IT DOESN’T really look like this on Google Maps.” We are only minutes into our Saturday afternoon pub crawl of Shipley and Saltaire and self-appointed navigator Diane is already staring at her phone and looking confused.
“It’s supposed to be a big place set back from the road,” she says, with an air somewhere between puzzlement and indignation, as we file into the Fox.
Only later, when we reach the beer garden of the Boathouse at Saltaire for the fourth or fifth pint of a very convivial afternoon, does Diane finally admit that she’d actually been looking at a map of Shipley in the West Midlands.
It may be a good deal smaller, but I’m certain that the Fox at Yorkshire’s Shipley is infinitely preferable to its namesake in the Black Country. In fact, there is a moment, possibly 30 seconds after we have wandered inside, that I am struck by a rising tide of realisation that despite her befuddlement we have chanced upon something truly remarkable.
Perhaps that sense of something special is borne in the atmosphere, as the unprepossessing shop front gives way to the Fox’s simple intimacy, its one room of scattered wooden tables and its walls crammed with brewing ephemera. A stuffed fox head seems a little lost and bewildered between the beer trays, enamelled signs and black and white images of drinking scenes.
The blackboard which dominates one wall tells its own story, with a list of the cosmopolitan selection of beers which have been shoe-horned into the Fox’s fridges. Most are Belgian, but the inclusion of an Oat Stout from Tiny Rebel in Wales, Elvis Juice from Scots giants Brewdog and American IPA Longhammer reveal a willingness to embrace great beer, wherever it can be found. I’ve been in pubs four times this size which don’t have a quarter of the choice.
Its owned by Chris Bee, the co-founder of Bradford’s Salamander Brewery, and his experience and careful stewardship of the place no doubt underpin this obvious devotion to quality beer in all its guises – whether that’s hand-pulled cask ale, craft keg, interesting imported lager or that splendid choice of bottles. A display of assorted glassware behind the bar reveals a commitment to serving many of those weird and wonderful Belgians in the right vessel.
And though I’m drawn to some of those high-powered continental choices, this being the first stop on a gruelling afternoon out, I opt for something a little more straightforward: a hand-pulled pint of the session-strength Trafalgar. Though this ultra-pale golden ale is only 4% ABV, it delivers all that I would expect of the Great Heck brewery near Selby, now a well-established player on the local scene. There’s a hoppy resinous nature to the aroma, and bags of tropical fruit to the taste.
A clutch of other smaller Yorkshire’s breweries are also represented on the bar – Mallinson’s, Partners, Eagle’s Crag and from Beespoke, Chris’s new brewing venture which has been established in the cellars at the Fox.
I’d have been happy to stay here all day but Diane soon has us back on the road, with a canalside route march to the beer garden at Saltaire’s excellent brewery tap. Here in the baking heat, I make my first acquaintance with SIN City – their phenomenal juicy, hop-heavy 5.5% collaboration with Ilkley and North breweries. For some reason, a curious perplexing haze descends across the remainder of my afternoon...
Briggate, Shipley, BD17 7BP
Type: Well-kept micropub
Host: Chris Bee
Opening hours: 10.30am-11pm Mon-Thurs, 10am-midnight Fri-Sat, Noon-10.30pm Sun
Beers: Amazing selection of beers available in cask, bottle and keg. Choices change regularly so check the blackboards for the latest list.
Food: A limited menu of pies, curries and sausage and mash
Beer Garden: There is an attractive beer garden to rear with flowering plants
Disabled: Straightforward access - and bar is all on one level
Children: Not especially suitable
Entertainment: TV beside the bar
Parking: Some on-street and pay and display areas nearby
Phone: 01274 594826