As soon as we decided to take a beer trip to Northern England, we knew we’d stop at Bradford. A place known better for its curry, riots, and the 1989 burning of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, Bradford is not a top-of-mind beer destination. However, it has a special place in my personal history. As far as beer history goes, this is the first place I learned about CAMRA. It was in 1997 and I was at the 1in12, where the punks and anarchists hung out. Didn’t know shit about beer and used to drink “lager” – that’s what my boyfriend used to order – and apple flavoured Hooch, a horrendous alco-pop. Not being a social animal, and that’s an understatement, I was happy to find a small zine, similar to any punk publication of the day – cut and paste, photocopied – with the tagline Campaign for Real Ale, whatever that was. The one thing I remember reading there – and that’s quite something, considering it’s been 18 years of booze and B12 deficiency and an OD of written material – is an op-ed against my drink de jour, aka Hooch and the likes – how they destroy the industry, ruin young people’s appreciation of real ale, whatever that was, and so on. It stuck with me.
This CAMRA publication is of course not a good reason to visit the city, but seeing the place where I lived, and walking in Lister Park, and eating a decent curry are, so after a short sightseeing tour and some beer in Manchester, we drove to Bradford. We opted to drive through towns, so instead of 30 minutes on the highway it took us about an hour to get there.
After a brief tour of the neighbourhood, which felt tamer than it was – is it distance and defamilarization or is it for real? – we went drinking. The Secret Agent picked 2 CAMRA-recommended pubs to visit before heading to a night in Huddersfield, old-school real-ale pubs that I must have seen before, but never went in, because the ex had his own local, Scruffs and Snobs. I looked for it online before our trip. It’s not there anymore. First place we visited was The New Beehive Inn, not far from the city center, as the area code BD1 indicates. The inn was built in 1901, and has tons of features we love in a place, such as stained glass windows, a painted sign and all sorts of knick-knacks. We arrived quite early in the evening and it was quite dark inside. Apparently this pub is known for its use of gas-light and is recognized by CAMRA as one of Britain’s Real Heritage Pubs. The Beehive serves locally-brewed ales and we sampled two of them. Black Sheep Best Bitter was the first. Our itinerary was quite flexible and on the first day of the trip we didn’t know we’d make it to Masham, to visit Black Sheep and Theakston breweries, so we drank this one as soon as we saw it. The name Best Bitter is quite accurate – it is one of the best bitters I have ever tasted. Clear golden brown with white head. Toffee, nutty, earthy aroma, full, robust, toasty bitterness, medium body, long, bitter, earthy finish. Next comes Saltaire Blonde, from the nearby town Shipley, home of Shipley Glen, the location of many yesteryear adventures. 4% abv. blond ale that’s also available in bottles in the area. Clear blond with white head, Fruit, faint citrus, floral aroma, bitter, slightly hoppy finish. Soft, medium body, bitter, a little dry finish.
We had to make it to Huddersfield that night and satisfy the craving for curry before, so we left after a single round and headed to The Fighting Cock. Located in the Lister Hills neighbourhood, pretty much in between the area where my ex’s friends used to live and the 1in12 club where they used to hang out, I had to slap myself when entering the place. The 19-year-old me would’ve had it so much better had she hung out there! It’s in a street corner, near a discount supermarket, with 2 or 3 rooms (been a while, so I forgot), all bustling with decor and awards and people! Lots of them! It was busy and we couldn’t find a vacant table, but two locals who saw us wandering immediately invited us to sit with them. You can get foreign bottled beer there, but we were there for the real-ale, and as local as possible. We started off with a Book Beer – Timothy Taylor’s Landlord from Keighley. a 3.5% abv. bitter, it pours light gold with white head. Pumpkin seeds and jasmine aroma, very little butterish taste, a little burning and mildly bitter. Medium body, long, nettle-like finish. The burning sensation in the end is very untypical, that’s for sure.
Next we had Geeve’s Smokey Joe. It’s a stout from Barnsley, and I couldn’t skip a beer with such a name, of course! Its aroma was great, with notes of chocolate, wood, old chocolate liquor and delicate smokiness. It’s a pretty good beer, however, despite the smoky notes in the mouth, neither the taste nor the body matched the awesomeness of the nose. Then, another local, Rat Against The Machine, an IPA from Rat Brewery from Huddersfield, yup, the following destination. Pretty good beer, with great citrus aroma and some grainy notes in the mouth. We continued with Bobs White Lion, an ok blond ale from Ossett, and since we had so much fun, we stayed for a third round. We had Copper Dragon Golden Pippin blond ale from Skipton – quite alright and very malty, and abother Book Beer – Pendle Witches Brew by Moorehouse’s. Coming from Burnley, Lancanshire, 26 miles south west of The Fighting Cock, this almost feels like a foreign beer. But I cannot blame the distance nor the pub for its poor performance. Judging from the 5 other pints and half-pints we had there, beer’s well-kept in that place; and 26 miles is practically around the corner, so the buttery, popcorn aroma and taste is, well, the beer. What a shame. We washed down the off flavour with delicious vegan portions at Punjab Sweet House, as recommended by our table buddies and headed to check out the pubs in Huddersfield.
Black Sheep Best Bitter, Timothy Taylor Landlord and Moorehouse’s Pendle Witches Brew are beers #404, #405 and #406 I Must Try Before I Die.