A new book takes readers on a journey through the drinking culture of our county, writes Duncan Bremner.
From ancient Timothy Taylor’s, hemmed in by the terraced streets of Keighley, to the Trinity Brewery established in the toilets of Wakefield’s rugby league ground, a new book by a Yorkshire Evening Post journalist takes readers on a rewarding journey around the rich drinking culture of our county
He calls it “The Yorkshire Beer Bible”, which might seem slightly sacrilegious, coming from a writer who tells us of his staunch “muscular protestant” upbringing.
But Simon Jenkins is nothing if not contradictory: “My grandmother was a tee-totaller who was a leading light in the British Women’s Temperance Association,” he tells me over a beer in the brooding, history-laden main bar at Whitelock’s. “She was dedicated to closing pubs down – and I’ve spent most of my career trying to keep them open.”
If the name isn’t familiar, then it’s probably because Simon mostly writes under his nom-de-plume of Taverner, a title he inherited shortly after joining the YEP in 1991. “I was no kind of expert, back then. The chap who wrote Taverner had just become a dad for the first time and he was struggling to find the time to write the column every week. I offered to help out one week, and then another – and eventually I ended up taking it over altogether. I was getting paid to go to the pub; who wouldn’t?”
More than 25 years on, Simon continues to write the Taverner column, though his day job has now taken him across town to the University of Leeds where he works as a communications officer. Every Thursday he brings us to a different Yorkshire pub, conveying the architecture and the ambience in a style he disarmingly describes as “vague, chatty and whimsical.”
It may be all these things, but it’s always entertaining. “I try to ensure that the column doesn’t get too formulaic,” he says. “I go to each pub with an open mind, order a beer and maybe something to eat – and just see what happens. Usually I can find something interesting to write about.” Simon must be doing something right: he’s won several awards from the British Guild of Beer Writers including being named British Beer Writer of the Year back in 2010.
And now he’s extended this obvious labour of love into The Yorkshire Beer Bible, which is an A-Z guide of the county’s breweries.
Again, he was stepping in to someone else’s shoes. “My friend Leigh Linley wrote a lovely book a few years ago called Great Yorkshire Beer. But when he found he just didn’t have sufficient spare time to update it into a new edition, he recommended me for the job.”
Simon was determined to make his own version a little different: “Leigh focussed on a dozen or so breweries and wrote about each of them in amazing depth. I decided to take the opposite route and include as many breweries as possible.”
It turned out to be a bigger task than he’d imagined. “I knew there were lots of breweries in Yorkshire. Beer has probably never been as popular as it is now, and in recent years lots of new brewers have come into the market. But I was amazed at the actual numbers – I’d be visiting a brewery and they’d say ‘have you heard about that little microbrewery up the road and that brewpub round the corner?’ It was like taking one step forward and two steps back.”
He eventually found more than 170: “I know I’ve probably missed a few, for which I can only apologise,” he admits.
Out now in hardback, The Yorkshire Beer Bible, with its eye-catching cover of pumpclips, cans, bottle labels and beermats, is a lively romp around all of them, featuring interviews with many of the brewers, tasting notes for hundreds of beers and some suggested pub crawls around the county’s cities and larger towns. “It’s an amazingly diverse scene,” says Simon. “Obviously from writing the Taverner column I’ve got to know West Yorkshire’s pubs and breweries pretty well. But it was great to write more about York, Hull and Sheffield, and visit some of the wonderful pubs in the Dales, the North York Moors and the towns of the Pennines.”
He has a talent for finding interesting characters to talk to, like at Atom Brewery in Hull where brewer Allan Rice produces a dazzling array of cask, keg and bottled beers and is using this as a force for the public good. As much as being a brewery, Atom is also an educational facility, where Allan is giving disenfranchised young people the opportunity to get involved in the brewing process. “It’s a brilliant idea,” says Simon. “It’s showing these students that there’s a real point to what they are learning at school – and that the science can be really useful in the workplace.”
The book introduces us to former cheesemaker Leigh Terry, who sold her house to establish Baildon Brewing; Phil Marsh, who creates a niche range of bottled beers in the tiny brewery above the Hungry Bear restaurant in Meanwood; engineer Tony Rogers who salvaged tanks from a shampoo factory to create the brewing kit at Half Moon brewery in Ellerton; and former police firearms commander Mike Quirk whose tiny industrial estate brewpub has changed the dynamic of the social scene in Garforth.
“My wife and I spent a lot of time travelling around Yorkshire,” says Simon. “We met some amazing people – each of them quite different but all in their own way driven by a passion for beer. It was a real eye-opener to see how the beer culture across the county has been absolutely transformed in recent years, with new brewers making fascinating, crafted, well thought-out beers which have stretched the envelope of what we thought was possible. Just ten years ago plenty of these breweries simply didn’t exist – and drinkers are so much more open to new ideas and different styles of beer these days.
“It’s a wonderful time to be writing about beer.”
And as a long-serving pub writer, it is little surprise that Simon also took the chance to visit some of the fabulous licensed premises for which our county is famous. They include the foody Angel at Hetton; the historic Fleece in Haworth, reputedly haunted by the ghost of Branwell Bronte; Holmfirth’s lively brewpub The Nook – and Leeds favourites such as Friends of Ham, Whitelocks and the Victoria.
His suggested pub crawls provide some interesting diversions - a trek around the dramatically hilly student heartland around Sheffield University, a stroll around Hull which allows drinkers “to commune with the area’s rich seafaring past – and to experience its modern vibrant self and the confidence which helped it become a European City of Culture.”
A pub crawl around Harrogate ends at “the hedonistic Blues Bar…for exuberant effervescent, sheer wild times, it’s hard to beat.”
“Deciding which pubs to include and which to leave out was probably the hardest aspect of the whole book,” Simon admits. “I’ve focussed on a few, and included lots more in the pub crawls – but inevitably there are lots of really great bars and pubs which didn’t make the cut. I’m absolutely certain that plenty of people will disagree with my choices, but pressure of space made it impossible to include everyone.”
Among my favourite passages from the book is Simon’s wide-eyed visit to the Record Café in Bradford’s North Parade, where he loses himself in a world of classic vinyl records and quirky craft beers. Here he meets café owner Keith Wildman who has combined his passion for music into a business which is emblematic of how our drinking habits have changed. As Simon says: “They were selling an 8% Double Sour ale from Chorlton Brewery – and it absolutely flew out. And this is in Bradford, remember.”
The Yorkshire Beer Bible, priced £11.99, is available from www.ypbookoffer.co.uk or by calling 01274 736056, with £5 off for those buying a second copy.
Simon’s highlights include the foody Angel at Hetton; the historic Fleece in Haworth, reputedly haunted by the ghost of Branwell Bronte; Holmfirth’s lively brewpub The Nook – and Leeds favourites such as Friends of Ham, Whitelocks and the Victoria
The book also contains several innovative suggestions for bar crawls
The Yorkshire Beer Bible, priced £11.99, is available from www.ypbookoffer.co.uk or by calling 01274 736056, with £5 off for those buying a second copy