On the edge of Leicester’s newest bar you’ll find a pink elephant, a gnome and two Trappists from Belgium.
This unusual quartet is among 150 UK and international beers at Head of Steam in Market Street.
The elephant, AKA Delirium Red, is a silky smooth cherry brew, the gnome is the golden slightly fruity La Chouffe, while La Trappe’s dark delicious Dubbel is joined by fellow Trappist Chimay Dorée, a golden refreshing nectar which pours with a faintly perceptible halo.
Stuart Handford is the Head of Steam’s general manager and justifiably proud of his exciting beer collection.
“There are beers here you wouldn’t get anywhere else,” says Stuart, “and, instead of being pretentious about it, we’re just excited about it.
“Delirium Red is something you just don’t find on draught. Everyone who walks in, we’re getting them to try it. It’s delicious. I’m just excited to be bringing this beer to Leicester. I think the only other place in the UK that has Chimay is, I think, the Head of Steam in Nottingham.”
The Head of Steam pubs – steered on their course by Camerons brewery in Hartlepool – have already carpet bombed the North: Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead, Leeds, Huddersfield and Sheffield among their repertoire. Now they’re making their way south to the Midlands. Nottingham’s Head of Steam opened last week. Leicester’s opens today and Birmingham’s turn is next.
But it’s not just the taste of the beer that’s different at Head of Steam. The decor has changed dramatically too.
The umpteen month renovation has given some much needed polish to what was formerly The Reynard, a townie Carlsberg and Heineken mainstay.
Among their tweaks is a highly noticeable beer bottle chandelier, comfy padded seating, some lovely old photos of Leicester, and, yes, great loos. It’s a chain pub in looks, but in a bearable, not reinventing the wheel sort of way. There are no irksome “Beer is art” bollocks as you’d find in BrewDog. Not sure about the addition of two gambling machines mind. They always tend to make a place look cheap.
Head of Steam also has giant plasma TVs which on first appearance resemble those live arrivals and departures boards at the railway station. These screens of unabashed beer porn flick through a 17 page rotation of what’s available behind the bar and on the pump.
While the real ales and rarities behind the bar will be updated in tandem with the screens, the Belgian beer, adds Stuart, will also change – but the Belgian brewers will remain consistent.
Really, says Stuart, their beer – be it Belgian, international, or even the “trailer trash” beer from Wisconsin – it’s all designed to give the drinker a pause from the old routine, with a bit of a holiday for the taste buds.
“[Head of Steam] it’s not the sort of place you come for getting drunk and throwing away beers at the end of the night,” explains Stuart.
“Here you get to sit on a Chesterfield, enjoy an 8% beer and instead of throwing back the booze as fast as you can, you can take your time and just relax.”
With the ABV a bit on the high side in places, it’s reassuring the food menu is made of solidly absorbent stuff. You’ll find fish and chips, bangers and mash, and some slightly more exotic fare. All come recommended with a suitable beer partner.
There’s a kids’ menu. There isn’t a menu for dogs, but canines are welcome here, too, adds Stuart. No beer for them though, he adds, strictly tap water.
Stuart’s a Leicester boy who’s returned home from working in Nottingham’s buoyant craft beer scene. He hopes to bring some of that spark to his home city which, while not short of decent pubs, has nothing which quite fits the bill in the way the Head of Steam does – a massive pub with a massive range of UK and international beer.
True enough, the selection on the bar is pretty ruddy fabulous. As someone who, with others, helps choose the beers for the city’s Western Park Beer Festival, it’s always a pleasure to see such a well considered line up. Many are familiar and a few are local. But it’s Newport’s Tiny Rebel and their Frambuzi – a sour, totally dreamy raspberry beer – that I give my Head of Steam cherry. We’d tried to get it at WPBF’s Pop Up Pub last month but it was not to be. I had determined to track it down…it was worth the wait.
Also good to see that local breweries Charnwood, Langton and Framework are represented on the pump too.
When I took my two children and the husband for lunch on the day before the opening, the kids loved the children’s menu, which has standard fare such as cheeseburgers and chicken and chips. The puddings, however, they selected from the adults’ menu. My son polished off the profiteroles in record breaking time and the chocolate torte was seemingly inhaled by my daughter. They each gave the pub a score of 1,000,000 out of ten.
When me and my three chums go to Northern France or Flanders each May, we always highly anticipate that moment when, after our tours for the day are done, we experience that first taste of Belgian beer. This is usually done in a sedate pub overlooking a pretty square – such is life on the Continent. After all these years, that first taste of chilly, smooth and sweet beer has never let us down. God bless the Belgians.
The Head of Steam pub opens to the public today – Thursday, April 5, 2018 – at 5pm.