We already know that Yorkshire is one of the top brewing counties in the UK. However within the county, I personally believe that the Aire Valley or Airedale is a particular hot spot when it comes to beer and breweries. Maybe it is because I live in the area but I’d rather be bias in this case because there are some real gems, I am telling you 🙂
The Aire Valley
The River Aire is one of the longest river in Yorkshire with 71 miles in total, from Malham Tarn to the River Ouse with a catchment area of 1004 km2 (388 sq miles). It first goes through quaint North Yorkshire, then enters the more urban and industrialised West Yorkshire to finally going back briefly in North Yorkshire and finish its course in East Riding of Yorkshire. One of its main tributaries is the Worth River in the Brontë Country. Also most importantly, it feeds both the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and Aire and Calder Navigation.
In terms of brewing, having fresh water readily available is a crucial factor since water is one of the main ingredients in making beer. Then having a good network of transportation to relevant market (urban areas) is also essential for supply and distribution. The opening of the Leeds and Liverpool canal in the 19th century gave that opportunity to many bold entrepreneurs who started their own brewery following the discovery of new industrial brewing techniques. Of course today canals are not used as much and roads form the major distribution network allowing even greater and faster reach to relevant markets.
Unfortunately of the many breweries which were started during the 19th century only a handful remain today. The good news though is that the recent couple decades has seen a revolution in the brewing industry. More breweries have opened in recent years than ever before! And the Aire Valley is at the for front of this (r)evolution.
Real Ale Trails in Airedale
These trails go upstream – downstream and I have listed the current breweries in activity in the area. It was a bit difficult sometime to put them together due to distances and I appreciate you might not always agree with them.
From Hetton in the Yorkshire Dales to Wilsden in the Brontë Country, this trail is the longest out of the four and you will probably need a car to go from one brewery to another. I have added five breweries to that trail and despite not being near the River Aire, The Dark Horse Brewery in Hetton is still part of its catchment area so deserve being included here. Located within the Yorkshire Dales National Park, this brewery is very special indeed. They get the water thanks to a borehole drilled for the occasion and their environmental credentials are very high too – the brewery waste is recycled by a reed bed for example. Copper Dragon is next on the trail and is probably the biggest one out of the five. There is also an excellent bar-restaurant and shop at the brewery so it definitely deserves a visit. Naylor’s Brewery in Crosshills has also recently opened a bar restaurant (March 2015) and shop! So even more reason to spend time on that trail. Then you will once again have to quit the River Aire to visit the final two breweries. However they are located within one of the river’s tributaries, the Harden Beck. The Old Spot Brewery in Cullingworth is actually a brewery farm and will be difficult to visit. However not far away you will find The George gastro-pub which serves the entire range. Finally the youngest one of the trail (opened in July 2014), the Bingley Brewery in Wilsden – not Bingley – has now opened a beer club every first Friday of the month. A perfect way to start the weekend!
The River Worth is one of the main tributaries to the River Aire and is also located in the area known as the Brontë Country. There are five breweries on this trail and because it is rather a small trail you can actually do it on foot! There is an existing circular walk named the Worth Way which goes through or near most the breweries which I highly recommend doing. It’s been added to the map below and you can find out more about the walk itself on a previous blog post I wrote a while ago. Regarding the breweries, starting from Keighley you will find the oldest brewery of this trail still in activity, Timothy Taylor’s. Serving thousands of pubs across the country, this is also a very big unit. Although you can’t visit the brewery, they still own many pubs mainly in the Aire Valley, so they are good places to go if you want to try their ales. Located not far away in Ingrow Bridge is the Goose Eye Brewery, a proper family business started in 1991. Again you can’t really visit the brewery but can find their beers in many outlets in the region. They have a nice bottled beer too named the “Wonkey Donkey”. Going up the valley in Haworth you will find the latest addition to the list of breweries, the Haworth Steam Brewery. This microbrewery and restaurant is actually based in premises located on Main Street, the famous tourist cobbled street full of shops and which was one of the main focus of the Tour de France in 2014. Definitely a place to stop by on this trail!
Once you come back to Keighley railway station, there are another two breweries to visit. The first one, is the youngest in the Valley and is called Wishbone Brewery. They have a beer club happening either on Friday’s or Saturday’s. Check their website or social media for more info. Finally the Bridgehouse Brewery which merged in 2015 with another local brewery known as the Old Bear Brewery, is now based in some brand new facilities in The Airedale Heifer near Riddlesden . They used to be based in Oxenhope, then moved to Keighley but now they seem to be well settled in this great pub which offers excellent food too!
Bradford is one of the fasten growing beer scene in Yorkshire at the moment. In the last few years, three breweries have opened in the area and other projects will probably come to life too. It’s such a change when you think that the city had to wait for almost half a century to see a new brewery opening – Salamander Brewery Co which openened in 1999 – after the closure of its last city centre brewery in 1955 – Hammonds Brewery. This Trail actually starts at the Salamander Brewery Co in South Bradford. The great news is that after more than 15 years of activity, you can now enjoy a pint directly at the brewery every first Friday of the month. Their so called “Beer Night” is set to become a success. If you want to go another day with a group, you can request a tour. The next brewery on the trail is the youngest one. Having opened its door in February 2015, the Bradford Brewery is now part of the growing night life scene in the Bradford city centre – which was quasi in-existent for many years! You can even enjoy freshly made pies in the premises, what else can you ask! Then it’s on to North Bradford in the Shipley area where you will find the multi award winning Saltaire Brewery. Opened in 2006, it has gone from strength to strength and has now opened an on-site pub and shop. Their famous “Beer Club” on the last Friday of the month is always a full packed event and you’d better book your ticket in advance as you might have to wait a long time in the queue outside otherwise. Their beer festival in September is very popular too. Close by is our next place on the trail, a true microbrewery also voted best pub of the winter season of 2012/2013 by CAMRA members, The Junction. Don’t be put off by first appearance, I know the place is very kitch but there is something very charming about it. It’s kind of a pub as they used to be with the added bonus of home made real ale. Finally up the road is the Baildon Brewery, again a very young brewery which only opened in 2014. They are still in development and it doesn’t seem you can visit the site however their beers are available in local shops and pubs – check their website.
Leeds is the economic capital of Yorkshire and as such has been a brewery centre for centuries. Unfortunately in 2011 one of its jewels, the Joshua Tetley & Son Ltd, commonly known as the Tetley Brewery or Leeds Brewery, closed its doors and almost everything of the 22 acres on the Hunslet site, South of the city has been raised to the ground since! Today the last building still standing is The Tetley, a contemporary art and learning centre but not a single drop of ale is produced there! Instead the former owner Carslberg decided to move the production to rival breweries in Tadcaster, Hartlepool and Woltherhampton! The site is the starting point of this trail as it represents an important brewing heritage for the city. Then it’s on to the Northern Monk Brewery which only opened their current site in Holbeck in 2013. They used to produce their ales across various places in Northern England but finally settled for Leeds in this old mill “at the spiritual heart of the industrial revolution” as they call it themselves! On site at the Refectory, you will be able to taste up to twenty different craft ales not only from their own production but also from like-minded brewers. You can also be served a delicious meal in the restaurant. Next stop is The Leeds Brewery Co, not to be confused with the former Leeds Brewery (see above). When opened in 2007 it was the only independent brewery in the Leeds City centre. Since then they have grown a lot and now own five pubs across the region (4 in Leeds and 1 in York). Although you can’t really visit the brewery itself, I would definitely recommend trying one of the pubs. The Burley Street Brewhouse is a microbrewery located in the Fox & Newt pub which is also a popular live music and stand up comedy venue. Definitely something different on this trail! They also serve food, so another reason to pay a visit. Next on the list is the Ridgeside Brewery in Meanwood, North of Leeds. It’s a bit far off compared to the others and unfortunately it is not opened to the public. However it is a very special brewery as it’s the only one across the Aire Valley Real Ale Trails which makes “beer from the wood”, meaning that some of their beers goes in wooden casks adding subtle and extra flavours to the final product. Then it’s back to the city centre on Boar Lane, right in the middle of the busy shopping district is located the modern Tapped Leeds microbrewery. This concept has already proven to be a success in Sheffield, Harrogate York and even Euston, London! There are at least 25 cask ales on tap available every day and they even make pizza from scratch in a wood fire oven – Brilliant! Finally the last on the trail is the Kirkstall Brewery on the side of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and not far away from the picturesque remains of the Cistercian Kirkstall Abbey. You can take a train from Leeds Railway station and walk to the brewery from Headingley railway station. Interestingly this new unit which started brewing in 2011 is only yards away from its famous eponymous predecessor. The original Kirkstall Brewery closed in 1983 and the building is now a student village for Leeds Metropolitan University.
Note: There is one final brewery in Leeds which call itself the smallest brewery in Leeds, Sunbeam Ales. It’s owner Nigel only brew 8 casks per week but the result is worth looking for!