From the train station, we walk through Huddersfield in the wind and the rain, passing under the ringroad via an unappealing underpass before arriving at The Grove. We go into the left-hand bar, uncertain of whether this is what locals do, or whether the locals will care, whether there are codes and rules we may be violating. But the Grove only looks like that type of pub from the outside. Inside, no-one seems to notice, and in there we meet the familiar, welcoming faces who we have arranged to meet on this Saturday afternoon: the chef (who arranged it), the barman, the not-actually-a-beer-blogger.
Soon others will come – the brewer, the student of brewing, the cynic. There are other beer geeks here – from Scotland, no less. Kenny’s down for the football, others have popped over on the train after visiting the big festival in Manchester. At the bar I speak to a German with a shopping list of English beers half-crossed out in ballpoint pen.
We all pore over the taps, the blackboards and the bottle list. Each of us is excited by the choice, amazed by the prices, concerned about what we’ll get to try before we reach our limit, or have to go for the last train. I foresee my own lack of restraint, not enough water, the usual well-meaning but drunken overenthusiasm, the wrong words in the wrong order, “Shit, is that the time?”, and perhaps cold sweat and quiet misery as my body fights overindulgence on the train home. Still, it could be worse – the unfortunate barman has to go to work this evening.
Fortunately we have limited ourselves to a couple of hours in this place before we go for dinner, a 6pm reservation. This turns out to be wise. You need a reason to leave The Grove. So in the meantime we start buying beers, sharing and tasting, talking about them, exchanging news, getting to know people who were Twitter friends – but in reality strangers – until today.
The bar gets dark, the lights go on. Amongst the astonishing bottle list, the excellent cask ales from as close as West Yorkshire and as far as Kent, the exotic but bargainous keg beers, we are all excited to learn that in the fridges (but not yet on the list) is the new black IPA that we’ve all read about from the excellent new brewery down the road. We smell it, we taste it and the table’s opinion changes. A good first impression from the nose shifts as the beer reveals itself to be – whilst fruity – also unexpectedly roasted, smokey and liquoricey.
What is the purpose of a black IPA and does this deliver? The consensus is probably not – the malt is too dominant. You couldn’t trick a blindfolded beer geek into thinking it might be a pale beer (the Turing Test of black IPAs; not that you’d actually want to). Other black IPAs are hurriedly purchased for comparison – one from the Peak District, another from underneath a railway arch in South London. The London version smells and tastes of Starburst. It’s everyone’s favourite. Is the new, local beer miscategorised? I think it’s an interesting beer in its own right; but no, it’s not a new favourite. Not yet, anyway.
After two and a half hours we leave for the restaurant, only a little late. For all the strong beers I’m doing pretty well, but can see that tipping point wasn’t far off. I’m happy and enthusiastic about the pub and the company, old friends and new friends. Overenthusiastic, maybe – like I said, that happens when I’ve had a couple of drinks in good company. But even in the morning I’m smiling. Until I remember that I forgot to buy a carry-out.
On 12 July 2011 the winner of a Yorkshire Post/Welcome To Yorkshire vote to name “Yorkshire’s Favourite Pub” was announced at The Great Yorkshire Show. The winner, by public vote, was The Shibden Mill Inn, near Halifax.
The shortlist of 12 was as follows: “The Adelphi, Leeds; The Angel Inn, Hetton; near Skipton: The Anvil Inn, Sawdon, near Scarborough; the Black Swan Inn, York; The Black Swan, Driffield; Durham Ox, York; Farmers Arms, Upper Swaledale; George and Dragon, Hudswell, near Richmond; The Milestone, Sheffield; One-Eyed Rat, Ripon; Shibden Mill Inn; Shoulder of Mutton, Harrogate.”
What I find interesting is that, unlike a lot of the other entries, the Shibden Mill isn’t actually in the current edition of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide, according to my iPhone app. I wonder what it was that meant that a public vote for a favourite pub selected a Cask Marque pub which serves real ale (“a wonderful selection of cask ales”) and yet has been overlooked by CAMRA?
The thing that sticks out to me from the website, having not actually visited, is that it looks like a very nice place to go for dinner, or to stay in one of the rooms. Basically it sells itself more as a venue for eating than for drinking, and perhaps this is the reason that it’s not included in the Good Beer Guide, with the Halifax/Huddersfield area offering quite a few excellent pubs that are obviously pubs. I would assume that most of the other finalists have a good bar menu as well.
This might be indicative of a general disconnect between the general public (or perhaps casual pub-goers) and CAMRA/beer geeks. Many of the casual pub-goers go to the pub once a week for a hearty weekend meal and one or two pints of a beer at a sensible ABV, perhaps before driving home. By contrast, I imagine most of the latter group (whether at the CAMRA or bloggerati end of the spectrum) would view The Grove in Huddersfield as close to a Platonic ideal: a huge, ever-changing selection of good beer, some bar snacks and staff who know their stuff. Essentially, we want Dave and Barbara to refer us to the blackboard.
I may be reading too much into it, and it’s simply that the average Yorkshire Post reader wants different things from the pub than an average active CAMRA member. Another illustration might be my reaction to the recent Leeds Bar & Club Awards 2011, where my favourite Leeds pubs were largely overlooked in favour of what I would class as weekend music venues. It’s probably just the case that the people who voted (including Leeds Guide readers), unlike myself, view a Saturday night on Call Lane as something other than the third circle of hell.
I think my conclusion is the rather mundane one that different groups of people frequent different types of pub. Our idealised view of the pub as a place where the whole community comes together, the ultimate “Third Place“, is probably a fallacy. There have always been different drinking venues for different people: working men’s clubs, political clubs, gentleman’s clubs, student’s unions. The “local” wasn’t always welcoming for all and many people would never have been seen dead in one.
Basically, what makes a good pub for me is probably not to a lot of other people’s tastes. When people talk about “the pub” they can mean vastly different things. I’m fortunate that, at the moment, there appear to be enough like-minded people who are interested in variety and what I regard as good beer to keep the places I love going, and that these pubs in turn support a thriving craft brewing industry.
There’s a new German Bierkeller which has opened on Park Row in Leeds, in the cellar of the building that also houses Shooter’s Sports Bar and the new “Park Row Bar & Brasserie”.
I haven’t ventured in yet, but I will in the near future. It offers an Oompah band on Fridays and Saturdays, serves their beers on tap in steins (if you fancy it) and would seem to promise the rowdy fun of the big beer tent at the German Christmas market in Millennium Square in Leeds, but all year round. Whilst it’s not selling itself as a great place for a quiet, contemplative drink, much like the Christmas market I think it’ll probably lend itself well to an evening out with a large group of friends; birthday parties etc.
I enjoy the atmosphere of the Christmas market (see picture above), but the beer selection isn’t that extensive. Kate pointed out that the Bierkeller’s website claims that they have “the largest German beer selection in the North” and expressed some doubt at this. I decided this was worth investigating.
This is the Bierkeller’s list of beers from the website:
1. Paulaner Munchen Lager
2. Paulaner Hefe-Weisebier
3. Paulaner Dunkel Lager
6. Haus Bier
X. Timmermans Peche
X. Timmermans Kriek
X. Timmermans Frambois
7. Fruh Kolsch
8. Erdinger Schneeweisse
10. Schlosser Alt
11. St Georgebrau
That’s quite a good selection, with some fruit beers (“Schooner of strong imported US craft keg for the gentleman; half of fruit beer in a branded stem glass for the lady” is destined to be the catchphrase for Al Murray’s successors). However all the fruit beers (Timmermans and Rosarda) are Belgian, so that leaves 11 German beers. A decent turnout – 11 Germans are generally considered a pretty formidable opposition – but surely at least one bar in Northern England can boast a larger selection?
I thought North Bar would be a likely competitor in Leeds. Bearing in mind that their online beer list doesn’t include the regularly changing guest beers, their extensive permanent selection contains the following Germans:
2. Fruh Kolsch
3. Erdinger Urweisse
4. Guest German Wheat Beer
5. Schlenkerla Rauchbier
X. Fruh Kolsch
8. Schlenkerla Rauchbier
9. Schneider Aventinus
10. Schneider Weisse
11. Weihenstephanan Kristall
That’s 12, but I’m afraid one of the Fruhs has to be disqualified as it turns up both on tap and in the bottle and the guest is, um, a guest. So Bierkeller probably holds out as unbeaten, at least for the best permanent selection of German beers in Leeds. Although someone may correct me on that; Mr Foleys has a fairly extensive selection of imported beers in the fridges these days.
Of course North also has a fantastic selection of US, Belgian and other great beers so it probably wouldn’t be interested in this particular scrap anyway. However the next challenger is a heavyweight in all categories: The Grove in Huddersfield [insert big fight entrance music here].
The Grove’s astonishingly extensive beer and cider menu is here. Amongst those 9 remarkable pages of small print you’ll find the following Germans:
1. Erdinger Urweisse
2. Früh Kölsch
4. Schlösser Das Alt
5. Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche (Oak Smoke) Doppelbock
6. Erdinger Pikantus Dunkler Weizen-Bok
7. Neuzeller Bockbier
8. Schmucker Rose Bock
9. Schneider Aventinus Weizen Eisbock
10. Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock
11. Erdinger Pikantus Dunkler Weizen-Bok
12. St Georgen Brau Kellerbier
13. Kuppers Kolsch
14. Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen
15. Neuzeller Kirsch Beer (Cherry)
17. Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche (Oak Smoke) Doppelbock
18. Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen
19. Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen
20. Erdinger Acoholfrei
21. Erdinger Pikantus Dunkler Weizen-Bok
22. Erdinger Weiss Dunkel
23. Maisel Weissbier Dunkel
24. Maisel Weissbier Hell
25. Paulaner Hefe-Weisbier
26. Schneider Aventinus
So there you go. The Bierkeller doesn’t have the best selection of German beer in the North, nor indeed in West Yorkshire.
To be fair I think any challenger in the North generally would have a hard time beating The Grove for selection in any category of beer. But then again, Bierkeller has more on tap; I don’t think I could cope with more than 11 steins of beer in one sitting; and I bet The Grove doesn’t have a house Oompah band.
Phew, it’s been a challenging weekend for my liver. On Friday I went to The Grove in Holbeck for the leaving drinks of my friends Tom and Holly, who were regulars there but are now moving to Masham. Fortunately I understand that it’s not hard to get a beer in Masham, so I’m looking forward to visiting.
I started with Moorhouses’ Premier Bitter, but wasn’t entirely convinced so moved on to Elland El Divino, a “blonde premium bitter” which was excellent. Good beer, food and chat in a great pub.
Saturday night found me out on Lower Briggate and Call Lane, the latter swarming with underdressed posers. However the Smokestack was reasonably good fun and surprisingly had bottles of Anchor Steam and Liberty Ale in the fridge. Then on to Call Lane Social, a relatively new bar opposite Oporto which had decent music and both Brooklyn Lager and Anchor Porter in the fridge, but was crammed to the rafters.
Two nights that had ended in the purchase of kebabs should sensibly have been followed by a quiet Sunday in front of the Antiques Roadshow (or indeed Last Of The Summer Wine). However Dean from Mr Foleys had invited Kate and me out for a few drinks with James and Andy from Summer Wine Brewery.
With just a bacon sandwich to recover with, I had Crown Brewery HPA; Summer Wine Blizzard and Heretic Black IPA; and Revolutions The Original 45 Porter in Mr Foleys. Dean’s clearly been buying in a lot of great beers recently and has nefarious plans for lots more.
Summer Wine’s Heretic is a fantastic example of the black IPA style, with only a very slight roastiness at the start and a pleasant wallop of bitterness. Great as it is, James said that they’re going to tweak the recipe for the next brew.
The Original 45 Porter is Revolutions’ first commercial beer, and it’s a very promising start. I’ve had a lot of porters in recent weeks and this is one of the best. Worth keeping an eye out for.
On to the Victoria, where nine pumps were rapidly dwindling to three. I had a North Peak Vicious American Wheat IPA, which seems to be in every single M&B pub in Leeds just now (Palace; Adelphi, Scarbrough). It was an unusually hoppy wheat beer – not as big and punchy as Schneider Weisse Tap 5 but at the same time less thick and sweet, seeming less than 6%. It was very good but due to the limited choice we moved on to North Bar.
North had O’Dell IPA on keg, which James and Andy informed me uses Citra hops. I’ve liked this beer for a long time and it’s great on keg. Another example of knowing something’s great but not knowing why. Andy came back from the bar with a bottle of De Dolle Stille Nacht, which was 12% and incredibly bubblegummy.
After a Leodis Lager in The Brewery Tap and a final Timothy Taylor’s Landlord in the Scarbrough Taps (both had slightly disappointing selections), we headed home. It was very kind of Dean to invite us along and it was great to chat with him, Andy and James about beer and pubs. I have a lot to learn about brewing but once again they were really friendly and their passion for exciting beer is infectious. Thanks lads!
After all that, I should be ready for the Christmas party season…
(For much fuller and more informed notes on some of the beers above, see Leigh’s latest post on The Good Stuff, in which he tries Heretic, the 45 Porter and Vicious.)