Huddersfield – A Love Affair is Born – 08/08/2015

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After a really heavy two weeks at work, an early (and I MEAN early) start was probably ill-advised. But I had an offer, which – a bit like the horse’s head in Jack Woltz’s bed – was hard to refuse.

That said, that early start afforded me a rare opportunity to see Manchester, but without the usual throngs…

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(Thomas Street)

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(Edge Street)

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(Tib Street)

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(Window Shutter – Stevenson Square)

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(Graffiti – Stevenson Square 1)

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(Graffiti – Stevenson Square 2)

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(Newton Street)

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(Port Street)

Manchester. 06:30 on a Saturday morning. Eerie. Quiet. And strangely beautiful.

Manchester, I love you.

Public transport in my area can be slightly……odd. Some services running, others not. That was how I found myself out of my house at 05:15 in the morning, walking half a mile to the relevant bus stop to catch the ONLY bus that could reliably get me to Manchester in time for the 07:26 train to Huddersfield. (And I fell aslep on that bus) Well, at least the Arch-Nemesis and I could say that the train was on time! (I also fell asleep on that train!)

Did I mention that I only got home at 4 hours before leaving again?

Then, we arrive in Huddersfield, step outside the rather grand station, to this….

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Little did I know quite how thronged this was to become less than 4 hours later!

But the reason that I was up at an unspeakable hour on a Saturday? A visit to Mallinsons.

Huddersfield may be blessed with a number of stellar breweries, with Magic Rock, Hand Drawn Monkey and others, but NONE have the ability to consistently turn out single-hopped sessionable Pale Ales at the level of sustained excellence that Mallinsons can. None.

A brief visit demonstrated to both myself and the Arch-Nemesis just HOW they are able to achieve such consistent levels of excellence. With no little skill, combined with the judicious application of tech and process control. Both Tara & Elaine were very generous with their time and showed both of us around and explained how they do just what they do. The simple things. So well.

There is an argument for Huddersfield as a beer town uber alles. There is, for me, an even greater argument that for session pale ales, there is nobody better than this brewery. Mallinsons. Which is why I made the effort.

I’m also utterly delighted to have righted the most heinous wrong of ISBF2014. The absence of a Mallinsons beer. They’ll be brewing something special for us. And I’m excited.

There were no photos taken. I was too awestruck.

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We got back to Huddersfield centre, via a cracking breakfast at Munchies on Albert Street (almost opposite the Star Inn – more later), thanks to Elaine for the recommendation!

So, 2 hours after we walked out of the train station, we have the scene above. In beating down sunshine. Following a walk around the area to assess the various food stalls (and they ARE many and varied!), we settled to a pint of Topaz by Mallinsons from one of the bars erected in the square. A fine sharp refreshing pint.

I myself, didn’t partake of as much of the food as others, but the offering ranged from superb curries, authentic paellas and Italian through to the more – shall we say – exotic. Anybody fancy a reptile burger? Made from 2 1/4lb patties of Crocodile and Python? I mean, of course I WOULD have, if it wasn’t for the rather filling breakfast….

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It was hot. Far too hot for this old man to bare. I needed shade. And beer. And the Hand Drawn Monkey Beer Shop on Wood Street (one street behind the Railway Square) ticked all the right boxes.

Effectively two roomed, this slightly ramshackle feeling bar is just, just, (how can I put it without sounding like a 15 year old?) cool. It just is. And it is utterly effortless. It doubles as a bottle shop, but we were there for the cask beer and both that we had were excellent.

We sat in the room to the left of the entrance on the (HDM logoed) cushioned bench seating and – with the assistance of the open door and industrial fan – relaxed in the cool. The sole bar staff put some tunes on, “Rubber Factory” by The Black Keys and “Bjork Greatest Hits”. And I was happy. Two fine albums.

Back to the square and we met the other train borne reprobates – David, Des & Jeff – and following another wee beer in the square, we were off …..

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The Sportsman (St John’s Road, Huddersfield)

This pub was the shape of things to come. A beautiful stone built corner pub, opening out into a big pace full of wood. And just lovely too. A large corner bar sporting a plethiora of hand pumps and decent keg fonts. There was at least one other room off the main room which looked nice and cosy too.

More Mallinsons in here. Well, when in Rome…..Cha Cha Cha was a fine pale beer too. As I would expect.

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A beautiful boozer, with great beer. But an all too brief visit. Will stay longer next time.

The reprobates wanted to go to the HDM Beer Shop again. I’m easily led. And glad I did, otherwise I’d have missed the superb Cherry Pale Ale! Was that 1.5kg of cherries per cask? It tasted like a marriage of a good Pale Ale and a Kriek. Recommended.

Then, separation. Captain “c***t” (Jeff) wanted to The Grove to sate his basest keg urges. Des fancied it too. Too soon for me. There were two other pubs I wanted to visit. Both (as I was to find) classics.

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The Star Inn (Albert Street, Folly Hall)

If this was in Manchester, the location would probably mean that it would have shut. I’m glad that it is in Huddersfield. It’s another beauty of a boozer.

Again, stone built. This is set in an industrial area just to the south of the town centre, not far from Mallinsons actually. Walking in, the colour scheme is warm, lots of wood and very comfy seating. It would be open plan if it wasn’t for a stone dividing wall that ends just before the bar and holds a real fire (I think – I WISH I took notes!)

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The long wooden bar was festooned with hand pulls again. And, around the corner from the brewery, it had to be another Mallinsons. Zahercoe. I won’t tell you how good it was!

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The pub, whilst being surprisingly large, maintains the feeling of a local. And is my kind of pub. Warm and friendly. And with good beer. What more could you ask for?

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This. Is the answer to that question.

The Rat & Ratchet (Chapel Hill, Huddersfield)

The stone frontage is impressive enough. But doesn’t prepare you for what lies within.

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I’m no architectural critic. But this is just so opulent and Victorian. A maze of many rooms. Loads of wood. Just SO bloody gorgeous. I may have just found my favourite pub. But it’s 30 miles away!

And serves Rat beers. Brewed on the premises. Beers that for me can do no wrong.

Nor can this pub. It. Is. A, Jewel.

We found a table and seats to the rear of the pub. And I just marvelled.

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It seemed to go on and on. And that made me happy. I left with a lopsided grin. Reluctantly. Because this couldn’t possibly be topped.

The Grove (Spring Grove Street – just off the A62 ring road)

For drinkers entranced by the “c” word, I can see the attraction of this pub. It has absolutely loads of beer on raught, both cask and keg. From many of the luminaries of the c***t world. And the keg was getting battered. No surprise in the heat of this particular day. Now, just for the record, I am no hater of keg beer. I simply prefer cask. And I had a really nice beer from Durham, a Pale Ale (Jaded Muse), my first from this brewery.

The pub itself was mutiroom in feel with a room that felt like an old tap room to the right and a larger room to the left with some rather interesting artwork.

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The thing that impressed me most, was the outdoor space.

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It adds so much to this pub. And goes back quite a way. It was a nice surprise to see Scott the GingerBeerKing and some of the Wakefield CAMRA crew here. Top fella is Scott and always nice to have the piss taken out of me by a Yorkshireman!

The Grove would grace many a town or city. But – with a slight “after the Lord Mayor’s Show” kind of feel – it came after The Rat & Ratchet.

Which shows you just how MUCH Huddersfield beer drinkers are spoiled!

And, with a little walk around the square for some food ( a cracking paella), that was that. We tried to get into The Kings Head. It was rammed. As was the other pub in the train station. So to the train.

I may love Manchester. Deeply. But I could oh so easily have an affair with Huddersfield.

And feel no guilt.

And so, my beery friends, endeth my 200th blog post. The last for some time while I take a break.

Slainte!

The “C” Word – Let Beer Be Beer

craft noun (SKILL)

(plural crafts) skill and experience, especially in relation to making objects; a job or activity that needs skill and experience, or something produced using skill and experience
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I’ve been drinking “beer” for nearly 35 years now. I think that that qualifies me as “old”, to some. My epiphany was in the venerable Manchester institution The Peveril Of The Peak. It came, in about 1982, when I was just about to go and watch the Bristol “Punk-Jazz” band Pigbag and it came, tyhanks to a dear old friend, Martin Murray. You see, I was a BIG BRAND LAGER drinker back then. And the beer in my hand that evening was Carlsberg lager.

Then Martin handed me a golden brown liquid. It was Wilsons Bitter. And it changed my life. It was creamy. It had flavour. And it was Mancunian. Thus began a journey.

Tempus Fugit. And tastes change. And mine most certainly have. And THAT journey started with Punk IPA, by Brewdog. A beer full of fruity flavour and a bracing bitterness.

From traditional to modern. Or – as some would have it said – to “Craft”.

Why do I enclose the word in quotation marks? Because that word means absolutely sod all to me. I just like beer.

Which brings me to a piece by London beer blogger Matt Curtis which highlighted (to my ignorant Northern focussed eyes) the formation of a body named the United Craft Brewers. (Click the hyperlinks to read/access)

Matt – to be fair – is a damn fine writer, with a viewpoint on beer formed from his own epiphanic (is that actually a word?) experiences via US beers. We differ on many things mind, including  one of his thoughts in the above piece

“For Craft Beer in the UK to remain viable and to continue to grow it needs an organisation that both defines and supports it, lest it become the fad that some consider it to be.”

“Craft Beer” isn’t a “thing”. It’s a label. And one that – to be quite frank – bores me rigid.

One of the things that Matt mentions refers to the size of a brewer “I don’t believe being ‘Craft’ has anything to do with the size of a brewery.” In so much as “C****” could be defined by size, I defer to the Cambridge Dictionaries Online definition of craft. If something is made with skill and passion, you can call it what you like, to me, that is a laudable thing.

However….the (US) Brewers Association DOES refer to size when defining what (to them) is a “Craft Brewery” and I quote ”

An American craft brewer is small, independent and traditional.  

Small  

Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales). Beer production is attributed to the rules of alternating proprietorships.”

Compared to almost ALL the breweries that I know (obviously leaving the bland Marstons & Greene King out), Brewdog (one of the founders of UCB) can hardly be labelled “small”. Camden are probably stretching that definition a tad too. So, any definition that ignores size, could be regarded as convenient, one might say. And ignores the fundamental BA principle.

The UCB invites brewers to register with them – via the website – so they can enter the discussion and meet in September. I’ll be intrigued to see the take-up of that invitation. I’ve been very tired recently, what with ISBF taking up my spare time that the day job allows, but I woke up with a start on a recent visit to a brewery that I respect hugely. Small, hugely hop forward and the makers of the most consistently excellent beers. I jolted awake and to full attention when one of the owners/brewers said “We’re not a Craft Brewery. We’re a Micro Brewery”

The UCB strikes me as the big boys of Modern British Brewing setting out to take some form of control or leadership of this (if it can be described as a) movement. I could be (and hope that I am) wrong. I’m fairly thick and may have missed the point.

But on one thing I am really clear.

For F***s sake, just let beer be beer.

Full of flavour. Made by people who actually give a shit about what they are doing and do it with care. Consistently.

And let’s stop with the labels eh? What’s wrong with just brewing great beer?