BrewDog Leeds - Review

My close friend @geekyjames and I are unequivocal fans of BrewDog, the Scottish craft beer company. Known for their iconic Punk IPA beer and brash attitude towards typical business convention they are without doubt one of the most notable new breweries globally. The company is expanding rapidly and has just opened a brand new brewery in Columbus, Ohio, looking to begin their expansion in the USA - as impressive as that expansion is, @geekyjames and I are quite content exploring their more local bars and our latest is Leeds in the North of England, a town neither of us had visited before.

I’ll start by saying Leeds took us both by surprise with its fantastic craft beer scene, there were several absolutely fantastic bars dotted across the city. Brew Dog Leeds continues this trend and occupies an absolutely perfect central location just south of Leeds Corn Exchange. The interior space of the bar follows the typical BrewDog style, exposed stained wood work, harsh metal fixtures and raw brickwork. The iconic tattoo-like painted walls are prevalent throughout with the downstairs area featuring a large dominating solid stone bar with high-table seating and a prominent black spiral stair case. Upstairs there is a beer-chiller room, the beer kegs are brought up using an electric winch, which I thought was most novel! Upstairs offers a more intimate and relaxed space, with booth style seating offering retro computer games. The room has a high ceiling with exposed rafters making the space feel very large despite its small size.

BrewDog2.JPG

We visited at peak time on a Tuesday evening and the bar was busy but by no means full (others in the area were) which provided good ambience without being oppressive, we were easily able to hold a conversation and have good fun with the Super Nintendo!

Undoubtedly one of our favorite of BrewDog’s bars this was a complete gem and we will certainly be back to visit again. Leeds also has a unique BrewDog spot called ‘ShuffleDog’ which we didn't have time to visit but look forward to dropping by in the near future.

Our First Home

Quite frankly I'm confused as to why this was not on the list - it has been one of the most exciting, stressful, rewarding and challenging things that I/we have ever done. As I write, we're just over two weeks in and it's only now beginning to feel real.

Victoria and I had lived in a relatively small flat together for just over four years - almost all of our relationship. Our little flat had became a huge part of our life; through it we studied, travelled, pursued our career goals and built new friendships. We had many happy and historical moments together here, be it crazy St Valentine's Dinners, Christmas mornings or Surprise Champagne. Of course we had sadder moments too, which will always have a moment in our hearts. The flat, as it become known was something that facilitated a huge and important part of our lives; we entered as teenagers and left as young adults, professionals and with a enormously strong relationship and bond. The flat as it is now clear to us was our incubator, a small compact space providing us all the life support we need to pull through and make it in life.

Many people have asked me if I was sad about leaving, though I never felt sad I did feel aprehension for what the future holds. The feeling of aprehension was outwieghed however by the feeling of gratitude, for the space that allowed us to succeed and for those who continually support us.

Our new home couldn't be more perfect, it's everything that we wished for. The location is in the village where we both grew up, right by the River Medway and close to family. We have an office, a garden and a brilliant pub around the corner. The sense of community has taken me away, something I never realised we should even look for when buying a house. Yesterday we watched the annual fireworks at Medway Yacht Club, a great evening and only 5 minutes walk away.

I eagerly await writing more posts sharing what I hope will be more happy and exciting memories.

Number 22 - Shoot a Gun

Muzzle flash from an MP5

Muzzle flash from an MP5

I'm not going to go into how it was I found myself in Vegas, all I will say is that it was completely on the level, as were all activities during my trip. This bucket list item was one of the original and actually one which I'd wanted to do long before the list came into existence. I thought it would be one of the more difficult ones, because it's not like you can really do this without going somewhere where it's considered normal. 

As a young boy and back in the days when UK laws were less mad I bought a .177 air rifle from a store on-line. It was my most favourite thing, we had plenty of grounds surrounding our home and I was entertained for countless weeks wandering with my pet dog and shooting at paper targets. My aim wasn't bad either! Sadly I was jumping over a fence and managed to fall and break my precious rifle, despite duct tape and glue it was never quite the same. Ever since then I have wanted to shoot a real firearm and see if I'm actually any good. 

Vegas has everything, literally everything an adult could or could not want. The one thing I wanted to do above all was to get my hands on an M16 and shoot a zombie target. Day 1 of being here that's exactly what me and my colleague did. We visited The Gun Store Las Vegas who were a short Uber trip off of the strip, as this was the first time we'd be doing this we went with the basic package. $80 bought us 10 rounds with a semi-automatic handgun, 25 rounds with a MP5 and 25 rounds with an M16. All in all it wasn't exactly cheap, and although I hid it I was a little nervous - I mean there were people wandering around with guns on their belts!

The handgun was first, I opted to go with the Baretta M9 on the advice of a US Navy Dolphin trainer from California who happened to be in a bar with us in New York a few days earlier (which is a story for another day). The gun had a surprising amount of kickback, but I managed to keep all rounds on target which I didn't think was too bad. After that the MP5 was up, this was a different thing completely, it was seriously fun, but any more than 3 rounds and it just pulled away no matter how hard I tried to control it, most rounds were on target! The final was the M16, which is a controlled firearm in certain US states - this was much easier to control and I certainly managed to put some lead through my zombie! The staff at this range in LV take absolute care of you and do not allow you or anyone else to be in any danger, I felt very safe while with them. 

I'll end by saying I'm absolutely not a gun advocate and I take great comfort in the laws that exist in the UK today. The balance is good, fair and there exists many places in the UK where shooting as an activity exists as a sport - not with a fully M16, but that's hardly a sport... 

The Land of Vikings - Iceland

Testing out my new bose QC25 headphones

Testing out my new bose QC25 headphones

It's become somewhat of a tradition to take a holiday in December. So far it's always somewhere noticeably warmer and where beer is considerably cheaper. This year we thought we would shake things up a little and do the polar opposite - go somewhere colder, where the beer is much more expensive. 

Iceland is an eminently fascinating place, full of history, strange quirks and oddities. Admittedly, it hasn't been on my list of places to visit for a particularly long time, although has certainly grown in interest as I've travelled more. It is by no means the cheapest place to fly or stay, a 5 night trip was rather pricey compared to other northern European countries, such a those in Scandinavia. 

Our trip started in Heathrow Terminal 5, @tigziefc's first visit to the home of British Airways, and the first real opportunity to put my new frequent flyer card to good use. The flight out was around 3 hours long, which was largely uneventful, except for the fantastic view of Iceland on our approach to Keflavík Airport. The Airport was built during WW2 by the Americans, evident in that it's 50km away from the largest city and is completely over-engineered. Prior to this the British also built and airport on the island, the first in fact, in 1940, this airport now handles only domestic flights and was at the time relatively close to Reykjavik. It is now essentially within Reykjavik proper - causing some dispute about it's longevity due to noise - however it's very close! 

Geothermal steam in Iceland

Geothermal steam in Iceland

Transportation onwards from the Airport is by road only, we chose to rent a car for our trip on advice from various sources. Car hire, like most things we came to discover is very expensive, but absolutely worth it. This was also my first time ever hiring a car, which proved a little daunting to begin with.. We drove to our Airbnb rental in the city, the drive was our first real taste of Iceland, the landscape is like nothing I've ever seen before, comparable only to that of the moon. 

We had booked a rather special Airbnb, which had resident cats for company. They took some getting used to for people who aren't particularly familiar with cats but were really good fun and provided great entertainment. The apartment was located right in the centre of Reykjavik, which isn't actually very big and in hindsight, we had a car so we could have stayed somewhere a little further outside of the city. It was however certainly well suited for accessing everything. 

We tied up the day of travel with a visit to the Frederiksen Ale House, which was a total tourist joint but we were too tired to care. I enjoyed my second Icelandic beer in a boot glass, which is absolutely not a local tradition. 

Reykjavik Harbour

Reykjavik Harbour

Day 1

One thing we very quickly realised is that the daylight causes big problems when you need to wake up. There is only about four or five hours of sunlight in December which means there are very long dark mornings andvery long dark evenings. Since we were self catering we needed to go and find a supermarket to buy food and drink for the week. Early on in the planning for this trip we agreed that we'd do our best to offset the cost of travel against eating/drinking out much less than we would on a typical trip. We went on a drive to nowhere and found a 'Bonus' which is similar to Aldi/Lidl in Europe, what made Bonus funny is my new ethic to not eat pork products since it's logo is that of a giant porky pig. 

The landscape on our drive out of town continued to be as stunning as the journey from the airport, huge snow covered hills with very little man-made changes. We also walked down to the harbour in Reykjavik which was perfectly calm against a setting sun. I will always remember this as it's the first time I've ever seen frozen seawater which I still find very odd.  

Day 2 

Diver Crossing

Diver Crossing

The day of the dive! This was probably the highlight of the trip for me, everyone in the diving world has heard of Silfra, it's an absolute mecca for divers and on everyone's bucket list. The location is unique in that it's a rift or crack between two tectonic plates, the Eurasian and North American plates - to be precise. The rift is underwater, fed by a natural spring of consistent temperature which means it has a very slight current. I managed to arrange a dive with a local guy via email, never much of a fan to go with a big tour group. Heddin was  great guide, picked me up from Reykjavik and gave the dive plan in the car on the way to the national park.

The dive was actually pretty thrilling, the temperature outside was around -12 Celsius before wind chill and is certainly one of the coldest I've ever been. The temperature was not conducive to wanting to go and get in the water, it was literally the opposite of what I wanted to do. Nether the less, I threw a dry suit on with an under layer and we went to get in. By this stage my hands and feet were seriously frozen, I couldn't do anything and it was borderline seriously painful - although once in the water everything began to warm up! The water temperature on the surface was around 2 Celsius, which was much better but still pretty mad. 

The Silfra Rift

The Silfra Rift

After dropping down into the rift everything changes, the cold isn't even an issue. The water, the colours and the rocks are just some of the most stunning things I've ever seen. It's blue, green and simply beautiful; the water is completely crystal clear giving perfect visibility for 100 meters or more. The dive isn't deep, I didn't go below 10 meters at any point, there was simply no need. 

After a 40 minute swim the hard part was getting out! One you walk out of the lake everything you wear freezes instantly, shoes, mask, hood, gloves, suit - it's ridiculous! I couldn't wait to get dry and to try and revive my fingers and toes. Heddin didn't experience any of this suffering, simply got in the truck and dealt with it! The person who was diving with me however was feeling it more than I, we had some coffee on the way back to try and fix frozen extremities! 

In the afternoon we walked around town and went to a great little 'Micro Bar' which specialised in craft beer and had plenty of Icelandic speciality beers too. We ended up spending a fair amount of time in this place over our stay and met some pretty interesting people from far and wide. 

Day 3 

My fingers are still numb. This is not good at all.... I decide to do the most manly thing possible and completely ignore the problem. 

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

We visited the famous Iceland Blue Lagoon, which is supposedly a completely natural hot spring. It was a reasonable drive, around the same distance as that to the airport. The lagoon was actually pretty cool, it is essentially a big 'pond' with a sandy floor and smooth rock sides. It was a total tourist trap but it's kind of an Icelandic icon, so you can't really no go. The price wasn't terrible, but wasn't cheap - do expect to be bored within the hour. We had a great time and took some cool pictures while being incredibly careful with our mobile phones!

Lunch was pretty fun, we had Taco Bell at the only restaurant in the country, it wasn't great, but what did we expect? We closed out the day with a happy hour crawl to some of the bars we hadn't yet been to, the highlight was a local 12% stout which absolutely blew my head off. It was a good beer though, throughout the trip I had several beers from the same brewery, my particular favourite being number 3. 

The Micro Bar

The Micro Bar

Day 4 

Fingers still numb. Now getting a little worried, it was as if I had just made a snowball, except the sensation did not subside. Not painful, just annoying. 

The weather was getting a little worse outside, temperature still pretty cold for Iceland standards with plenty of snow on the streets and a little ice on the road. Despite this we wanted to see if it was possible to drive out to the Gullfoss Falls, it's a considerable drive and the roads didn't seem too bad, all the locals said we'd be fineWe actually made it most of the way, it wasn't at any point dangerous but we agreed that it wasn't worth the risk of the weather turning and not being able to get back. Bit of a shame but the landscape was plenty enough for us to take in! 

We pulled over at the Silfra dive site which was on the way to take a few pictures. It was much warmer than the other day, but the divers all still looked very cold! Glad we stopped here for a while as the landscape around the rift was just as interesting above water. Our final evening was spent in the Micro bar (where we had been about four times now), we drank all the beers we hadn't yet tried and called it a day. 

Day 5

The trip back home was fine, despite the lack of lounge at the airport. On our return home I called 111 for my fingers and at around 1 am the next day spoke with any army doctor on the phone who concluded that I had mild frostbite in my fingers - whoops! She said they would be fine in a week or so, which was good news.

Iceland was a fantastic place to visit. I'm really glad we went while it was cold, it made the experience much more interesting for a short break. Most recommend visiting April/May or September/October in order to get the best weather and for it to still be relatively quiet - this would definitely be advice we take on board if we visit again. All the things we did were great, but it is expensive, take a big wallet with you!