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‘people see leeds brewery on a pump badge and they know it’ll be good’

‘people see leeds brewery on a pump badge and they know it’ll be good’

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They’ve just opened their sixth pub in Leeds, with their first outside the city to follow this autumn in York. But as co-founder and managing director Sam Moss tells us in the first of a two part interview, at Leeds Brewery world domination comes a distant second to quality local beer.

“We want to have our beer in as many places with an LS postcode as possible,” says Sam. “And if we do that we’ll be doing okay for ourselves.”

We’re cooling off in a meeting room at Leeds Brewery’s tightly-packed headquarters in Holbeck, away from the glare of the steel vats and piles of casks reflecting the intense summer sunshine outside. Up the road in central Leeds, at The Midnight Bell, The White Swan and now at Crowd of Favours on Harper Street, the beer Sam Moss, Michael Brothwell and the team brew here is slaking the thirst of the warm and work weary of Leeds: which is just how Leeds Brewery like it.

“Our delivery areas have actually reduced rather than increased as we have got bigger,” says Sam, “Because if we can drop three casks off to a pub down the road, pick up three empties and bring them back to the brewery, and do that every week, that means we can offer a much better level of customer service to that customer, get to know them a bit better and make sure that the beer is in good form.”

The commitment to good beer and the commitment to Leeds comes through in all Sam has to say about the six year old business. Having the city’s name on the company’s pump badges is a blessing, and a responsibility.

“When Michael and I were thinking of setting the brewery up, after we had left university in York,” says Sam, “We didn’t have enough money to move as well as set the company up. So we just drew a big circle on a map of where we could commute to every day from York. And we were looking in loads of different places that were beautiful – the Wolds, the North Yorks Moors, the East Coast. And we looked at Leeds, and we thought, ‘Oh no, Leeds must have an independent brewery of its own, it’s such a big city.’  But it didn’t – it just had Tetley’s. Then we looked a bit further and we found that, presumably through an oversight on the part of someone at Tetley’s, nobody had registered the name ‘Leeds Brewery’. And it had never been registered – not that it had lapsed, it just had never been registered.

“I suppose that up until that point there would have been no point in opening a brewery in Leeds, because Leeds’ beer was Tetley’s. So I just think that nobody had thought about Leeds Brewery – Tetley’s hadn’t considered it because, why would they? They were huge. But from that moment on there was nowhere else that we were going to go.”

Looking back as a customer to 2007, when a beer called Leeds started appearing on the bars of the city, it seemed like such a natural and obvious idea – it was amazing nobody had thought of it before. And, of course, everybody wanted to try it.

“We were very lucky to get here first,” says Sam. “It’s very interesting because there aren’t that many breweries named after cities, or particularly big city breweries named after where they are. But there are not many big cities that have one football team, one rugby team and Yorkshire County Cricket Club – you don’t tend to see people wandering down the road wearing Manchester United shirts, you support Leeds United. And when we first launched people drank the beer because it had Leeds in the name. Absolutely, definitely – people are very, very passionate about Leeds, and that was something that we saw from the outset,  something that we were very, very lucky with because people gave us an enormous amount of support. There was an enormous amount of goodwill, and you felt that people wanted this project to succeed.

“People went in and they tried the beer, and the beer was good, and they went back again. And now there are a lot of pubs across Yorkshire that have one of our beers on permanently, and people know they can go in, they can have a pint of Leeds Pale, and it’s just going to be a decent pint. That is very, very important.”

Leeds beer, with a Leeds name, that lives up to Leeds ideals of quality, was always going to do well in its home city; but one of the nice things about Leeds is that if you can satisfy its traditionally hard-to-please people, you’ll be a long way towards satisfying customers outside the city.

“Leeds Best doesn’t sell particularly well in Manchester or Newcastle – we do the majority of our business in Yorkshire. But that is what we set out to do. I think that overall people see Leeds Brewery on a pump badge and they know the beer’s going to be good, and that’s the real thing. So actually you go into a pub and you might be an ardent Manchester United fan, or whatever, but if you know the beer’s going to be good, you’ll drink it.”

At the moment, though, winning over the hearts and minds of the drinkers of Manchester, Newcastle and beyond is less important than providing a quality product to Yorkshire itself.

“We don’t export – there is quite a big export market at the moment, particularly in the US, for British beer – they like it. For us, we’re more interested in being local. The bottle market is something that we have only relatively recently re-entered, and we’re now supplying Leeds Best into Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda, as well as independent off-licences and shops, but mainly – exclusively really – across Yorkshire. At the moment, we’re happy with that. So we don’t have any immediate plans to look into the export market because we don’t think at the moment it particularly benefits Leeds Brewery as a company.

“We are fairly close to needing to expand because we are rapidly running out of space,” says Sam, “But it’s something we will do fairly cautiously – I don’t see the point spending a vast amount of money on a new brewery when we’ve got a perfectly good brewery here that can produce really good beer. And that’s something that has always been our mantra: making as good a beer as we possibly can. We will see how things go. If the beer continues to be popular, and we continue to pick up new accounts, and we continue to do okay in a very, very crowded, very competitive market with some extremely good local breweries producing some extremely good beer, then we’ll be very happy.

“We are the biggest brewery in Leeds now, and we didn’t expect to be in this situation when we first opened, because I didn’t think that Tetley’s would close. And I think it is a responsibility – a nice responsibility, but a responsibility nonetheless, with hopefully an enormous amount of further opportunities. We take our responsibilities to the city seriously, because Leeds is such a good place at the moment, and there’s so much going on the moment, there’s a vibrancy, and loads of independent businesses, and there’s so much happening that to be able to carry Leeds on our pump badges is very important.”

There are the pump badges, and then there are the pubs – in the second part of this interview with The City Talking, on the website tomorrow, Sam explains how new pub Crowd of Favours, old favourite The Garden Gate and the cheesy delights of fondue all fit in to the Leeds Brewery ethos.

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