A brisk day in March, wet but without rain. Ducking through the dripping steel railway bridge, carving through residual puddles, Sowerby Bridge seems jack-knifed between the twenty first century and the 1970s. It’s partly the lack of ubiquitous chain stores, partly the dubious puns of the shabby independent shops, but mostly the hues of a downtrodden day in a small Yorkshire town.
Out the other side of the town the road befriends the trajectory of the River Ryburn as it steers through the steep wooded valley, roaming towards the Calder. The Triangle public house, in the tiny village of Triangle, is boarded up, not the first dead watering hole on the winding roads that lead to the quiet, charming town of Ripponden.
At Ripponden, about as remote an urban centre you can get in the sprawl of West Yorkshire, time blends from 1970s into the eighteenth century in the shadow of the Victorian church. A few footsteps further on the day retreats to nearer the 1670s as a cold breeze rustles across the cobbles of the ancient humpbacked bridge that leads to a quiet, unassuming public house.
The Old Bridge deserves its name. The bridge from which it takes its name, just like the church whose shadow it lies in, has been rebuilt many times since the first packhorse crossing. The pub is as old, over 700 years as the oldest records attest too. In the 14th century the town were not even on the first of their four churches that the river or weather has razed along the way. Old broom, new handles, new brushes.
The Ryburn runs straight and narrow under the ancient structure, the pub nestles on the northern side, resplendent in bright white wash. Warm fires, real ale, fine dining, but with not an ounce of pretension. The Old Bridge is family run, locally revered, bustling with merry drinkers around the bar and belly-patting diners, content and perhaps a little dozy.
Since 1307 similar scenes may have been played out in this hidden pocket of hostelry. On the main York to Chester road, journey-worn travellers would have put their feet up here, may have knocked back unfussy ale and unfussy food, stocking up on victuals and sleep. Curled up in a window nook in 2012 the beer is a little brighter and food is a little more fussy (but excellent) – scallops with parsnip puree, mackerel pate, sea bass with chorizo, crisp and luscious belly pork.
Bowed by time, oak beams run low in the sitting rooms either side of the cheery communal bar, warmed by fires or stoves and sitting under a cockeyed triangular roof that’s seen seven centuries of welcomes and goodbyes.
The river barely flows. A tear drop on the neck of a window box daffodil is frozen in the crisp Sunday air. Under these bows, between mahogany panelled walls, Airedale Valley Bitter meets chocolate orange brownie (scrumptious), and like that droplet, we’re immovable, resolved to enjoy the slowness with which two hours lumber by.
One hundred and twenty minutes. But a tiny percentage of the years and patrons that the Old Bridge has watched over in its lifetime.Tags: british pubs, West Yorkshire, yorkshire
It’s not every day that you get the chance to try a beer that’s older than you are.
Last Saturday night I opened a bottle that was just that; I opened a beer that was older than me, so that’s over twenty five, give or take the odd ten years. In fact it was a lot older than me, more than twice my age.
It was brewed in 1929 in fact, so that’s 83 years old.
A mate of mine dabbles in buying and selling antiques and I got a call from him a while back…
“You like beer don’t you Gav?”
“Well, yes” I laughed.
“How long does beer last?” came the reply.
“Depends what it is” I say in return, “Why do you ask?”
“I’ve got a couple of bottles you might be interested in.”
“It’s a bit old”
“1902 and 1929.”
I was silent for a second or two after that.
The beers my mate had come by were Bass King’s Ale (1902) and Bass Prince of Wales Brew (1929). I took a quick look at the bottles and, as he only wanted £30 for the pair, I snapped them up, for novelty reasons if nothing else.
Then along comes OpenIt! and I think, what about those Bass beers I’ve got, shall I open one of those? I council a few folks on twitter and by the end of the day I’ve decided I’m taking along the bottle of Prince of Wales Brew to OpenIt! at Mr Foley’s in Leeds. There’s plenty of other curious folks keen to try it too, most of them more beer geekish than I am.
And shortly after arriving the bottle is on to the table with a corkscrew, the remainder of the wax seal is removed and I’m plunging the corkscrew in. With a small lever part of the cork comes away – it’s a bit dried out as you’d expect – and I need a different corkscrew to get a little more of the cork out and drill a little hole as its pretty stuck in there.
The empty glasses are thrust my way and everyone is keen to try. We all give it a sniff and look at each other slightly nervously. The aroma a little on the sour side but I’m getting a whiff of raisins and we wonder if the beer will taste as sour as it smells.
I take a sip.
How does it taste?
Well it tastes alright considering its age. A nice fruity character. The next offering to my tongue is a good size and I’m getting an idea of the flavour now. I’m very pleasantly surprised, it’s a bit like like an amontillado sherry. It’s stunning that a beer that’s survived for 83 years untouched has this amount of flavour left in it. It’s not nasty at all and most of us are in agreement about this.
Of course I’ve no idea how it was supposed to taste (I’ve no idea what beer tasted like back in 1929 for that matter). Prince of Wales Brew was the second Bass beer with a royal connection after Bass King’s Ale was produced in 1902 for the coronation of Edward VII. I’m lead to believe that for Prince of Wales Brew the mash was started by Prince Edward, who later become Edward VIII of course, and sold for around £5 a bottle, a fair bit of wedge back in the day!
So was it worth opening? I took the remainder of the bottle home and then to the local the following day. There was a pretty mixed response from folks who where a little less beer geekish, some of disgust and some of surprise and intrigue. I’m with the latter crowd hence my curiosity to open it.
It’s just amazing to think that you’ve actually been drinking history. A beer that, given its royal connection and price, must have been been painstakingly crafted by Bass master brewers to brew a beer befitting a Prince. I feel very privileged to have been able to try and share it with friends. A great beer experience. I just wish, like most beers really, I could open it and enjoy the experience again.
The Prince of Wales feathers, which are also embossed on the bottle, bare the words ‘Ich Dien’, which means ‘I Serve’. This beer ‘Ich Dien’ with pleasure Your Royal Highness!
Tags: #openit, Bass, Kings Ale, royal ale, The Prince of Wales
Big thanks to Rick Furzer for organising the Open It session at Mr Foleys, and to Ghost Drinker for the lovely pics of the crew struggling to open the very old bottle of beer!
May 4th, 2010Beer history
The run up to the 2010 election isn’t looking like much of a beery affair. There may be some lively debate between scaremongering neo-prohibitionists and staunch defenders of personal freedoms, but I’m yet to be convinced we’ll see mandatory tee-totalism as the main focus of the next live television debate.
Back in 1874 the general election was a distinctly beery affair. ” Read the rest of this entry »Tags: beer politics, disraeli, gladstone, licensing