Pubpaper 577 – Spoilt by Riches

Posted: 14th October 2010 by admin in Pub Paper, Writing

This article appeared in issue 577 of Pubpaper.

On average my parents come to visit me and my family every couple of months. When they visit I usually try to make an effort to take my dad for a good real ale or two whilst out. His local pub in Leicester, an Everards joint, is rather average beer wise, with a some brewery supplied mild and bitter, and a guest, which has been Marsden Smooth for as long as I can remember. Normally I plump for the Marsdens (a good insurance “brand” beer in my opinion) or my traditional back up pint of Guinness.

So when I take him out, it is usually to one of the real ales pubs I mention frequently in this column. This weekend we tried several new places for him in the area, including the Fox and Goose and Hole in the Wall in Hebden Bridge. His other favourites include the Red Rooster and the Cock of the North. I mention this because we are spoilt for real ale in Calderdale, both in breweries and outlets on and off trade. From my home on top of Beacon Hill, within a 30 minute walk I can visit 8-9 real ale pubs in and around Elland, Brighouse and Hipperholme. In comparison when visiting my parents, this number drops to 2-3 within the same walking distance. Most of the surrounding pubs are standard house beer and lager establishments.

My column a few weeks ago mentioned the dearth of pubs in Bradford City Centre, in this location, there are 2-3 pubs of note which fits the agenda of this column, but you need to travel out to surrounding small towns to get the good real ale pubs in places like Shipley and Saltaire. Halifax despite being a lot smaller, can claim that number of pubs on just the western side of town towards the Shay Stadium. Even the likes of Hebden Bridge and Brighouse can claim the same amount of quality beer pubs at least. However the jewel in the Real Ale crown in Calderdale is Sowerby Bridge with 5-6 real ale pubs of renown and 3-4 others where you can get a good ale from a smaller selection.

Why do we have such a range of good pubs? Apart from Hebden Bridge (and to a rising degree Sowerby Bridge now) we are not what you’d call a tourist trap. We have fantastic countryside all around us, but we are not a name on the tourist map (nobody could call Halifax Town Centre a destination). Being sandwiched between Leeds, Manchester, Peak District and Yorkshire Dales, we are easily overlooked. Its not as if we have more disposable income per head than anywhere else, we are suffering as much as any other comparable area of the country. But there is obviously enough of a market out there to support a lot of these quality pubs. Both pubs I went to on Saturday in Hebden Bridge were doing great trade, and had a good mix of locals and visitors with most parties partaking in real ale or cider.

The number of breweries in the Calder Valley is astonishing as well, with brew pubs at Barearts in Todmorden, Elland at the Barge and Barrel, Halifax Steam at the Cock of the North and the brewery up above Cragg Vale owned by Little Valley, as well as Brass Monkey, Bridestones and Eastwood all close by. All of which supply a lot of beer to local and regional pubs, and rarely dole out a bad pint. According to CAMRA a few weeks ago there are 767 real ale breweries in the UK, that means we’ve here got nearly 1% of the UK’s real ale breweries in an area where only 0.34% of the population live. We are punching well above our weight. I haven’t got the Good Pub Guide to hand, but I’m sure we are doing the same pub wise in there.

We are in an enviable position where we have good beer on our door step, and we seem to be embracing it here. As long as we do we continue to benefit and expand our choice of both product and venue. Viva la Real Ale and all you serve and consume her.