To say that we as a community and a culture are being spoilt for choice in present times continues to be a large understatement. With every new beer, brewery and destination bar comes a level-up in my indifference to them. Places that five years ago would have had me queueing up on opening night are now largely being ignored.
Falling into that list is the Summer Wine Brewery Tap in Honley. I wrote an Instagram post recently, whilst drinking an outstanding can of Cortes, about my old love for Summer Wine Brewery and the time when I would have easily placed them amongst my top three favourites in the country. I remember beginning a post about them in 2012 that I hoped to find amongst my notes but alas could not. I did however find the below grainy photograph that features my favourite ever SWB beer ( #bringbackCohort ) and the nostalgia branding that seems a lifetime ago now.
Having opened in 2016 I was rather excited about the prospect of this new bar, having always thought the brewery was based in Holmfirth, a small town I sometimes visit that already has a few decent bars and pubs. It isn't Holmfirth though that the brewery and Tap are housed, but rather the nearby village of Honley. This disappointed me as it involved extra work to get somewhere I didn't know how to. So I never made any effort to get to the Tap.
This was idiocy.
See, Holmfirth is difficult to get to without a car. Honley is not. Honley has a train station. It has an hourly train that only takes 7 minutes from Huddersfield. I am in Huddersfield fortnightly. I just never bothered to check.
With this "new" intel firmly in mind and with a late kick off last Saturday, I finally made the non-arduous journey to Honley and the easy to reach Summer Wine Tap. I'm not always one for travel posts, but this was a journey that I wanted to be able to make seven years ago; one I should have made two years ago.
When travelling anywhere, it pays to check the train times for our day of travel, not the previous day’s timetable like I did. This led to a 58 minute wait in Huddersfield for my train to Honley. This was my mistake, slightly eased by trying the Half Acre beers in Arcade Beers that all the cool kids are currently snaffling. Soon I was on that quick, quiet train through the Yorkshire villages to Honley.
With Steve and Martin chatting away on the Hopinions podcast in my ear, I managed to get lost going to the Tap even though it is relatively simple to get to. Just follow these easy instructions:
Walk out the station and continue down the road directly in front of you. Past the Monkey puzzle tree you will come to the ginnel pictured below on your left. Cut through here and turn right down the road at the end. At the bottom of this road you are directly facing the entrance to the industrial estate that the Tap is on. There is a helpful map attached to a gate that points you to the Tap unit from here (basically keep to the riverside of the units until you see the Tap.)
On a cool winter’s afternoon, there isn’t quite the bustle from outside that a lot of Brewery Taps attract, though I imagine the space is quite wonderful in the Summer, facing onto a grassy verge and a stream. Walking inside I realise I am the first person through the door on this particular day.
There is nothing ramshackle about the space. It is wooden - naturally - but it is spacious, brightly lit and neatly designed. Long, high wooden benches sit aside smaller tables. Nine keg and two cask offerings are clearly displayed. I opted to start on a half of Cask Firefly and chatted to the barman, who had an unnerving resemblance in looks and mannerisms to one of my old university housemates.
There are events held here and there is room to open a gate to the side further where bands do set up sometimes. If it were busy then there is the room to accommodate. There is a warmth to the room; a familiarity that some of the US brewhouse inspired rooms don't generate. Perhaps it is the big Summer Wine branding bearing down on me that brings nostalgia to a time of fewer breweries but great ones. I like it here a lot.
I stayed in the tap just over an hour, trying four different beers. My feeling was that I could take a laptop or book there and just relax for the whole afternoon. It was certainly quiet enough to do so. Yet that is a little bit of an issue. The space is very good but I wonder if trade is currently strong enough to justify it continuing. The barman revealed to me just how quiet Sundays can be.
There may be various reasons for this, though these are just my opinions. One may be misunderstanding of scope. From Huddersfield station it takes almost the same amount of time to board the train to Honley and walk to SWB Tap as it does to walk to Magic Rock Tap. I imagine many, including myself prior to Saturday, are not aware of this and mentally feel the effort is a stride too far. It may also be down to the classic lack of promotion and marketing. The social media pages for the Summer Wine Tap are relatively unused, as are the ones for the brewery itself.
The other reason may come down to further worth. Though destination taprooms are very much a *thing* in the 2018 beer scene, many want more reason to board a train than a single bar. I, personally, wanted to use the opportunity to look at the rest of Honley, rather than immediately board the train back to Huddersfield. So when it was time to leave the Tap I ventured into the centre of the village.
Honley is rather picturesque, dare I say quaint. A village that may attract tourists and weekend breakers were it in Cumbria or the Cotswold. Its pretty and the main street has an array of interesting independent boutiques and shops. Amongst them are the triumvirate of Mustard and Punch owned places; a bistro, a tapas bar and now a Craft Beer and Gin Bar named the Krafty Kettle.
Housed in what appeared to have previously been a disused storage shed between shops, Krafty Kettle is a well decorated little bar complete with a fascinating tap arrangement previously unseen to me. It is quiet mid-Saturday afternoon, though I'm assured it can get busy in the evenings.
There are fifteen keg beers on offer and a couple of casks. Its down to my own detriment that a perfectly solid looking keg line-up doesn't initially spark my interest. Mentally, when I see a keg focused menu, I'm looking for something new or unusual to avoid disappointment. Shaking myself out of this nonsense, I order a perfectly fine Wiper & True Milkshake and a garlic snacking salami. There are only two other patrons in as I sit and imagine that, with a few extra friends, a spot by the window or upstairs here would do me for the evening.
Leaving the Krafty Kettle and walking back from where I'd come from, I take a left down a gorgeous, narrow cobbled street to The Allied. This was a favourite of the SWB Tap's barman and I can see why. It's a boozer but a friendly, local one at that. Four casks face out into large rooms of obvious regulars chatting away and seemingly nipping in and out throughout the day.
I take residency in the surprisingly empty pool room, looking longingly at the green table. I will always miss pool. I'm barely any good at it and I like table tennis and shuffleboard as much as the next craft beer drinker, but the culture's aversion to our best pub game still disappoints me.
What doesn't disappoint me is the pint of Bradfield's Farmer's Blonde in front of me. It is a beer that has taken a place in my mind that renders it one to avoid, mostly as it is one that finds itself in pubs that can't keep it well. Not in The Allied though. It is in such wonderful condition and so tasty that I could have stayed and sunk another four. Perhaps I was lucky, but I would suggest that this is the sort of pub could put any beer on and serve it to perfection.
With a little time before my train, I decide to make one more stop in Honley as I'd enjoyed everywhere thusfar. I'd noticed a large roadside Thwaites pub named the Jacob's Well earlier and thought it looked promising. It is on the way back to the station after all.
Sadly, a pub that was once likely a characterful coaching inn has had the full big brewery make over and lacks any soul. The place is quiet, less cheerful than the previous stop and the beer... is very Thwaites-like; not undrinkable just not enjoyable. You can't win them all but I always enjoy a pub gamble even if I don't recommend the Honley Village Trust place this pub in the tourist brochure.
Knowing the route back to the station, the walk seems to take no time at all before I'm back in that little one-platformed station. I've been in Honley a little under three hours, visited four places and have time to get some food in Huddersfield before the match. It won't be the last time I venture out here and I would recommend anybody making the beer pilgrimage to West Yorkshire for a certain other brewery tap makes the extra 7 minute journey to this one. I'm going to wait for warmer days for my next visit just to sense the contrast.
Summer Wine is back in the conversation and their current releases of tallboy cans have all been sensational, alongside an already solid range. 2011 me is very happy about this. They deserve their place here; they earned it long before many others did.
Honley is testament to a motion happening across the North of England. Small towns or villages where big brewers like Thwaites would have normally thrived now have a choice we were once happy with in city centres. A large Brewery Tap and a Craft Beer dedicated bar in a village with a population under 6000? Beer 2018.
As a side note on this day that I feel strongly enough about to mention, post match some friends and I visited the Star Inn, The Rat & Ratchet and The Corner in Huddersfield. On a cold winter's eve, the three pubs seemed to be in direct competition with each other as to which could make their patrons pass out first. Uncomfortably hot to the point we quickly left all three. Pubs - on busy Saturday nights where people don't have the room to take four layers off, do not make your rooms warm enough for shorts and sandals. Jesus wept.