3 Squared at The Old Red Bus Station Cantina

Cantina, upstairs at the Old Red Bus Station, hosted a night of beer tasting.

At 3 Squared, London Fields Brewery, Brooklyn Brewery, and Leeds’ own Nomadic Brewery joined forces to present a selection of vegan beers, accompanied by vegan snacks from Cantina. Thomas Chalk went up to sup.

I should confess, I’m no expert on beer. I even – dare I say it – find some of the current output of the growing craft brewery industry rather over-hopped. So I wasn’t sure whether 3 Squared would be quite the night for me. The format was three breweries, three rounds – nine different beers in total – with rounds indicating a competition and quiz element rather than just “the next set of drinks”. Would my status as enthusiastic novice see me shamed by a roomful of stereotypical hopsters? Well, I’m pleased to report that this was not at all the case.

The competitive element of the night was twofold:  Firstly, punters blind-tasted and rated a third of a pint of each of the nine beers, giving it a score out of five. Guidance for this suggested that we consider things like taste, drinkability, and whether you would go back for more. This was a scoring system even I could get behind. At the end of the night, scores were added up for each brewery and a winner announced. Secondly, we were asked to say which brewery we thought produced which beer, and what style we thought each was.

We sat at a table with a lovely couple who were happy to acknowledge that they also were no experts on beer. Like me, they were there out of curiosity, to try drinks they might not otherwise encounter, and to have a good night. We bounced our tasting notes off each other amongst conversation about the growth of vegan food options in Leeds. Someone from each brewery told us about their beer that we had tasted after each round.

Round 1. All photographs by Thomas Chalk.

Round one featured lighter styles of beer. For me, the best of the bunch was the London Fields pilsner, a lager that was light without being thin and watery. (Our table-mates disagreed with me, liking this one the least.) As it is coming up to Hallowe’en, mention must be given of Brooklyn Brewery’s Post Road Pumpkin Ale, brewed with pumpkin and nutmeg. On our table we debated back and forth about whether this was a fruit beer and, if so, what fruit it was. Nobody mentioned pumpkin. Nomadic’s Hobo, a less-strong brew at 3.8%, certainly achieved their stated aim of brewing something with a lower ABV that had good body – a little hoppy for me, perhaps, but (as their website says) perfect for drinking in a summer beer garden. Cantina accompanied this round with cubes of lightly spiced crumb-coated tofu and a garlic dip. On a chilly evening in late November, this round felt like a last hurrah for summer.

Round two saw our beers getting darker, and as we entered more into the swing of things my notes became bolder in the flavours we were picking up. An intense debate about what turned out to be Brooklyn’s Sorachi Ace Saison covered parma violets, coconut, honey (certainly not, being as this was a vegan night), coconut, and “definitely not geranium”. We were partly right: there was no geranium in this beer. Indeed, there wasn’t any flavouring element at all other than the usual beer ingredients; it’s just that taking the time to savour what you are drinking allows your tongue and brain to explore what you are tasting more fully. (They reckon on lemongrass and dill notes.) Beer six, London Fields’ 3 Weiss Monkeys, a wheat IPA, won this round for me: I really like wheat beer, and this had pleasingly citric-bitter notes of grapefruit. Crumbed seitan nuggets, chewy and savoury, went well with the beers, though the barbecue sauce dip – delicious as it was – slightly interfered with the sip of beer that followed it.

In round three it was really deep and dark. My favourite of the round, and of the whole night (just edging it over the Weissbeer) was Nomadic’s stout, brewed especially for the night. It had that bittersweet molasses edge that is far less noticeable in the most well-known stout (naming no names…), with rich, toasty notes of malt and coffee. I may have slightly begged Katie from Nomadic to reconsider the one-off status of this fabulous drink. Beer seven, a sour brew with less body than the others on the round, got a guy at the table behind me making a strong case for it being a Flanders red style. I’ve never heard of this, but looking it up it is indeed a type of beer, so my hat off to the unknown gentleman for knowing this! It turned out to be London Fields’ London Goes Dark black pale ale (which sounds like a contradiction but is a real thing).

The final beer of the night was a Brooklyn stout that had been aged in the bottle since 2015. If they made stout cordial, this is what it would taste like undiluted: thick, malty, bitter and chocolatey. I’m not sure I could manage a whole pint – though I’d gladly give it a go – but this was the tasting experience furthest off my radar in terms of what beer can be like. Battered vegan macaroni cheese balls went well with this round, largely because they were unbelievably good and would go well with just about anything, though the fiery chilli sauce that came with them was again a bit overpowering for a night focused on chasing down flavours in beer.

Credit must go to the people who attended from the breweries. Their brief presentations on each of their beers conveyed enthusiasm and information (the tastes they were aiming for, the types of hops they used, and so on) with enough detail for those people who knew about such things already (again, a tip of the hat to Mr Flanders Red) without being so extensive as to lose me. During the rounds, they visited everyone and chatted, pitching this at the level of the table – technical detail about brewing and the intricacies of hops for some; encouragement to explore our increasingly creative tasting notes for others.

As I say, the competitive element was a mercifully small part of the evening – merciful because my final score was 3 out of 18: a couple of guesses on breweries which landed, and that final stout was so obviously a stout… I had Nomadic’s stout as a porter, because I was trying to be clever. Serves me right. The overall winner of the breweries was, for that room, London Fields, with Nomadic in second. It’s fair to say they all did themselves proud.

Nomadic get their name from a lack of a permanent base – but they are settling. Visit their beer, gin and craft fair on Saturday 10th November, 12pm to 6pm, at Unit 11, Sheepscar House, Sheepscar Street, Leeds, LS7 1AD.  And don’t forget to put in a good word for a return to brewing their stout…

Thomas moved to Leeds in 2001 after a few years in Bristol and a childhood in Hull. He cooks (and eats) a lot, and intermittently blogs about it at https://toomanycookingblogs.wordpress.com/


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