Have Leeds Brewery sold out?

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Well no, not really, but I was immediately worried when I heard the news yesterday that Leeds Brewery have sold all seven of their pubs to Cameron’s.

In a press release, Chris Soley, Chief Executive of Camerons Brewery said, ‘We are delighted to have acquired such a prestigious group of pubs to add to our growing managed estate.  Leeds Brewery have established a group of truly fantastic pubs which are very different from our current managed group, but with the same high retail standards and customer service.’

That sort of puts me at ease a bit because the Leeds Brewery pubs are definitely different from the Cameron’s pubs, at least in the West Yorkshire area anyway. For those living elsewhere the most prominent Cameron’s pubs in this area are, The Head of Steam, chain.

Now if you want real ale they are okay, but ‘only alright’ as we say in Yorkshire. Generally speaking they keep a range of solid but unremarkable real ales, with a heavy North Eastern bias. Those of you thinking, what’s he on about, it’s all the same up there isn’t it? No, it’s not and ‘The North East’ has it’s own identity, which is further sub divided into fiercely contested local identities. Never confuse Sunderland as being the same as Newcastle, and vice versa, despite their close proximity. Although there are some decent brews up there, they tend to produce. Well, as I said before, solid but often unremarkable beers.

On the other hand Leeds Brewery gave us something a bit different. Excellent solid ales and many regard Leeds Pale to be the new Tetley’s (as in Joshua Tetley as opposed to Tetley Walker). They also gave us a taste of the more progressive too. Yeah, yeah, I know that Head of Steam have a good bottle and keg range, but it’s the hand pulled real ale selection that worries me. They’ll have to rename The Brewery Tap too, because it won’t be anymore will it?

All the Leeds brewery pubs had their own feel as well. All good, but all slightly different. Clean tidy, well run by smart staff. I have only been in the Leeds and Huddersfield version of Head of Steam, although there are fifteen, mostly in the North Eastern metropolis. Altogether Cameron’s have around seventy venues in the UK. That’s a lot, sounds almost like a big Pubco. They also have the capacity to brew over 1 million hectolitres of beer per annum. Well, if it’s all like Strongarm they can keep it.

Despite the assurances to continue to stock Leeds Brewery products. I’m still not convinced, more often than not in Crowd of Favours or The Lamb and Flag, I will go for the more progressive ales on offer from forward facing breweries across the UK. Just for the record, I have no issue with Cameron’s, the North East or the lovely folk and a lot of these beers are just the ticket in a traditional country boozer in Northumbria or any of the other beautiful places up there. I’m just not going to go into Leeds for a pint of Red Hot Durham Miners Tyne Water or something of that ilk. We’ve already got much better and we need to build on this and not go backwards.

I really hope that Cameron’s are true to their word and don’t just subsume the Leeds Brewery pubs into anonymous mediocrity. If I’m honest, I think Leeds (and York) has just lost a chain of quality small boozers that appealed to a wide spectrum of discerning customers. If Cameron’s are true to their word then I will be truly thankful. On the other hand, if they are just going to cash in on the locations then Leeds will be a poorer place. I’ll let you know.

What’s that? What are Leeds Brewery doing? Investing in new brewery plant and concentrating on the core function of what their name implies. Maybe when they can brew 1 million hectolitres of beer per annum they will be able to buy all the pubs back? Or maybe they won’t want them then, because they will remember how they over extended in the first place?

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6 thoughts on “Have Leeds Brewery sold out?

  1. I love Leeds beers, the Pale particularly, but their pubs haven’t seemed that busy the last few years I’ve popped in while staying in the city. Their beers do seem to be a favourite in free houses around Yorkshire, but then Copper Dragon were too for a while and look what happened there (haven’t seen Pippin for ages).

    Agree on Camerons, but it used to be an enjoyable beer when sold in high volumes in basic pubs. Just like Tetleys, volumes declined. I wouldn’t chance a Strongarm in Leeds either.

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    • They do get busy later on, well after I have caught the bus home! The Midnight Bell gets lots of after office workers and the Lamb & Flag does really well on any afternoon when the sun is out. Crowd of favours is my favourite. I just hope they don’t lose that ‘bit of something for everyone’ thing they have.

      They have Golden Pippin on as a regular in The Albion, in our village.

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  2. It’s an interesting one to be sure. My guess is that Leeds Brewery had pretty significant mortgages and investment in the pubs, and they thought it could be better used for the brewery (and maybe their hearts not being in the pub operations as much). I’m more concerned that the beer is going to be affected if they are going for more volume now and have to compete ever more on price. But whilst they were generally good solid ales (midnight bell especially) they’re not something I tend to seek out, but were generally good to see in your typical ‘normal’ pub with 2 or 3 handpumps with the others being the likes of GKIPA.

    I didn’t realise quite how massive a contract brewing operation Camerons run. Beats their own brand production many times over. Head of Steam seems to be doing OK under their ownership, so you’d hope they don’t mess with it too much.

    I am a bit sad to lose a mini chain like this. I guess it’s similar in a way to when MTT were taken over by Okells. Means we’re down to North Bar as far as independent chains in Leeds goes now.

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    • I’m fairly sure they owe a lot to the bankers Rob, Lamb and Flag must have cost a mint to convert and for the lease/freehold. I’m ambivalent as regards the beers and agree with your points on that. It’s the individualism of the pubs we might miss if they transform in HoS under a different name. Mind you, I didn’t notice a great deal when Heron & Brealey took over MTT, apart from O’Kells becoming a permanent fixture on the bar.

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  3. It’s interesting to read two near-locals (I guess) who don’t rave about the Leeds beers (and I like the Bell as much as the Pale). Depend what you like of course, and the range of beers is ever growing, but they seemed pretty perfect post-work drinking beers to me.

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    • Like I said originally Martin, I didn’t often plump for Leeds brewery beers in their own pubs, they usually offered something different, which I hope will be retained. I do however go straight for Leeds Pale when confronted with a choice of Tetley Walker, Doom bar, Blacksheep and the like

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