This is the second part of my Leeds Liverpool canal walk and features Kirkstall Bridge Inn, the flag ship pub for the outstanding Kirkstall Brewery. It’s hard to directly compare any of the three pubs I visited on this walk, chalk and apples, so to speak (I’m going to reveal the third pub, full details of the walk and more photos next week). As I mentioned previously, I start out in a cutting edge modern bar (NMBCo refectory) and walk out of Leeds city centre finishing off in a traditional pub. What we have at the walks half way point is a subtle blend of classic boozer and modern brewing. An almost, ‘Back to the future’, phenomenon. At first you think someone’s made a mistake, and wouldn’t it have been better off in the city centre? Then, I thought … No, it’s in exactly the right place and I wished the Kirkstall Bridge Inn was my local.
As you near Kirkstall Bridge, a sort of convoluted, over engineered, Victorian intersection of road, rail, canal and river, you walk past the current Kirkstall Brewery. Most people would miss it, tucked away off Wyther Lane, it looks just like all the other anonymous light industrial units you see along the canal side. If I were Kirkstall Brewery I would put the distinctive ‘K’ logo on the back of the brewery and a big sign saying ‘Kirkstall Bridge Inn 200m this way’! When you leave the canal path the first thing you see at the junction of Wyther Lane and Broad Lane is the original Kirkstall brewery. It’s student accommodation now, but the size of it gives you some idea of what it was in it’s heyday. There’s no connection other than the name now, but there’s some of the history on Kirkstall Brewery and the excellent Leodis web sites.
Previously The Old Bridge inn and The Bridge Hotel before that, it was the fist pub bought by Kirkstall Brewery. The honey coloured stone building stands on two levels, the front door of the main bar opens onto Bridge Road and there’s a smaller bar that leads onto the massive car park at the back. Watch the steep stone steps between the two. I wouldn’t like to rattle down them after a pint of Dissolution or two. There’s loads of breweriana on the walls and it’s clear that a lot of thought and cash has been invested. The food menu looked tempting, as did the weekly quiz night with thirty quids worth of bar tab up for grabs, they also have monthly music nights. Spike, my little canine friend was happy because dogs are welcome in the downstairs bar which is staffed from about 6.00pm onwards and serves the riverside terrace which has a stunning, moody medieval abbey at the bottom of the garden. The gothic setting for BBC’s Frankensteins Wedding is worth a visit, it’s one of the best preserved of all the magnificent Yorkshire monasteries.
On the bar there’s the Kirkstall standards, along with a really good selection of guest cask ales, including Anarchy when I visited. I’ve only previously seen their ales on in Northumbria. I like what they do and if you see them they’re well worth trying. In addition to the eight cask ales there are twelve keg lines with some belting standards and changing guests. I think you’ll agree from the photos of the tap lists that the selection is of the highest order.
I’ve got friends, real ale drinkers, who wouldn’t be over the moon with a lot of the high IBU, intense hoppiness of some modern beers, or the trendy setting of some of the newer bars in Leeds. They would however, be really at home at Kirkstall Bridge Inn with what’s on offer. Granted there’s some cutting edge brews, but there’s also some very well crafted traditional style ales. It’s really easy to see why it’s the Leeds CAMRA 2014/15 pub of the year. The only disappointment when I visited was the lack of Dissolution extra on tap. I had to have a Saecularis instead, strong, very nice. I assumed it followed the Kirkstall Brewery theme of naming their ales along local historically connected lines, till I realised that they didn’t have any Franciscans in the Cistercian Kirkstall Abbey. So I’m none the wiser. You could easily have a taste of everything if you wish, as they do third pints, I like this strategy and it’s good to see more places offering it. If you like your bottled beers there’s a good selection of those as well.
Kirkstall seems to be undergoing a little gentrification at the minute, as well as the student flats there are modern apartments being built on the old Clover site, next to the pub, plus the 1,000 homes, offices and retail premises being constructed on the nearby £400M Kirkstall Forge development. This, along with the historical connections is why I think Kirkstall Bridge Inn is in exactly the right place. Oh, and the fact that there’s a new station opening at Kirkstall Forge bringing Kirkstall within six minutes of Leeds city centre. As well as being first order brewers and having one of the best public houses I have visited for a while, I think Kirkstall Brewery are pretty canny operators too.