c/o Chris Dyson at http://chrisdyson55.blogspot.co.uk/

c/o Chris Dyson at http://chrisdyson55.blogspot.co.uk/

There’s not been much pub action this week for me, so a bit of a catch up on all the pub news from Calderdale.  Calans Too is still going well from reports and a June date for their re-opening at their original premises is looking likely now it has received its “dried out” certificate from the inspectors.   I hope to visit again this coming weekend to catch up with Alan and Alyson, so hopefully more news once I’ve spoken to them.   On Thursday I popped into the Market Tavern and chatted to Debs and Snap.   The 1960’s weekend was their best weekend ever with standing room being a pipe dream over the duration of event, getting into the building being a challenge for long periods.  With only two on the bar, they worked relentlessly to make sure the thirsty punters were kept refreshed, a great effort from a great team and the best pub in the town centre of Brighouse.   The beer quality is still being kept high at the Market Tavern and this in turn is making other venues in the area raise their game and that can only be a good thing.  If you have a good real ale tour in an area it will only attract more drinkers and benefits all businesses in the area, be they pubs, shops, food outlets or restaurants.  Of course, some venues don’t follow this ethos and they deserve all they don’t get, even resorting to going into other pubs and deliberately self promoting their own venue in groups.

13096020_221921341521375_5996482523005416561_nIn Halifax, the new micro pub venture has finally got a name, The Grayson Unity will open in the next couple of months, although exact dates are yet to be announced.  The venue is located opposite the town hall (in the old County Court building), looking out onto the Broadway Plaza complex.   Being ran and owned by Spike from the long running Doghouse music events, “the bar itself is small but friendly place where you can get a lovely drink in a unique setting. Local and the wider Yorkshire producers and suppliers will be used with odd Lancashire curveball” (sic).  With this and the expected new venue opposite the bus station, the Halifax Real Ale pub scene could really take off again.   Take these, Victorian Craft Beer Cafe, the two Wetherspoon pubs (I know they are mainstream, but real ale tours always seem to take them in, especially if they arrive in the vicinity of breakfast or brunch), plus Dirty Dicks, Three Pigeons and finishing off at the Cross Keys, Siddal and you have a weekend of drinking, never mind an afternoon.  As I said about Brighouse, these people will eat and shop as well as drink, so the town of Halifax will benefit as a whole.

I hosted a party this past weekend, purely for the sake of it given the lack of good news recently. Close friends and family invited up, whilst making sure I had enough beer for all the guests and cooking way too much food.  I now have enough beer in reserve for my next party, and have a respectable cocktail bar in development!   The point of this is that as a culture, alcohol is still our social glue, it wouldn’t be a party without it.  Most people had met at least some of the other parties present at some point in the past, but by the end everyone knew pretty much everyone else, even though geographically spread by 200 miles. Beer, wine, spirits all lubricating this process.   The call to “lets meet over a coffee” does not appeal to me, even though I love the stuff, I’d rather have a pint if the good stuff is available nearby.  The pub is an even better proponent of this theory, I popped down to the Cross Keys, Siddal so my dad could check into his room for the night, one of my best friends staying in the other room.  We stopped for a couple of beers as it would be rude not to before returning home.   After the party, they both shared a taxi back, my dad retiring after a beer, my mate retiring much later after possibly one too many beers.  The best mate lives in mid Wales, but has visited a number of times and always stays there.  He is accepted as much as any regular by staff and punters alike, would you get the same after a few visits to a coffee shop over a period of a year, I doubt it.

And finally, Darren Carney from the Sportsman, Ploughcroft is being laid to rest on Friday and there is no more fitting place to celebrate his life than the place he loved and worked for many years.  I’ll be there to raise a couple of glasses of beer to him on the day, please do the same wherever you are drinking this weekend.

Pubpaper 853 – A Sad Loss and Happy Gains

Posted: 26th April 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

13043239_10153954937373780_6284912195645074424_nThis week starts with some sad news.  Over the weekend, Darren Carney who managed the Sportsman at Ploughcroft for many years until last Autumn, passed away after a brave battle with cancer.  If you met Darren, you’d not forget him, always a smile and happy welcome whatever was going on, even till the very end.  I only became friends with Darren last year after years of knowing him and chatting to him as just a drinker in the pub he ran.   After I went public about my cancer, he got in touch as he had been diagnosed with cancer in the same location, giving support to each other over the past 8 months, sadly his cancer was far more aggressive than mine.  Once you got to know him, he was a very funny and caring man, who will be missed by many people, including myself.  So this weekend, please raise a glass on his behalf.

I’ve said in the past that there are some pubs you visit as much for the people as you do for the beer, in some cases the people count more than the beer.  This was the case at the Sportsman, the beer selection was always solid and reliable, well kept and good for a session.   The staff made the place, led by Darren until last year, always friendly, welcoming and cheerful, hopefully the legacy of his ethos will last well into the future.  It is where I held my 40th birthday party and they couldn’t do enough for us.

bar_upThe pub is a core element of my life and I am lucky to have so many good ones on my doorstep.   This weekend we went out for a meal, which didn’t impress so I’ll not mention the place.   In town we visited Cookies, a place which used to be a regular haunt for me, it’s not changed in 16 years and that is a good thing.   A range of german beers, decent spirits and a few real ales, add decent music and it is nice place to start the night.   After the meal we popped into the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe, busy as always on a Saturday night with Simon and Co keeping the beer flowing and the welcome warm.  There is always something new to try here which keeps me and my family coming back repeatedly.  The two beers I had here did not disappoint and I would have had the lovely mango cider (which tastes like it was freshly juiced) if we didn’t run out of time.

We finished the night at the Cross Keys where my dad was staying for a couple of beers, with a warm welcome as always from Hugh and Ruth.  Being the back end of the night Hugh joined us for a chat as we enjoyed our nightcap beers.  I write about this place a lot, but it deserves all the plaudits it gets.  Great beer, warm welcome and lovely original interior, what more could you want.  If you look at the pubs I mention the most, namely Victorian Craft Beer Cafe, Market Tavern and Cross Keys, you notice they are very different beasts, but all have common elements of good beer, nice welcome and pleasant interior.

DA_POSTCARD_HOLMFIRTH 46On Saturday I visited Holmfirth with my dad for the afternoon, popping into the newly refurbished Postcard Inn for a beer before heading into the town centre with some book shopping (inc a signed Brian Blessed book for £3.50).  We then visited the Nook and had some of their own brewed beers.  The berry flavoured ale was really nice and the onion rings impressed in size and taste.  The music taste of the customers here should be complemented judging by what was put on the jukebox.  The place lives up to its name with little rooms at every turn.  Before heading home we returned to the Postcard Inn.  A few of you might remember Kevin at Lewins about 3 to 4 years ago, who now runs the Postcard.   Four well kept real ales, good bottle range and some nice continental beers, it’s well worth visiting if you are in the town, located next to the main car park by the CO-OP.

I really am looking forward to this summer from a beer perspective, Calans both in its pop up location and at its permanent home, two new real ale micro pubs in Halifax town centre and the Calder Valley finally lifting from the lows of the Christmas floods.  Libertine to visit still among many others means my weekend will be full visiting pubs both old and new, and what a way to spend a weekend.


Pubpaper 852 – The Calderdale Micropub Scene

Posted: 18th April 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

I know I said this weeks piece was going to be about my Manchester trip, but that is for another week now.

1000588This week is dedicated to the local Micropub sceneand firstly to Alan and Alyson at
Calans, which opened its pop up venue this weekend just outside Hebden Bridge in the basement of Macpelah Mill, on the junction with Station Road.  They are open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm, closing at 10pm apart from Sunday at 8pm, scheduled until late May / early June when they hope to move back into their original courtyard premises.   The bar is a basic as it comes, a couple of tables, a rack of auto tilts, fridges with bottles out back and a cash register.  But they are keeping up great range of beers, with 10 ales on when I visited on opening night Friday, down to a mere 8 when I visited again on Sunday afternoon.   Craft ciders and wine are also served, but things are kept simple here and is the better for it!  Served straight from the cask, the beers are served in great condition and don’t suffer from lack of pump!   The beers are what you came to expect before their courtyard premises became a truly “liquid led” venue just after christmas with Vocation, Elland, Bridestones supporting local brewers, and regional brewers such as Abbeydale, Great Heck and Mallinson a solid back up to these beers.

1000591The fixtures do not maketh a pub and this pub proves that perfectly.   The original venue was always warm and friendly, although the former could be attributed to the “human” central heating system once it got busy.   It’s an oddity that a pub’s pop up venue is actually three times bigger than it’s permanent venue, but they were easily filling the larger venue and a bit more on Friday night, with Sunday showing a still healthy footfall.   The two owners garnered a lot of good will in the town and this has been repaid by the customers now.   The best of luck to them both in the next few months and if word of mouth continues to spread then it bodes a fine future for the bar in both its venues.   

the_libertine_night_market_700The micro pub scene is booming in the Calderdale region at the moment and just down the road is Libertine in Mythomlroyd, which has been on scene for a bit longer, and is establishing itself as a bit of a magnet for drinkers local and further afield.  Although I’ve not had a chance to visit yet, it looked more than full as I drove past on Friday tea time.  Based opposite Sainsburys it serves 4 real ales, a nice range of spirits and real ciders.  Adjoining the building is an outside cocktail bar and guest street food vendors each weekend.  Taking a very different approach to Calans, the benefit being that the building is theirs 24/7 so can be fitted out as they need, whereas Calans are renting an existing commercial space and need to be able to ship out certain weekends, such a the Folk Festival where it is already pre booked.  I’m looking forward to visiting Libertine in the next few weeks and giving a review right here, especially if the quality of the bar takeovers continues with Vocation and Northern Monk visiting in recent weeks.

It’s good to see the Calder Valley starting to pick up from the Christmas 2015 floods.  Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd now have a Co-op supermarket back and the Mytholmroyd petrol station is re-open, cashpoints are becoming the norm than a rarity in the area.  Hebden Bridge is still suffering from a glut of shops being dried out, halogen heaters being ubiquitous in the town, but more and more premises are being opened.   Moyles has opened again as a bed and breakfast and although the bar is not open, it’s positive it is running some level of business.  Lets hope this summer sees the area restored to it’s previous glory.   

I also got talking to a guy who is planning to open another micropub in Halifax town centre later this year on Friday night. I can’t go into too many details as paperwork is still being dealt with but the location will be convenient for public transport users and it will operate as a brew pub for their own beers.  Listening to him this should be a really good bar once up and running!

Now for some personal news and this is the last you will hear of this. My cancer is incurable, I’m not going to get any better.  I was offered an operation with 20% chance of cure, but would mean me losing the ability to eat, drink or talk.  The risk / benefit was not worth it.  I’m having palliative treatment to extend my life.  As long as I can drink and type I’ll be doing this column.  I can’t do any more damage to my body now, so will enjoying my beer even more, happy supping until next week.


This week’s article was planned to be a two legged affair.   Of course unlike Leicester City’s closing down on the Premier League title, which seems to be all one way at the moment with their rivals shooting themselves in the food and the awesome Jamie Vardy providing or scoring week after week.   As a very long term Leicester City fan and Halifax resident, it’s a double pride to see him doing so well week after week and look forward to seeing him kick European ass over the summer if Roy Hodgson sees any sense at all.

The home leg is always the one you want second, but here we want to go first, I’m not going to go on about my situation apart from things are not going to plan at all and some major life defining decisions are to be made before next week’s article.  Back to the beer, I had some really good visits to all of my favourite pubs over the last week.  The Cross Keys at Siddal, Market Tavern in Brighouse and Victorian Craft Beer Cafe in Halifax.   Starting with the newest venue, the Market Tavern is still not disappointing after 6 weeks, gaining all the right clientele from the town whilst dissuading those who should be drinking not too far away to stay there!  

12605344_513063148855467_676815325668198535_oA great range of beer is being well kept on every visit to the Market Tavern I make, a trip I try to make at least once a week.  My youngest daughter made her debut there this weekend and we could not have been made more welcome by Deb’s, something which keeps me coming back again and again.  Her and Snap have really opened up the Brighouse Real Ale scene again and become a fixture in very short time, if you have not visited then please do and support this small business.   If the demise of the “old” pub nearby even helped in their decision in opening the Market Tavern in the slightest, then it is no bad thing at all and has done the town a whole world of good.  A steady trade from mid afternoon to evening is testament to that.

12594_454082087988269_2110884420_nMoving onto the Cross Keys, this place has become a constant in my life through thick and thin.  I’ve known Hugh and Ruth for over three years now and you exactly what to get from them and that is honesty, something critical if you write in print.  However this extends to their attitude to the beer, which is as good as you will find in any pub in the country, if you are happy with a beer, but they sense it is going off, it is pulled off the bar and the pint quite literally pulled out of your hand!   For their regulars they are friends and that is how a pub should should be as a town or area local, these are model pubs in their field, as is the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe in a different way.

bar-areaThe Victorian Craft Beer Cafe caters to a very different crowd (although there is audience undoubted cross over between here and the other two pubs) and has to balance the need of the cask drinkers to that of their keg counterparts and numbers are king in this.  8 cask pumps and 10 keg pumps give plenty of choice, the bottle bar is hard to beat locally and it is good to see the return of Simon from his extended trip to Thailand and his extensive sampling of their craft beer scene.  I was chilling here on a Sunday afternoon with some nice live music over a couple of nice pale beers I’d not tried before with good friends and there are few other places I’d rather have been, the others mentioned being among that list.


Illustration by Tom Scotcher

Now for a minor rant! The common element between all of these places is the acceptance of well behaved families. I’m one of those people who do not support access to pubs for all children at all times, but as a parent I do support access to families who know how to behave in a pub and teach their children the same, at the right times of day.  A pub is an adult environment and if your child can’t behave then don’t bring them along, just get a babysitter and enjoy it yourselves as adults.  I was at a “family chain” the other week and on the table next to me was a child playing with one of the large balloons on an elastic string, it came onto our table full of drinks and subsequently food twice, the child got told in no uncertain terms to keep his balloon under control else it might not survive a third visit, much to the disapproval of the parents.

I was going to detail my trip to Manchester, but as I’ve ran out of space, that’s for next week!  Happy supping to you all.

Ember Inns and the Black Sheep Brewed Ember Pale Ale

Posted: 3rd April 2016 by santobugtio in Writing

I’ll be up front as usual on these matters, I was invited by Ember Inns PR agency to visit one of their pubs to taste their new house ale, brewed by Black Sheep.  They provided me with a very well presented tankard and a number of pints of the beer itself and travel expenses.

12891603_10154196342050466_4456164795081597105_oEmber Inns are a chain of pubs across the UK with 166 food led pubs in total.   They have 5 pubs around the West Yorkshire area, clustered around West and North Leeds area.  I was invited to visit the Brown Cow on the Selby Road running out of Leeds.  Normally I’d not give these places a second look as pubs which are attached to a hotel are more there to feed the residents than serve a decent range of ales, and by their admission Amber Inns are a food led chain.    The pubs is of fairly typical chain decor, neutral colours, a variety of seating, with distinct adult only and family areas, something I appreciate even as a parent myself from both sides of the fence.   First impressions were good of the place, not too busy on a wet Saturday lunch, but a range of customers from families eating, to groups having a few pints before heading into town, to diners.  There were a good number of staff on duty, all of which were keeping up with day to day duties when not serving customers.  It’s good to see.

My contact was Kevin, the Cask Ambassador at the pub.   I was surprised on inspection that the pub had 10 real ale pumps with 3 regular and 7 guest.   The long bar holds these pumps in three banks.  You should note here that beers the pub can select are from Ember Inns “Seasonal Range”, a curated list from head office of 30 beers update quarterly.  There were at least 6 ales on the bar I’ve not tried, and the ones I’d had before were choices I’d have easily picked if not here to taste a certain beer.  The range of beers, brewers and styles was well balanced and wasn’t dominated with household names.   My concern was, as a food led pub, freshness of beer over 10 pumps would be a problem, but the pub runs 80/20 wet to dry meaning that the majority of its turnover is derived from drinkers.  They typically aim to turnaround a cask in 4-5 days tops, and those that don’t shift don’t get ordered again, of which there had been a few.

You’d have thought with 10 pumps, all generally selling whilst fresh, Ember Inns would give the pub SIBA access, where they can order any beer which they distribute, but knowing large pub chains, the criteria for getting onto that list can be tough with financial targets and ordering levels usually being the thing which uplifts a pub, but I’d ask Ember Inns to look again at the Brown Cow as giving them SIBA access which would benefit both parties.

12524415_10154202892885466_1131954609818889523_nI rarely drink big brand ales such as Copper Dragon and Black Sheep now, saving for when there is a limited ale selection at a pub I visit and I revert to a known brand over lager or a now over cooled Guinness.  It was these beers which got me into real ale in the first place, so I know they are solid dependable sessions ales which aren’t going to give you any surprises.

Now lets get onto the nub of the article, the Ember Pale Ale,  they display the Black Sheep sourcing prominently, but they don’t need to, this could come from no other brewery than Black Sheep.    Be it Black Sheep Ale, Riggwelter or Golden Sheep, their beers have the same under note, best described as earthy and solid.   Looking at the tasting notes, this has Maris Otter malted barley, Fuggles and WGV (Whitbread Goldings Variety) hops.  Interesting to note that the British Hop Association has this to say about WGV “has a distinctive and robust flavour and although Goldings features in its name, it is more likely to have Fuggle pedigree, based on its Farnesene content”.

Flavours in the beer they note include a “biscuity flavour from the barley…..with a herbal edge….with peppery and minty taste”.    The beers I had settled well and were clear and had obviously been kept well.  Looking at the tasting notes Black Sheep put for their Best Bitter, there is a number of points of commonality, so it is no surprise that it tastes much like its more famous brother.   It is a decent session ale, easy to drink, with good solid base flavours and pleasant on the tongue, but the herbal, peppery and mint notes don’t quite fight enough to get out, it needs a touch more “pop”, especially when competing with 9 other ales on the bar. However this beer will sell well across the 144 pubs it is being put in, of that their is no doubt, it’s got the Black Sheep badge and a taste that will appeal across the board, and for Ember Inns that is job done.

I also eat here (at my own cost) and the food was spot on, I had the ultimate burger, chips swapped out for mash and no bun.   The burgers with egg, bacon and cheese was well presented on a wooden board, the meat was well cooked, moist and of a good size to the point where I only managed under a half of the second burger which comes with this.  The mash was good as well, something many pubs fall over on.   The customer service was spot on from all the staff, and from my advantage point near the bar, this seemed to be the standard.  As I’ve always said give people a good beer and good service and you are more than halfway to having a good pub.

Pubpaper 850 – CAMRA Revitalisation

Posted: 2nd April 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Last week CAMRA launched its revitalisation consultation inviting both members and non members to have their say on the future of the organisation.   The problem CAMRA now has is that they have won the war, real ale is thriving all over the UK, there are now over 1000 breweries in the UK, the battle again the Big Six brewers from the 1970’s and 1980’s is one sitting in the past.   It has gained such a momentum that it doesn’t need CAMRA to keep the momentum up, it can do that all by itself.   You’ve seen this doubt of their own purpose over recent years when they have repeatly debated regarding the inclusion of “keg craft beer” and ended up looking like something which belongs in the past.

Their key question is how inclusive should CAMRA be.  The options are 1) Drinkers of Real Ale 2) Drinkers of Real Ale, Cider and Perry 3) All Beer Drinkers 4) All Beer, Cider and Perry Drinkers 5) All Pubgoers 6) All Drinkers.  In my opinion it should be none of the above, but let me explain why these are wrong first.  Option 1 is their position from the 70’s, is too closed for todays need for such an organisation and would render them as effectively a national beer festival organiser.   Option 2 draws similar arguments as Option 1, Real Cider and Perry are standing on their own two feet nicely at the moment and are a major growth market within pubs and in off sales. Option 3 is too wide,  frankly CAMRA representing craft beer, the best cask ale and Fosters would kill the organisation totally as it would ruin any credibility they had, the same arguments counting against Option 4 also as who want a body that supports Strongbow.  Option 5 and 6 are just plain silly, imagine if you asked CAMRA what they stand for and the answer came back “Everyone at the pub including the Bloke at Yates drinking a pint of Rekorderling ‘Cider’”, you’d laugh them out of the room.

CAMRA needs to totally re-align itself.   It doesn’t need to campaign any more, there is nothing to campaign for.  My analogy is D-Day, CAMRA is the fleet of boats, the real ale trade are the allied soldiers, the big brewers are the Germans.  Except now the Germans are sitting back in Berlin no longer a threat and the allied soldiers have made their own boats, rowed to Blighty and are sitting in front of the fire back home safe.  There is no one to rescue and no enemy to rescue them from, it was just a waste of diesel.  If a producer or sector of the drinks market is creating great tasting products they will get picked up and talked about.  

The internet has become a game changer, all you need is a few hundred quid to set up a website, a few hundred more to get the right branding which will grab peoples attention and to invest a lot of time promoting your presence whilst making sure the right people get samples they’ll talk about.   It isn’t like the 1980’s or even 1990’s where the way to get your products known to the trade was slow, expensive and was hindered by the number of pubs that the PubCo’s had locked down. If you wanted to market your products you had to spend money on trade advertising and hit the road meeting people just to get known.  That first step of getting known is so much more accessible now, you can market to the whole world for the same price as marketing to a single pub landlord.  Of course the follow up face to face skills are still crucial, but getting that face to face is so much easier.  Also there are so many more freehouses out there now who’ll buy a couple of boxes, kegs or cask to see how it sells.  If it is good, you’ll get repeat orders and word of mouth will spread, if it isn’t I’d get back to the brewing plant before coming back. Just look at Brewdog as an example, founded less than 10 years ago, adopting a low budget marketing campaign (compared to other nationally aware brands) and now close to raising £25 million through direct investment from beer drinkers.  The internet was key in this.

What should CAMRA become, the first thing that should be done is to change the political nature of the regional branches pub of the year / season, it shouldn’t be “it’s their turn”, it should be “they deserve it”.  Just look at our local CAMRA branch list of winners and you’ll see no-one holds on to an award for a second season or year or even gets repeat awards.  There are a number of pubs that should have won more than one seasonal or annual awards in the last few years.   Local branches still have their place though.  Nationally it should do the things they do well, national campaigning on politically relevant issues and organising their successful large beer festivals.  But the fight is done, they need to sit back and enjoy the spoils.

Pubpaper 849 – Food, Drink and Friendship

Posted: 29th March 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

I’m sure we all agree good beer is important in life, I certainly do!  But sometimes other things are more important.   We’ll all at times think that life isn’t all it could be, or be at a low point, but there is always someone else worse off than you.

My situation would be classed as “being worse” by a good number of people, having had cancer in two places, going through some intensive, physically rough treatment and still having a more than 50% chance that the cancer has survived and further treatment will be needed.  I went through the low when I realised this last week.  It didn’t help when my face had been squeezed, injected, poked and vibrated, leaving it feel like it’d been 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.  This simply exasperated the way my mouth felt after an internal inspection under general anaesthetic two days earlier.

All of this was immediately put into perspective when the friend of mine who started off with the same two cancer locations got far worse news than me.   For me a painful operation will probably remove the affected tissue in my mouth, however for my friend, a cure is not possible, it’s about extended life and making that time as comfortable as possible.  I’ll admit that it hit me far harder when I heard my friends news than when I found out I didn’t have the all clear.  To be honest it was that proverbial ton of bricks that hit me.  Having time to reflect all I can do is what friends are all about and be around as much as possible for him, helping out however I can.

At the point I heard the news, my situation became trivial in comparison.  I should be around for my family and children for another 40 years at least bar being hit by that proverbial passing bus.  For my friend, the inevitable will happen a lot sooner, leaving behind family and friends.   There is always someone else worse off than you, but you don’t always want to know them personally.   There is an important lesson to learn from all this as the proverbial bus, in whatever form it takes for us, will eventually hit us.  We really have to enjoy life as much as we can.  When I was going through treatment and in recovery I went to the pub as much as I could, even if I was drinking water and could only last an hour on a Sunday afternoon with the Cross Keys, Siddal being my lifeline in late 2015.

P1000238After this rather rough week, I was away for Easter on a pre planned trip to Mid Wales to see a friend for a few days followed by Leicester for a few days for my dad’s 65th birthday, I’ll be covering the Welsh leg here. One of my longest known best friend lives in the middle of nowhere in a tiny Welsh village called Tal-y-wern, a sort of one chapel, 5 house place.   The nearest town with any amenities is 4 miles away on single track roads for long periods.  The isolation is really quite nice, you can do nothing but relax, the only downside being there is no pub for literally miles.  I’ve known this friend since I was 15 or 16, so we go back 25 years and I try to get over to see him and his family about twice a year.  I’ve been with him through some pretty serious lows, some long term and in return he has been a rock for me in the last 9 months.

P1000210We had no real plans for my two days there, just wanting a relaxing few days, there was one disappointment we didn’t get to eat at Aberdiner, a proper American diner on the Aberystwyth promenade.  I’ve tried to eat there 3 times now, but either been in town too early or on it’s closed day.   So I’ve ended up eating and drinking at Wiff Waff, preceded by a nice pint of a Salopian beer at the Wetherspoons, sitting at the end of the lines watching life go by being rather relaxing.  This is my third visit and it has never disappointed on the food, it’s not great for real ale with only one house beer, but it’s a good session ale and sometimes the bigger picture is more important than the details.

P1000251The second day we did a 300m ascent up to just below the summit of Plynlimon, reaching 720m, 35m below the peak. We then visited the town of Llandloes for a drink.  This is a strange feeling town, with the atmosphere reminding us of Children of the Corn and Wickerman.  Very quiet, but the feeling something will happen to you at night.  A bit like the vampire town where it looks normal by day.  We went into the Royal Head and had a couple of nice session ales on some very comfy sofas, myself having the Wye Valley Hereford pale ale.  At night we chilled over a couple of bottles of Mahou we got from the Italian / Spanish deli the previous day in Aberystwyth over a delicious teriyaki chicken, from a kitchen which never disappoints.

Saturday saw me head early to Leicester, but these few days were exactly what I needed, relaxation, no pressure, good food and drink and good company.  This is the lesson to be learnt, if we have at least a few of these at any one time we can enjoy life all the time, let’s try to aim for that!


Pubpaper 848 – A local tour of my favourite pubs

Posted: 17th March 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

I’ll start this week with an update on my current situation as I ran out of room last week.  As it stands I’ve not been cleared of cancer.   PET scans are showing residual readings of cancer in my tonsil, but the physical recovery, internal check up and observational signs by the consultant seems to contradict this.  So they are unsure at the moment, hence I am being sent for a suite of scans and tests over the next few weeks.  My next D-Day is 1st April when I meet my consultant again to review the results.    The right way will see the all clear, the wrong way will see a major operation.    The way I am looking at the situation is that before this review I possibly had cancer still, after the review nothing has changed, the day of destiny has just moved a few weeks into the future.  You have to be positive in these situations else they will swallow you.

Anyway back onto pub related content, post the result of the above review me and my parents went on a session of some of my favourite pubs taking in the Brighouse pubs of Market Tavern and Commercial / Railway Inn followed by a taxi to the Cross Keys, Siddal to finish off the night.   This was the day before the Leeds trip I detailed last week so by the Sunday I decided to limit myself to a two or three pints over the day, two of those at a client meeting.  The Market Tavern is keeping its beer quality up to the usual high standard, Debs welcoming as always.  I decided to stay on Vocation Brewery Heart and Soul for my time here as it was in cracking condition.  My dad tried 2 or 3 beers and found them all in a similar state.  The more I go into the Market Tavern, the more I like it.  The ethos of “keep it simple, do it well” is what it endearing many customers to this pub as they discover the hidden gem near the market.  The atmosphere reminds me of Calans before the floods hit, and on a related note can’t wait to be haunting that pub again.

We then moved on to see Jason, Trevor and Sue up at the Commercial / Railway Inn.   A couple of nice beers here in the form of Copper Dragon Golden Pippin (one of the beers that got me into real ale originally) and Bosuns Bermuda Triangle, a slightly more citrusy beer I had a number of time before at one of my regular friday lunch pubs near work.   My dad partook of Golden Pippin and a Guinness, the music room giving the perfect place to chill out for an hour, whilst giving me the chance to catch up with Jason.   We decided then to head to the Cross Keys in Siddal, where a lot of my nights and days either start or end, often both, drinking wise.  A cracking trio of beers were sampled here, two of which were new to me.  Gold Bullion by Camerons Brewery, Lemon Dream by Salopian Brewery and Disintegration by the same brewery.  All of which were in great condition.  Gold Bullion is a golden ale with nice hoppiness and well rounded flavour.   Lemon Dream is heavily citrus flavoured beer (fresh lemons being added to the copper), this blonde beer is a regular refreshing tipple of mine.  Disintegration is a pale ale, sweet and hoppy in taste with a dry finish, a first time for this beer.   A very enjoyable afternoon and evening finished off in the company of Hugh and Ruth, the great hosts as always.  

I also bumped into Chris Dyson on my travels, always a good experience, who is celebrating two years of writing his blog, there are some cracking articles on there, I suggest you look him up online.  In recent weeks I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting up with Bloke from Hull aka David Litten.  There is a great community of beer enthusiasts around this part of the country and the quality of our real ale houses is what makes this happen, of which Calderdale have many, for which we should consider outself blessed.  I overran a bit last week causing the editor to have to use a smaller font to fit it all in, so I’ll let him go back to the usual one this week.  Till next week happy supping!


Pubpaper 847 – Leeds – 4 pubs, 7 beers and 5 rums

Posted: 13th March 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

1000053Last weekend I had the chance to reacquaint myself the pubs around Leed City Centre.  It’s been a while since I visited and decided to try a few pubs we haven’t previously visited.   First on the list was Brewdog’s Shuffledog pub at the top of town on New York Street, more spacey than their Corn Exchange venue with a shufflepuck arena in the cellar.   The beer offerings are still the same as the other Brewdog pubs, a full range of 10 or so Brewdog ales with the same again as guest beers.  I’d tried most of the Brewdog beers, so was pleased to see that there was a number of new choices for me.  The first beer was Ace of Simcoe, a single hop 4.5% session ale, a lovely beer with a good hit of hoppiness, but a beer you could have more than a couple of.   The second beer was a guest beer Mikkeller Jackie Brown, a dark brown ale with a delicious rich roasted flavour, good coffee and chocolate notes coming through.   This wasn’t cheap at £5 for a ? pint schooner, but is one of the best dark beers I’ve tasted in long time with my wife also liking the taste, a rare compliment for a beer from her.  The bar is light and airy with plenty of space, not like some pubs which try and fit as many tables as possible into the space they have.  A nice chilled place to sit and drink I’ll be visiting again.

1000051We then moved on to Veritas next to the Hospital.  That side of Leeds General Infirmary is made up by a set of classic victorian gothic styled wings with some fantastic architectural touches.  However next to this some fool in the 1960’s decided to extend using generic concrete wings, and damn ugly examples of that to boot.   This method of construction was endemic at the time, very much like the walls of glass going up everywhere now.  Leeds has some great examples of old building the classic styles, the Corn Exchange, the Victoria and County shopping arcades and Leeds Market to name a few in a 5 minute walk, but it also suffers from towers of glass you witness as you arrive by train into the station.  Back to the beer, we stumbled on this venue and it’s a nice chilled place with 6 ale taps and 6 craft kegs lines.  I went for one of each with Northern Monk Eternal and Magic Rock High Wire.  Eternal is a 4.1% Session IPA, a nice well balanced beer with plenty to interest the taste buds, but easy to drink and if on a session would do you nicely for an extended period.   High Wire is an American IPA with a big bang of hop and at 5.5% the strength matches the hoppiness.  Still very refreshing and easy to drink it could get a touch dry after a few.

My next stop was down at Revolucion de Cuba on Calls Lane at the bottom of town.  Now, as you’d expect this isn’t a beer haven so I went for Camden Town Camden Hells Lager, a decent lager style beer with a good range of taste.  More interesting is the rum selection which numbered at least 40 from across the Caribbean, Central America and the States.  A rum had to be tried as well and the Appleton Estate went down a treat.   As a venue I like this place, live Cuban band playing at the far end and good friendly atmosphere despite the cavernous ground floor site it fills.  With only a couple of seats left, those being in the reception area, it still didn’t feel crowded, the sign of a well designed space.  We didn’t eat here but the food looks good and plan to come back here for a longer stay in the future with plenty of money for more than a few rums (my wifes double rum and coke came to over £8).   

2847140356Our last stop was at Friends of Ham before catching the train back home, a bar I’ve liked since it opened and subsequently extended.  Busy as always we nabbed the last two chairs on the end of a bench table.  Again a well designed bar where being full doesn’t mean you are virtually sitting on a stranger’s lap.   A good range of cask and craft keg lines here, with a mix of regional, national and international beers.   I stayed local with a glass of Magic Rock Salty Kiss and Summer Wine Brewery Pacer.   Both beers I’ve had several times before, the Pacer is a 4.1% session IPA from Honley, Huddersfield.   A nicely balanced beer, easy drinking with plenty of flavours coming through from the constituent ingredients.  Salty Kiss is the opposite and a beer which can divide people.  It is a “Gose” beer, which is brewed to be naturally tart in taste, with a salty undernote.  You either love it or hate it, personally I like it as I have tastes away from the sweet side.  I recommend you try it once at least to see.

Last week brought me some good news regarding the whole cancer story I’ve been living this last 7 months.   I recently had part of my kidney taken out as a suspicious cyst had been detected, the only way to test it was to actually remove it and the surrounding tissue.  It turns out that the cyst was cancerous, but the tests on the surrounding tissue came out clear, so on Thursday I was cleared of Kidney Cancer.  This week I should get the all clear on the cancers in my tonsil and lymph node (everything crossed!).   It’s been a rough ride, but finally I can step off this rollercoaster.   It’s a ride I’d rather not have been on, but life has pushed me there, and I’ve met dozens of fantastic people along the way, I can’t say enough about the staff at Leed Cancer Centre, MacMillans Cancer Support, all the nurses and doctors who have operated and looked after me during my three operations.  

Without this episode in my life, I’d never have met any of them and my life would be less rich for it.  You never want to get cancer, but if you do don’t be scared, the care out there is exemplary and is a big reason Jeremy Hunt should be stopped right now from doing any more damage to the NHS and his plans to dismantle it whilst handing it over to the private sector.  The junior doctors who work long hours and do a great job 24 hours a day need our support and deserve a better package than that being imposed on them.  I hope for Jeremy’s sake he doesn’t need NHS treatment any time soon as when that doctor says “It’ll only hurt a bit”, it might not be quite true.

calanspub1Now back to the pub news!   I was chatting to the owners of Calans in Hebden Bridge online and it appears that all things going to plan that they will re-open sometime in May.  This is fantastic news for residents and visitors alike, the town is still short of pubs with only 4 open at the moment.   This will give the town three great ale pubs again (Old Gate, Fox and Goose, Calans) and will make many people happy again who were just getting used to the friendly warm surrounds of the micropub.  Fingers cross I’ll be buying Alan and Alison a pint to celebrate their opening in a couple of months.

12605344_513063148855467_676815325668198535_oMore news on micropubs and the Market Tavern, Brighouse is doing well, not that it surprises me.   Over the weekend it was so successful that they ran out of beer with another well known ale house coming to their rescue.  It also appears that they took most of the same pubs customers as well one night!   I’ve went in last week for a couple of cracking beers to celebrate the news from the start of this article.  A nice crowd is settling in now to the pub and there seem to be plenty of regular faces already.  Best of luck to Debbie and Snap, the welcoming hosts there for future success.

This final section goes out to all the “Ruth’s” out there.  We all know the landlord, the public face of the pub we see pulling our pints, changing the beers over and making sure everyone is happy.   The “Ruth’s” are the people who work behind the scenes to make sure that all the paperwork and admin is kept up to date and submitted to the right people at the right time.  Without people like this business’s just couldn’t operate long term.   If you do the money and bills at home you know it can take some time up managing the monthly paycheck, now take that a multiply it to account for the taxman, company accounts, balancing the books etc.   We all buy a drink from time to time for the bar staff or landlord, but we don’t think about those sitting behind a laptop or pile of papers.  Next time you are in the pub, why not buy them a drink instead., I’m sure the landlord won’t mind for once!

Back of house is something which is easily forgotten, you go to a decently sized pub for dinner and your order will immediately involve four to five people, you only seeing two of them, the bartender and serving staff.  If you expand this, your transaction will go through another two to three people in the back office.   The hospitality business, which includes pubs is like an iceberg, it looks calm on the surface, but there is a hell of a lot going on below the water line.