Saddleworth Pub Carpets, 1966

Graham Turner’s fascinating 1967 book The North Country paints portraits of towns and cities from Wigan to Durham, often stopping off in pubs and clubs on the way.

You might remem­ber us quot­ing from it before, on the sub­ject of Pak­istani migrants attempt­ing to inte­grate into pub life in Brad­ford in the 1960s.

The rather less polit­i­cal­ly charged extract below, from a chap­ter called ‘Over the Top’ about Sad­dle­worth Moor, grabbed our atten­tion for a cou­ple of rea­sons.

No group of peo­ple in the val­ley are in more demand than the mem­bers of the Boarshurst Sil­ver Band. George Gib­son, a large, enor­mous­ly jovial man with a great red face who plays the ‘bas­so pro­fun­do’ and also teach­es brass in the local schools, reck­ons to be out either play­ing or teach­ing ‘very near every night’… [He] said over a pint at the King William [that] find­ing play­ers was not any par­tic­u­lar prob­lem – “you find me twen­ty-four instru­ments and I’ll find you twen­ty-four kids”. The King William, inci­den­tal­ly, is one of the pubs in Sad­dle­worth which has treat­ed itself to wall-to-wall car­pet­ing, an extrav­a­gance which [local char­ac­ter] John Ken­wor­thy thinks has changed them from forums of dis­cus­sion into mere drink­ing places. At one end of the bar were a group of the men we had been drink­ing with the night before at the Gentleman’s [Club], now deeply engrossed in a catholic selec­tion of rac­ing papers. At the oth­er were half a dozen men in over­alls.

So:

  1. Car­pets were seen as tak­ing pubs downmar­ket, some­how? Mak­ing them more friv­o­lous?
  2. A reminder that pub car­pets aren’t a great old tra­di­tion – they’re a rel­a­tive­ly new devel­op­ment.
  3. And, car­pets aside, a reminder of how class seg­re­ga­tion can hap­pen even with­out phys­i­cal bound­aries.

In case you’re won­der­ing, by the way, the William IV is still there, and still trad­ing as a pub.

Passing Thoughts on Yorkshire Beer

Collage: Yorkshire Beer.

We spent a few days in Yorkshire last week (Leeds-Harrogate-York) and reached a couple of tentative conclusions.

1. Tim­o­thy Tay­lor Land­lord, like Bass, and prob­a­bly like many oth­er beers, can be so dif­fer­ent as to be unrecog­nis­able from one pub to the next. We’re not say­ing it’s an incon­sis­tent prod­uct but that it has a lot of poten­tial for change depend­ing on how it’s han­dled by pubs. We had pints that were bone dry and stony, and oth­ers that were sweet and nec­tar-like – old­er and younger respec­tive­ly we assume. We almost always enjoy it but there seems to be a real sweet spot where it becomes a lit­tle less cloy­ing and gains a sort of peach-like flavour with­out com­plete­ly dry­ing out. Expert opin­ion wel­come below, of course. In the mean­time, we’ll keep test­ing our find­ings when we can.

2. We might have final­ly zeroed in on the essence of York­shire bit­ter. Tet­ley*, Black Sheep and Taylor’s Bolt­mak­er, as well as look­ing more alike in the glass than we recall, all had the same chal­leng­ing, hot, rub­ber-band tang. We’ve noticed it before in Bolt­mak­er but hon­est­ly just thought it was on the turn. But there it was again in mul­ti­ple pints of Bolt­mak­er, in dif­fer­ent pubs, even in dif­fer­ent cities, and in mul­ti­ple pints of the oth­ers, too. It’s most pro­nounced in Bolt­mak­er (Jes­si­ca likes it, Ray finds it too much) and gen­tlest in the cur­rent incar­na­tion of Tet­ley (Ray likes it, Jes­si­ca finds it rather bland) but def­i­nite­ly the same thing. This is where our tech­ni­cal tast­ing skills let us down, unfor­tu­nate­ly. Is this maybe what peo­ple mean by ‘sul­phurous’? Again, expert sug­ges­tions wel­come.

* No longer brewed in York­shire, we know.

3. North­ern pale-n-hop­py beer is more to our taste than Lon­don or Bris­tol takes on the same style, on the whole. We knew this already, real­ly, but this trip con­firmed it. With­out want­i­ng to seem dog­mat­ic about clar­i­ty (we’re not) beers from brew­eries such as North­ern Monk, Rooster’s and Ossett were per­fect­ly clear with a light­ness and dry­ness that made them impos­si­ble to drink in any­thing less than great hearty gulps. Even with plen­ty of flavour and aro­ma there’s a cer­tain del­i­ca­cy there – per­fect engi­neer­ing. We did find our­selves won­der­ing if per­haps we’ve grown to pre­fer sparklers for this style because (per this post for $2+ Patre­on sub­scribers) the noto­ri­ous wid­get has a capac­i­ty for round­ing off hard edges and smooth­ing out flaws. ‘Don’t @ us’, as the kids say.

VIDEO: Old Hill Inn, Yorkshire, 1979

The 50-minute 1979 doc­u­men­tary film Under­ground Eiger is pri­mar­i­ly about cav­ing but there is a won­der­ful two-minute sequence which begins at 23:49 filmed at The Old Hill Inn in the York­shire Dales.

It’s a par­ty rather than a typ­i­cal night at the pub but nonethe­less gives a won­der­ful sense of atmos­phere, and is cer­tain­ly a great anti­dote to that grim stereo­typ­i­cal ‘York­shire’ pub por­trayed in An Amer­i­can Were­wolf in Lon­don.

You can find more infor­ma­tion on the film and watch what might be a high­er qual­i­ty copy at the BFI web­site.

We were sent this link by Robin Old­field – thanks, Robin!

Magical Mystery Pour #17: Kirkstall Dissolution Extra IPA

This traditional IPA from Leeds, at 6% ABV, was chosen for us by David Bishop, AKA @broadfordbrewer, who says:

It’s one of those beers that folk regard as an unsung hero of British IPAs.  I think I’ve become accus­tomed to the juicy banger IPAs and often for­get IPAs like this. I drink a fair bit of the cask ver­sion of this beer – the weak­er Dis­so­lu­tion IPA. The Extra IPA comes in an unfash­ion­able 500ml bot­tle, it’s at the malti­er end of the IPA scale, it’s quite strong, and the Rate­bee­ri­ans don’t seem to think much of it, which makes me like it all the more.

We bought our bot­tles from Beer Ritz at £3.28 per 500ml.

(A spot of dis­clo­sure: when we launched our book in Leeds Kirk­stall sup­plied a beer with our names on the pump-clip. They didn’t pay us, we didn’t pay them, and we’ve had no deal­ings since. Hav­ing to do this every time gets exhaust­ing but in for a pen­ny, etc.)

We get a lit­tle bit excit­ed about this kind of Eng­lish IPA – not the 20th Cen­tu­ry ver­sion which is gen­er­al­ly indis­tin­guish­able from bit­ter but the revival­ist, retro, BBC cos­tume dra­ma vari­ety. The Protz-Dor­ber sub-style, if you like. They’re gen­er­al­ly made using Eng­lish hops in quan­ti­ties sub­stan­tial enough that you can taste them but with an empha­sis on bit­ter­ness and flavour, rather than extrav­a­gant aro­ma. They don’t demand to be drunk fresh, now, quick­ly, drink me now! In fact, a bit of age often does them good. And, because there are so few around they feel dif­fer­ent and inter­est­ing, suf­fi­cient to tick­le the nov­el­ty recep­tors, while still being root­ed in tra­di­tion.

Kirkstall Dissolution in the glass.

On open­ing the bot­tle we got a whiff of hot mar­malade. After pour­ing, it looked slight­ly hazy, and a rather beau­ti­ful shade of orange. With noses in glass­es we found more mar­malade and orange blos­som, as encoun­tered in the clear syrup they used to sell in our local Turk­ish super­mar­ket in Lon­don.

The ini­tial impres­sion of the taste was more of the same, along with some ripe straw­ber­ry and a gen­er­al hedgerow leafi­ness. We kept talk­ing about oranges but it wasn’t cit­rusy in the sense of bright break­fast juice – more like can­died peel and intense oili­ness. The bit­ter­ness was turned low in the mix but prob­a­bly about right, hold­ing it back from being cloy­ing. It’s a round beer, not a spiky one; robust, not rough; mel­low.

We think it bears a strong resem­blance to Meantime’s take on his­toric Eng­lish IPA but it’s years since we had a bot­tle of that, and it is pricey these days, as well as being stronger again at 7.4%. Marston’s Old Empire is prob­a­bly the best bud­get alter­na­tive, usu­al­ly avail­able in super­mar­kets for less than £2 a bot­tle and great at its best, though sad­ly vari­able in our expe­ri­ence.

Though we liked Dis­so­lu­tion Extra a lot, and found every mouth­ful demand­ed anoth­er, we don’t quite think it earned its ABV, drink­ing more like a 5% beer. We’d real­ly like to try the weak­er ver­sion David men­tions in his note. Over­all, though, it was a big hit with us and we will prob­a­bly buy it again. If you think these mod­ern IPAs smell like bloody air fresh­en­er, but also think Greene King have a bloody cheek, and so on, then you should def­i­nite­ly give it a try.

There’s only one more MMP post after this in the cur­rent series when we’ll be writ­ing about Wold Top Mar­malade Porter with a side serv­ing of Samuel Smith Tad­dy Porter for ref­er­ence.

Magical Mystery Pour #16: Black Sheep Riggwelter

This beer chosen for us by David of Beer Doodles fame (@beerdoodles) is either a modern Yorkshire classic or a ubiquitous supermarket PBA depending on your point of view.

PBA’? That’s ‘pre­mi­um bot­tled ale’, a cat­e­go­ry which didn’t real­ly exist before about 1990, when brew­eries and super­mar­kets decid­ed they need­ed a way to grab the atten­tion of real ale drinkers dur­ing their week­ly shop. We tend to think of Black Sheep, found­ed in 1991 by Paul Theak­ston of the famous brew­ing fam­i­ly, as very much a prod­uct of the PBA era, per­haps because that’s the form in which we, liv­ing in the south of Eng­land, most often encoun­tered its beers.

Recall­ing his youth David says Rig­g­wel­ter is ‘a beer that was around when I was too young, real­ly, to be drink­ing Strong York­shire Ale, so I have a cer­tain affin­i­ty for its rough edges when served too warm’. We bought our bot­tles from Beer Ritz at £2.98 per 500ml but most super­mar­kets seem to be sell­ing it at between £1.60 and 1.90 a bot­tle.

There’s a fair bit of chat online about whether or not Rig­g­wel­ter is intend­ed to be a clone of, or homage to, Theak­ston Old Peculi­er. Both are around the same strength and a sim­i­lar red-brown. As far as we can see, Paul Theak­ston has nev­er gone on record acknowl­edg­ing the sim­i­lar­i­ty but, hav­ing run the fam­i­ly brew­ery for much of the 1970s, he would cer­tain­ly know how to brew a clone if he want­ed to. They seem quite dif­fer­ent beers to us, though – cousins rather than twins. Per­haps, as in the case of many beers vague­ly based on oth­er beers, the like­ness was more obvi­ous in the ear­ly days before Rig­g­wel­ter evolved into its own thing.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Mag­i­cal Mys­tery Pour #16: Black Sheep Rig­g­wel­ter”