In 2011, Leeds’ relationship with its main brewer of beer changed irreparably. For nearly 200 years Tetley’s was a proud city stalwart, supped by locals in locals, and exported across the land.
This traditional bitter was created at their famous brewery on the south side of Leeds’ centre, which at its prime had close to 200 people working there. Then, in 2010, the soul of the business was sold to Danish lager giants Carlsberg, and it was only a matter of time before Joshua Tetley deserted Leeds, and the city’s sense of pride was replaced by a feeling of betrayal.
With the closure of the brewery, relocated to Wolverhampton, came 170 job losses and a bruise to the city’s brewing history. Many refused to let the liquid pass their lips again, and to this day and long into the future, the boycott remains real.
This is no hardship for some, claiming that the drink itself is no longer the same, with its original Yorkshire quality lost in the move. Long-standing Leeds brewery brothers John and Sam Smith were at the ready to replace city drinkers choice of bitter, and in the subsequent years many more have stepped up and joined in.
Far from obliterating Leeds’ beer scene, the closure of Tetley’s somehow reinvigorated it. This one dominating force instead turned into dozens of exciting new entities, as beer-makers set up and knocked out not just the one bitter, but hundreds of ales, at a remarkably high success rate.
The rise of the microbrewery happened in Leeds as much as anywhere, and the timing of these arrivals, partly by coincidence of the wider craft beer movement and partly in reaction to Tetley’s departure, could not have been better. Indeed, in less than a year, CAMRA declared West Yorkshire as the most prolific brewing area in the country.
Already in existence were Leeds Brewery, a business seemingly well set to take the city’s beers into the modern era and satisfy those Tetley shaped holes. Now with a portfolio of pubs dotted around the centre of Leeds, serving a cracking core range from pale to dark ale, the brewery fittingly sits on the city’s south side, a mile from the Tetley site, ensuring great drinks continue to brew in this part of town.
Since then, others have opened within a small radius, both reminding us of Tetley’s legacy and making it decreasingly missed. Impressive individual small batch brewers here include Sunbeam, Anthology, Whippet and Wilde Child, all creating forward-thinking ales that respect tradition and are extremely supable.
Perhaps the most ambitious and impactful brewery to enter south Leeds since Tetley’s has been Northern Monk, located in an industrial mill converted into a stunning brew house and taproom, and producing inventive beers that mix modern ideas with ancient methods to delicious effects. Both celebrating their roots and exporting worldwide, Northern Monk are pleasing palettes across the globe, and ensuring Leeds’ beer continues to be drunk in and beyond its hometown.
Not only have the invasion of new breweries kept this part of Leeds hoppy, the site on which Tetley’s once stood has also been transformed into a visitor attraction. After a couple of questionable years where doubts and fears over the land’s future use hung heavy, the large space was taken on in 2014 by, of all things, an art gallery.
Named appropriately after the brewery, The Tetley is a pioneering centre for contemporary art, wonderful to drop by the relaxing cafe bar or explore the excellent exhibitions, events and workshops. An art gallery in an old brewery may be an odd concept, but here it works magically.
With all of the above and more, expectations of the collapse of Leeds’ south side after Tetley’s departure have been triumphantly dismissed. The South Bank Project plans to add further infrastructure and continues to gather momentum, making this a unique side of Leeds to discover a vast history being rejuvenated into a creative future.