Tuesday, November 03, 2009

It's a Firkin Shame

Whilst Will has been getting all sentimental about his early drinking days in Dewsbury, an article in the CAMRA magazine 'Beer' this quarter has left me thinking of bygone times too. The article was about the chain of Firkin pubs and what happened to their brewing equipment when those fine establishments closed down. There is one local mention and that is of the 'Halifax Steam Brewery' who sourced their plant from the chain and continue to use it to this day. Huddersfield did for a while have its own none brewing Firkin pub on Zetland Street, but I cannot recall its name. They did sell 'Dogbolter' so it was always worth a call. However I digress.

The reason for this article is to remind people that a local brewery did indeed benefit from the demise of Firkin, when Andy Moorhouse, erstwhile landlord of the Rat & Ratchet in Chapel Hill decided to try his hand at brewing.

He, with a couple of other regulars, tripped off to Surrey one day and returned with the brewing kit from the Firkin in Crawley - and if I can't remember the name of the local Firkin I am unlikely to to remember the name of one 200 miles away am I!

He managed to cram the brewing kit into the cellar at the Rat and started brewing in late 1994. He would be offended if I called the brewery a 'Heath Robinson' affair, so I will say that it was a tribute to his engineering and skill that he managed to fit all the gear into such a small area and before long beers with rodent names were appearing on the bar (below). Usually light and hoppy, they were a tribute to his ability and it was always a pleasure to walk down Chapel Hill and smell the brewing process wafting up the hill towards you.

Andy not only used his ingenuity in the brewery, his search for rodent names provided some of the most memorable beer names ever. 'Silver Shrew' and 'Rattus Rattus' were easy to explain, 'Lord Derby's Flying Squirrel' and 'Splinter' less so. Nevertheless, the brewery went from strength to strength and I recall his pleasure, or maybe amazement at being awarded the 'Beer of the Festival' at Woking one year. (Suppose, light hoppy beer was a shock to Southerners!!).

Anyway all good things must end, and Andy decided to turn his hand elsewhere and the brewery was sold on. Firstly to the Fantasy Brewery in Nuneaton, which was a fairly short lived affair and then on again. I believe it was the basis for the Ashover Brewery in Derbyshire but I could be wrong. They are still brewing, so if you come across their beers it is entirely possible that they have come from the original Rat plant.

Andy did brew again, using Golcar's plant, where he produced a handful of beers under the 'Sidecar' name. However, his real success came at the Rat with beers that attracted attention from far and wide. Who can forget 'Infestation', a beer that is still talked about to this day. It just shows what a good brewing pedigree Huddersfield has, and is a tribute to Firkin that their kit has lasted the test of time to still produce good beers over 20 years on.


Udders Orchard said...

Hi Tim
The Feast and Firkin was the Huddersfield one. Don't forget that there was brewing going on at the Old Court Brewhouse as well, with classic beers like M'Lud and 1842(?).

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia says that the Huddersfield one was the Fabricant and Firkin which is now the scream owned Warehouse. The one in Crawley was called the Firecracker and Firkin now called the Railway.
Sam, Rat and Ratchet.

Anonymous said...

Will mentions back in June that Richard Sutton of Pictish Brewery in Rochdale was a former brewer for firkin too!
Sam, Rat and Ratchet

ashover said...

The "Rat & Ratchet" brewery made for the Rocket at Crawley - renamed to the "Firecracker & Firkin" was produced by Buntingford brewery design services. I retrieved said beast from Scotland where Bob from Fantasy brewery had taken it for a non-brewing holiday. It is now installed at the back of the "old Poets Corner" in Ashover and producing award winning beers. See www.ashoverbrewery.co.uk

Roy Shorrock - Partner & brewer Ashover brewery.

Timbo said...

Thanks Dave and Sam...think sam is right and it was the Fabricant..have also been reminded that the Firkin plant was a replacement for Andy's original brewery, not his first attempt..my memory must be failing

Will said...

Thanks very much for that update Roy, I like a story with a happy ending!

Tandleman said...

Not only is Suttie a former Firkin brewer, but his kit came from the Dundee Firkin I believe.

Timbo said...

If my memory serves me well, think that's why he named the brewery Pictish...