Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Time to Remember the Past

As I was researching the previous entry I came across my copy of the 1990 Good Beer Guide. Naturally I started checking things out and was surprised at how much had changed in 19 years - and equally surprised by what hadn't.

Can you name the only 4 independent breweries in West Yorkshire in 1990? Two are still going! (Answers are in the comment box.) Along with them were The Sair at Linthwaite and the Fox & Newt in Leeds both classed as brew pubs. In the Huddersfield section of the pub list were 5 pubs; The College Arms on Queensgate, The Dusty Miller at Longwood, The Slubbers at Hillhouse, and 2 at Lockwood, The Star and The Shoulder of Mutton. Seems that the Town Centre was a beer desert in those days !!!

Naturally, The Sair at Linthwaite and The Nook at Holmfirth feature but so does the Coach & Horses at Honley, along with the Hare & Hounds at Marsden and the Cricketers at Netherthong. Throughout the pubs the beer range is quite varied, although mainly made up from the big breweries portfolio. One could get Wilsons at the College, Pedigree at the Slubbers, and Bass and Stones at the Star. Taylors could be found in 3 of the 5 pubs. The Sair was brewing its own beer.

Flicking through the rest of the guide I was surprised at how many small breweries from 1990 are still brewing now, but equally it was sad to see some favourites that have since gone to the wall. And would you credit it, there was an article from Oz Clarke about being a beer buff. Seems some things never change !!!

Oz Clarke demonstrates the best way to silence James May in a northern brewery.
Pic: Journal Live

Another Worth a Visit

After my excesses on the other side of the Pennines last week, I decided, after overhearing a conversation in a local pub, to visit The Fox & Newt in Leeds. From what I ear-wigged it seemed to be somewhere well worth a check out and somewhere I had not been for many years.

It is not on the regular Leeds drinking circuit and takes a bit of finding being out on Burley Rd, near to the Park Lane College, some 15 minutes walk from the Headrow (follow Headrow out of the city towards the Law Courts, bear right and follow the road over the ring road and the pub is on your left hand side). If you prefer, get the free bus from outside the Rail Station and get off at Park Lane and it's 200 yards back down the road.

I got there around opening time at 12 noon and was impressed by the change that had occurred since my last visit. It is a tidy pub, with leather seating, polished floor and subtle colours. Basically one room with a raised seating area, and a small bar across from the door.

I was pleased that on the bar were 2 beers brewed on the premises by the now named Fox Brewery, a dark mild (which seemed to be part of an experimental range but none the worse for that) and Nightshade, a darkish bitter weighing in at 4.9% and dangerously drinkable. Speaking to the landlord, this seems to be a very popular beer and demand is outstripping production. There were also 2 Moorhouses beers and an Abbeydale along with Leeds Pale, which is a permanent guest. The guests are all £2.50 but the house beers were both cheaper.

Food is served, and is typical pub fayre and in my opinion a bit pricey, but the quality was good. Looking at the posters on the wall it seems to be a lively pub in the evening with bands playing -though I would think it could be a bit small and noisy too for that. It also seemed to attract a wide range of people while I was there, from students to banking types, to aged hippies (not me!).

If you are in Leeds, and fancy somewhere a bit off the beaten track, it's well worth searching out. (map) (The Good Stuff review)

Update: Nightshade from the Fox Brewery has recently been distributed around some of Ossett Brewery's pubs including The White Horse at Emley.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Three Pigeons, Halifax

I'm currently in the midst of getting around all of Ossett Brewery's houses so that their website and publicity machine have some up-to-date photos to use. Since I've neglected to visit a fair few of them recently (I don't have an unlimited beer budget - contrary to popular belief!) this will be an ideal time to get this blog's pub profile section back on track and even update one or two of the older entries.

The Three Pigeons is without question the most unusual of the twelve pubs (I'm not including the Albert in Keighley, currently leased from Taylors, or the new club venture in Wakefield here), featuring four separate rooms and a central bar. It has been sympathetically restored and includes many art deco features that set it apart from the company's usual makeovers bringing it some coveted awards along the way.

As with all of Ossett's pubs the beers are a mixture from it's three breweries, plus a Fullers - usually London Pride but sometimes ESB, Chiswick or London Porter - in addition to a local guest. Last spring the Pigeons held it's first mini beer festival featuring a dozen or more milds and there are plans to host a similar event again this year, although it's likely to include a few different styles for a wider appeal.

Ossett's longest serving manager Tina Winterbottom retired from the pub a few months ago after firmly establishing it as one of Halifax's top real ale destinations - but her legacy continues. With uncertain times ahead and undoubtedly a very difficult period in store for the pub trade in general, the Three Pigeons is in great shape and couldn't be in better hands with Tina's son Ollie at the helm. For quality ale in a classic setting you'd need to go some way to beat this! (map)

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Beer Festival Disappointment

This is the week of the Winter Ales Festival in Manchester, a national CAMRA event. However, alongside this mega fest are many other festivals in the local real ale pubs. This is the story of just one. The Smithfield Hotel, in Swan St, Manchester is a stones throw from the large festival venue and is a pub that has been a Mecca for beer enthusiasts for years. They were holding a festival during the week and I managed to find a beer list online for it. It had a mouth watering selection of new breweries and new beers, so seemed to be the place to head for.
For those unfamiliar with the place, it is a long narrow pub, with an entrance at one end, bar on the right hand side with 8 handpumps, and tables throughout. The entrance to the cellar is across from the bar. Trust me, it will all make sense soon.

It opened its doors at 11 am, I arrived about 1130 am and the place was fairly full but I managed to get a table in the far end of the pub, and duly started with 2 beers; one from a new brewery. The list showed 12 new breweries for me, out of 33 on offer. Only one was on the bar. In addition to the beer on the bar, some was served in jugs from behind the bar, there were 3 on offer on my arrival, but again no new breweries. Things did look to be improving, when at 12 noon, they started 'cellar runs'. (ie beers brought from those tapped and vented in the cellar).

By this time, I had met 2 colleagues and we duly filled out the slip provided and handed it to the cellar runner, to be advised we had to pay at the bar first. This we did, only to be told that out of the 6 beers we had chosen, only 2 were available. Anyway, undeterred, we altered the order and handed it to the bar staff, (the pub was now heaving, and the staff seemed to be doing their utmost not to serve people).

The slip only showed the beers, and the name of the orderer. If you were well known, this would have been no problem, but no one knew us and we waited at 45 minutes for our beer, and only then after speaking directly to the cellar runner. Obviously, this was less than ideal, but as I said, it was busy and there were many others wanting beer brought up too. The situation was not helped by the cellar running out of glasses which slowed service down - and a group of people standing around the entrance to the cellar didn't help either.

As it quietened down a second order was served quicker but I was sitting thinking that there must be a simpler way. Then it came to me. If they intend to use slips then why not give each person that orders a number, and deliver the beer to that number? It would make the cellar runners life easier and save him shouting names out, maybe even have different colours for different parts of the pub to identify where the orderer is seated. If the intention is to have cellar runs, and it gets so busy, why not have 2 doing it instead of one. And why only have a selection of the beers available? I feel I was cheated a bit by having a smaller selection to choose from.

I am sure several people will have just walked out because of the shambles. I certainly left without several beers I wanted to try because of the time taking to fulfill the orders. It makes one pine for the superb organisation of festivals such as the Star at Huddersfield where all the beers are available at once on handpumps and everyone can sample the beers of their choice.

This is not meant to be a criticism of Alan Douglas, the cellar runner, who worked stoically nor Mike Knowles, who sourced many of the beers, but rather a way of trying to prevent other pubs falling into the same trap as the Smithfield did. As an aside, for those Pictishophiles amongst us, the new beer Atlas (4.0%) is on the bar at the aforementioned Star. Not as assertively hoppy as some but still a very tasty beer.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wooden Hand

My love of Cornish beer started back about the late eighties during a holiday spent in St. Just, a few miles north of Land's End. This soon became an annual week-long pilgrimage and the beer was always St. Austell's served straight from the wood into over sized tankards. My brew of choice in those days was Tinners, a classic copper-coloured session ale, but occasionally the good old Hicks Special Draught would be called upon as a nightcap - the perfect end to a days foot-slogging around the coves.

More recently, trips to the archipelago have introduced me to the wondrous Scuppered from Ales of Scilly as well as mainland favourites such as Betty Stogs and Cornish Knocker from Skinners. Tinners, and Stogs for that matter, have guested irregularly in this part of the world but unfortunately never seem right here for one reason or another, and do little to induce northern drinkers to travel to this out-of-the-way county for a spot of tasting. Today's offering at the Huntsman though might just change all that.

Pirate's Gold from the Wooden Hand Brewery based in Truro was as robust a 4% golden ale as I've tasted in a while. And the fact that it was drawn through a tight sparkler and still had bags of taste to spare was quite remarkable. The strong sweet malt followed by plenty of juicy fruit and an unannounced earthy bitterness are all the hallmarks of a beer in the 5% region - so a real triumph of substance over strength. The brewery has been around since 2004 but it's output seems quite rare away from the south-west, which is a shame since this is one Cornish ale that certainly can survive the trek north. Looks like it's time to pester my local landlords again! (website)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tunnel End Inn, Marsden

In these cash-strapped times it's fantastic to see a Good Beer Guide pub knocking out quality ale at £2 a pint. And we're not talking about a town centre JD Wetherspoons here but a well respected food-orientated country inn with possibly the friendliest atmosphere in the district.

I really wanted to write up the Tunnel End Inn at Marsden using plenty of lavish photos and succulent prose but was totally unprepared for it's Sunday lunchtime popularity. With every table reserved it was perch at the bar time and little chance of doing it pictorial justice - but refreshingly, whilst everyone else was spending ten times what we were, our treatment was no less courteous - and that is the mark of a truely great hostelry.

Anyhow quickly back to the cheap beer and with guests from the mighty Saltaire and under-rated Springhead (both at the permanently low guest ale price) there was no problem in being distracted from the wonderful food aromas. Cascade is everyone's favourite new world hop since the Knaresborough based Roosters Brewery brought it shamelessly into the limelight some fifteen years ago, and virtually everyone whose had a bash at creating ale with it has produced a winner. Saltaire's 4.8% version perhaps lacks a little of the 'in your face' character delivered by Franklin but nevertheless it's a super beer with plenty of body and throat-charming hop bite. The Springhead Bitter is a down to earth session ale and whilst it couldn't compete with the Bradford outfit's big bodied creation it was nevertheless a refreshing, honest, well kept and terrific value for money pint.

There will be a more in depth review of this gem of a free house in a future issue but in the meantime if you've been neglecting this end of the Colne Valley or are just a little nervous about being so close to the Lancashire border then it's time to set aside your phobias and treat your loved ones to a quality hour or two in the Tunnel End. (map)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Holme Valley Meanderings

After my trip up into the wilds of Marsden, it seemed to be the sensible thing to do to try the other Valley, the Holme Valley, somewhere I had not been for a while, so armed with the trusty Beer Guide, last weekend I took a look at the pubs of Holmfirth.

First stop was the Farmers Arms at Burnlee. It is a lovely pub with a real country feel about it, about 15 minutes walk from Holmfirth centre towards Manchester up the A635 and hiding on a small side road on the right behind Compo's Cafe. It does have a food menu, but the kitchen was closed on the day I visited. Notwithstanding that, the beer range is excellent for a pub of its size, with at least 6 real ales on the bar. All appeared to be regulars except for one changing guest beer, from Moorhouses on my visit. I settled for a pint of Adnams Bitter and it was top notch with all the background flavours I love about the beer and that little hint of saltiness that makes it unique.

I would have been quite happy to stay there all day but other pubs, and food beckoned so it was back into Holmfirth for more sampling.

I have never 'got on' with The Nook, which is still as quirky as ever, and nothing on this visit changed my opinion. There were 8 beers on the bar, but again the guests seemed to come from Moorhouses, although I did have an average pint of Kelham Island 'Pride of Sheffield.'

The next stop was The Old Bridge Hotel in Holmfirth centre. I remember in the past it used to be an rare outlet for Batemans beers in the area, but on this occasion, there were 3 local guest beers on the bar, from Brass Monkey and Summer Wine IPA. I chose the latter, which at 4.2%, did not seem like an IPA, and tasted distinctively malty. The pub itself was heaving, plenty of decent food being served, and the clientele being a mixture of locals and tourists. Despite it being an hotel bar, it was very comfortable and its commitment to real ale does it credit.

The last call was round the corner at Herveys bar, I have never been here before because of its unusual opening hours. It felt to be basically a wine bar but it did have 4 handpumps, 3 of them serving Copper Dragon beers, and the Golden Pippin was well kept.

It would be easy to continue this crawl back down the valley towards Huddersfield. There are frequent buses but check where they go, the route is notorius for going off the main road, and off in directions you do not want to go. One can call in the Monkey Club at Armitage Bridge, or the pubs and clubs of Berry Brow, or nearer to Town, The Star or The Rat & Ratchet, however will save them for another day.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Paul Westmoreland (1948-2009)

Huddersfield has lost one of it’s great pub characters this week with the sudden passing of Paul Westmoreland.

A well known regular at the Rat & Ratchet on Chapel Hill, Paul would convincingly play the archetypal grumpy old man, the obnoxious lecher, the outspoken bigot and the bloke every landlord begrudgingly puts up with, but who in all seriousness was a widely travelled and knowledgeable man whose generosity and appreciation of the finer things (not just ale and curry!) made him a pleasure to be with - except after ale and curry!

Whether we were hopping on a train down the Colne Valley to sample a new beer, planning the prophesied trip to the Emirates to watch Town or simply passing a wet Sunday afternoon in front of the pub TV, it was always fun. His humour would be laconic and pointed, totally un-PC and often downright vulgar, but somehow he managed to get away with it where less charismatic individuals would most certainly have found themselves missing a few front teeth!

As a relative newcomer to the town I don't go back far enough to share the memories of many who knew him - but those I do have will endure. We all need colourful characters in our lives and whilst this is a very sad time, I am eternally indebted to the beer gods for ensuring our paths crossed on that winter's evening five years ago in what has since become my favourite watering hole too.

And if the measure of a good pub is as much about the quality of the people who use it as it is about the beer, then the Rat is a poorer place without it's number one grouch. I will no doubt be back there in due course, trying to be cheerful and celebrate the life - but to be totally honest, like so many at the moment, I just feel robbed.

Rest In Peace Paul – you are sorely missed.

Anyone wishing to leave their condolences here can be assured they will be passed on to the family.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Herons, Bumbleholes & Jap Hops

After reading Melissa Cole's account of her time spent concocting a new brew for Thornbridge, I had a sneaking suspicion that a barrel might just find it's way to the Grove in Huddersfield. You see the pub offers the brewery's outstanding Jaipur IPA on a permanent basis now and consequently seems to get pretty much everything they churn out in some quantity or other. Churn sounds a little derogatory I know but there has been quite a bit of forgettable stuff recently, so where as once I would be going into raptures upon finding Thornbridge on the bar, these days I'm much more composed.

Having enjoyed the tale of how this beer came together I was looking forward to sampling Seven Heron, so made sure it was the first down the hatch at this Sunday's protracted session - for a more accurate and reasoned appraisal you understand! A surprising amount of caramel in both aroma and initial taste was no bad thing and certainly sold it to those whose palates have been growing steadily more acidicated (sic) by the continuous citrus and carbolic onslaught associated with modern beer drinking in this part of the world. When the bitterness arrived it was gentle and rather short-lived but nevertheless held up to complete a pleasant and refreshing if slightly underwhelming experience. If I have any real criticism it would be the lack of much discernible flavour delivered by the four hop varieties used, but then we are talking experimental here and I guess (though I know three-quarters of f**k-all about brewing) that if you pick some favourites and stick them all together it's no guarantee of success - I love steak pie and custard but wouldn't want them on the same plate!

I commented a while ago about making pale hoppy beers a more inclusive year-round style but I think in the case of Seven Heron it very much belongs as a summer quencher - it's just a shame we won't get the opportunity to sit outdoors with it. A very good effort though and the girls loved it too - watch out Harriet Easton!

Also at the Grove was a beefed up version of the Thornbridge (sort of) from Pardoe's with their 5.2% Bumblehole (named after a local nature reserve disappointingly). This West Midlands brewery based in Dudley has produced an excellent pale pudding ale with this toffee-nosed powerhouse. You're never going to get through a lot, unless you're a tea with five sugars person, but it's worthy of a pint or two if the aforementioned plethora of bittering-hop brews are starting to take their toll.

And talking of which, Pictish Brewery is once again assaulting our long-suffering buds (well it is at the Rat anyway) with the return of it's 4.4% Sorachi. This Japanese variety must be pushing the tongue-stripped limits of all but the most hardened of astringent hop addicts. It's almost as if there's Sake involved at some stage of the brewing process along with handfuls of that yellow privet that some cat's tried to kill. I've been coping admirably with the recent fad for brewing with Nelson Sauvin but would be quite unconcerned if this one didn't catch on. Kanpai!

I couldn't find a website for Pardoe's but here's the address of The Olde Swan Brewery for those interested in finding out more: 87-89 High Street, Netherton, DY2 9PY

Monday, January 05, 2009

A Trip up the Colne Valley

For those unaware, the Colne Valley is the valley to the West of Huddersfield heading towards Marsden, served by the A62 Manchester Rd, and also easily accessible by rail and bus (181-185) from Huddersfield. My reason for the trip was to catch up on the 2 brew pubs and a 3rd beer guide listed pub up the valley. It can be easily done in either direction but best done at weekend due to the pub opening hours being restricted in the week.

My first port of call was the Riverhead Brewery Tap, in Marsden - easy enough to find at the bottom of the main street in the village. The pub was once independently owned but is now part of the ever expanding Ossett chain, but brewing still takes place on the premises, and to prove it on my visit there were 6 Riverhead beers on the bar in addition to 2 Ossett and a Fullers. A friendly pub, popular with locals and visitors alike, it also has an upstairs restaurant. I settled down with a Town Terrier at 4.6% and an American IPA at 6.3% - both excellent brews. The pub also serves coffee for those in need of warmth after a mornings walking.

From here it is easy enough to get to Slaithwaite, and The Swan at Crimble, (under the railway arches to the right of the village centre). A nice walk along the canal from Marsden if you feel energetic or near the Railway Station if you don't. The Swan is a comfortable pub, serving 2 rooms from a central bar. There were 3 beers on offer, one being a Mallinsons, but often Empire beers are on the menu here. There is Sky TV and a pool table but neither are intrusive. It is again a friendly place and spotless and worthy of its place in the Good Beer Guide, my Hambleton Festive Folly was on form. It also holds occasional beer festivals which are well worth a visit.

The final port of call was the Sair, at Linthwaite. Up the steep hill, Hoyle Ing, from the main road. By the time you have climbed the hill, a beer is a worthy reward. There have been problems there in the recent past and Ron, the brewer, was still struggling on a walking stick, on my visit. However, his new brewer, can still produce the goods as the 5 Linfit beers on the bar proved. I chose Swift at 4.2% and was amazed to find I was only charged £1.90. The beer was in good order and the pub had lost none of its quirkiness since my last call. It does however, seem to have become a locals local and I felt treated with some suspicion as an incomer. If you have never visited before it is well worth hunting out.

It is an easy bus ride then back into Huddersfield - there is no rail station at Linthwaite. All in all, a good way to spend an afternoon, and if one includes some of the other pubs in the area such as the Tunnel End at Marsden then it's a very acceptable crawl.