Pubpaper 875 – Variety in the Valley

Posted: 1st October 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Libertine in Mytholmroyd opened in 2015 and subsequently took a bath in the floods at the back end of the year, a few months ago it re-opened in a rather dryer state.  A rather unassuming single storey building on the corner of Bridge End opposite Sainsburys with a single banner hanging over part of one window, it would be easy to miss if you didn’t know about it.    However plenty of people seem to know about it locally with a good crowd in attendance on Friday tea time into evening, sharing of larger tables being necessary.   The venue is an L shaped area with an number of small tables either side as you enter at the far end opening up to the main bar area where the larger group tables are located.  The decor of the bar is stripped back with some nice touches of street art, music provided on this night by a DJ who played an good eclectic mix of tunes all played at volume you can converse at, something some venues have still to master.  

Timg_20160930_175017he bar sits at the back of the main area, serving four local and regional real ales (on this occasion from Arbor, Vocation, First Chop, Bridestones ranging from 4 – 5.2%).  On keg there are 8 lines sourced from more mainstream craft brands such as Blue Moon and Czech brewers like Pravha and Staropramen.  The two guest kegs were Five Points Pale (London) and Vocation Life and Death.  There is also a good range of cocktails, completed with a choice of good quality spirits.  Food wise they host a series of food vans to the left of the bar, on this occasion it was Rick and Eds Mexican Food Van, and it smelt as good as it looked.  I met a friend here for a few drinks and between us we tried three of the real ales.   The beer is kept well and tasted fresh, both of us having the Vocation Chop and Change (for the first time Azacca, noted for big notes of Citrus and Tropical Fruit),  I also sampled a couple of halves of the Arbor “I speak for the trees” and First Chop MCR, the former being an American Pale Ale, the latter a Manchester Bitter.  Both beers were good examples of their style, the MCR edging it out of these two even though I’m not the biggest fan of the style.

Libertine is one of those nice chilled out venues, it does a number of things well without specialising in any, it does a good, well kept range of real and keg beer, a small but interesting range of cocktails and what isn’t core it brings in externally.  People seemed to enjoy their time there from families at late tea time through to the groups coming out as the sun disappeared over the many Calder Valley hills.  There is a growing number of these small unpretentious bars in Calderdale which offer to fill a gap in the market, overlapping on some elements (as is inevitable) but creating their own identity and market and building their own loyal customer base.  By nature I’m a bit of a pub cuckoo flitting from one beer supplying nest to another as my location finds me.   

P1010625Look at a mile up the road at Hebden Bridge and three of the smaller venues Calans, Fox and Goose, Drink!.  All fundamentally do the same thing, sell real ale on cask and in bottles.  But there is also key differences.  Drink! offers a wide range of bottles for on and off sales, the real ale lines being a later addition to the shop adding to the success of the venue in the later hours of the day and increasing spending for off sales customers during working hours as customers have a “quick half”.  The Fox and Goose is a slightly larger, but specialises more in serving local beers from the surrounding area with addition of some regional beers.  It a traditional community owned pub where food is limited to a bar top cheeseboard and pork pies, but the real ale lines are what draw people in as well from a beer point of view as well as a good music scene, it’s very much seem as the “Town’s Local Pub” and it treated as such.  Finally we see Calans, from the outside a nice chilled small real ale bar doing pub snacks very much like the Fox and Goose, but the feeling and atmosphere is very different and the same can be said about the overall audience it attracts although you get overlap between these and other places in town as people make a night of it.  Are any of these places “better” than the others, that’s down to the drinkers point of view, but it is healthy for a town to have such a range.

Pubpaper 874 – 6 years of the Taproom and a beer festival

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

This article is my 300th for Pubpaper, my first article back nearly 6 years ago being about “The Rise and Fall of the British Pub”.  At the time I recorded that SIBA had reported 420 members, now they have 825 members, a massive jump in 5 years by any scale.  Some things never change, the Big Six, the Red Rooster, Cock of the North, the Works and the Travellers Inn which all got mentioned would look the same to a very unambitious time traveller.  The following week I reported the Good Beer Guide 2011 had come out and the number of breweries listed was 767, now we have a total of 1540 recorded in the 2017 edition, again mirroring the doubling of numbers in SIBA membership.    Those of us who drink real ale week in, week out will not be surprised by the increase in range of sources of our beer, but counting proudly myself within that group, that increase was not expected.  As I said in the last couple of weeks I’m happy that I’m a real ale drinker in 2016, we have some great pubs and great beers locally, regionally and nationally, and I only see it getting better over the short to medium term.

1405827_3cfa01fdI also mentioned the state of the pub stock in my local village Southowram and at that time we had two pubs open out of four alongside the Social club and the Cricket club.  We are now back at that same position.  The Malt Shovel which was for several years destined to become a curry house was converted to apartments a few years ago.  The Shoulder of Mutton has closed down and the PubCo are looking for new tenants. Sherrie, the long term landlady died about 18 months ago and was the soul of the place.  Her family took it over until a few months ago when I guess the lease was up for renewal and they left.  You have to want to run a pub to do it for a long time and some people are just not natural landlords.   Ironically the Packhorse did become a curry house for a number of years before reverting back to a pub last year, the only one serving the Southowram end of the village.  The Cock and Bottle is still serving the Bank Top end of the village well with plenty of regulars.  Here’s hoping that the Shoulder of Mutton re-opens soon as I feel the village can support 3 pubs.

P1080656_SMALLPlenty has changed, the rise of the micro pub and brew pub across the area has been fantastic, some great new local brewers have appeared, Hebden Bridge’s pubs look like they might be finally flood resistant and as I mentioned before plenty hasn’t changed where it didn’t need to.  Most of my current favourite pubs where not even on the map 6 years ago, the Cross Keys is coming up only 4 years old and gets a lot of my beer money, the Market Tavern, the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe, Calans in Hebden Bridge all at most about 2 years old.  Pubs are popping up where there wasn’t a pub before, a sure sign of confidence in the market.   

beer_festivaleOne of my old friends from that time in the pub trade is Mark Feasey who used to run the pub in Brighouse which shall not be named in this column.  He now concentrates on running the annual FestivALE at Bailiffe Bridge Community Centre each October and this year it is taking place on Friday and Saturday 7th-8th October.  Friday will see beer served from 5-11pm, whilst the following day opens at 2.30pm until the same closing hour.  18 real ales will be on offer, alongside 4 ciders.  This festival has been running for 5 years now and has been successful each year at raising funds for charity, this year’s again being Overgate and Forget Me Not hospices, having raised over £10,000 since inception for their chosen causes.  Food will be available into the evening to help line the stomachs of the drinkers.  Entry will be £5 and include a program, free 5th anniversary commemorative glass and your first pint.   Please support Mark and all of those at the Community Centre who put in the hard work each year to raise as much money as possible!  

Finally and Following on from this, all our pubs need support all year round, that includes October!  The annual Go Sober for October campaign to raise money for a certain cancer charity is on us and although I am very grateful for the services I get from them, I fundamentally disagree with this particular campaign.   Yes it will raise money for them, your body might get a break from beer for a month, but long term the other 11 months will balance it out.  However the takings at the bar till will not be balanced out, drinkers will not make up for that month by drinking 1/12 more throughout the year.  Keep drinking and decide how you want to make your donation!

9781852493356For the members of CAMRA it is one of the big weeks of the years as the Good Beer Guide 2017 is published and pubs find out if they are still in, are out or have made their first entry.  In the Calderdale region we have a good number of pubs listed, many of them long term entries.

Lets the headlines out of the way first and see who had made it (these listings are based on the Good Beer Guide 2017 App).   In Halifax the Cross Keys, Big Six, Three Pigeons, Victorian Craft Beer Cafe and Barum Top make the cut.  Outlying pubs include Travellers Rest and Cock of the North in Hipperholme, Elland claim Barge and Barrel and the Elland whilst Richard Oastler and Red Rooster are in for Brighouse.   

Moving out towards the surrounding towns up the valley, starting at Sowerby Bridge, the Shepherds Rest, Jubilee Refreshment Rooms and Firehouse all make it and out towards the M62 the Booth Wood Inn sit lonely on their own.  Hebden Bridge has hit a vein of form with Calans (congrats to Alison and Alan), Old Gate Inn and Fox and Goose with the White Lion up the hill at Heptonstall whilst moving back towards Halifax you catch the Robin Hood at Mytholmroyd.  Just on the border the White Horse on the tops makes it in as well.

So we have just from this list 20 pubs locally who are in the guide.  Some pubs may be too new to get entry and I fully expect one or more of the Market Tavern Brighouse, Grayson Unity Halifax or Pump Room Halifax to be listed in the 2018 edition if all goes as expected.  For me the last year to eighteen months has been a delightful time to be a beer drinker in Calderdale. Looking outside the CAMRA Good Beer Guide window, you can add the re-opening of the Stubbing Wharf in Hebden Bridge the opening of Libertine in Mytholmroyd adding to the stripped back but honest Dusty Miller across the road and Shoulder of Mutton.  Add the Alexandra Bar in Halifax to add even more choice for the Halifax drinker and things have not been healthier for a good number of years.

Calans post Floods Dec 2015

Calans post Floods Dec 2015

Looking back over the archives I used to do “state of the nation” style article around this time of year and this article seems to be evolving into that.  Even looking back 6-8 months to the start of 2016, Halifax had three less pubs, the floods in upper Calder Valley had ripped the heart out of the community.  Hebden had lost a number of it’s better pubs plus many other businesses.  Some like the Old Gate recovered quickly due to a design which could be cleaned up quickly.  Other like Calans and Stubbing Wharf had more serious issues to solve in making their premises more flood resistance before they could re-open.   Even so it was great to see Alan and Alison in their pop up bar in the spring of this year at Calans Too.   It was great to see both reopen in early summer.

Looking at my original 12-18 month window of time, Sowerby Bridge has seen mixed fortunes, the Puzzle Hall Inn is still vacant but the River Lounge has opened on the site of the sports bar near the bridge and is serving real ale and developing it’s music scene, something missing since the Puzzle Hall closed.  Also positive is the full re-opening of the Bull on the Bridge and Sowerby Taps, along side the new Hogshead Brew House, giving people plenty of choice depending on taste.  It is always good to see pubs open on premises which previously had a different use, it means they are in control of their business and are not moving into the clutches of an existing Punch or Enterprise pub building.  You can extend this to the three new pubs in Halifax, all of the Grayson Unity, Pump Room and Alexandra are all on virgin premises.

img_20160909_190649I’m liking what these new bars are trying, all offer well kept beer, some focus on keg, some on cask, some do a wide range of both.  The spirits range is increasing in styles and quality, no longer do you have just the main brands of whisky, gin and rum, premium offerings are being asked for more.  Those in town centres offer good quality tea and coffee during the day for that audience, multiples of which need to be catered for throughout the week to maximise takings whilst not distracting from the quality of the beer which is the core of the business.  Move away from this and the new businesses are distinctive in both look and feel, aim to have their own individual atmosphere, the Victorian and Grayson Unity are hosting musical and other performances on a regular basis and other new bars will find their place once settled.   The Pump Room states it’s aims on the window.

In summary life is good from my point of view regarding the Calderdale pub scene and I can only see it improving over the next year as success breeds success and there are people willing to give it a chance and premises waiting to be filled.


Pubpaper 872 – The bars are back in town

Posted: 11th September 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

In the past few weeks two new bars have opened in Halifax town centre, the first being the Pump Room opposite the Bus Station, the second being Alexandra, the new beer house and bottle bar on Alexandrea Street near the Victoria Theatre. Add these to the Grayson Unity and Victorian Craft Beer Cafe and the town centre circuit is starting to look rather healthy from a new entry point of view compared to 18 months ago.

img_20160909_193244I’ll start with the Pump Room. The bar is venue reaching to the back of the building. The beers are stored in a chilled cabinet behind the bar with 6 real ale pumps, 4 tapped beers from Outstanding Brewery, a guest tap beer and a cider tap. The beers are loaded and unloaded via a sliding rack and electrified chain lifting mechanism, a clever idea to maximise vertical space in the cabinet. This weekend the beers were from Salopian, Elland, Mallinsons, Saltaire and Small World in a good range of styles. I tried a couple of the Mallinsons, Elland SPA and Outstanding 4our over the weekend and all were well kept and went down well. The bar seems to be gaining customers from both existing real ale bars and passing trade from the Bus Station, whilst bumping to local beer writer Chris Dyson giving a me chance to compare notes. Tony and the team are doing a great job for its first few weeks in business, a good balance of well kept beers with a nice layout for the interior with a mix of soft furnishings, bar tables and stools with plenty of standing room in-between. Decor pieces are placed around the walls suiting it well, although I now have suspicions of where the lantern from the old Pump Room might have ended up.

As a pub, it’s nice and friendly both with the family and later in the evening and generally feels a nice place to be, a key test for any public place. Away from the beer the spirits selection is good with a smaller but high quality selection on offer. Well worth a visit whether in passing or for a longer session. We now move onto the Alexandra Beer Shop and Bottle Bar.

img_20160909_211528A small venue on the surface of it, the back of the space being taken up by a bar with two hand pumps and four keg lines. Above that at the back of the bar is two shelves of good quality spirits. It is only above that you see the second purpose of the space, as boxes of beer take up the remaining 4 shelves, to the right are display bottles for sale with a couple of fridges so drink in customers can have a cold bottle or can. A bar stooled bench looks out of the window across to the hall of the same name opposite, standing room between this and bar. Upstairs is a similar size with 4 tables and standing space for more drinkers, the distinctive stags head getting your attention as you ascend. Chatting to the guys behind the bar they know their beer and are making a good start to this bars life. I tried one of the tap options and a couple of the real ales over the two visits over the weekend. The Brass Castle Polish Champagne Oak Smoked Wheat Beer was an nice, interesting beer with initial tastes of Polish Sausage fading to a pleasant Wheat Beer. On the pump I had Brass Castle Tail Gunner being a good session Rye Bitter and the Vocation Pride and Joy was up to its usual standard. I bumped into Aimee from the Cross Keys on one of my visits and she seemed to like the place as well, enjoying a number of the canned and bottled examples. The two guys running it seem friendly and are happy to chat about the place and the beers. Both families and evening drinkers are made to feel very welcome and the first week bodes very well for its future. Off Sales go from £3 upwards depending on brewer and beer and if you want a bottled cask or keg ale there is a bottling machine on the bar. Tea and Coffee are offered for those not drinking, a fact true for the Pump Room as well with both venues open throughout the days they open, important to attract the daytime crowd.

So in summary, two new pubs well worthy of consideration from a venue and beer point of view. Halifax’s beer stock is rising, lets hope for more soon!

Pubpaper 871 – Doing the Manchester Walk

Posted: 5th September 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

You’ll be glad to hear that I’ve actually sampled some real ale and visited some new pubs over the last week! I’ve still not been to the new Pump Room yet, but this weekend should see me visit as for the first time in many weeks I have no plans. Last week saw my 41st birthday and I took a day trip out to Manchester for the day to celebrate with the family.

We took a walk down the bottom of Manchester along Deansgate, initially to pop into Dimitri’s at the Spanish Institute for lunch, with good tapas and Mediterranean dishes going down well. Drinks wise the Kozel lager hit the spot, from a choice of similar European beers. We then headed down into the Castlefields area of the city, navigating the many bridges which cross the waterways.


Click to see full size version of photo

It was here we discovered the Wharf. The bar is impressive as you enter, a wide bar with a large open area in front of it, to the sides tables flank the walls and spaces up to the edge of the bar. Whilst upstairs more seats wait for diners on a large balcony giving a spacious double height area as you enter. Outside is a large beer garden with plenty of seating overlooking the water. The bar served 9 real ales on the day with a single real cider offering filling the 10th pump, not one brewery repeated. Distance from brewery is show on the beer list, 5 beers being produced in the Great Manchester region whilst the other 4 are from other parts of the country, a nice balance from my point of view. With myself having heard of only 4 of the brewers before and there being a good range of styles on offer I decide to taste a number of half pints. On the table were Slaters Rye IPA, Mobberley Revelation, Weetwood Cheshire Cat and Cottage Honeybunny.

All the beers where nicely served and looked and tasted like they were kept well. Tasters were offered, always a good sign of the confidence in their beer. The Slater Rye IPA was a good crispy citrus style taste which suited the warm afternoon perfectly. The Cottage Honeybunny was nice straw coloured English session ale, refreshing without too much fuss as it said on the tin. Weetwood Cheshire Cat was a classic blonde citrusy ale, nice citrus notes, but could do with a little something to back that up. Finally Mobberley Revelations was a good pale ale with fruity hops flavouring the beer nicely. The food menu looked good as well if you were in the mood. A venue I’d very happily visit again in nice surroundings, I’d consider it a discovery.

1020767IMG_20160831_171832_01One venue that did disappoint slightly was the Tib Street Tavern in the Northern Quarter, I’ve been before and all 3 pumps have been on with some decent if more common real ale. However this time they only had 1 pump on and that was Saltaire Blonde, not a great option, I ended up having Franchescan Well IPA on keg, brewed in Northern Ireland. The beer was served in a tall branded handled glass and tasted good with plenty of depth of flavour, I’d have brought another, but time was against us shopping and train wise. The rest of the keg lines were a mix of ciders, a number of Czech and quality European beers and mainstream brands. A nice pub to visit, but it needs to sort out it’s real ale selection a touch.   Going slightly off topic, if you are in the Northern Quarter area I recommend you wander around to see some of the great street art as well (click on the images of Bowie and Prince to see better versions).

The last stop of the night was a quick half whilst waiting for a train at the Beerhouse bar in the Manchester Victoria station. Nicely kept in refreshment room style with acres of old polished tiles covering the walls, it is pleasant place to drink. Sadly the real ale selection was uninspiring with the likes of Greene King dominating on the three pumps on my visit, so I ended up on Budweiser Budvar, which was a nice Czech beer to finish the night off.  The keg lines had a number of European beers along side a few American ales mixed with the usual mainstream brands.

So while not a real ale tour of the city, some nice beer, a new pub discovery and the weather holding off for a great day out when rounded off with the obligatory visit to Ho’s Bakery in China Town and the bizarre that is Afflecks Place in the Northern Quarter. It’s still my favourite city in the North for a reason.

Pubpaper 870 – Pump Rooms new and old and a wrap up.

Posted: 30th August 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

A lot has took place over the last couple of weeks, Tony has finally opened up The Pump Room, his new micro pub opposite the bus station, named after the sadly departed pub which was based close to the Three Pigeons on New Road.   We’ve had the Brighouse Canal and Music Festival, with the latter part being organised by local musician and promoter Jason Fieldhouse.  There has been a number of smaller festivals over the bank holiday including the 5 day Indyfax event at the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe and Rock of the North at the Cock of the North, Hipperholme.

And I’ve been to none of them due to being away on holiday and a long weekend in Leicester, so it makes it rather hard to write about local events,  I’ve also covered most of the beer aspects of my holiday last week and the visit to Leicester did not really involve much interesting beer wise.  I did intend to visit the Pump Room on Bank Holiday Monday, but jobs overran, meaning I intend to redouble the effort to try and get there this coming weekend.  However before I wrap up Weymouth I ran out of room to mention a nice pub we found as we left the railway station on our last full day.   The Handmade Pie and Ale House is a cosy two level pub, the upper level for dining.  Warm and welcoming with good customer service and as you can guess from the name they offer pies as a core part of their menu and they looked rather nice as they went past our table.  The real ales are served on 5 or 6 hand pumps.with a mix of local and higher profile breweries.  On the day there was local beers from Butcombe and Dorset Brewing Company, Conquest (Somerset) and Youngs representing further afield and Timothy Taylor the national brand.  I had a couple of the local brews and they quenched the thirst if not setting off fireworks in my mouth.

Locally at the Pump Room and based on Chris Dysons report of his visit to the venue, there are artifacts from the original pub, confirming rumours that certain unique features of the pub had been removed before the wreckers ball turned it to dust.  The outside pub sign certainly went missing well before the demolition team came close, but it’s not surfaced again to my knowledge.  According to the same article there is a good range of well kept real ales with 6 hand pumps as well as 3 real ciders on offer.  There is also a range of mid to high end spirits on offer.  So we have a good location and a mix of beers from good local and regional brewers.  Along with someone who knows his beer and a relaxed venue, it will be hard to fail in a town were small or independent bars who deliver on their beer are well supported by drinkers in the area.

I’ve written about the old Pump Room before including the plans for it to be flattened over four years ago, to provide facilities for the new shopping centre which was meant to be developed between the shops on Horton Street and the now flattened land on Church Street and New Street taking in the car park that sits in between.  These plans have never come to fruition and the land is now up for sale again.   The Pump Room was well off it’s peak when it closed down but was still a going concern that could have been built back up to higher levels of trade with some work.   The area will never be developed into the new shopping centre given the Northgate House development which is proposed when the council vacate their central offices and existing library building which is in a much better location.  So we lost a pub for no reason, if it would have survived naturally we don’t know, but it would have had a chance to try.

Let’s finish this week on a positive note.  The fact that I missed so much over two weekends says so much about this area and I haven’t even scratched the surfaces of what our pubs and other venues are putting on including a music festival at Barkisland.  These festivals and beer events attract people to the area and other venues close by so have wider benefits.  Look at Halifax town centre, a few years ago it was a bit of an ale desert, now it has many alcoholic oasis to drink at!

Pubpaper 869 – A tour to the south coast

Posted: 23rd August 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Last week I took leave of Calderdale and headed down to the South Coast for a well deserved holiday. On the way we stopped off at Oxford for a night before spending a further evening in Gloucester seeing a university friend. Our location for the last 4 nights was Weymouth on the Jurassic Coast and included a day trip over to Poole to meet another old friend.  Compared to the 8 hour drive back on the Sunday, taking three days to travel the same distance was blissful. Having only a night in the first two locations and the family with me means you can’t always find the best pubs. Oxford can kill a few hours just walking staring up in wonder at the university buildings architecture where as in Gloucester we skipped the  slightly run down town centre and head straight to the redeveloped quays area. I’m sure there are decent pubs in Gloucester town centre but it doesn’t overly invite you to find them.

IMG_20160815_204610We visited two pubs in Oxford, the first being the Angel and Greyhound, on the outskirts of the town centre. A Youngs Brewery food and drink establishment, it had the usual range of home beers, the guest beers coming from the mainstream craft brewers such as Meantime and Camden Town, myself having one from each brewery and found them perfect decent and well kept beers. The second pub we visited was the Kings Arms, another Youngs pub, located opposite Bodgellian Library in the heart of Oxford University land. These had a similar selection of beers as the Angel and Greyhound, but with a bit more variety on cask, sampling a keg Meantime and a guest cask I’ve forgot, (but was from near our neck of the woods). We missed the main pub district totally as we only discovered it on the way to the park and ride bus, but is a city we’d love to visit again and explore its pubs a bit more.

Moving onto Gloucester we were due to meet friends at Gloucester Quays so spent the day moving through down towards our final location. The first pub we visited was Dr Fosters Liquor Co at the town end of the rejuvenated marine area. With a range of nice drinking areas and good food on offer, this is a nice lunch spot.  The beers on offer were a mix of better known brands and local brewers. The boxed cider and three real ales I sampled (all local, but names slip me) were good and the range from a number, style and brewery point of view also pleasing. The next place we visited, where we eventually ended up spending the majority of evening was the Brewhouse and Kitchen at the far end, close to the shopping outlet village. With brewing vessels dominating half the ground floor, pumps in double figures and 8 keg lines on top of it’s more mainstream T-bars. Choice is not a problem here. Bar staff are knowledgeable and friendly as at the previous pub, so ticked a number of boxes already. They serve 12 of their own beers, of which about 6-8 are on the pumps at any point. I sampled their session ale Shedhead, American Pale Ale Down a Pegg and Batsman, a summer ale.  All were nice, well kept beers which did a perfect job on a hot day. From the keg lines I had Beavertown Gamma Ray and Meantime Yakima Red, both nice and tasty wrapping up the night nicely after a nice meal at the same venue before a nightcap at the nearby Wetherspoons of one of their craft lagers.

Moving down to the South Coast and Weymouth, the beer disappointed somewhat from a real ale point of view. I’m sure there are some better pubs, but we didn’t find them. We mainly drank around the old Southern harbour, with about ten pubs lining the north side and another 6-7 on the north side. I visited the Royal Oak a couple of times, with it touting its real ale credentials but on the first visit it only had 1 ale on the 4 wickets and that was a mainstream beer, so I moved onto a couple of their 9 boxed ciders, the second visit had a Devon Brewing Company (DBC) on the second pump, Jurassic I think, a decent if unspectacular beer, so not living up to the pub packaging. I also visited Drift and Red Lion in the Brewery Quay square. The latter offered 90 rums, but the ales selections were a mix of mainstream and DBC on the day, the Dundle Door premium ale being the same result as the Jurassic, there was a third beer I’d tried from these I’ve forgot, but very much like the others. Drift is located in the old Devenish Brewery building and has the working original brewery pump behind the bar. These offered a nice range of local and more geographically spread real ales along with some decent keg offering and good cocktails.  A relaxed atmosphere throughout the week, good service and well kept beer kept me coming back.

Pubpaper 868 – The Cross Keys Beer Festival

Posted: 14th August 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

The Festival Crowd at the Cross Keys

I’d not drank a lot over the last couple of weeks apart from my Saturday session at The Grayson Unity I detailed last week which then partially resulted in sleeping 18 hours on the Sunday. I don’t shift colds and infections quickly any more due to having an immune system less reliable than a Russian Anti Doping Lab, so it was only Friday last week before I felt like actually going to the pub again.   Luckily it was perfect timing for the Cross Keys Annual Beer Festival.  Friday night I’d done a 6 mile walk from Littleborough, past Summit, before returning to the Thwaites owned Summit pub for a pint on the way back, trying one of their seasonal beers it hit the spot for a halfway pint as a decent session ale.   Before heading home I stopped at the Cross Keys for a couple of halves from the selection of 24.   I sampled Blue Bee Sorachi Pale and Raw Brewing Solstice Summer Ale from the back room, both really nice beers.  On the Saturday I popped in for a few halves in the afternoon.  These included Yeovil British Summer Time and Stockport Ginger Tinge from the back room plus a couple from the main bar I forgot to note the name of, all four beers again being rather nice and perfectly kept as you come to expect from Hugh and his team.  He’s scaled the beer festival back from a couple of years ago when he ran 30 additional pumps in the back garden and it works better for both him, the pub and in my opinion the customer as well.  By Sunday tea time they were down to 12 or 13 beers, a decent range still, but showing healthy sales over the weekend.  There were still some great beers on tap, over the afternoon I had Revolutions Disintegration, VOG Light Headed, Brightside Boston Vienna Lager and VOG Miami Vice, taking home Titanic Nine Tenths Below as a night cap.  In total I’d tasted 11 beers from the festival and all were good beers.  All credit to Hugh, Ruth, Aimee, Tom and the rest of the team for the long hours over the weekend to make this a success.  The bands of Friday night, Saturday and Sunday afternoon also made a great atmosphere as people enjoyed their beer.  Hugh said this was the best beer festival so far and I am inclined to agree with him.


The Back Bar at the Festival

Sitting there on Friday evening and Saturday / Sunday afternoon I noticed one thing, the split between men and women drinking the real ale is closing, I’d estimate at times it was 60-40 male / female, a split that you’d not have seen 5 or 10 years ago.  For people of all socioeconomic classes and age, real ale is the social leveller.   You’ll find it in the estate local, gastro pub in the shires, in big cities, and small villages.  Some might be serving mainstream brands such as Copper Dragon, Black Sheep etc, but drinkers of these relatively blands beers will be customers for less mainstream beer when elsewhere.   When you offer 24 real ales like the Cross Keys was over the weekend, you attract a typical social mix as a localised microcosm.  People were trying a range of beers, a fact bore out that only two beers had ran off by early Saturday afternoon and 13 beers were still on by Sunday afternoon.  A range of styles, colours and strengths gave something for everyone, something that you see in their regular selection of 7 pump ales all year round.   Women are not just going for easy drinking ales, they are going for the stronger stouts, the heavily hopped IPA as much as the traditional ale drinking gender.  It is going the other way, men are going for wine and spirits such as gin, of which I am a great fan.  IMG_20160814_160103_01The crossover in alcohol consumption means brands cannot advertise to a gender any more, they have to market across the board.    The Al Murray Pub Landlord stereotype is dead.  It’s about time too!  Some brands are trying to market their beers for women, mainly the bigger brands, but a lot of it comes across a condescending.  Your primary market is the beer drinker, your secondary market is the pub to ensure the drinker can get your beer.  Look at Vocation, their beers are getting everywhere in the Calderdale area and beyond and are frankly working flat out to keep up with demand, but Tom from there can still find out to help out the Beer Festival on and off all weekend, that is called supporting your pubs and therefore your customers.  Dedication is what you need, and those that are dedicated at all levels of the trade succeed.

Our esteemed editor’s week off has left me with a bit of catching up to do, so I’ll not waste words this week.   A couple of weekends ago I visited the Cloudspotting Music Festival (near Staidburn in Forest of Bowland) for four days, it was my second visit to the festival and this year was even better than last year.  Three full days of great bands, relaxed atmosphere and good food and beer.   Musical highlights were King Creosote, Emma Pollock (ex Delgardos), The Gene Dudley Group, Good Foxy, Jeremia Ferrari and Johnny Common among others.  Honest Crust Pizza returned with some of the best pizzas I’ve had in a long time and a nice line up of session beers saw the weekend flow along nicely.  The beer came from Bowland, Lancaster and Hopstar breweries, mainly on the pale side, all at a reasonable £3.50 a pint.  Bowland brought Cloudspotting (aka Festival), Hen Harrier, Pheasant Plucker and Summer Ale to the party.  Lancaster added the Amber and Blonde from their core range.  Hopstar finished off the line up with Saaz, Lancashire Gold and Summer Daze.  The ciders ranged from Rhubarb to Strawberry to a number of classic apple varieties and having sampled a few were nice and refreshing at around 5.5%.  Having tried seven of the nine beers, none were real jump out “wow” beers, but all were good refreshing session ales you could drink all day, and over four days that is just what you need.  Family or not, a festival I’d highly recommend still and hope to return to next year.

The weekend just gone afforded me a longer visit to the Grayson Unity near the town hall in Halifax.  A late afternoon into evening session with my family plus parents sitting in the sun trap yard was most relaxing, and we were all made to feel most welcome, ensuring continued wallet emptying across the bar as we sampled the well kept cellar and my wife drank them out of Kraken rum.  Strangely virtually everyone who came into the yard we knew directly or indirectly through people who joined us or were chatting to.   Over the afternoon we enjoyed among others Vocation Search and Rescue and Heart & Soul, Bad Seed New England IPA, Elland Nettle Thrasher and Mad Hatter Tzatziki.   The first four beers are fairly regular beers, some more hoppy than others, but nothing that would shock your normal craft / real ale beer drinker.  However the Tzatziki is one which is a real marmite beer.   Named after the greek sour yogurt, mint and cucumber dip, it’s flavour really it true to it’s name, some would say too close to it, I like my unusual beers, this one was sliding quite close to “it’s not working for me”, but didn’t quite make it there.  I was told it was going well with those who did like it.  The bar is a great addition to the Halifax scene and is already part of the beer tour in the town for many people, I’m looking forward to the new bar opening opposite the bus station sometime soon to add to this list.

Mid week I visited York for my daughters 13th birthday, and got to visit a good number of new pubs through the day.     One pub we revisited was Evil Eye, more for the cocktails than the beer and the Long Island Iced Tea was satisfyingly boozy!   We started the day in Nook for some lunch, the beer range was limited to bottle craft beer (it is marked as a cafe bar), my Brewdog Punk IPA a decent start to the day.   Later in the day we popped into the Eagle and Child, Leeds Brewery’s food and drink offering near the Minster.  They offer the host brewers beers with a number of guests.  I sampled the Monsoon IPA by them, finding it nicely balanced beer with plenty of hops and at session strength one that could have been repeated, with some beautiful glass design.  Post shopping we went into Mr P’s Curious Tavern down the main shamble as you walk away from the Minster.   The bar serves tapas style food and their boozy apple crumble was small but delicious.  They sell 3 continental beers, craft bottles / cans in the fridge with a range of spirits, myself settling on a couple of rums whilst there, that and gin becoming an increasing part of my alcohol diet.  The last pub of the day was Pivni located near the market.  With five to six beers on pump and a similar amount on tap, there is plenty of choice before you start on the fridge.   The beers seem to rotate through a wide range of brewers, but had Buxton, Magic Rock among others on the day, I tried three beers whilst there (memory fails me on names), two cask, one keg and all were good.  

Over 2 days and 1 music festivals drinking I’ve not found a less than good beer, that says a lot about rising quality of beer across the board, which can only be good.

Pubpaper 866 – Blue Dot Festival and Real Ale Tents

Posted: 24th July 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

1010825This weekend saw a trip to the Blue Dot music festival at Jodrell Bank.  5 stages spread over a large main arena with the main stage overlooked by the famous radio telescope, of which we were treated to seeing it maneuvering through all angles as the new bearings were being tested, the first replacements since 1957, sitting on First World War One gun turret gearing would you believe.  We saw some great acts including Beth Orton, Formation and Lets Eat Grandma among other, with some interesting science talks chucked in.  But the highlights were seeing Air and Jean Michel Jarre on the main stage at the end of the evening.  A big fan of both artists, it was the first time I’d seen Air and the first time in 23 years I’d seen Jarre since my trip to the old Wembley Stadium in 1993 when I was a mere 17 years old.   The festival was well organised on site, with plenty of varied high quality food vendors who put a real effort into getting themselves noticed (the stone baked pizzas were spot on), loads of stuff for the kids to do, the walk between stages being at most 5 minutes and being well marshalled.  The only downside was the park and ride, which we had to walk 40 minutes back at 11.15pm to due to coach queues and then wait 50 minutes to get out of the car park, getting back at 2am in the end.

1020022As always at these events, food and drink is overpriced compared to the outside world, with mainstream bottles of beer at £4.50 a bottle, of which I only had one before decamping to the real ale bar for future drinks for the day.   A pint of real ale was £4.50 a pint, expensive for the outside world, but acceptable for a closed festival and a far better price per volume than the main bar.  The range of beer was good brewery and style wise and it was kept well, every pint our party had being well received.  Beer was from Lancaster, Weetwood, Dunham Massey, Mobberley, Cheshire and Wincle breweries, so all relatively locally sourced.  12 ales and ciders were on offer in total, I tried Lancaster Raspberry Rose (4.2%, wheat beer with hint of english raspberry, quite refreshing), Lancashire Strawberry Cider (4.5%, nice clean refreshing mix of the fruit and cider), Weetwood Southern Cross (3.6%, pale ale with citrusy New Zealand hops, my favourite of the day),  Dunham Massey Obelisk (3.9%, hoppy citrusy blonde ale, nice session ale) and finally Mobberly Elysium (4.7%, hoppy session IPA, plenty of body, second fave of the day).   You could tell how tastes have changed beer wise, the mainstream bar you could walk up to the counter and get served within a minute, at the real ale bar it was about 5-10 minutes, despite 20-30 staff on at any time.

1010841We had a good spot saved for our group about 50m back from the stage, although for Jean Michel Jarre, it was getting crowded, so we moved our stuff to just behind the sound tent and went back into the crowd for the performance while the kids played with glow sticks.  We ended up getting a couple of pints at a time to save trips and avoid missing the bands.  As I’ve found now, most festivals with a real ale bar do a range of beers between 3.5% and 5%, providing a good range of session ales over the day and I alway prefer buying a fresh pint of real ale over anything else at events like this.   When I go Cloudspotting next weekend, they do about 8 real ales at about £3.50 a pint and although I could take a load of our own, I prefer to pay for a nice “poured in front of me” ale.

1020024Beer and music go naturally together, they have for millennia, the thriving music scene in our pubs just shows that, but before I sign off for this week, back to Calderdale.  I try to visit some pubs I’ve not visited for a long time every now and then, in the last couple of weeks I popped into the Old White Beare, Norwood Green and the Stump Cross Inn.   The Old White Beare is more of a dining pub, dating back 450 years and still retains many old features from over the centuries.  Their ale selection is mainstream from the likes of Timothy Taylor, Copper Dragon and Saltaire, but are kept well.   I had a couple of the Saltaire Blonde and enjoyed a relaxing hour in pleasant surroundings.  If in the area, it’d do you no harm to pop in for an hour.  The Stump Cross Inn is also dining lead, their ale selection is one pump sadly, again mainstream, Copper Dragon Golden Pippin I think on my visit, not exciting but kept nicely.  Pleasant enough  but probably less of a stop off when you have a number of ale pubs back up the road at Hipperholme or just down the road on the outskirts of town.