Following on from the recent cutting articles by Martyn Cornell and Pub Curmudgeon about poor quality cask, I had the opportunity to run my own test in an area I rarely drink in and that I don't really know. Step up Todmorden, which is in Yorkshire - though not by much - and has the benefit of being served by the 590 bus from Rochdale, a First Manchester service, therefore allowing me to use my First Day ticket. In fact it goes all the way to Hebden Bridge and indeed Halifax, both pretty good drinking towns. Going that far does involve quite a long bus journey though and was vetoed by a dubious E, worried by either losing valuable drinking time (doubtful) or needing a pee on the way back (more likely).
Now Todmorden is somewhat of a poor man's Hebden Bridge. It is, shall we say, a bit more rough and ready and isn't really immediately that attractive, apart from the very impressive Victorian Town Hall which hints at past glories. After a quick walk round which revealed little of interest, we skirted the Town Hall and round the back, near the rather sad market is The Pub, a neat little one roomed micropub which Retired Martin advises is in the Good Beer Guide 2019. Inside it is bright, cheerful, spotlessly clean and shiny. Very attractive. One denizen was sitting at one window and we settled underneath the other. Another and only other drinker, lounged against the wall. Amiable greetings were exchanged and the welcome from the young woman behind the bar was equally appealing. Six handpumps were present. I only knew one brewery - Brewsmith - but this was 6% - a bit much for a first drink. E chose a golden coloured half, while I at the barmaid's suggestion, ordered three different thirds. The stout was sour and exchanged and the beer withdrawn from sale. The beers were cool but not exactly on top form. The banter though was great as the discussion of imperial versus metric wandered off down maze like alleys before returning inconclusively to its starting point, not helped by everyone having a different idea of what we were discussing. This and further chats as we supped kind of proved the inclusivity of the micropub genre. All in all enjoyable, but the jury is out on the beer. I may well have had the first drinks pulled and the pumpclips on display indicated that we may just have been unlucky with the range. I'd go back.
Next up was the Golden Lion. Black walls and a kind of grungy feel didn't warm us to the place which was almost empty at 2.30 or so in the afternoon. The welcome though was excellent with a very friendly woman serving. Both Saltaire beers (Gold and Citra) were a tad tired and flabby, as was the local Tod brewed beer, Pale Eagle from Eagle's Crag
Brewery. This is clearly a night time destination though. It serves as a music forward venue and has Thai food. Quite a lot to like, but not on a quiet Saturday afternoon clearly.
Tor Beers, round the corner, is attached to the Golden Lion, but seemingly rented from it in some way. It boasts one keg beer on tap (something from Wiper and True) which was fine and a chatty young man who runs the offy, which seems to be the main business. A large selection of very decently priced craft in cans and bottles is available, and while nobody came in while we were there, a couple of hardy souls sat outside in the autumnal sunshine.
Wetherspoons' White Hart was next. This is quite small and rather pubby, with a relaxed feel. It was fairly busy. Service was swift and cheerful from the female barperson, while the bearded barman, who looked as though he had tumbled unexpectedly from a much finer craft establishment in a parallel universe and somehow ended up here, didn't seem to be viewing life from the sunny side. Win some, lose some. Here the cask stout from a guest American brewer (forgotten the details) was the pint of the day. Cool, conditioned and tasty.
Last up, by the bus station was The Alehouse, another micro pub with an extensive pavement with tables in front of it and one room inside. I opted for Salopian Lemon Dream which wasn't that cool or well conditioned and had slipped over an invisible dividing line, from beer into lemon furniture polish. (I recall Hornbeam Lemon Blossom had the same tendency). Disappointing.
So four cask pubs and only one pint I'd call very good. Not a great result, but clearly reflecting that you aren't going to get top cask beer from empty pubs.
I rather think this little unscientific venture proves a few of Mudgie's points. There are other pubs though, but we'd had enough of the place by the time we left.
Next time pee or not we'll go to Hebden Bridge. I think we'll find better there and of course, squeeze more value out of our First Day bus ticket.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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