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.

Pubpaper 865 – Chester Pubs and Scaring Crows

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

13781943_1146861402037596_3986821007036444907_nThe bulk of this article will be documenting my adventures in beer and spirits in Chester last weekend, but I’m going to start off with the Scarecrow Festival Sunday at my local pub, the Cock and Bottle, Southowram.  I’m involved with the Southowram Scarecrow Festival as committee member and resident graphic designer, so is a cause close to my heart.  Therefore seeing so many people turning out all afternoon, enjoying the fantastic performance by International Party Doctors, buying food from the NPSCC BBQ and making sure that their raffle was a great success.  Many thanks to the owner, local resident Michael Cawood, the pub management led by Alexis and the staff for their support and effort on the day ensuring it continues to be one of the best annual afternoons out in the village.  Being able to enjoy a few ales in the sun to good music and good food just can’t be beaten!

Now onto Chester.  To be honest we didn’t get to see a lot of Chester due to the rain, preferring to wet the throat than the head.  We started at Artichoke, based on the canal just up from the Railway Station on the City Road.  With typical interior design of exposed brick and designer chairs you get in converted mills and factories.  They had four real ales on tap, along with a wide selection of European beers.  I sampled a couple of real ales, both relatively locally brewed and tasted good showing they were kept well.  I also tried Pardal and Budvar and as expected in a good Czech beer was tasty and refreshing.  If you are a gin fan, they have a massive range here, as well as other spirits.  As a note just up the tow path is The Old Harkers Arms, a Good Beer Guide entry of 20 years right next to the City Road, offering 10 real ales and a similar number of ciders and perrys. I intended to finish off our night here over a few ales, but too much beer, rum and vodka put paid to those ideas, but we’ll be visiting their next time for sure.

12027589_1644631635826103_4350292632611410828_nNext we moved onto Liquor and Co, on the upper level on Watergate Street in Chester’s famous double storied shopping district.  The decor in this place is fantastic, patterned brass effect ceiling, with old industrial style lighting.  The 1930’s speakeasy look is completed by staff dress, braces and all.  When a pub ties all the visual elements together it really adds to a place.  We hit the spirits here, but they had a good range of craft beers on tap and bottles in the fridge.  A good choice of whisky, rum, vodka and more sit behind the bar if you want to go up for your drinks, but the table service was far more relaxing.  Between us we sampled a couple of Appleton rums (Red and Green), my wife’s current favourite Kraken, Mount Gay and a Zubrowka Buffalo Grass Vodka (I’m sure there was one more i’ve missed as well).  I can’t normally drink vodka any more since a bad experience with Polish vodka at 17 years old, but have loved this stuff since I got given some at last years Cloudspotting music festival which I return to next weekend for four days.   If you are in the city I highly recommend a visit to Liquor and Co.

51Next we went to Church Bar and Restaurant just up from the Roman park and amphitheatre.  A converted church with lofty ceilings, the upper floor around the sides of the building is for diners, while a lively bar sits below coming down the centre of the church.  Large seating bays line each side whilst the large outside terrace area would have been great if dry with plenty of seating.  We placed ourselves at the bar, the perfect place to watch a wide mix of customers constantly in and out.   The Purple Moose beer was on good form here, one brewery I always make a beeline for when in a pub, but went back onto the rum after a pint, the names of the rums slip my mind probably due to the rum consumed by the time we left to head for dinner.  The Greek restaurant was a big disappointment, but the large bottle of Keo did the job to wash dinner down.

As we always seem to, we ended up in a Samuel Smiths pub, the Boot Inn, again on Watergate Street on an upper terrace, this time for a clothing change.  A wide long venue, typical of the brewery, needing some TLC in places.  The Alpine Lager and Rum and Coke came in at under a fiver and frankly we got what we paid for.  All in all a great weekend away and would recommend the town to anyone for a city break.


Pubpaper 864 – How do we use the pub?

Posted: 10th July 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

The sharing of beer can signify happy or sad times, good or bad health, seeing or friends or being alone. It is the most social of our drugs of choice in this country. All of the occasions above can be shared with the general public in one of our thousands of licenced premises. Despite the negative and positive side of life being played out daily in our pubs, the are still the most common point of communal congregation for the populous despite the claims of the big coffee shops and their ever expanding chains.

Take Old Pete who comes in for his few pints every weekday lunch, always Johns Smiths despite the pub selling five other far better real ales. Pete comes in, has 2 pints, reads his paper and goes on his way, no one really knowing a lot about him. But what he does build up is a routine, which when broken is noticed if he doesn’t turn up. There are individuals in society who chose to live a relatively solitary life, leaving very few stamps on the world, but when that stamp is not made, people ask questions.

I’ve been meaning to mention the Commercial / Railway Inn in this column for a few weeks, but space kept running out or me just plain overrunning. I really like Trevor and Sue, along with Jason and the rest of the team behind the bar. Hosting all of the usual amenities with darts next to the bar and pool in the back room. A kettle in the corner for those who want a tea or coffee, with piles of the recent local papers (if we can call them that now in Halifax and Brighouse) alongside publications such as Private Eye and New Scientist, very much to my taste.

In the front room are walls decorated with album covers and stringed musical instruments of all varieties, a piano sitting in the corner as you enter, having hosted numerous impromptu jam sessions. The pub is decorated like someone’s front room and making you feel just as welcome. Three pump clips adorn the bar with a mix of Copper Dragon, Saltaire or other smaller breweries from mainly Yorkshire and the north of England according on when you visit. It doesn’t do anything better than other pubs, but it pulls it all together so it feels right, you aren’t going to get the latest crafts brews, but you will get 3 good well kept ales.

I refer back to Old Pete, called so just so he had a name, The Commercial and other pubs have a number of customers like this, people who are kept an eye out on. The landlords of these pubs consider part of their role in the area as a social one as well as a dispenser of beer, spirits and cider. I know from talking to people who deal with the elder generation that there are many of them who go to the pub for lunch a few days a week or even everyday, also witnessed from personal observation with places like the William IV at King Cross benefiting greatly, plus any branch of Wetherspoons equally valid in the context of usage. Think of the benefits from their perspective, a warm room you don’t have to heat, a cheap hot meal you don’t have to cook and as much social interaction as you desire. Lets not forget a couple of pints of beer on top, being able to stay as you want plus exercise from the walk to and from the pub.

Most people of my age (just turned 40) don’t have the luxury of such routine, my pub visits and destination generally being decided in the preceding hour or two unless I have a particular reason to visit, like Vocations Smash and Grab going on the bar at the Cross Keys the other weekend. Look at the writings of myself and Chris Dyson, you’d have a good idea where you might catch us drinking in the area from a list of 5-10 pubs, but predicting a routine, you’d have low chances of success.

People of the generation above myself are far more likely to have a regular pub they visit a few times a week or daily, I’m not sure if those of us who started drinking in the 90’s or 00’s have that loyalty to one pub. I’m certainly a butterfly when it comes to my pub visits, particular pubs are on a weekly rotation, others are visited every few weeks or month, the pubs in the second list being in no way worse than those in the first, but my habit is more a set of regular pubs and I’ve fallen into certain routines, a pattern many people have adopted now. How will people of the generation below me use the pub when they reach my age, things have changed in my generation, there is no reason not to expect it will do so again. Read the rest of this entry »

Pubpaper 863 – Ram, Smash and Grab!

Posted: 4th July 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

13528652_10154432727490466_8949499258053449650_nSometimes topics just give you a great headline and this week is one of those set of topics.   I’ll start with the new beer from Vocation Brewery, Smash and Grab, an 8.5% Double IPA hop bomb.  Launched on Friday night at a select number of venues in Hebden Bridge (Old Gate), Halifax (Victorian Craft Beer Cafe), Manchester, Leeds, London and Bristol, sale elsewhere was embargoed until Saturday.   Local venues who had this beer in stock included the Market Tavern and Cross Keys, Siddal.  The beer was launched in cask, keg and can at the launch venues with other locations mixing cask and keg according to pub taste. The canned beer should be in independent beer shops by the time you read this.  I popped down to the Cross Keys to try this on Saturday lunch and can only describe this as a dangerously moorish beer that hides its 8.5% roots.  Sure you can taste it is strong, but it is very well balanced with the different hops taking a few sips to build up the full taste.  Then it settles down nicely into a very very drinkable beer, just flowing down the throat and inviting you to have another, something you might regret a few down the line.  If you see this then try a half or a pint if you can to see what the beer is like, you won’t be disappointed.  John and the team are turning out great beer after great beer and as long as they do, I’ll keep drinking them.  It shows how popular they are with landlords and drinkers when you see one or two of theirs on the bar, with two more on the coming soon board waiting in the cellar repeatedly.


Ramfest 2016 Crowd

Next I’ll start with a lyric from REM “Shiny Happy People holding hands”.  For once I didn’t mention the Ramfest Music Festival I help organise in this column, there was just too much news from across the district.   This year’s festival, based at Southowram Cricket Club was a shift change as we implemented a no brought in drink policy after some trouble last year.  In the end the festival was a fantastic community event, full of families relaxing or dancing, kids running around and playing in safe environment, groups of friends drinking the day away, with an army of volunteers keeping it all going.  Steady queues at the gates, bar and food vendors disproved the naysayers that said people wouldn’t come. Hundreds of people joining the Shiny Happy People of the aforementioned song in spirit, a great atmosphere overall with 8 fantastic bands, culminating in the traditional ‘Rams way we end any event, Bat out of Hell by Meatloaf blasting out of the ever impressive sound system and people who shouldn’t be taking their shirt off doing so, including myself.  This is what life is about, we all enjoy good beer, tasty food, great times with friends and the best music.  There are now dozens of local music festivals running from June to September, many like Ramfest raising money for charity, helping to raise interest and funds to keep our sports clubs going.  Only the week before Brodstock sold out of tickets and closed their gates.  People love a good day out and the mix of live music and decently priced beer can only help.

P1180804-50% JPG Upload

Rugosa at last years Canal Festival

Coming soon is the Brighouse Canal and Music Festival on the 20th-21st August, complete with street market, bar and vintage vehicles.   But I’ll concentrate on the music, my good friend Jason Fieldhouse who is more often found at the Commercial / Railway behind the bar, is organising the main stage near the Waterfront Lodge.  After a great line up last year, there is the same this year from my sneak preview of the list, names including The Rainey Street Band, Eye of Elena (who put on a great show at Ramfest), Ben Blue Waters, Rugosa, Nervous ‘Orse and the Shabby Cats over the two days.  These events like music festivals at our sports clubs are a great community event which draws people to the surrounding pubs, the Market Tavern being in the perfect location for this stage with some great beers no doubt, while other stages in the town benefit pubs like the Black Bull and George Hotel.   You can’t view things like this in isolation, the key to pubs trade is footfall past the venue, the more people who see you more chance you have to gaining a new customer.   The 1000 people leaving a festival might fancy another beer, not pass on that route normally and like the look of one of our licensed venue.   The whole thing is an ecosystem which feed itself, pubs and bar related businesses sponsoring events, gaining customers in return, becoming a self perpetuating machine.  The common element is the beer and we all love that don’t we.

This week mainly concentrates on my first proper wander round the pubs of Hebden Bridge in a while.  I visited on the Saturday when they were holding their Alternative Christmas Day festivities now that the town is well on the way to recovery from the blunt trauma that was the Boxing Day Floods to many people and businesses in the town.   The town has still not fully recovered, but it is ready to support the summer tourists who will visit over the next few months.   It was great to see that the Shoulder of Mutton is back up and running properly in the town square, overflowing with drinkers as they watched the entertainment and musicians opposite.  

P1010625We visited three pubs in the town and surrounding area, two recently back open since the floods and a halfway visit to the Fox and Goose, the co-operative pub on the Heptonstall junction.  The first stop was Calans, where tables were all fully occupied by merry making drinkers, three small kegs and a large one creating a makeshift table and chairs for the three of us, soon after the entire stock of kegs have become makeshift furniture.  Two great beers here, the better of the two being Vocation Chop and Change “Eldorado”.  Possibly one of my favourite of the Chop and Change single hop series so far, I’ve drank this at a number of bars over the last week or two.  The second beer was a more amber ale, Gospel by Briggs Ales, my first beer from this Huddersfield Brewer, a more earthy beer, but well balanced with the bright hop flavour.  I also had the first chance to bump into Alan and Alyson since they moved back home and couldn’t have looked happier.  They have been packed out most nights since their re-opening as the community really takes them back into their heart.  The sea shanty minstrels kept the customers entertained and the staff busy as visitors popped down the alleyway to see what was going on, only stopping when they ran out of beer, one cheeky verse calling for a “free round on the landlord”.

I’ll come back to the Fox and Goose later.  My last stop was the recently opened (about a month ago) Stubbing Wharf, about half a mile out of town.   The pub was relatively quiet inside, the drinkers opting for the sun trap that is the wall next to the pub and towpath of the canal.  Inside the layout is very similar to its pre flood guise, furniture different and decor updated but still totally recognisable.  The shaded outdoor area to the rear at pub level was nicely populated by those opting for the shade.  The real ales are not that exciting when compared to the Fox & Goose and Calans, more a solid range of three mainstream ales with a couple of guest on, my choice being the Saltaire Blonde which satisfied a thirst as we took in the rays between breaks in the clouds.  Our stop was shortened by the need to catch the tea time train back to Halifax (a very reasonable £3.90 return, also the first time I’ve took the train to Hebden in over 10 years).

P1010626Jumping back to the Fox and Goose, we intended to also stop at the Old Gate but it’s central location ensure that there was very little free space for additional drinks like us.  The Fox and Goose had 4 wickets out of the 5 on when we visited.  I decided to stay on the Vocation theme started earlier in the day, with two of the four beers being from the Cragg Vale based brewery (which has just taken on an additional brewer I am informed, from across the road at Little Valley Brewery).   I decided on the Heart and Soul, a favourite of mine and top of the list whenever I see it on.  A pint and half of this wetted the lips for the walk to the Stubbing Wharf.  I like the Fox and Goose, first for its co-operative ethos and second for its warren of rooms, an old school approach to pub design we are losing too much of.   Well kept beers, a donation based cheese and cake board and a good selection of whisky ensures I pop in as often as I can given my shared pub time in the town.

Now to wrap up this week, I’ve also got in visits to a couple of my regular haunts this week, namely the Cross Keys (Sunday twice) and the Market Tavern (Thursday).  There is a phrase “You can be in a room full of people and feel totally alone”, a good regular pub will make sure that doesn’t happen if you don’t explicitly desire it.  Mentally I’m all over the place at times, making Alton Towers look like a kids attraction when it comes to the ride.  Visits to such places are a stable constant in my life, a set milestone in an ever evolving journey and will continue to be.  Pubs may be the ruin of some, but be a savior for others.

 1010078I’ll start this week with last weekend which I spent with friends watching the the Cock of the North road racing event at Olivers Mount, Scarborough.  If you get the chance, I’d recommend you go just for the experience of bikes passing you at 170mph literally yards away, but I’d book ahead to get yourself a paddock access ticket.  The paddock area is an experience in itself looking at the bikes close up, but there is also a bar near the start finish line.  Called the Irish Quarter, on the surface not that impressive, selling only mainstream bottled and canned beers and spirits.  But the fact that I’m sitting there drinking bottles of Becks (at a very reasonable £2.50 compared to beer tent) and chatting to the barman about Barry Sheene, Guy Martin and other famous road racers, hearing his stories probably makes it one of the most interesting bars I’ve been into in a while, whilst all the time riders and pit crew are passing, some coming into the bar, bikes are lining up outside to set off to race, all giving it a different atmosphere to the public areas.  I plan to visit for the Gold Cup and camp overnight, I’m told once the racing is done, it gets rather busier there and is a good night out, one I’ll hopefully sample.

calanspub1the-stubbing-wharfCalans is back! I’ll repeat that, Calans is back and it is so nice to finally be able to go back there for a drink.  I popped in on Friday night post the walk from Hebden Bridge to Todmorden and return.  On the way we passed the Stubbing Wharf and it was doing some rather nice trade which was really good to see, next time I am in the town I will pop in and report back.  Calans is restored as it was bar a few small changes to make it more flood resistant inside with a new 6 foot flood door installed to hopefully keep the water out next time.  Me and my friend Mike had the chance to relax outside, my beer of choice (from 5) on the night being Hophead by Dark Star (based near Brighton), I’ve always been a fan of their beers and this pint (and a half) did not disappoint as I would expect from Alan and Alyson, who were absent on the night, but the two girls on the bar kept up the usual standards when it came to the liquid refreshment.  The atmosphere is also the same as before with a lively crowd constantly topping up customers who leave with new punters throughout the night.  It was only its second night, but Hebden Bridge and beyond has taken it back into its heart very quickly which is only as much as they deserve.

20160617_120439 20160617_120501Now onto the Grayson Unity, opposite the town hall in Halifax.  The listed building status means the venue is authentic to the original des ign with the owner putting his own touch on the decor, the back room being a mix of mismatched sofas and chairs, the main bar a compact room with wood and glass tiled fronted bar serving 4 ales and Berliner Pilsner lager along with a decent wine and spirits collection.   A really nice chilled out space, the beer was in very good shape over the two ales I tried.   The place is instantly welcoming and that is always a good sign for me.   The owners plan that “the bar itself is small but friendly place where you can get a lovely drink in a unique setting” has been well and truly met.   The high ceilings give the place a perception of being bigger than it is.   I well recommend you pop in to try the place out, you can even bring your own (non smelly) food to eat from elsewhere while you enjoy the offerings from the bar.  The only downside of this bar is that is could get very full very quickly if a large group decide to visit.  But it will be interesting to see how the venue develops.

the-best-mafia-films-u1I’m going to finish this week on a more hollow note however.  How about a prime spot in a heritage listed building, complete with sun trap.  Sounds great doesn’t it.  I know of three separate parties now who have looked at this unit now, all of which have found different issues.   Badly planned or missing utilities which would be essential for food offerings, high rent even given it’s prime spot and worse of all the fact that the venue is locked up totally in the late evening.  Imagine having to close your bar at 8.30pm so you can clean down and get out of the venue before you literally get locked in for the evening.  The people who bring you this genius is Calderdale Council and the new Piece Hall, the same organisation that is also extorting £1200 per household in unadopted roads in Siddal to replace the Yorkshire Sets with tarmac on the piece of road they own outside their house (nearly double the cost if you are a through terrace).  If you don’t want it done or can’t pay, tough luck if the majority of the street want it, they’ll put a charge against your house and do it anyway and have to go and get your own stones back from the Mytholmroyd depot if you want them!…nice to see our council tax being used for good!

Some weeks the pub is your second home, other weeks you may only visit once.   You can have many such homes, but most people have a handful at most they can themselves a regular at.  I am one of those people, I class myself as regular at three pubs.  You can probably guess which those pubs are by the mentions they get in this column.  But like many people my time is limited, I’d like to get round to more of our fine pubs in the Calderdale area, however work, family life, and more recently napping in my case get in the way.  I’ll be caught in “Snoozers in Boozers” before my time is up I’m sure.

I try to make the effort to visit new venues that have opened or in many cases in the Upper Calder Valley re-open after the floods.  Still on my list I have still to visit The Grayson Unity, a number of pubs in Ripponden, not to mention a list of longer established venues like Dirty Dicks and the Commercial, Brighouse which are long overdue another visit.   A lot of the time I have my family with me, so it restricts the pubs we can go into, either from the pubs child policy or suitability of venue.   

Last week I got one visit to the pub, a flying one hour rest at the Market Tavern on the way home from work one night where I enjoyed three rather nice halves of ale.  Saturday night saw the 30th birthday party of Jason Fieldhouse, lately of the Commercial / Railway in Brighouse, The party being held at the LBO rehearsal rooms where a small bar was set up in a back room.  A nice chilled out party with plenty of jamming and good pints of Abbeydale Absolution with a bunch of great people from 5-75.  A night where I would have otherwise been at the pub with my wife, life making plans otherwise.

That is the thing about life, it takes you where it wants to, it’s like being on a train, you may have purchased a ticket to Halifax, but it’s the guy controlling the signals who is really deciding where you are going end up.  I know this better than most.   With most people lack to visit to a certain pub is not noticed, but in the case of this column it sometimes is by some.   In respect to this Calderdale is a victim of it’s own success with the number of good pubs, despite the weather gods attempts to wipe them out every few years.  

the-stubbing-wharfSadly a number of pubs still are not open post the December floods, another great example of how fate works.  However the Stubbing Wharf has re-opened in the past couple of weeks, adding another pub I have to catch up with (oh the first world problems).  It looks like they are back serving the range of real cider they were previously famous for, along with a range of six real ales from a range of breweries local, mainstream and further afield.  The pub menu is back with a mix of classic pub dishes and fancier fayre.   Obviously the inside and outside needed totally stripping back to a blank slate and it looks good inside from the photos with a decent outside space to boot.  

I was a fan of the old Stubbing Wharf and look forward to visiting again soon and a bonus is that Hebden Bridge will have a proper pub crawl again soon, defined as at least four pubs worth visiting by my definition.  From the Stubbing Wharf to the Fox and Goose, one of the best pubs in Calderdale for locally produced beer from the lesser known brewers and the best bar based cheese board around, onwards to the Old Gate for a great range of cask and keg beers, numbering at least 8 of each, along with more nice food.  Finally, hopefully soon onto  Calans when they reopen in their full time premises.  It’ll be good to see Alan and Alyson back in action behind a bar or decorating table, frankly I don’t care as long as there is beer behind it and a till.

Hopefully I can bring the news of this to you soon, until next week happy supping.