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History is not a nightmare: Whitelocks Ale House, Leeds

June 18, 2012 3 comments

We appreciate the old despite the new and also because of it. James Joyce published Ulysses in 1922 when he lived in Paris: it was about, and set in, the Dublin he had left in 1904. It had taken him eight years to write the novel, during which time Ireland saw a great war, an Easter rising, a war of independence and the signing of the treaty establishing the Irish Free State, and was standing on the brink of yet another civil war. So Joyce’s intensely modernist, taboo-breaking and anti-traditional novel is, nonetheless, also an important and evocative historical document of a particular time and place.

 

Listening to Radio 4’s adaptation of Ulysses, with its sensual descriptions of porter, stout, lager, cider, burgundy, steak and kidney pies and cheese and mustard sandwiches in Dublin hotel dining rooms and pubs, made me want to visit Whitelocks, Leeds’ oldest pub/luncheon room. For Stephen Dedalus, history was a nightmare from which he was trying to awake. For Whitelocks, though, history is its bread and butter.

I’ve written about it before, but the historic alley pub, filled with copper, tiles, wooden partitions, mirrors and nostalgia, has recently been taken over by Mason & Taylor. The noticeable improvements consist of a good scrub, a slightly fancier evening menu, new staff and an improved selection of beer (still Yorkshire beer, but better, more interesting Yorkshire beer), with the aim of reversing the fading and withering of age.  The policy, it seems, is as much one of restoration as it is of reinvention: making Whitelocks a pub that lives up to the considerable local goodwill.

For lunch I enjoyed a simple but good pork and apple sandwich with a half of Ilkley Siberia, the 5.9% cask rhubarb saison brewed with Melissa Cole. The Siberia had a lighty fruity, almost white wine aroma and a full soft mouthfeel, being in great condition. That gentle and pleasant marshmallowy taste that seems to characterise many of Ilkley’s pale ales held up a tartly sweet and sour bitterness. The savoury and sweet pork and apple sandwich, which was much as it had been when I last visited, was a perfect match.

Turks Head Yard, the narrow alley dominated by Whitelocks, now finds itself surrounded by the redevelopment of Leeds’ “Trinity Quarter”, due to complete in 2013. Leeds City Centre is already a bizarre mixture of the old, new and once-new. I hope that these careful and respectful improvements in beer and service will quietly move Whitelocks from being a pretty museum piece just about kept in business by nostalgia, to a pub that, in its own stately way, is once again as integral and relevant to the beer scene in Leeds as more modern contenders such as the craft beer pioneer North Bar. Although, now I come to mention it, even North Bar is no spring chicken these days.

I highly recommend these two articles about the history, recent decline and new ownership of Whitelocks by Leigh Linley and Simon Jenkins.  You can now follow Whitelocks on Twitter at @WhitelocksLeeds .

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Market Forces: Dock Street Market, Leeds

Back in the mists of time, when everyone was on the previous version of the iPhone and the world was on tenterhooks waiting for Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott’s version of Robin Hood, there was a deli-come-grocery on the cobbled Dock Street in Leeds called Simpson’s.  Simpson’s was quite expensive, but the young professionals of Brewery Wharf and Clarence Dock liked the fresh bread and the impressive selection of bottled ales, including Ilkley and Saltaire beers.

Simpsons closed, possibly due to competition from a cheap but souless Tesco Express that had recently opened, and there was due wailing and gnashing of teeth about the death of independent shops and quite a lot of discussions about whether it could be re-opened as a social enterprise.  Of course no-one really knew what a “social enterprise” was, but that nice polite Mr Cameron seemed to be in favour of them, and anyone who didn’t really like the word “social” was in favour of “enterprise” and vice versa, so it seemed like a reasonably admirable idea at the time without really gripping anyone.

Ultimately, in November 2010, Dock Street Market opened on the site of Simpson’s, run by “a group of independent local food traders“.  I think the line-up may have changed over time, but at the moment there seems to be a deli counter, a bakery and a bar.  The bar currently sells cakes and Prohibition-chic “teapot cocktails”, which Kate enjoyed.

The fact that I was most interested in the selection of beer will not come as a surprise, but the selection itself might.  As well as cask Black Sheep (it’s still Yorkshire after all, even if it is young, hip, waterfront Yorkshire) there was also Anchor Steam, BrewDog Punk IPA and Ilkley MJ Fortis on keg.  The bottle selection was even more impressive, including Brooklyn Lager, BrewDog 5am Saint, Chimay Red, Orval and Anchor Old Foghorn.

I had a Goose Island Matilda, an Orvalalike which was initially surprisingly bretty, but later pleasingly so, followed by a De Struise Pannepot 2010, a darkly delicious but drinkable 10% spiced Belgian strong ale which really needs that bit of cake to soak it up.

As well as the beer selection, I was impressed by the relaxed atmosphere of Dock Street Market, which leaves it somewhere between a cafe, a bar and a common room; seemingly a successful third place.  Its neighbours, the Leeds Brewery pub Pin and Mitchell and Butler’s Adelphi are another matter: Pin, whilst similarly having an impressive imported selection thanks to James Clay, can seem sadly quiet and has stripped down its food menu.  The Adelphi, whilst being one of Leeds’ best food pubs and having a great historic interior, has had quite an unimpressive cask selection the last two times I’ve been in.

Dock Street Market, for seeming to have come together at random and for its Cath Kidston-esque bunting and cake stands, has nonetheless ended up being perhaps the best place for a beer in the area.  They’re even planning a ticketed Anchor tap takeover/food and beer-matching dinner with Ben from James Clay on 6 June 2012, a US craft beer festival on 4 July 2012 and a BrewDog tap takeover on 1 August 2012, each of which is as good a reason as any to pay your first visit, if you haven’t already.

Ilkley Beer Festival: Cask Ale, Abbey Cider, Tasty Pies and Craft Keg

February 12, 2012 17 comments

Ilkley Beer Festival is one of those events that I always hear about before the event itself, but after tickets have sold out.  In the past I’ve tended not to mind too much, because it’s a festival organised by the Ilkley Round Table rather than CAMRA: what could the Round Table know about beer that CAMRA doesn’t?

However, having had the chance to go to the festival on Saturday afternoon as a friend had some spare tickets, I can say that they did an excellent job, and I’ll be quick to snap up tickets for next year.  This is partially due to the long list of corporate sponsors for the charity event: local solicitors, accountants, architects, bankers; the great and good of this predominantly middle-aged, middle class, West Yorkshire spa town which lies in the commuter belt for Leeds and Bradford.

However having a lot of money to throw at a beer festival doesn’t in itself lead to a good festival.  The venue’s pretty good: the King’s Hall in Ilkley is a good size and ornate, certainly a step up from certain other festival venues I’ve been to. The festival also benefits from a stall from the local butchers, Lishmans, which offers hot pies, sausage rolls and “Yorkshire pasties” for a voucher (£1.25) each.

Oh yes, I meant to mention the beer.  I would find it hard to put together a much better list of English cask ale breweries, including Buxton, Mallinsons, Roosters, Thornbridge, Marble, Oakham, Bristol Beer Factory, Dark Star, Red Willow, Hawkshead, Magic Rock, Brodies, Revolutions, Stringers and of course Ilkley Brewery.

I most enjoyed Brodies Citra (on the recommendation of @misterfrosty), a great beer for 3.1%; Hawkshead NZPA and Buxton Wild Boar IPA, both excellent strong, citrusy IPAs; and Revolutions’ Milk and Alcohol, a silky milk stout that Leigh and Dean had a hand in. Another highlight was the superb Ampleforth Cider, as made by a German monk in North Yorkshire, which was a steal at £1.25 a half, given that it’s 8.3% and usually costs upwards of £7 a bottle.  I’m afraid I missed the whisky cask-aged cider from Udders Orchard.

One interesting footnote is the “craft keg” section of the beer list, which had a single British keg offering from Ilkley Brewery, alongside two American (Brooklyn Lager, Flying Dog Pale Ale) and two German keg beers (Jever, Flensburger). All but the local Ilkley beer would have been “permitted” by CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival as “Bières Sans Frontières”, which does seem a little odd.

However I think we’re in real danger of making the term “craft keg” look absurd pretty quickly if we start using it to refer to Jever: a very tasty lager from a large scale brewery which is part of the Oetker Group, the food processor which also owns “a maritime freight business, a bank, a publishing company, an insurance outfit […] and a number of high-class hotels all over Europe”.

Dales Way Pubs: Bar T’at, Ilkley, West Yorkshire

Our last day on The Dales Way was from Burnsall to Ilkley, which took us beyond the Yorkshire Dales National Park and also from North into West Yorkshire, having started in Cumbria five days before.  We were fortunate to have another sunny day to wander the last 12 or 13 miles down the Wharfe past caravans at Appletreewick, the Yorkshire Dales ice cream van at Barden Bridge, sunbathers at Bolton Abbey and a family of ducklings on the pavement in Addingham.

Ilkey was the end of the Dales Way for us, although it’s the start for most, and many people stay there for the night before they set out on the walk.  After reaching the official end/start of the walk at the Old Bridge, we walked into town for a beer.  There’s actually a pub just by the end of the walk: Ilkley Moor Vaults.  I’ve visited once, after being caught in the sleet, and found both decent beers and an open fire.  However it was a warm day and I intended to court Mary Jane: there’s no better way to do so than Bar T’at

Bar T’at is a Market Town Tavern pub, along with Arcadia, East of Arcadia and Veritas in Leeds, Cooper’s in Guiseley, The Narrow Boat in Skipton and nine others.  The churlish might accuse them of being overly similar; one could more accurately say that they’re consistently very good, with nice food, helpful staff and a wide selection of ales, from Yorkshire micros and regionals in particular.

Bar T’at didn’t disappoint on this Thursday afternoon and at the end of our walk we quickly sank a couple of glasses of  the lovely, pale, hoppy Ilkley Mary Jane before I also decided to try Goose Eye Chinook, another local pale beer (from Skipton) with a satisfyingly crisp, bitter aftertaste.  I began to notice that one can’t walk through the Dales for five days without picking up at least a hint of a country aroma (i.e. sheep shit with a hint of wild garlic) so it was time to catch the train back to Leeds for a bath.

I hope that this short series of posts is useful for those planning the walk (although make sure you take the Cicerone guide and all the OS Explorer maps). If you are, good luck and I hope you’re as fortunate with the weather as we were.  I really enjoyed our five days on the Dales Way, although the aches compounded throughout the week and by the last afternoon every stile earned a swear word.  Good beer and food in friendly pubs along the way helped a lot, as did the roaring fire at The White Lion at Cray and the warm bath at The Red Lion, Burnsall.

The selection of beer in most places might be more limited to two or three pumps, but you shouldn’t find it difficult to find a Yorkshire bitter such as Timothy Taylor’s Landlord or Black Sheep, or a pale hoppy session beer like Mary Jane or Copper Dragon Golden Pippin to slake your thirst, if you’re very lucky something from Hawkshead Brewery like the wonderful Windermere Pale.  Trust me, no drink in the world could be better in the circumstances.

Read all the other posts in this series about The Dales Way here.  If you’ve enjoyed these posts, why not read Andy Mogg of Beer Reviews’ post about beer and pubs on the Coast To Coast walk (and his walking blog linked to in that post) and Mark Fletcher’s posts about The Pennine Way on Real Ale Reviews.

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