As this project has been halted, like the majority of life, for 18 months, I allowed myself a small cheat to get back into the swing of things. My house, my rules. The reason for these excursions is detailed in previous post such as the original one in 2019.
This excursion happened in September 2021, as pubs were still tentatively waking up to a pre-restriction life. Take that into consideration with the beer offerings.
If you are new here, I am a Huddersfield Town fan and (former) season ticket holder. I risked against it this season as I fully expected another lockdown or enforcement of restrictions to stop fans going to stadiums. If it is a gamble that doesn't pay-off I can live with the joy that the season was not interrupted. Last season was a write-off. Football without fans is meaningless. Anybody who enjoyed last season does not enjoy the sport.
I've been going along to support this team long enough to have a pre-match ritual - detailed here - set in stone. But I decided at the start of this new season that, on a day when others couldn't make it to the match, I would forgo the usual pre-Grove routine to turn Huddersfield into one of these posts, taking in some of the town's other pub offerings. On the rather balmy Saturday 18th September, such a day arose.
When Magic Rock Brewing opened their taproom in 2015, Huddersfield became something of a lodestone for beer drinkers. Many would finally visit a town they hadn't previously thought of giving a go and it was hoped that other local businesses would see a knock-on effect from that. However, the sporadic notion of the town's best beer drinking spots and the isolation of Magic Rock stopped this from ever becoming the reality.
The Lion takeover of Magic Rock has slowed the lust for visits to Huddersfield - based on my own social media timelines at least. I don’t visit the taproom much myself (and I didn't for this post) but reports from friends that did state that it was busier than ever on September 18th, suggesting that it is still popular with the local fans, even if the beer purists have given up.
Huddersfield centre is bustling as I arrive around half an hour before lunch. The numerous cafes, whether chain or independent, are thriving. Despite the obvious retail threat from the big city up the road, the town's shopping centre is always busy, with many venturing out for a coffee and cake despite only needing to pick up 2 slices of Corned Beef for dinner. I pause outside a street-dominating Home Bargains to eat my chain-bought sandwich that I hastily purchased, regretting it more as I then passed the many many more appealing smaller venues en route. The sun is beaming down as it reaches the mid-20s and I'm still stubbornly in my jacket.
The Star Inn is even further away from the train station centre than I remembered. It is a place I've only visited a couple of times and never on a match day, through a combination of limited time and the company not wanting to make the journey. These are both reasonable excuses because I knew that this pub was a bit further out but still... this feels far! The unseasonable intensity of the midday sun did not help my woe.
The Star has only been open for five minutes when I arrive but already has a number of punters in. Most are solo drinkers reading the morning papers, with a couple of shirt-and-tie older fellas putting the world to rights in the corner. It's a lovely "multi-area" space that feels like the correct design of a wholesome pub in every sense. Six of the Eight cask lines are available. My Nailmaker Brewing Co. Citra is a little warm and tastes as though it is the first one out the line, which it probably was.
There's talk coming from the pub corner on the return of crowns on pint glasses and shillings, as if they are a positive - and it's impossible to tell whether it is genuine opinion or very sarcastic humour. I decide to have another pint and opt for Pictish's Brewers Gold - which most people have ordered since I've been there - and it is in much finer form than my first beer. The old “What’s your most popular beer” being of benefit here. And for £3.10 a pint no less. It really is a friendly spot and more Town fans start to arrive as I'm preparing to leave. I'd happily make it my pre-match hub if the draw of The Grove wasn't so strong.
I go back into the increasingly intense heat to walk the usual straight line to the Rat & Ratchet. However, a dug-up road with no pedestrian walkway finds me carefully negotiating the central barriers of a dual carriageway instead. Safety is not a concern in this town.
This is a pub I've been into a number of times but perhaps I only enter this place when I'm a bit tipsy, or at standing-room-only peak times, because I've never really appreciated how nice this pub is. A prime example of how to "modernise" a pub if you must. Everything feels clean and renovated, yet still distinctly homely and pub-like. The Rat Brewery graffiti-like branding still doesn't fit well but everything else is grand.
I have a pint of White Rat as standard and watch numerous Town fans pile in for regular orders. It's even more Ossett brand driven than ever but who can blame them after this year? I've nothing sarcastic to say. A great pub.
It would be over 10 years since my Dad took me into The County for the first time, though nothing but the shape of the pub remained in the memory. It is a thin long pub, with bar down the centre of the left side, reminiscent of many across the country.
On entry, the floor is filled with balloons and a handful of people dressed for a civilised party. The place is preparing for a shindig; anniversary or a 30th or a wake - I never figured out what. As a stranger, it was expected that I was part of this event, but I decided not to adhere to pretence as I couldn't see a free buffet.
In my mind this pub was famous for food though nobody has any that I can see. There are two of the four cask pumps on. The friendly barperson checks that my Bradfield Farmer's Blonde has been pulled through at some point in the morning before serving me, which is a welcome surprise. The beer isn't perfect but it's not bad at all.
As I sit down, there's a guy in the corner talking loudly on the phone to his lover, making sure the pub knows that he has one. There's a good "salt of the earth" characteristic here that I appreciate even if I don't love the pub. Unfortunately, I cut that experience short. It wasn't the ideal place for me to start crying about my recently deceased dog but this is where it happened on this particular day. Grief hits weird.
This, of course, all happened prior to the recent announcement that Beerhouses pub group had taken over The County and have stated that it will “open soon.” I’m very excited to see what they do with the place.
The Albert is another place I can recall my Dad taking me to over 10 years ago. In this case it was just to show me the aesthetics, even though the beer wasn't up to much. I was intrigued to see how it held up.
The pub is a real mixed bag but the sort that would make the backdrop of many a television programme. It has a gorgeous old-school wooden bar with the old glass frames above the serving area. The lack of pipe smoke or games of Dominos is a glaring omission. This place should have barrels on the counter, handled glass mugs hanging from the bar and a thick smog looming over everything.
Instead, it has two cask pumps - neither in use. It has lots of TVs, showing both the matches currently on Sky, though somehow they don't interfere with the pub. However, the loud ska music does a bit. There are a lot of solo drinkers. There are a lot of groups of retirement age men. Carling is £2.60 a pint - I know because this is what I had. Some people would be intimidated by it. Personally, I just wish it served better beer because it really is a pubby pub. A proper boozer. There's even a Games machine.
Showtime. What can I say?
I'd been here once before on a night out but it was a number of years ago. I couldn't remember much about that visit. It promised much on WhatPub (although it is understandable that the site isn't up-to-date) but offered little. It's a huge echoey hall of a place that probably looks a little nicer when the sun sets. There are five cask pumps in the centre of the huge bar but only one in use, for Magic Rock's. Hat Trick.
I've never seen a cask beer poured so slowly and in so many stages. This was the Salt Bae experience of cask beer being poured, with such unnecessary flourish and delay. It was also the preview show to an entirely undrinkable beer. A cloudy mess on sight that smelt of Fish 'n' Chips. Given that the only member of staff was now sat down on the customer side of the bar, playing on a tablet and watching the football, I didn't think there was much point questioning it. One of these sort of pints seems to be par for every one of these football posts I do so Showtime get the gong for that.
The beer got two sips before I left. You can question that choice but to my mind this is unquestionably the norm here.
Quick hop to Rhubarb which was on the reserve list for the day. I recall coming here with my Aunt and Uncle a few years ago when it was on a "Real Ale tour of Huddersfield" leaflet they'd picked up.
I've not researched whether this was a traditional pub once upon a time but probably. These days it is undoubtedly built to cater to students but does also promise 5 cask beers. However only one is on this particular day and a quick scan of the room suggests nobody is drinking it. Maltsmiths on keg is the backup.
It is modern and has lost a great deal of pub feel to it, but I don't hate it and the staff are friendly. There's nothing wrong with my Maltsmiths either, which I've always found a reasonable backup drink in emergencies. Town fans are filtering out as kick off approaches but it definitely has a match day buzz.
And then 4 grown men enter the toilets together just as I'm planning to nip for a wee myself... and then another 3 from the same group.... For the naive amongst us, football fans on a Saturday do this for one reason alone and it isn’t a full bladder.
My Dad bought me my first season ticket the year that the John Smith's opened in 1994, then known as the Mcalpine. We nicknamed it Eureka as the modern, coloured steel pillars, the likes of which we'd never seen at a football stadium, reminded us of our favourite Halifax Science Museum.
I've never really been one for a halftime pint. Having to miss about 8 minutes of first half football for an overly fizzy warm Fosters has never appealed and it is good to use the match time for a break from the earlier booze. On this particular day I thought I'd give go to the Town Lager, a recent addition from Magic Rock Brewing whose sponsorship of a stand has yet to yield the Cannonball on tap we hoped for.
Poured here the Town Lager could be any cheap lager in the world. It is just fizzy. Very very fizzy. The pump handle is nice though. Somebody next to me comments that they have come to this particular kiosk exclusively because "the one up there doesn't sell Town Lager." A success for the brand.
Town deservedly lost 2-0 to Notts Forest, at a time in the season when another relegation battle looked the only course for the season. It has been a strange time.
The post-match walk to Town includes a couple of misses. I walked into The Vulcan, once a reliable cask beer destination, and walked straight back out again as I was subject to blaring music and no cask pumps on. I stuck my head in the Northern Quarter, once the Hand Drawn Monkey and Wood Street Craft Beer shop. However, I was gruffly informed that this gig venue did not open until 7, contrary to Google's listing. Eventually I settled on a quick beer in the usual post-match destination - Arcade Beers: a Huddersfield must now, that initially struggled with its increased capacity but has really come into its own post-Covid.
I had 20 minutes until my train. In normal circumstances the destination is The King's Head, the better of the train station's 2 pubs. For difference sake I opted for the Head of Steam instead but the group outside were really rather intimidating and unwelcoming, so The King's it was.
Sigh. I mean, sometimes I wonder why I do come in here. There's a knack to getting served at a wide and busy counter but this is the one pub where I am permanently invisible. It doesn't help that there is one member of staff - who seems to always be rubbing his hands and licking his lips like an LL Cool J music video - who has perfected using his time to speak exclusively to certain members of staff and asking people who are clearly being served if they "are waiting."
It happens to me here as I wait for several minutes. When I am eventually served, Cool J and the member of staff he has been chatting to both ask me if I'm okay, knowing full well that I am being served, before continuing their chat. The pub is busy (contrary to the photo which must have been taken as everybody filtered out for the train.) There are a lot of people waiting. But sure.
My Goose Eye Chinook tastes great but I know that it is time for home as I sit giving the evil eye over my pint to people behind the bar. Sometimes we can take bad hospitality experiences personally rather than accepting it as isolated incidents. Perhaps I've been unlucky.
There's an assumption that Huddersfield is a gifted town of great beer places and when you have The Grove in situ then that reputation will build around it. However, with the closure of The Corner, you can only really add Arcade Beers, The Sportsman and The Rat & Ratchet to that list. And The Star if you wish to go further afield. Pubs there may be but it isn't quite the treasure trove it is painted as. I'll be sticking to my usual match day formality for the rest of the season.
I'll still defend it to the hilt though.