Categories
breweries pubs

Getting to know Kirkstall Brewery in Leeds

After a week in Leeds, we’ve decided Kirkstall Brewery belongs in the top rank of UK breweries.

What sent us to the brewery tap on our first night in town was, frankly, panic. On a Saturday night, even in these strange times, Leeds city centre is a lively place – all hens, stags and overflowing pubs. The Kirkstall tap was the first place we could find that was (a) open and (b) beyond the Big Night Out circuit, beyond the ring road.

And what a beyond it is – under the concrete of the A58, past casinos and hotels, past wasteland and the derelict remains of the Arla Foods HQ, just before the vast studio where ITV films Emmerdale.

Set into a square-edged modernist building in gleaming black and glass, showcasing stainless steel brewing kit, the tap itself is like an oasis: warm light, warm brown wood and the smell of pizza on the air.

A sort of magic has been worked in the space with greebling and structure magpied from elsewhere. Antique mirrors and enamel signs add depth and a sense of history, set against panelling, screens, stained glass and engraved glass salvaged from long gone buildings.

It feels like a pub. Or maybe more like a German beer hall. Perhaps a touch too bright, perhaps a touch too open, but certainly somewhere that invites you in and makes it hard to leave.

The range of beer is impressive, too, with five cask ales, and eight or nine on keg, as well as a handful of outside brews. The styles available range from traditional (bitter, pilsner, imperial stout) to modern – ice cream sour and blood-orange hefeweizen.

On our first visit, we zeroed in on Kirkstall Pale Ale (bitter, £3.60/pint), Three Swords (pale and hoppy, £3.80/pint) and Pilsner (£4.20/pint). All three share a precision and clarity that says this is a serious brewery with serious quality control.

Pale Ale provides what you want from Tetley’s: somehow both simple and complex, with malt you can get your teeth into, and a finish that makes you sigh with satisfaction. It’s as hoppy as it can be without the hops breaking out and making a fuss. It was the best beer we drank all week, we think, and might be a contender for beer of the year.

Pilsner came a close second, with a fresh green quality that took us back to Franconia.

Three Swords, by comparison, was merely a bloody good example of the type of beer also produced by Saltaire, Ossett and any number of other Yorkshire breweries. But note – bloody good.

You might have rolled your eyes at the mention of ice cream sour above. Well, guess what – that was also a rather brilliant bit of work. It’s called Gelato Tropicale and is one of those rhubarb-and-custard beers: sugar, a touch of acid, lots of vanilla. It prompted a ‘same again’ from Jess.

It wasn’t all perfect. We didn’t enjoy Black Band porter as much as the others. It struck us as a bit harsh with too much coffee and an aggressive bitterness that made getting to the end of the glass a challenge. But we suspect others might love it and it certainly wasn’t badly put together.

On our second visit, the night before we left Leeds, we had to try the 12.4% imperial stout, Drophammer, at £4 for a third of a pint. Our immediate impression was that someone has been playing around with historic Courage Russian Imperial Stout recipes. We were impressed but, still, it prompted some debate: at that strength, at that price, it should be something pretty special, but we weren’t sure it quite reached those heights. Almost, though – almost.

As a side note, it’s worth noting that Stuart Ross, late of Magic Rock, is now brewing at Kirkstall. Not much fuss has been made about this – we picked it up from Twitter – but he’s a brewer who knows what he’s doing.

And another note, while we’re at it: we also drank a couple of Kirkstall beers at Whitelocks, where they tasted similarly fantastic; and at Bundobust in Leeds, where they didn’t. So don’t be surprised if you encounter it at your local and struggle to match our gushing above to your experience. No beer is bulletproof, especially not cask ale.

Disclosure: in 2014, when Brew Britannia was published, Kirkstall brewed a beer for the launch event at North Bar. We didn’t pay them, they didn’t pay us.

Categories
bristol cider

The Cider Box, Bristol

It’s taken us a while to get to the Cider Box, despite walking past it most days.

That’s partly because it’s only open on Friday evenings and Saturdays and partly, if we’re honest, because cider tends to be very much a second choice for us.

But it’s probably our closest active licenced premises and can look quite inviting on a warm evening.

It’s in a railway arch on Silverthorne Lane, next to a mechanic, opposite one of a number of abandoned Victorian industrial buildings.

It’s a short distance from a number of East Bristol tap rooms but in the wrong direction.

The area is going to be the focus of a new industrial heritage conservation area so no doubt in five to ten years, these arches will be full of similar businesses. At the moment, though, it’s pretty quiet, with grey stone walls overlooking a no-through road that’s unfortunately popular with fly tippers.

Most people are on tables outside whenever we’ve been past and on the night of our visit it was no different. Inside, it feels cosier than the average tap room, possibly because of the posters, memorabilia and bubbling bartop carboys that proclaim a real love of cider.

Handwashing advice using the lyrics of 'I Am a Zyder Drinker' by the Wurzels.
Remember this gag from 2020?

In general, the place feels more Bristolian and a little funkier than most of the local craft beer taprooms which, let’s face it, could often be in any other UK or world city.

The music was a mix of Hip Hop Don’t Stop and Abba (this was the day the new album came out) and people with a range of accents, from West Country to Welsh, burst into occasional song.

Beer is available – Lost and Grounded Keller Pils – but this place is really about cider in all its forms.

Some come from the tap, brisk and bright, very much designed to chug without too much reflection. Some are of the bag-in-a-box variety. There is even a ‘Cider Royale’ section of the menu, featuring 750ml sharing bottles.

We kicked off with some kind of own-brand option (from a tap, rather than a bag in the box) which got us firmly in the zone – sweet and faintly rural, not dry enough for our taste, but a good warm up for the taste buds.

Our next two came from Totterdown producers Ganley & Naish. One was advertised as a single variety cider but we’re not sure which variety; it was dry and oaky (and added a great extra note to the own-brand leftovers that Jess was nursing).

Mourning Drop is described on their website as a ‘single orchard’ cider, which seems to mean a bunch of apple varieties. This one was weird – woody, almost fungal.

With just three rounds, we were delivered a reminder of the variety of cider out there to enjoy. Or, at least, to experience.

Every now and then, a bat sliced through the air above our heads, and at one point what looked like a thousand seagulls, illuminated from below by streetlights, scattered across the sky indigo sky. Everyone stared upward and pointed in cider-addled delight.

A vandalised phone box.
When you’ve had a few ciders, you stop to take photos like this.

To finish, we chose a bottle from the fancy bottle section and, boy, did that blow our minds. Pilton One Juice is the result of a project in which five separate makers produce their own cider from the same juice. It was utterly, smile-inducingly delightful. Simultaneously sweet, full-bodied and dry, every mouthful highlighted some new, intense, wonderful flavour.

Perhaps we do love cider after all.

We swayed off home under the railway bridges as Chiquitita echoed off the walls of the old timber yard, chatting excitedly about apples, and very much looking forward to our next visit.

Categories
beer reviews bristol

Walking in a lager wonderland

Baltic porter, Schwarzbier, Helles, Kellerpils, Dunkel, Altbier, Saison, Tripel – Lost & Grounded’s embrace and mastery of Continental beer styles continues to delight us.

For our third round of drinking out since things sort-of reopened on 12 April we went, again, to their taproom about ten minutes from our house. It’s peaceful, well managed and, of course, convenient. That we are developing a crush on the beer doesn’t hurt either.

On this most recent trip, we started with Helles, at 4.4% and £5 a pint. It is still excellent – although perhaps this time it seemed a little softer and more hazy than when we first encountered it a few weeks back.

Long Story, a table beer at 3.2% with pronounced Belgian yeast character, was less successful, with a stale, papery note haunting its tail. But Ray was less bothered by that than Jess; perhaps you’ll love it.

We then moved on to the Schwarzbier, Amplify Your Sound, at 5.2% and £5.50 a pint. Billed simply as ‘dark lager’, you might expect a Dunkel, but this is definitely a degree beyond that – vinyl black, with a coffee-cream head. There is perhaps a passing note of grassy hops but, in the main, this is about the treacly bass notes. Mild without the mud; more well-polished Porsche than Morris Minor.

How often do you see a Baltic porter on offer? We reckon that, for us, it’s been maybe five times in our entire 14-years of beer blogging. So, even if you’re already feeling a bit giddy and 6.8% seems scary, even if it’s £6.50 a pint, you’re obliged by law to order at least a half.

Fortunately, with Running With Spectres (a play on the name of their regular beer Running With Sceptres) Lost & Grounded have nailed it. Rich without being sickly, figgy pudding fruity, it feels like a dignified rebuke to the marshmallow sundae imperial stout merchants. You could also label it ‘double stout’, we reckon – another style that barely exists but which tends to be more warming than intimidating.

Between L&G and Zero Degrees, we’re a little spoiled in Bristol for serious attempts to brew in European styles. But we’d still welcome perhaps one or two more – especially someone who might fancy cloning Jever.

Categories
News pubs

News, Nuggets & Longreads 5 January 2019: Gratitude and Onions

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past few weeks (given that we took Christmas off) from St Albans to air raid shelters.

At The Pursuit of Abbeyness Martin Steward asks an excellent question: why do people visit brewery taprooms?

On the face of it, this is an odd thing to do. Breweries without taprooms may give you a taste of their beer, but they are hardly places to kick back and put the world to rights over a good session. They can be interesting for beer lovers, but, if we’re honest, setting aside the few with special architectural, historical or brewing points of interest, one is much the same as another.

But perhaps there is something deeper going on:

When we knock on the door of a pokey little brewery at the ragged end of a rainswept industrial estate, are we really responding to a soul-deep thirst to express our gratitude, in person, to the brewers of our much-loved beer?

Categories
News pubs

News, Nuggets & Longreads 20 January 2018: Listening, Little Pubs, Lemp

Here’s all the beer- and pub-writing that we bookmarked in the last week, from personal experiences to industry rumblings.

First, a piece that we’ve been needing to read: for Good Beer Hunting Lily Waite (@QueerBeerBrewCo) gives us an account of life as a trans woman in the UK beer industry.  One primary theme is frustration at the smug assumption that the world of beer is somehow above prejudice:

Too often, the responsibility and labour of initiating change is left to those who need it most. Too often do we have to fight until exhaustion. If everyone in the beer industry—an industry that could be so much more inclusive (and benefit from that exponentially)—worked toward a common goal of not alienating the already marginalised, then we would truly begin to see a craft beer industry that is actually as welcoming and egalitarian as the majority—cis, straight men—within it think it currently is.

And perhaps the key takeaway from discussion around this post on Twitter: you are not legally obliged to cut in with an opinion unless you have some personal insight or experience; it’s fine to listen, reflect, and share.


SIBA, the organisation which represents a substantial number of independent British breweries, has appointed Jaega Wise of Wild Card Brewing as a director following a vote at the South East regional AGM. This is a strong statement given Ms. Wise’s prominence as a critic of sexism in the beer industry, most recently in a high-profile piece by Kaleigh Watterson for the BBC News website.


In the US several items of news have arrived together creating a sense of unease — is the long-anticipated shake-out finally here? Smuttynose Brewing of New Hampshire is to be sold at auction blaming rising competition for failure to meet its growth targets; Green Flash Brewing of San Diego has decided to stop distributing beer in 32 US states and will be laying off 15 per cent of its staff; and Mendocino Brewing has closed down along with a sister company in New York. (Details via Brewbound: 1 | 2 | 3)