WAY back, most pubs were like this.
Before the days of breweries distributing to chains of alehouses, many pubs simply brewed their own beers in the cellar to sell to thirsty customers upstairs.
The growth of brewing as an industry in Georgian and Victorian times wrought a new order at a time of great social change. In Yorkshire, the big brewing families – the Tetleys, the Smiths, the Theakstons – became a new nobility; other ambitious dynasties were forged in towns and cities across the land.
By the time of the Second World War, whole swathes of England were owned by giants such as these, their vice-like grip monopolising drinking culture. Tetley’s had more than 1,000 pubs in Yorkshire alone.
So when someone installed a brew kit at the Fox and Newt in the 1970s it must have seemed a crazy speculative venture, not least because it required removing the front windows and the floor to shoehorn the kit into the cellars. “Apparently it was the only brewpub in Britain at the time,” says Katie Marriott of Nomadic Brewing, who now use this same kit to produce their own beers. “You couldn’t change it now. There’s no room to get anything in or out.”
The pub has been here a century and a half, having opened as a one-bedroomed hotel with the appropriate title of The Rutland. It was extended in the 1920s, but the biggest expansion came after a gas explosion tore through the building. When it re-opened as the Fox and Newt, the drinking area had been expanded into a neighbouring shop.
By then, the residential area it once served had seen terraces cleared and a motorway slice through its catchment area. Though some homes remain and there is a high-rise estate beyond its back door, the Fox’s position, a quarter mile outside the city’s main circuit, reduces its potential for casual passing trade.
Katie and head brewer Ross Nicholson are the latest inhabitants of a ramshackle subterranean warren which would give Heath Robinson nightmares. Its assortment of brewing vessels and festoons of pipework and hoses have remained largely unchanged during 40 years of brewing punctuated by sporadic periods of inactivity.
This has proved a test bed for a number of local brewers. Kirkstall, Wharfebank and Whippet each started life here; alumni include local legend Dave Sanders, now breathing new life into Copper Dragon.
Nomadic has been going for a little over a year, but using the cellars here requires Katie and Ross to also produce the Fox’s long-standing house ales, the fruity sessionable Brickyard and the more substantial Laguna Seca. “It’s pretty full on,” says Katie. “We brew our own beers when there is spare capacity – and we’re already selling it before we’ve even made it.” New wave alehouses Wapentake and Slocken are regular Nomadic customers; Whitelock’s, North Bar and Foley’s give them a place in the mainstream circuit.
Small wonder that Katie and Ross are already looking to expand beyond this airless underground and out of the claustrophobic relationship with a pub which has first call on their services. “We’d like our own premises and ideally a bar of our own too.”
Doubtless Messrs Tetley, Theakston and Smith would see a little something of themselves in this ambitious, enterprising venture.
Type: Lively brewpub
Host: Paul McIntyre
Opening Hours: Noon-11pm Sun-Thur; noon-midnight Fri-Sat
Beers: Brickyard ale (£2.50) and Laguna Seca (£2.80) plus changing choice of four other real ales. Brickyard’s Hockenheim Vier lager plus Carlsberg, San Miguel, Guinness and more
Wine: Small selection from £4-glass and £15-bottle
Food: Good choice of sturdy pub meals
Children: Not especially suitable
Disabled: Straightforward access but no disabled toilets. One raised area inside.
Entertainment: Occasional live music including punk legend Wreckless Eric (May 19), juke box, games machine
Beer Garden: None
Parking: On-street only
Telephone: 0113 245 4527