Last Saturday saw a rare treat for me - an actual good old-fashioned pub crawl. Dave (@belmontrivera) and Nige from work are fellow beer geeks and suggested a trip to Huddersfield, where there are meant to be a few good real ale (is that still an acceptable thing to say?) pubs.
There's something quite exciting about catching a train to go boozing in another town, with all day in front of you and no timescale to adhere to. It's the kind of thing I used to do all the time but in the days of jobs and families it now tends to happen very rarely.
We had the pleasure of sharing the journey with the "White Army". I knew it was them, because like Craig David, they liked to sing about themselves quite a lot. All the way to Huddersfield, in fact. I'd never been to Huddersfield before and have to say I was quite impressed with the place. The train station is the focal point of the town, spilling its passengers out into a lovely square.
The White Army took themselves to the Wetherspoons and we went to the HDM bar, as it was only a few hundred yards from the station. It was small and had a weird bar, which was about five foot six high for most of its length, leaving you with your nose at countertop level. There were a few keg beers and a couple of handpulls, with most of the offerings from the HDM brewery. We had a Monkey Loves Hops, which was a fine pale ale, really clean and tidy if a little restrained. It was a lovely session beer but considering the name, my impression was that it could do with more hops.
We moved on to a HDM Red Saison, which was very good indeed. Zesty and refreshing, with a hint of sour zing to it. I think we may have had something else there but to be honest, I can't remember. I do remember though, that we exhausted the beer list pretty quickly and felt the need to move on.
Next stop was The Grove. Boy, what a pub this place is. It's slightly out of town and the building itself is pretty nondescript; a typical corner boozer. The beer list though, was out of this world and by a country mile the best I've ever seen. The website says there are 18 handpulls and 14 keg lines and I can vouch for this. The range of beer was fantastic too, with everything from pale ales to barley wines on offer.
Being the massive Magic Rock fanboy that I am, I started with a Villainous IPA. Needless to say, it was sensational, with fresh fruity zing almost crackling out of the glass in the way that Magic Rock do so well. It did, however, do that thing where it shares characteristics with other beers from the same brewery, meaning this was unmistakably a Magic Rock beer. I'd previously put the distinctive MR taste down to the use of Golden Promise malt but this is apparently made from Vienna malt, so there goes that theory.
Next up was a cask High Wire, which was really bloody marvellous but not quite as good as it is from keg.
Then it was time for a Jaipur. This was the beer that started my newfound love of ale but in all my travels, I had never once seen any Thornbridge beer on draught in a pub until now. When you live in a small village with only a Robinsons and a Mitchell and Butler pub, then the opportunity to have any decent beer is pretty limited. Add to that the fact that the craft beer bars of Manchester and Macclesfield never seem to stock Thornbridge beer when I've been, and I'd started to think that Jaipur in a pub was just an urban myth but obviously not, and here was the proof:
In bottles, it's extremely impressive, with a hop aroma that stays fresh even after a month or two and is very hard to beat. On cask however, it was more restrained. It was slightly cloudy, which I don't mind at all, but that was in contrast to the bottled version, which is always totally clear. Like the High Wire, it was still a marvellous beer on cask, but (CAMRA members look away now) just not as good as from keg or bottles.
The Kernel Motueka IPAwas next. This was from keg and was bloody brilliant, with the light, lemony hop aromas fizzing out of the glass.
I'm starting to see a pattern emerging now. Keg is simply a better way of serving beer than cask, certainly for hoppy pale ales, which is what I would like to drink most of the time. There.
Having said that, it was time for a change of direction and Dave and I moved onto some more challenging styles. I could not leave without having tried a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot barley wine. I'd seen a video of this fermenting earlier in the year and was keen to try some.
I would usually use "malty" as a pejorative term but in this case it would be an accurate description of a fantastic beer. It was the kind of beer I could imaging drinking on a cold Winter's night, with its cozy warming alcohol kick. For something that was a complete change of style, I really liked it.
There was time for one last beer before we had to reluctantly leave the Grove and I opted for a Thornbridge Imperial Oatmeal Stout, which at 11% was a bit of a beast.
It was everything you would want an imperial stout to be, with a luxurious silky texture and a cacophony of roasted malty flavours. It says a lot about the quality of beer on offer when High Wire, my favourite beer, was probably the least memorable one of the visit. The Grove was truly special and I hope it's not too long before I can go back.
We staggered back across town to The Sportsman. It was really busy and we had to stand up outside. I'll be quite honest and admit that I can't remember what we drank in there but it was perfectly nice. Things were stating to get a bit spinny by then.
The train ride back to Piccadilly was again spent in the delightful company of the White Army. Once back in Manchester, we headed for one last beer at Port Street, where I remember having a Quantum Black IPA. Sadly, the next thing I remember is a train guard waking me up at Crewe Station, before I embarked upon the now customary taxi ride back to Holmes Chapel.
All in all, it was a really nice day. Huddersfield seemed like a decent town and was certainly a splendid venue for a good old drink, with seemingly a pub on every corner. In a rather selfish way, I'm glad that The Grove is slightly out of town though, because that will stop it from being rammed full of punters. Being able to sit down and work through a beer board as extensive as that was a real treat.