Pubs and bars
Wakefield Beer Exchange opened in December, shortly before I moved to town. Once the mayhem of Christmas was out of the way I visited for the first time, and since then I’ve jumped at every opportunity to return…
The Beer Exchange is light and spacious, with striking black and white artwork on the walls. It sits firmly in the ‘bar’ rather than ‘pub’ category, although it’s already developing a community feel, with chatty regulars and a sense of camaraderie despite having only been open for a couple of months. The friendly and knowledgeable staff are always ready with a taster from the six hand pumps and six keg lines, or a recommendation from the beer fridge; only one (admittedly large) fridge at the moment, but it’s well stocked with the mandatory Beavertown and Siren, alongside Magic Rock, Roosters, Vocation and plenty more. The draught beer range is generally weighted in favour of Northern, and often fairly local, breweries, with a few from further afield dotted in here and there, a recent notable example being Odell’s Brombeere blackberry gose. Wakefield Beer Exchange also functions as a mini bottle shop, with bottles and cans available to take away at a discounted price. How lovely to be able to pick up a chilled can of Gamma Ray on your way home from work!
A carefully considered selection of ciders (including my beloved Pure North), wines and gins round out the alcohol range, with North Star coffee and tea from Birdhouse Tea Co also available if that’s your sort of thing. Gin is the only spirit they sell, and at the time of my last visit there were 11 varieties to choose from, including the fantastic Rock Rose and Forest Gin. Local pork pies are on sale, as are Yorkshire Crisps, smoky spicy pork scratchings, and a jar labelled ‘Paul’s dad’s pickles’!
The Beer Exchange thoroughly embraced Wakefield’s Rhubarb Festival last weekend, with some special offerings including a couple of rhubarb gins which were reportedly very popular with the Wakefield Gin Club, especially the rhubarb and custard gin which I only managed to catch a glimpse of on Twitter before the bottle was drained dry. Good work, those people! Five Towns Roo Barb and Magic Rock Rhubarbarella were also hit hard, neither cask nor keg lasting more than a couple of days on the bar. There was, however, some Luddenden Valley rhubarb wine left over, wonderfully light with a subtle fruity tang. I’ve also heard tell that there were rhubarb pork pies available, and a rhubarb and custard fruit tea which was apparently excellent with milk and sugar..!
I must say, before I started exploring Wakefield I thought that I’d mainly be going over to Leeds for a beer, but having visited Wakefield Beer Ex and Fernandes (keep your eyes peeled for another post coming soon) so far out of my ever-growing list of places to check out, I’m starting to think that Wakefield may be a bit of a beery hidden gem.
I recently moved to the outskirts of a little village near Holmfirth in West Yorkshire, to be nearer to my other half’s current place of work. We had to find a place to live fairly quickly, and knowing that there were a couple of decent bars in Holmfirth I wasn’t too stressed about finding somewhere with a good local within walking distance. I was, however, a bit disappointed to discover that in the village which is home to Summer Wine Brewery, you can’t find their beer in any pubs… Poor show, Honley, poor show.
Well, I had resigned myself to having to go into Holmfirth for a decent drink, but one evening I was browsing TripAdvisor (as you do) and I stumbled across The Pure North Cider Press Cafe. I’d heard of Pure North before, but hadn’t realised they were based around here. A quick Google Mapping of the directions later, and I was grinning ear to ear; it was a mere yomp across the fields from the new house. One sunny Friday afternoon when the other half was off work, we decided to brave the inevitable hayfever and set off over the fields in search of cider.
A short walk, some cows and a hill later, we saw Pure North’s logo emblazoned on a large upright stone outside a small building. We settled down in the shade of the covered decking area and a member of staff soon appeared to take our order. Now here is where my story falters, as I failed magnificently to note the names of any of the ciders we tried that afternoon! For what it’s worth, we enjoyed a number of different varieties ranging from around 4.5%, sweet and tart, to 7%, dry and farm-y as hell. After browsing their blackboard menu for a while, we had a rather good lunch of shredded pork on ciabatta with apple sauce, followed by huge scones with mountains of cream and jam. In addition to the extensive cider menu there was a small beer selection, including bottles of Summer Wine Diablo. Marvellous.
If you find yourself in the area, I strongly recommend a visit to Pure North. We’re going to return for a tour of the cider press soon, and maybe another scone or two…
“Ooh, I love a bit of ‘Spoons.” I’ve uttered this phrase a number of times, in the tone of someone admitting a secret that makes them feel slightly dirty. It’s like admitting you watch Jeremy Kyle. (Disclaimer: we don’t watch broadcast TV in our house, so no Jezza for me these days!)
Back at uni in Leeds, I frequented the Hedley Verity Wetherspoons. It was fairly near to the campus, easy on the student wallet and they kept their beer in decent nick. It was a fairly versatile venue, a good meeting place for my Ale Soc pals and Raspberry Sambuca-drinking coursemates alike; I have fond memories of spending an afternoon there with the other half long before we got together, drinking pints of Wharfebank’s porter and pretending not to flirt. At the bar you would get the occasional old boy making surprised comments about a young woman ordering ale, but that goes with the territory.
The thing about Wetherspoons is that for such a homogenised chain, different branches can be of hugely varied quality beer-wise. At some, the cask is always on perfect form, at others, you wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole. I must say, I’ve been in more of the latter. I feel like I may have been unlucky in this regard, as some people hold them up as an example of well kept cask across the board. As a company they obviously do value beer as part of their range, so it’s a pity that some of their managers don’t seem to be able to look after a cellar properly.
I missed the height of the Sixpoint cans craze as I had left uni by then and ‘Spoons was no longer a convenient meeting place. The other day a friend and I met in Wakefield for a long awaited catch up, and after spending some time wombling around the Hepworth looking at sculptures we decided it was time for a craft third or nine. Neither The Hop nor Harry’s were open yet, so we decided to relive our Ale Soc days and brave the Wakey ‘Spoons to see how their beer offering was faring.
Glancing at the cask range, nothing took our fancy, so we decided to investigate the cans and bottles in their ‘Craftwork’ selection. Between us we worked our way through the Sixpoint cans (Bengali Tiger was my favourite), Adnams and Lagunitas, before we were confronted with the option of Punk IPA or red wine as a final drink. The wine won. We also ordered a massive bowl of chips each, because carbs are good.
While we were there, a man brought a pint back to the bar and told the bar staff it was off. It was changed quickly and without a fuss, and the offending beer was taken off sale straight away. Excellent. The member of staff serving me did however ask what Lagunitas was, before stating that “most people just ask for the IPA”. With something like four IPAs on the drinks menu, you might be taking a risk by ordering that way… It did make me wonder how frequently anyone orders from the ‘Craftwork’ part of the menu. A quick scan of the bar led me to believe that we were the only ones crafting the afternoon away.
The topic of conversation that we kept coming back to was how bloody cheap everything was – I mean, £1.99 for a can of American IPA in a pub, bloody hell! – and whether that was actually a good thing. Of course, interesting beer being readily available in non-’craft’ venues at an affordable price has got to be a good thing, right? But it could devalue good beer in the minds of those who don’t think about economies of scale and buying power, and automatically assume that all beer should be as cheap as in ‘Spoons. I think that on balance it’s a step in the right direction, even if some aspects of it may be problematic.
Revisiting Wetherspoons, I found it to be quite charming. Perhaps if it were my only option, the novelty of drinking decent beer in somewhere a little bit grim might wear thin, but I think if I had a local ‘Spoons with a competent cellar manager and frequently rotating cask beer, I’d be in there quite a bit.