Category Archives: Pub reviews
Kirkstall may be one of the busiest suburbs of Leeds – leading away from the city and to the Abbey and Horsforth heading north-west, or up into the student heartland of Burley and Headingley heading north-east – but it’s not what it used to be for pubs. Aside from the resurgent West End House and The Vesper Gate (owned by Sizzling Pubs), there’s not much for the beer drinker on this busy junction.
This wasn’t always the case. I remember the Kirkstall Lights being a cheap, popular local in the late 90’s (I lived in nearby Burley whilst in college at the time) which did a decent sideline in live music, and stalwarts of the area cite long-gone drinking dens such as The Morning Star, The (somewhat infamous) Star & Garter, The Abbey Inn and The Rising Sun (the recent fire at which was a real shame for those interested in design; one of the first Tetley’s houses (its gorgeous interior was destroyed finally after a year or so of being used as an ersatz furniture warehouse) as ‘decent drinkers’. The George IV sits idle, rotting away behind ornate glasswork, at the very bottom of Kirkstall Road.
So it’s heartening to see a new pub (housed in what used to be The Old Bridge Inn) being taken over by local heroes Kirkstall Brewery and turned into what is ostensibly their brewery tap. You get a sense that the area needs The Kirkstall Bridge Inn (not the Old Bridge, as the signage outside confusingly still states); not just for the students who now inhabit what used to be the original, bustling brewery overlooking the canal, but for the residents of Bramley and Kirkstall, too.
After a long development / refurbishment, it finally opened at the end of the summer – and it’s been worth the wait. Inside, the pub itself is unrecognisable from it’s somewhat tatty, unloved former self. There’s cosy nooks, plenty of dark wood and the walls gleam with original and reproduced breweriana, most of which came out of Steve Holt (Kirkstall Brewery’s owner) extensive private collection. New seating and partitions have been created, and the overall feel achieved is that of a large, single-roomed pub with plenty of privacy – which is quite an illusion to pull off. Speaking to Steve, I know he’s proud of it – but has promised more to come in the way of decoration.
Bar-wise, it’s as you’d expect from Kirkstall Brewery; Three Swords Pale, BYB and the luscious Black Band Porter were all in fine fettle, and to be expected as permanent. There’s Kirkstall’s lager and Framboise on keg, and, at the time of my visit, a couple of guests from The Tapped Brew Co. The fridges groan with Vertical Drinks’s US and Belgian roster; Stone, Oskar Blues and, of course, Sierra Nevada all being present and correct.
Downstairs, the transformation is even more striking; the dark, dingy ‘basement bar’ now a second bar; stone-flagged and spacious, leading out to the riverside beer garden. It feels like part of the pub, despite being underneath it. There’s no food, but local food vendors such as Bundobust and Fish & are enjoying long-term winter residencies, which solves that problem. Wilson’s (frankly excellent) Pork Pies are also available for those wanting something more traditional.
So, overall, an excellent addition to an over-populated but under-used part of Leeds. Let’s hope the students and local residents take the opportunity to pop in rather than heading into Leeds – I know my canal-side weekend dog-walk just got another welcome little stop on it (dogs are welcome in the basement bar).
It’s not just change at the pub, though. I took the opportunity to have a chat with Matt Lovatt – part of the new brewing team at Kirkstall- to see how life has changed since I last interviewed Steve Holt and Dave Sanders for Great Yorkshire Beer. Dave Sanders recently left the brewery and made the short hop towards Bradford, joining the team at Saltaire Brewery.
Matt’s one of the army of talented homebrewers being given a chance to step up. ‘I’d never been employed in a brewery before. I have home brewed for about five years now with varying levels of success. I had just moved house and was toying with the idea of setting up a vanity brewery in my garage when I was asked if I was interested in working at Kirkstall.’ he explains.
He’s already finding the challenge of commercial brewing lies not only in recipe formulation, but brewing to schedule and at a level of consistency that the drinkers demand. ‘(There’s) plenty to learn – and also to unlearn. Home brewing is great but scale, free time and attention span tend to lead to occasional, eclectic brew days! Returning to a recipe can seem like a wasted opportunity. By contrast, at Kirkstall I’m really enjoying getting to know a set of core beers and working out what makes (and keeps) them what they are. We recently hit capacity so we are also in the process of scaling up which presents its own logistical challenges.’
There’s not just Matt on the team – Alex Dodds is the Head Brewer. Starting out managing pubs (including Wire in Leeds and a stint with Market Town Taverns, he got his break in brewing as Brewery Manager at Wensleydale a few years ago and moved to Kirkstall in 2012 to assist Dave Sanders. He and Matt are joined by Tom Summerscales, who started at Kirkstall within a week of graduating from Heriot Watt this year. Tom is also a keen home brewer and has had some previous experience at his home town brewery, Ossett.
So, what are the new -look Kirkstall crew working on at the moment?
‘Our first priority is to be able to make more of the beer that has already proved itself. Beyond that, some other things in the pipeline include keg Three Swords (which, at the time of publishing, has made an appearance) and some seasonal specials for North Bar (whose house Pale ale, Prototype, is a perennial favourite and brewed by Kirkstall).’ Explains Matt. ‘A pet project of mine is to get a pilot plant going at the brewery. If all goes to plan it should be possible to indulge some experimentation to complement our established range.’
So, very much a case of new brew team, new challenges for Kirkstall Brewery. Not least the addition of a new pub to showcase their wares. Much like Kirkstall bringing brewing back to an area of Leeds once known for it, the pub should hopefully bring a few drinkers out of the city centre and Headingley. Trust me, it’s worth the visit.
It’s entirely fitting that, above the bar in the freshly-appointed dining room of The Old Peacock, you’re watched over by the framed, faux-aged visages of Billy Bremner, Paul Reaney, Eddie Gray, and other luminaries of a Leeds United team that shone like no other. Although the hand of that team has at times weighed heavily on the shoulders of subsequent players lucky enough to don the white shirt at Elland Road, The Old Peacock honours them; celebrating them and their memory with taste and style.
The Peacock’s gone through the mill in its years in the shadow of Elland Road’s south stand. It hadn’t avoided the old clichés of ‘football ground/local support’ clubs; serviced and run by fans for the fans; it fell short of attracting any trade other than those who chose to go in it. That’s not all bad; a “boozer” it was and a “boozer” it remained – but it lived and died on matchday takings. Changes of ownership, abrupt closures and a general malaise about the business itself didn’t help. On matchdays it was the place to meet if you wanted to sit in a pub (or, more acutely stand in the car park), but other than that…well, even if you were a home supporter, there where times where it felt like an exclusive place to drink.
So when news filtered through that Ossett Brewery had joined forces with the current owner Greene King and were going to take the place over, things had to be good, right? Ossett aren’t short of expertise in this area – they’ve won awards for their pub estate, with The Hop chain in particular proving that live music and real ale are natural bedfellows. But what exactly did I expect? Well, I expected decent beer – and not much else. A lick of Paint. New staff. We’ll get onto that later…
It’s difficult to talk about The Old Peacock (which is the new, yet old, name) without pointing out that the place is now somewhere that you’d want to drink in more often than matchdays. A simple concept – in fact, the only concept that will make pubs like this trade well – but so many get it wrong.
Jon Howe, author of All White; Leeds United’s 100 Greatest Players, agrees. “The problem is that, in the other 340 days a year when Leeds United aren’t at home, the pub becomes just another establishment struggling to drum up trade in a low-income area where many people would prefer to drink at home. What Ossett Brewery have done is recognise The Old Peacock’s unique heritage and put a bit of thought into how they can exploit that 365 days a year. There aren’t many good pubs in Beeston. There aren’t many good pubs next to football grounds, anywhere in the country. The Old Peacock is now a vibrant pub that doesn’t just treat fans as a commodity to be exploited, much like the club’s previous owner did, in fact.”
“The Old Peacock adds a sense of refinement to an area that previously lacked it…” continues Jon, “…And the pub provides a welcoming atmosphere with great music that people might want to come back to, maybe even on a non-match day.”
The refurbishment is stunning, frankly. The way that Leeds United has been weaved into the fabric of the pub is brilliant; overt in the wallpaper on the far wall (a sepia collage of newspaper cuttings, trading cards and Leeds United ephemera) and the gorgeously florid Peacock mosaic on the floor ( which took over two weeks to complete by local artist Leyla Murr, using some 8000 pieces of glass), subtle in the yellow and white floor tiles and the clever dropping of the despised red from Ossett’s logo that adorns the windows. The dining room adds pictures of the brewers of Ossett and a gallery of old pump clips made into wallpaper that ties the whole feel together. It’s beer, beer and food, beer and football.
The overall effect is that – if you’re a Leeds United fan – you instantly smile; you spend first five minutes of your first visit pointing things out, wandering around, having a look what;s on the menu, and such. And if you don’t particularly care for football, it’s not in your face – you’re just drinking in a very smart new pub.
Jamie Lawson, the driving force at Ossett Brewery and this venture, couldn’t agree more. ‘The Old Peacock had been on my radar for a while – after all, it’s no secret that I’ve always been a big Leeds United fan. It had definitely seen better days prior to our refurbishment, but the whole team at Ossett Brewery were determined to return it to its former glory. We wanted to make it a place where everyone from locals and football fans to families and business people could come for a nice pint of real ale and some quality food, which I think we have achieved.”
I spend a little time chatting to Thanos Dimou, the softly spoken, enthusiastic bar manager who is more than happy to regale us with the story of the roller-coaster ride that the last few weeks have been. Despite being with the company for a while, it’s the first pub he’s actually run.
Thanos’s pride in the place is clear as he talks. He was here during the building, and saw the place become what it is now. I wonder aloud if there was any thought to strip the football ‘theme’ out of the place entirely, I ask. “No, not at all. As you know, Jamie is a Leeds United supporter, so all the little things you see (at which point he gestures around us) was all part of the plan from the beginning. We’ve kept the heritage of the pub… but want to make it a 7-days-a-week pub” Thanos re-confirms.
“It’s refreshing to see how the locals have actually taken to the place.” he smiles. “I’ll tell you something – one thing happened recently that was really touching. When we opened, these two guys came in, got a pint, clinked glasses and looked around with huge smiles on their faces. One of them then turned to other and said, ‘I’m home.” Those two guys are now regulars – one of them was actually walking out of the bar as we walked in. One wonders how often they drank in here on non-matchdays before. ‘The people of Beeston have been so respectful; they’ve embraced the change.’
It’s not only locals who are dropping in and planting their stakes in the ground. Thanos tells us of the recent visit of a gang of marauding Norwegian supporters (Leeds have a voracious Scandinavian following) who overran the place before a game recently, erecting flags in the car park and buying Peacock shirts to take back home with them. “They were fantastic. They had banners, flags, everything…they were here all day. They loved the place – it’s wonderful (as a bar manager) to see that.”
Beer – wise you’ve got the Ossett range that you know and love : Blonde, Silver King, Excelsior and 1919, a ruby-hued, sweetly malt-led house beer, brewed for the pub itself and commemorating the year of the club’s birth. Wine, lager (still the best-seller on matchdays) and ciders adorn the fridges and keg-tops. Make no mistake, this is Ossett’s show – the only concession to Greene King is the presence of Golden and Speckled Hen on the bar.
The food offering is excellent, too. On our visit we ate tasty, fresh Fish and Chips in gargantuan portions, and they cosy up alongside the likes of burgers, hot & cold sandwiches, and separate Pie and Grill menus, all at decent prices for the portion you get. The kitchen is now open – plan and faces what used to be known as the ‘members area’ (then a smoky room that you couldn’t go in), now a large dining room fronted by an impressive brick arch. You can eat anywhere, but the two spaces flow nicely; too many pubs with dining rooms seem to create invisible barriers – but not here. The staff, Ossett Brewery-shirted and busy, bustle about pulling pints and balancing plates of food as they go. Thursday is steak night, and Sunday roasts are gaining in popularity.
‘Although the physical refurbishment is complete our food menu will change regularly and we’ll continue to welcome new guest ales’ says Jamie. ‘…Plus, we’ll plan more events that will keep our existing customers coming back for more – we’ve already welcomed legends such as Eddie Gray through our doors.’
There’s been a pub on this site since the mid-1800’s, and the current one has been standing since 1963. Since then, the pub has undergone many, many changes. Let’s hope that this one is the last; Ossett have done wonders with it. But don’t take my word for it – go see for yourself.
You can buy Jon Howe’s ‘All White: Leeds United’s Greatest 100 Players’ via Amazon, and his webpage is here. You can see more (and buy) of Leyla Murr’s artwork on her site, where you can also keep up to date with her exhibitions. Since this article was published, Ossett have also opened The Hop in York, and Leyla has created another mosaic for the Rat & Ratchet pub.
I grew up not far from Oakwood. My school bordered Roundhay Park, and the area still holds a huge emotional connection for me. I don’t have any family in that part of Leeds anymore – we’re now scattered across the opposite side of Leeds – but my wife and I still spend a lot of time in the area, mostly walking Wilson in the park itself, happy to make the 20 minute car journey across Leeds to a place we both love. To use a hoary cliche, it’s very much a case of going home.
The Oakwood Clock stands proud still, very much a survivor but under constant threat. Originally intended to be the centerpiece of Kirkgate Market, it is slowly being restored by the businesses in the area and hosts the Oakwood Farmer’s Market, too. It’s simply the place to meet in Oakwood, and deserves saving. One such business helping out is Stew & Oyster, holding a day each month where they sell a beer – normally a Yorkshire one – and every penny of the proceeds goes to towards the Clock restoration fund. This, as well as it’s location, is one of the reasons Ilkley Brewery and I made sure the final cask of The Good Stuff ended up on the bar there a few weeks ago.
Synchronicity is a funny thing. On a Tuesday night, Louise, Wilson and I were sitting in Stew & Oyster, hosted by Tyler Kiley (ex Friends of Ham and Mr Foley’s), chatting to Rob (Hand Drawn Monkey) and Steve Holt (Kirkstall Brewery), discussing (among many other things) Great Yorkshire Beer. When I was young, this place was a bank. Now, it’s a bustling bar, selling beer that I’ve written about and is being managed by another friend from the latter part of my life.
What would the younger Leigh have made of it? He’d have liked it, I think, but probably would have been angry (I was the archetypal angry young man as a teen – I must have been a nightmare) at the groups of ladies drinking wine or the two brickies nailing pints of Sagres after a day on their feet. What Stew & Oyster does really well is being complete; a full circle of a bar that truly caters to the community – it was nicely busy for a dreary (gotta love this summer) Tuesday night. Four handpumps toted a typically regional selection of well-kept beers (The Good Stuff, Hawkshhead’s Windermere Pale, Hand Drawn Monkey’s excellent IPA, and Magic Rock’s Curious, if you’re interested) alongside some kegged treats but – importantly – bolstered by the likes of Vedett, Sagres, Ciders, Spirits and Wines.
Looking around, every table was drinking something different and that’s the kicker. Stew & Oyster Oakwood is a lovely little suburban bar; the food looked good, there’s plenty of seating, and it’s dog friendly. Whereas Call Landing can sometimes feel a little cramped inside (yet boasts probably the best beer garden in inner-city Leeds), Oakwood basks in legroom. It doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard, and that’s clearly appreciated by the community.
So, if we do get a little sun this Summer and you find yourself enjoying the splendour of Roundhay, take the short walk down to Stew & Oyster. It’s my old stomping ground, and I’ll be certainly retracing those 80’s/90’s steps from now on.
‘Oakwood Parade’, as we used to call it, is certainly a hotspot at the minute; North are opening a bar there shortly, as well as Otley, which opened this week. If you want a more traditional pub in that part of Leeds, then The Roundhay Fox and The White House are both nearby.
Three grown men, myself, Stewart Ross (of The Flying Mallard Pub & Wharfedale Brewery) and Lee Pullen (erstwhile Landlord) sit there, beers in hand, admiring the grey-steel radiator. Like something from Metropolis, it hangs on the wall in pride of place; practically an ornament. Which is exactly what it is.
‘It doesn’t work.’ laughs Lee. ‘It’s from Joshua Tetley’s son’s house in Roundhay. We bought it and the fittings to use as a feature.’
This may all seem a little over-the-top; but for Lee and his wife Linda, The Old Cock deserves such attention to detail. A real labour of love, I don’t think I’ve ever met a landlord who can honestly say he built the pub. Let’s go back a little.
In 2007, after many licensing wrangles and planning squabbles, Lee and Linda finally procured the empty building, which was then being used as The Sugar Street Bistro. Lee had the sole intent of turning into a pub; and, with his background in construction, had no fears about taking the job on himself. Built in 1755, the building clearly had charm – it had been two little cottages at one point – but a pub it was not. The cellar had been filled in; new windows were needed – and that was just the internal works. Externally, the roof and pointing all needed replacing. This was no makeover job; this was a solid project with a pub for the community springing into life at the end of it.
The work took a little over two years to complete. The aforementioned cellar was dug out entirely by hand, reinforced, then concreted. Again, as with the radiator, you’ve got to appreciate the details; the cellar is tiny but impeccably designed, with everything in its place and a place for everything.
As Lee takes us round the building, the story of how the pub blossomed into life out of a construction site comes into focus. Lee and Linda spent hours going up and down the country, scouring auctions and eBay for pub mirrors and breweriana such as acid-etched glass to use in one of the snugs. The bar is made out of wardrobes, and even the table we are sitting at was made by him. I know it sounds corny, but when Lee says that he’s probably laid his hands on every surface in the pub – every brick, every roof tile, every pipe – he’s telling the absolute truth.
As you’d expect, it wasn’t easy. Money was tight, credit was racked up and wrung out of every avenue they could find, but it didn’t matter. Lee and Linda were building their pub. Thier pub.They christened the pub The Old Cock; both a nod to the hens and cocks that the couple keep at home, spiced with a little Yorkshire cheek. ‘The regulars say it’s named after the Landlord’ Lee chuckles, quite happy to help perpetuate the myth. ‘People stand outside the sign sometimes and take pictures of the blokes stood underneath it – before coming in for a pint.’
Opening weekend went by in a blur, but Lee remembers that his first beer pulled was, interestingly, a Tetley’s bitter – with some Wold Top on the bar to keep it company.Now, the focus is very much on local beer and a minimum of beer miles being used up. The likes of Briscoe’s, Rooster’s, Wold Top, Naylors, Copper Dragon, Ilkley, Goose Eye and Rodham’s make regular appearances; joined by beers from further afield that Lee seeks out to add a little colour. Dark Star, Ulverston, Bristol Beer Factory, Hawkshead – as well as independent Ciders – all make guest appearances. It was rightly awarded Leeds CAMRA’s pub of the year in 2011.
‘It’s not just local beers for the sake of it, though.’ Lee asserts. ‘We want our beer to be varied and popular. It’s not unusual for us to sell out of a certain beer in an afternoon in busy times, and I think that proves how going the extra mile to get something good in pleases the customers.’ He won’t, for example, always go for the crowd-pleasers. ‘I tend to not stock the bar with just ‘Pale and Hoppy.’ he laughs. ‘I like to have all styles covered; a stout, a porter…and a mid-colour beer!’ he muses. ‘I love chestnut-coloured beers, but they can be hard to find, but we love ’em here.’ Now there’s something you thought you’d never read; think on, brewers.
It’s well appreciated by the locals – at 1400 on a Tuesday afternoon, the pub is pleasantly busy with drinkers ranging from your typical CAMRA types to your couples resting their bones after a meander through Otley. The beers we drunk during the afternoon were in tip-top condition; Little Valley’s Stoodley Stout smooth and silky, leaning toward on the bramble/fruity side of stout than dry and roasted; Rooster’s Fort Smith effortlessly bold and brassy, and an interesting ‘Cask Pilsner’ from Copper Dragon (Silver Myst), that ended up being simply a really crisp, grassy Pale Ale.
The Old Cock is the kind of pub you want to bump into when visiting a market town like Otley. There’s plenty of pubs in Otley – and many with history – but The Old Cock is a perfect example of the kind of pub you’d like to run if you did one yourself. Building it brick by brick? That’s special indeed.
You can see more pictures of the project on The Old Cock’s excellent website here. Also, if you feel like taking a ride over to Otley and spending the day there, there’s an excellent new project called The Otley Pub Club which will give you all the info you need for a day’s drinking around the town.
Back in 2010, my trusty drinking partner Chris and I were blown away by Nottingham Brewery’s Rock Mild at a beer festival. Earthy, rich and full of blackcurrant-juice character, it remained glowing in our memories since then. We resolved immediately to go to Nottingham and try it, plus others, from the source. One day, we muttered with steely resolve. One day.
That day took almost three years to arrive but when it did, it was worth it. A New Years’ resolution to see more of the UK’s pubs led us to our first day out in Nottingham, a place that’s always intrigued me in terms of pubs and beer. I knew it was a hotspot, but couldn’t really pin down where the city actually was. For a boy from Leeds, used to being able to hotfoot it from north to east in under an hour, cities like Nottingham (such as Manchester and Sheffield) take a while to imprint on my radar. Besides, we had an agenda: The Plough Inn.
Yes, I’ll gladly travel two hours to get to a certain pub, thank you. Often, it’s good, but rarely does it exceed expectation. Situated just outside of Nottingham centre in Radford, The Plough sits proudly in the middle of a huge estate, proclaiming the brewery that it serves in huge gold letters across the front. Our taxi driver just a speck in the distance, we stood outside, peering into the brewery yard. It wasn’t quite opening time.
And it was cold. Very cold.
We tried the door; it opened. ‘Hello?’ I asked, half-fearing the response.
‘Hello’ came a cheery voice from behind the bar. ‘You’re a little early.’ remarked the landlady.
Ever polite, and perhaps a little too English and uptight, we immediately offered to wait in the car park until the clock hit 12. For this, we were told in no uncertain terms not to be stupid, and get inside. Minutes later we were nestled in a warm corner, frothy pints of Rock Bitter at our hands and having a good old natter with Mel (the aforementioned landlady). Assuming we were there for the football, it soon became apparent that we a bad joke writ large: A Leeds supporter drinking in a County pub with a Forest supporter being served by a secret Liverpool fan. she kept the beer coming with a little backstory each time – and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Our pints of Rock Bitter disappeared in almost record time; golden and rich with digestive biscuit in the body, finishing dry, long and surprisingly assertive. It was about as much of a thirst-quencher as we needed after our journey. Rock Mild (3.8% abv) was not so much of the Blackcurrant-fest that we recalled but fruity and plummy nontheless – and boasted an older sister in Foundry Mild (4,7%abv), all toffee and gentle smoke. Extra Pale (4.2%) freshened things up with soft, wheaty notes in the body and a peachy, stone-fruit finish. Legend (4%abv) proved to be the real surprise package; amber in colour with a super-smooth body full of bonfire toffee and a remarkably grassy twang on the finish.
All simple beers, fresh from the brewery all of 10 yards away, and all packed with flavor. Worth the trouble? Absolutely. Mel made sure that, before we left, we tried a sample of Sooty Stout, which was just getting ready to go on the bar – don’t miss it. A luscious Oat stout, the nose is thick with Milk Chocolate and Cappucino and the sip laced with fruity, bitter liquorice. A real treat.
Our day was only beginning, but as the glasses stacked up around us, the pub slowly filling with drinkers both alone with papers tucked under their arms and couples whispering conspiratorially in the corner, we both realised that we wanted to stay. Our session had achieved what it set out to – to experience the full Nottingham Brewery / Plough Inn story – but delivered a special sub-plot; one of a warm welcome and local knowledge. The couple of hours we spent there felt like a couple of weekend-lunchtime pints with mates rather than a geeky beer pilgrimage. I’m so glad we took the effort to visit a care-worn but much-loved pub, as comfortable as a pair of slippers even to a couple of interlopers from across the border. The kind of pub experience that you often read about, but rarely find.
Buoyed by the excellent start, we moved on after some farewells and effusive thanks. After all, we had another couple of Nottingham Breweries to try and distill into an afternoon pint.
Thanks Mel – we’ll see you again soon.