Give or take a month, I’ve been writing this column for 5 years now.   The pub scene in Calderdale has had its peaks and troughs, some following the economy, some due to acts of god and sometimes a town has just popped its head above the Calderdale crowd.  The pubs I was regularly visiting 5 years ago are very different to those who get my money today.   A number of these changes have been because I’ve got to know the people who run a certain pub and come to be friendly with them, but with many it is simply drifting away as new premises open, became more real ale oriented or improved their beer offerings.   In some cases over the years, a pub has drifted in-out-in of favour and in one case in-out-in-out of favour.

Back in 2010, I regularly visited the bars at the bottom of Halifax, The Three Pigeons and The Pump Room.  In Hipperholme the Cock of the North was a regular venue whilst in Brighouse I was a regular guest at the pub Mark Feasey and Jason Fieldhouse were involved in operating back then.  The Big Six was also a regular haunt up at Manor Heath and in Sowerby Bridge it was usually The Works getting my money.  Hebden Bridge generally saw the White Lion and Stubbing Wharf getting my beer money.

Of these, the Cock of the North totally dropped off the radar for a number of years as previously documented, but recently came back into consideration.  The Big Six I only occasionally visit, but that is in no way down to the pub, merely the fact I’m not in the area as much.  John and the team there always seem to be doing the same good job of running an honest boozer when I do visit.  The Works is still on my list when in town (which isn’t as much as 5 years ago), but I now usually visit the Puzzle Hall Inn if down that way for the live music.  Regarding the two Hebden Bridge pubs, it is down to competition with the newer Old Gate and the now community owned Fox and Goose suiting my beer tastes better, although the Stubbing Wharf still gets a visit with my cider loving wife.  Brighouse wise I’ve moved to Jeremys, Millers and the Beck as well as the Commercial which I’ll discuss later.

Of the Halifax pubs, my town drinking money moved to Lewins (ex O’Neills / Last Drop) when Kevin Sanders took over and stayed there pretty solidly for the couple of years he ran the pub.  Some great beer rotated through the pumps at that time and I drank most of it.    After or around this period, the Ring of Bells came onto the scene for me, slightly up the road The Old Post Office started having a decent ale range.  Just outside town, Hugh and the Cross Keys at Siddal hit the real ale scene with force and sucked up my beer money like a Dyson (and still does to a lesser extent). There was no real reason for me not going back to the Three Pigeons, just local competition and of course the Pump Room was run down, then pulled down (well most of it as this is written).  

Looking at Halifax, The Upper George is still a great pub for a night out and hasn’t really changed since I moved here 18 years ago thankfully.  However in the last 5 years new additions have come along to the real ale scene in the form of Dirty Dicks, a pub I went through a phase of being a regular, and now visit occasionally.  However in the town centre my most regular pub is Victorian Craft Beer Cafe with its great range of keg and cask beers and lovely space to drink in.   Hugh at the Cross Keys may take every chance he gets to rip into my writing about Craft Keg (and is right now working out an expletive laden phrase to use when I next step into his pub) and argue the toss about this column, however there is no doubt he runs an excellent pub with some of the best real ale around, great staff and a fantastic music scene as well.

I’ve got to mention a couple more pubs before I wrap up, firstly The Commercial / Railway, Brighouse.  Trevor, Sue, Jason et all, run a great pub up there, decent beer and cider range and a friendlier pub it’d be hard to find.  It looks like someone’s house inside and feels like it as well.  A great community spirit that has been lost in many places pub or not is alive and well here.   The second pub is the Sportsman at Ploughcroft, ran by Darren, this little gem does a handful of good well kept real ales, well priced food and always has a nice atmosphere.  Out of the way, but worth the trip for the view over Shibden Valley alone.

Pubpaper 821 – Brighouse Canal and Music Festival

Posted: 23rd August 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Brighouse this weekend hosted it’s annual Canal, Beer and Food festival.  This year the festival was bigger and better with three music stages spread around the town, with the festival bar being located by the main stage on the Bethel Street car park.  As well as the three official stages, Jeremys and Millers hosted their own music stages playing throughout the day on Saturday.  The town was packed with people on Saturday despite the heavy rain just after tea time, which cleared for Rugosa to put on a cracking set before hitting later acts Blood Sweat and Beers with a downpour who put on a great set despite the soaking.  It was also nicely busy Sunday afternoon when I popped down for an hour, sadly having to miss the set by Rainey Street Band due to prior commitments.

The music side was organised by Jason Fieldhouse, guitarist with Rugosa and long term bar man at the Commercial / Railway Inn in Brighouse.  Three stages with great acts throughout the day, he deserves the recognition for getting such a good line up sorted despite the usual problems with big festivals of last minute band changes.  His second year of doing the job, things can only get better next year.  The music scene in Brighouse is really thriving at the moment, with 5 or 6 venues around the town hosting regular music nights and you sense there is a real community between them in the area, something which can do no harm at all when running a festival like this locally.

The town’s pubs were all up for the festival as well.  Pubs I rarely visit like the George and Black Bull, both adjacent to official stage were doing great trade watering music fans outside whilst providing wrap around entertainment through the weekend.   Wetherspoons was doing cracking trade in their beer garden when the heavens were not being opened.   Millers and Jeremys were packed throughout the day as their own music offerings kept punters happy.  But the festival beer tent was good value at £3.00 per pints and some good beers.  

The highlight for me was the Anchor Steam Bigleaf Maple, a triple hopped (Nelson Sauvin, Citra, Cascade) with double dry hop (Citra, Cascade) 6% beer.  A lovely rich interesting beer, of which a few were consumed.  The South West Cider was a lovely dry cider which refreshed the palate after a few beers.   Rat Brewery had a very nice 5.6% golden beer #RatCrafted, again with plenty of flavour.  From a lager point of view the Dortmunder Vier was a nice choice and a good beer.  Other beers came from Nook Brewery (Holmfirth), Fernandez (Wakefield), Rat Brewery (Huddersfield), Riverhead (Marsden) and Ossett.    You’ll notice that four of these brewers are all part of the Ossett Brewery empire, but the overall  beer choice and range of styles was nicely balanced to suit all drinkers at the decent price.  The same people have operated the bar for the last two years (as well as for the towns 40’s weekend) and they do a very good job in this aspect.

The food was also good, maybe a little less choice than last year, but between our party we tried 4-5 stalls and all of it was decent grub, including the excellent very hot malaysian curry and some good hot dogs and burgers from the Polish stand in the Bethel Street car park.   Overall the organisers did a great job on this years festival, despite the weathers best attempts and I look forward next years festival.    Our local small towns put on some cracking events, including the Sowerby Bridge Rushbearing Festival coming up soon.  Our pubs contribute to all of these, so sup up and enjoy some great beer.   

On a final note whilst talking about Sowerby Bridge, the new occupants of the Bull’s Head (to be called The Sowerby Taps) are well into their refurb now and it is looking rather good and if the beer selection is as good then the town will have another worthy stop on its real ale trail.   The town has suffered a couple of losses in its pub stock recently so its good to see a reverse.

Pubpaper 820 – A Correction

Posted: 17th August 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

This weeks piece is a correction to erroneous articles in Pubpaper 818 and Pubpaper 817.   The purpose of this piece is to present the correct facts regarding the Old Ship Inn in those two articles.  This should not be taken as an endorsement of these premises or the owners / operators, it is merely a statement of facts giving their corrected point of view.  No opinion on the part of myself is to be taken from this piece and should be taken as a statement of fact.  Representations have been made by the operators representatives Heath Kitteringham and David Bradley. Proper procedure would have been to check with the owners before publishing both pieces or either piece, this was not done.  It is this action I regret not doing, which would have avoided this situation.

In the two Pubpaper Articles listed above I stated that all the real ale pumps were to be removed from the pub.  On passing the pub, the marketing outside the pub seemed to indicate this with mainstream beers being pushed and no mention of real ale.  The fact is that real ale is still being served in the pub, but the focus of their marketing has changed to attract more customers, as David quotes in his correspondence “that when a business is failing decisions have to be made.”, something a business owner has to do.  My quote of the Old Ship Inn occupying “good unique niche being a good real ale town centre pub” was regarding the previous business model, something which wasn’t working as stated by David.

Regarding the quote that the low pricing would “attract the less desirables”, this could be the case in other premises and locations, but there is no evidence in the case of the Old Ship Inn.    I cannot comment on the atmosphere or any aspect of the pub with the current management, as I have not visited since writing these articles three weeks ago and cannot at present for personal reasons.  This will be the case for the immediate future, so I leave opinions of the Old Ship Inn to their customers, management and staff who are free to leave polite comments online against this article.

David quotes regarding the provision and keeping of real ale “that we are doing our additional bit for Real Ale by teaching a young man, supervised by one of the Old Masters, the craft of maintaining the very high standard that we demand from our cellar in an attempt to introduce new talent to the trade hopefully creating a new generation which can not only drink the beer but also look after it properly”.  More information has been requested regarding the typical real ale range and their plans for the future to communicate out here, but at this time none was forthcoming from Heath Kitteringham or David Bradley after requests.   Indications from outside signage would give the impression of being a more music and sport based pub with live entertainment and karaoke accompanying a full sports coverage program.  This venue previously being primarily marketed as a real ale house.

As a consequence of these previous two articles and the corrections from the management of the pub, I have decided that Old Ship Inn, Brighouse will not be mentioned in these columns or any online article ever again by me after this piece even in the context of a Brighouse centric article, avoiding any future misunderstandings totally.   The simple message to give out from this correction is that if you want real ale, then the Old Ship Inn is a valid choice for your drinking pound in Brighouse and that the change of direction is the choice of the owner and management to improve business.  I give no recommendation either negative or positive regarding the reader’s actions or choice of drinking venue in making this statement.   

Pubpaper 819 – Around the UK in 4 pubs

Posted: 7th August 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

The previous weekend saw a few days away visiting the parents in Leicester and a night in Harrogate for my daughters birthday.  One of the best bits about going away is going back to pubs you haven’t visited in a few years and discovering new venues.  Starting with the latter trip to Harrogate, I visited the Harrogate Tap at the Railway Station.  This bar is operated by the same people who run the Leeds, Sheffield and Euston Tap venues.  The premise is the same as the Sheffield Tap, a good mix of cask, keg and craft beer in period surroundings.  The bar had good range of 20ish beers, equally split between cask and keg.  Prices range from £3 for a regular session ale up to £6.20 for the more expensive craft keg.  Trying a beer from each side of the fence, firstly on the keg side, Magic Rock Salty Kiss (5%), a sour, naturally slightly salty beer, brewed in the Gooseberry Gose style from Germany.  I’ve had this beer before and like it although I have to admit it is an acquired taste.  The barman warned me it was £5 per pint post ordering, but if you have been to the Sheffield Tap, you’ll know that is where a lot of the their keg beers start at.  On the cask side I had Bristol Brewery Milk Stout (4.5%), another repeat beer for me and one I really enjoy.  A smooth creamy affair, it is a cracking stout, good body and not feeling heavy in the mouth, with a nice lingering aftertaste.

Now back to the earlier trip, a couple of days in Leicester saw quite a few pubs visited, some old favourites, some new.  When I was in my student days, I used to drink a lot a pub called the Rutland and Derby, an Everards joint then (the major brewer in Leicester), now independent and selling a range of craft keg and draught beer including some from the aforementioned Everards.  A couple of beers partaken, it is a cracking place for a beer, well laid out and decorated, good beer garden, a decent menu if you want food and a good range of 10-15 beers split between cask and keg.  I tried one from each side, both well kept and served.  I also got to visit my third Brewdog pub, a big fan of the Leeds Corn Exchange bar, the Manchester one not being as good for choice for non Brewdog drinkers or cider choice on my visit.   The Leicester branch is the best so far, nice and open, with a good range of Brewdog and non Brewdog keg.  The customer service was good and I converted my dad to a couple of their beers, something I had doubts I would.  The decor is “industrial cinema inspired” and seating is spread over 2 floors.  A cask ale person normally, he liked the Vagabond Pale Ale, a 4.5% beer and Dead Pony Ale at 3.8%, coming in at about £4 per pint it is not cheap, but a good pint nevertheless.  I partook of the Five A.M Red Ale (5%), and a ? Schooner of Jack Hammer (7.2%), both very nice beers.  Brewdog might not be to everyones taste, however I am a fan of theirs and their expansion across the country is only good news for me.  Their bars are the craft equivalent of a Wetherspoons, you know exactly what you will get beer wise wherever you go, even if the food offerings may differ at Brewdog.  They are after all the big player in their sector, very much like the ubiquitous pub chain.

Lastly this week, closer to home.  I’m a big fan of the Grove pub in Huddersfield, great range of beers, both cask and keg and had the chance to pop over a few weeks ago.  The pub has had an external makeover with new branding with the new leisure centre opening next door.  The bar has 19 cask lines and 17 keg lines, impressive by any stretch, possibly beating the Sheffield Tap.   The range of whisky and whiskey is impressive as well, with dozens of aged examples behind the bar.   The day in question was a keg day for me, with Magic Rock Magic Eight Ball being my first pint, the 7% beer is not cheap at £5.50 a pint and initial appearances are of a heavy beer, my wife comparing it to a pint of mud, but the Black IPA is light, full of flavour, with tons of hops once in the mouth.   The second beer was Brewdog Dead Pony Ale, discussed previously, both beers both kept and served well.

Pubpaper 818 – Cloudspotting Festival Beer Tent

Posted: 1st August 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Last weekend I visited the Cloudspotting Music Festival in the Forest of Bowland.  Four days in the middle of nowhere listening to good music, the kids being kept busy with activities with good beer and food.   The festival is small, 5 minutes walk end to end with 2 stages, a food area and a large covered beer tent with DJ playing all day, bands play alternately at each stage, whilst after hours venues in the woods host acoustic or jam sessions.  But lets get back to the beer.  The beer came from a range of local breweries, selections coming from the likes of Bowland, Dent, Settle, Three Bees and Hopstar and Ribble Valley, with 5 ciders on offer accompanying the 6 ale pumps.

The beer was regularly rotated with a range of 10-12 beers appearing and reappearing over the weekend.  I’d not say there were any spectacular beers, but what they offered was a good range of tasty session ales which were kept well and served well.   I didn’t have a beer or cider I didn’t like over the weekend and I tried virtually all of them whilst on site.  Pricing wasn’t over the top either with £3.50 for beers and £4.00 for ciders, when you consider they had a captive audience, 10 miles from the nearest decent shop.  It is comparable with some town centre prices and when compared to events I have been to where beer is closer to £5 and is normally limited to the mainstream selections of a large brewer, I was happy to pay for a good freshly poured ale throughout the day.  Of course, exceptional beers are a bonus, but when you have to cater for all tastes across thousands of people, good solid session ales are the way to go.

There is something about just being able to spend the day or three chilling out with a slowly supped pint in your hand, with no jobs to do and good live music within earshot.    It is one of the joys of camping for me that everything slows down, breakfast takes 30 minutes to cook as you juggle pans and burners, at night you have ample time for a beer waiting for dinner to cook.   Even on the Sunday when it rained most of the day, a golf umbrella and hiding in the beer tent got rid of that problem.   It is an event I’d thoroughly recommend for both music fans, and as somewhere to chill out for a weekend, and plan to return next year if holiday plans allow.   I’ve not been around a more friendly crowd of strangers in a long time with no sign of trouble all weekend, and that with several thousand people is saying something.

(Edited for Correction, The Ship Inn Brighouse does serve real ale and has an ongoing commitment to real ale, as corrected by owner and manager)

 

Pubpaper 817 – Fox and Goose

Posted: 22nd July 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

For the first time since it became a community owned pub last year I visited the Fox and Goose in Hebden Bridge.   The pub is as honest as you will get, there is no hiding that work is still taking place on the interior with boards sitting against walls, building materials piled neatly in corners and paint splatter sheets covering tools.   On the Sunday afternoon I popped in, the pub was nicely busy with a mix of walkers, locals and couples, the noise from each of the three rooms drifting and merging to create a nice relaxed atmosphere.   I visited with my two children and they were more than accommodating with them, both from a staff and customer aspect, an attitude which endears me to an adult led pub immediately.

The pub is split into bar, lounge and games room hosting the darts board.  It still has the great range of local small brewery beers as well as a wide range of European bottled beers.  On the day I had one of the best pints I’ve had in a while.  Vocation Brewery are based in Cragg Vale, has only been operation for the last 6 months.  Hugh at the Cross Keys is a fan of the brewery, having tried all of the beers on offer so far.  I got to try their Chop and Change single hop pale ale, the batch being Amarillo based at the Fox and Goose, the result being a 4% beer which tastes more like a 6%+ beer.  Full of flavour and plenty of aftertaste, it is an absolute cracker of an ale and makes me want to try more of their range.

The second beer I tried was the collaboration between the Fox and Goose and First Chop Brewing Arm, a 3.7% hoppy pale ale.  Simply named “F&G”, it is again full of flavour, with Citra and Sorachi Ace hops filling out the taste.   The beer was not quite to my palette, but there is no denying that it is a well made beer.   The pub had a number of stronger beers on offer which driving excluded me trying, but I was told this is not the norm, with normal strength beers normally dominating the pumps.  But the choice on the pumps on the day would certainly make for a very good session with a good range of styles on offer.

The Fox and Goose certainly deserves a visit if you are anywhere near the area, and once the work is complete it should be even better.    The beer prices are also very good with £2.50 for lower percentage beers during the day on weekdays, even at the weekend my round of a pint, a coke and an orange juice only came to £5.50 which is very reasonable in my eyes.  The pub is also the CAMRA Winter Pub of the Season for 2015.  Hebden Bridge is becoming a really nice beer town, the Stubbing Wharf for Cider, the Old Gate for Craft and Real Ale as well as a number of other very good traditional pubs.

You can add to that the recent opening of Calans micropub which offers 5 real ales and a selection of continental bottles.   Looking at their beer offerings so far, it certainly would be worth visiting if you have any interest in real ale, something I have yet to do, but intend to soon.  Their offerings at the time of writing includes Vocation Bread and Butter and Great Heck Shankar IPA, with a couple of boxed real ciders for those who live on the apple side.   With previous beers including those from Small World, Oakham and Purple Moose beer, it certainly ticks all the boxes for me.

(Edited for Correction, The Ship Inn Brighouse does serve real ale and has an ongoing commitment to real ale, as corrected by owner and manager)

 

Pubpaper 816 – Beer around the World Tonight

Posted: 18th July 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

I’ll start with a story from down under this week about an Aussie drinker who has been caught dumping empty beer cans every day on the same street.  You may think so what, but when I say he had deposited an estimated 11,700 cans onto the pavement in 18 months or an average of 21 cans per day, it puts a different complexion on the story.  He was eventually caught dropping bags of the cans out of his car window as he passed through the area, indicating that he had something else to do in his life.  At least he wasn’t drinking Fosters, with Carlton Draft being his beverage of choice.  21 cans a day, every day, is an unhealthy beer habit (this from a confirmed member of the beer club) even if spread through the day, the equivalent of about 11 pints.  I’d hate to see the state of his liver right now if they were not shared and even then his taste buds must be numb to the taste of the beer by now.  For me the variety of beer is the reason I drink it and enjoy it so much.  Being stuck with 18 months on the same beer, even an excellent one. would be pure hell, but some peoples hell is another’s heaven.

Keeping on the topic of our Aussie friends, it appears their love of a beer doesn’t extend to Cricket Test Matches which they lose heavily.  After the 1st Ashes Test in Cardiff, Alastair Cook invited his opposite captain Michael Clarke for a post match beer, an offer which was rebuffed by the visiting skipper.  The two teams sharing a beer after the match has finished is ingrained in most sports, especially in amateur ranks, the social aspect being as much of a reason for taking part as the sporting aspect, just look at the number of social or members clubs attached to sports grounds.  The New Zealand test captain was happy have a jar after matches regardless of the result, but the Aussies always want to get one over on us (and at the time of writing they were 566-8 declared and we were 85/4 with good chance of a follow on in the third day of the second test match at Lords, so it appears to be working).

At least we have a good supply of beer, back in the middle of July, the Polar Empresas brewery which produces 80% of Venezuela’s beer was suffering a strike by its workers who were demanding higher wages.  Workers at number of sites at the country’s biggest distributor also joined the strike with the same demands.  The lack of supply routes out to some parts of the country meant that a national beer shortage was on the horizon.  Luckily a government official was on hand to help mediate the labour issue.  Not the trade, commerce or industry minister as you would expect, but its Human Rights ombudsman called Tarek Willian Saab who gained an agreement which ensured beer shelves would not run dry.   Other sources say that the Labour department of the government ordered them to go back to work, but that’d ruin the idea of “Beer as a human right?”. An interesting question, and as long Greene King beer is not protected and in fact is tried for crimes against humanity, I’d be happy to go along with this

What all these stories show is how ingrained beer is into our lives, you are sitting in a pub reading this aren’t you!   It gets into every pore of our society, from the people at the top of the pile down in Westminster and our complaints we are paying for their subsidised beer.  Right down to the homeless alcoholics and the arguments about the sale of high strength turbo lager like Tennants Super, Skol Special Brew and Kestrel Super.   Every social strata in between will have a beer related agenda, whether it is the argument between cask and craft, the post pub / club trouble in our town centres or the country village risking losing its last pub.    The stories above go from the people at the top of their sporting game, to low paid workers in second world countries, to a fairly average aussie.  It knows few boundaries and not many products can say that

 

Pubpaper 815 – Second Chances and 5 Years On

Posted: 12th July 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

The Cock of the North in Hipperholme was one of the original pubs I used to visit a lot when I started to write for PubPaper back in 2010.  It had always had a wide range of beers on and enough variety of styles for a session to be kept interesting.  It was (and still is) the brewery tap of the Halifax Steam Brewery with the brewing vessels being visible as you entered the bar and only their beers being sold on draught.  My visits became less regular as more real ale places opened closer to home, but it was still on our list.

However a couple of years ago, I boycotted the place after an experience where the then bar manager put on a display Basil Fawlty would be proud of.  Coming to the end of a night out about 11pm, the manager started to hoover around the remaining customers whilst they were drinking up, and whilst I was on the phone to the taxi company, he interrupted the call as me and my wife discussed what time to book it for, effectively telling us to book it for ASAP.  His performance was frankly disgusting and we vowed to never return.

However this weekend we decided to give the Cock of the North another chance, and the intervening years have certainly seen improvements.  The original portacabin was half brewery half bar, so could get cramped at busy times and was always a bit cosy on an evening, but it had a good atmosphere (most of the time).  The brewery operation has now been moved out of the portacabin and as a result it is nearly double the size and it really improves the place as a venue, the mix of sofas, bar tables, benches and high stool tables have plenty of room around them now and looks immediately more relaxing.

They have also tweaked how they operate the bar, they used to serve 10 of their beers at any time previously, now there are 6 pumps on the bar serving a selection on the day from pale to ginger to dark.  The range of cider has also improved with boxed ciders now on offer, the previous limited cider range not being the best at that time.   The smaller range works for me, as when you had the 10 beers on at once, there was a lot of beers which overlapped in style and strength, whereas the 6 pumps now provide a gradual range across the beer spectrum.

The bar is definitely back on my list again now, but it does show the point that poor customer service over-rules beer and venue in the customers eye.   On my visit, the service was good and was attended to quickly.  That is half the customer battle won, the beer is the easier sell as you are preaching to the converted.

Another thing than it brings to the fore is how the scene has changed beer and pub wise in the last 5 years in Calderdale.  It has definitely changed for the better,  we have more choice of real ale pubs and a bigger range of interesting beers.  Most towns in the area now have seen an upturn in their pub and bar scene and more choice is out there for the real ale (and craft beer) drinker.  Back in 2009, my regularly visited pubs could be counted on a hand at times.  Hebden Bridge, Brighouse, Luddenden Foot, Todmorden, Ripponden, all have gained venues which provide the beer people want and more importantly the pub numbers are sustainable given the local population and visitors to the town.  This means that I now sometimes have a difficult decision when choosing where to drink, and the favourites list is now 5 of many more.  The Calder Valley pub scene was of course decimated for a while by the floods around the turn of the decade.

Sowerby Bridge I didn’t mention as it had already had its boom well in progress by 2009-10.  Halifax has gained a decent real ale scene again with more established pubs serving a good range of these beers as well as the opening of the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe in 2014 and much earlier in this period, the Cross Keys on the border between Halifax and Siddal, providing a top quality end to the real ale mile at the bottom of the town, the Old Post Office at its start now.  Of course we have lost the Pump Room, sadly physically as well by the time you read this, but overall things are better.

However certain towns have been overtaken by their neighbours as they stand still.  Elland is now overshadowed by Brighouse regarding its pub scene, and could fall behind West Vale and its immediate surrounding hills as the leisure development at the Thornton Mills comes to fruition.  The town centre now only has 2-3 pubs in it’s heart, supported a number on the outskirts.  The town has the transport links and population to make it destination again, but investment will be needed to do so.

Pubpaper 814 – Losing Pubs and Beer Prices

Posted: 4th July 2015 by santobugtio in Writing

I mentioned a few months ago the story of the illegal demolition of the Carlton Tavern in London by its owners who wanted to build apartments on the site, but had been denied permission and knocked the building down the day before it was due to get its Asset of Community Value status ensuring its use could not changed without the local community having a chance to buy the building.   Westminster Council have subsequently ordered the owner of the property to rebuild the Carlton Tavern brick by brick to its original design.

Another case has come to light in St John’s Wood, again in London.  This time it was a pub of Victorian origin called the Alchemist (originally called the Fishmongers Arms) about a month ago.  The now former pub building is inside the areas conservation zone and is considered one of the landmark buildings in the area.   The pub falls under the jurisdiction of Wandsworth Council who are soon to give 121 pubs in their area of control added protection, which means demolition or change of use to retail (currently not needing planning permission) would now need council permission.  I don’t usually give local authorities praise, but hats off to this decision.

This may have hastened the owners “need” to remove the building from the land he owns before protection kicks in, very much like the Carlton Tavern incident.  The pub was not currently trading, but if a landowner wants an empty building, he can easily make it not attractive for anyone to take on the site and to make the existing tenant leave by simply pricing the rent out of the market.  Wandsworth Council say they could order the pub to rebuild brick by brick in the original style, I hope they do, because otherwise we will get more pubs being knocked down without permission knowing the fine will be more than covered by the profits on the apartments or the sale of the land as a development site.

This happened in the past of course, but usually there was a “mysterious fire” which gutted the building and made it structurally unsafe, owners are just more brazen about it now.

Now onto beer prices, there is a worldwide survey each year on the average cost of a beer across 75 different cities, looking at Europe, Eastern Europe takes the top three cheapest slots with Krakow (Poland), Kiev (Ukraine) and Bratislava (Slovakia).  The Scandinavian and Swiss cities are the most expensive.  No real surprises there, both ends of the scale already have a reputation regarding their beer prices.  Considering the UK and Ireland, as you’d expect London and Dublin are fairly close to the expensive end of the scale.  The other UK cities listed (Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool) were all sitting in the cheaper half of the table, surrounded by other European capitals.

The survey only cover hotels in the these cities it should be noted.  So if we take the example of Leeds, they quote £2.99 per 330ml or £5 per pint.  In reality I’d put Leeds about £3.50 to £3.80 per pint on average across normal pubs both real ale and craft.  Oslo works out at £8 per pint, and Helsinki at £9 per pint and from people I know who have stayed in hotels over there that’s about right, with bars charging at least £6 per pint (similar for Iceland, which isn’t on list) which about the same percentage difference as Leeds between hotels and bars.

Take Slovakia and Poland, who’s hotels charge £2.50 and £3 per pint, the beer is known to be cheap over there, assuming the same difference as Leeds it would be about £1.80 and £2 respectively in bars, a price you’d not be surprised to be paying judging from people who have been over there.  In all these places of course you can find cheaper places to drink.  But it shows we can moan about beer prices, and they are high compared to a lot of places in Europe that we typically visit on holiday or business.  But compared to other continents and certain European countries in this survey, we get a veritable bargain.

Remember when we used to consider paying £3 per pint something we’d never do, we’ll most of us do now, and probably nearer to £4 if you drink premium lager.  Our psychological barriers for what we’ll pay will continue to increase, we are not going to give up the pub or beer, it is too ingrained in us.

 

During the industrial revolution, the term “boom town” applied to a lot of Yorkshire towns at one point or another when a major employer came to town and built the new mill or factory, causing an influx of new workers to move into and expand the town into the surrounding area.  This in turn bought in other factories and mills, bringing even more people and jobs into the area.   But the downside of being a “boom town” was when these major employers closed or trimmed jobs due to automation or machines, just look at the developments in textile technology in the later 1800’s which cost countless people their jobs.  The side effect of this is either a lot of unemployed poor people living in the town or people moving away leaving vacant properties and building.  Either way the money is sucked out of the town.

The point of this short history lesson is that towns go through cycles of prosperity, stability and consolidation like everything else in this world.   I’d like to talk about Sowerby Bridge this week and it having its moment in the sun.   Sowerby Bridge experienced a big expansion in its pub market about ten years ago, the Puzzle Hall had been rescued from the thieves literally stripping its materials and was starting to become the de-facto small music venue in the area, The Works had opened and was getting rave reviews and becoming a destination for real ale drinkers.  The Jubilee Refreshment Rooms had opened catering for the same crowd, Bar Franchesca catered for the cocktail crowd and slightly later the Roxy re-invented itself as a late venue.

People flocked to the town including myself, and was widely acknowledged to be the best night out in Calderdale, with packed bars every weekend.   The existing local pubs changed as well, the William IV smartened up and became just Williams, the Turks Head made improvements to appeal to this new crowd.  All this success attracted one of the big pub operators in 2014 when Wetherspoons who took over the Wharf site and expanded the premises beyond all recognition.  Before Wetherspoons came into town, Sowerby Bridge had found its level regarding the number of pubs it could support, probably back in 2012, with enough passing trade during the day, steady weekday evenings and the big nights at the weekend being the big money earners.  The numerous restaurants also attracted a big crowd.

There is something people call the “Wetherspoons Effect”, that says that the other pubs in the town suffer a loss of trade as people move some or all of their drinking to a venue which can beat most other venues in town on price, food offerings, beer choice and pure value for money.  I’m not the worlds biggest fan of Wetherspoons, but even I can’t deny any of those four claims.   I didn’t see it that much initially with Sowerby Bridge, on my visits to the town, trade in the other pubs seems slightly down, but not the big drop people said would happen.  However talking to people involved in the pub trade in the town, this has now happened with footfall and takings slowly on a downward descent, one venue has closed already since they opened, The Engineers (the Bulls Head / Vaults was closed before they came to town I believe).

However the picture is not that simple, just down the road, Ripponden has been quietly building up its reputation for a good night out.  The Beehive and Old Bridge Inn have been servicing the area for years, but the other pubs nearby were in a bit of a state of flux for a while, changing names, switching from bars to bistros to restaurants trying to see what worked in the town.   There now seems to a stable core of pubs, bars and restaurants all within walking distance which is the key for a “night out town”.  Just outside of town, the Fleece Inn has expanded with a huge terraced area and is getting the punters visiting, on the main junction you now have the Millstone, just down the road you have the Silk Mill.  Slightly further on you have one of the original restaurants in the town, Cinnamon Lounge, a fixture in the area, and just on from there towards Rishworth, the Malthouse.   All of these offer a similar mix of craft beer, real ale, good wines and food to varying degrees, meaning most people can have a pleasant pub crawl and find something to drink in most bars.

None of these bars are groundbreaking, but they give the majority of people what they want from a night out. A nice environment, good drinks selection, food if they want it.  Success attracts success and more places will open until it hits a plateau and then it will see select closures as trade moves onto the next place and consolidation of the pub market in the area.  It is as Simba from the Lion King says “Its the Circle of Life”.