be in Sheffield and Sowerby Bridge on consecutive Saturdays so (as a London-based person) stayed up north all week – primarily because I was excited to take the opportunity to check out specific breweries/taprooms.

    First stop was Buxton (for Buxton’s taproom) and Bakewell (for Thornbridge’s brewery). Thoroughly enjoyed both and inevitably came away with a case of delights for home drinking in the future.

    With two nights in Leeds I was able to return to venues I know well (Whitelocks and Tapped Leeds) and explore new locations (North Brewing and Northern Monk). Hugely impressed with all. The latter taprooms are pretty modern, were busy (midweek) and both had ‘street food’ style eating options. Tapped’s pizzas were good too.

    Northern Monk had a quiz in full swing; clearly it’s about more than just ‘craft beer’ and there are echos of what a more traditional pub would have once offered…

    Further stops took in BrewYork’s taproom – again busy (but not packed) in midweek, food proving popular and a ‘meet the brewer’ event with a Scandinavian brewery event open to all (with free samples) – and Magic Rock over in Huddersfield. Here, the street food vendor had sold out by 20:30. Noticeable that the predominantly young crowd stayed long into the night (before some maybe headed elsewhere) and that one staff member spent their entire shift re-stocking the fridge of cans for takeaway purchases (yes, another case came my way).

    I was fortunate to be able to dedicate a week to being a beer tourist – but it showed how vibrant the ‘scene’ is in the north of England and there are elements of something for everyone.

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