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Wharfebank : What Happened Next

Picture courtesy of Wharfebank Brewery

Picture courtesy of Wharfebank Brewery

As you all know, I spent a large part of 2012 spending time in the pockets of brewers around Yorkshire whilst writing Great Yorkshire Beer. One of the things I learned early on – in stark relief – is that things change incredibly quickly in this business. It seemed that almost as soon as copy was filed, changes were happening; rebrands, changes of personnel, new premises being sought. So, with that in mind, I’m going to catch up with the brewers involved for a series of short updates over the summer.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited over to The Fleece in Otley to celebrate Wharfebank’s 500th brew. It’s been somewhat of a steep progression for Martin Kellaway and his crew recently; Wharfebank are now a bustling, thriving modern brewery with a couple of local pubs, a small core of staff and beers in cask, keg and bottle. For the 500th brew, they’ve teamed up with Ken Fisher (the man behind Grateful Deaf Beer) and…well, I’ll let Martin explain:

‘I wanted our 500th brew to be special but also a lot different from what our other 499 brews had been. Tony Jenkins (Business Support and all-round go-getter at WB) has met Ken on many occasions whilst working together at the GBBF and we quickly agreed that some of Ken’s wonderful style of beers could form the basis of our celebratory beer. Combining Ken’s style with that of Jayne Hewitt, our very own Master Brewer, we together created ‘D’  -our 6.6% 500th brew. It’s got 6 distinctive hops with a IBU of 65 – it certainly is special.’

So, something a little different for Wharfebank’s fervent army of followers across the region. That’s not the only change; Wharfebank’s new brewer is actually taking on his first commercial job. Steve Crump is an award-winning homebrewer, who is being welcomed into the fold to bring fresh ideas to Wharfebank. Without going into too much detail about what lies ahead, Martin is as excited about the appointment as Steve is.

‘Steve is a brilliant  home brewer, and he joins our team to create new beers that push our range even further, whilst building on the successes we already have.’ beams Martin. What I like about Wharfebank is that, despite their solid reputation for no-nonsense beers, Martin and the team keep a close eye on what’s going on and want to be part of progression – in their own way – with no risk of trying to be something they aren’t. For example, building a partnership with The Harewood Estate to use their fresh hops each year.  ‘One or two of our experiments haven’t worked, but it’s the benefit of brewing on our small scale that enables us to try new ideas. We are ahead of where we planned to be but we can always do better, and every day we strive to improve.’ adds Martin.

photo 2

Scallops, paired with Tether Blonde

Wharfebank’s bottled range (purely an idea when interviewed for GYB) is now available, and I can personally recommend the IPA and SPA in particular. Not only that, but Wharfebank’s experimental foray into the Spanish market has been incredibly well-recieved, and remains an opportunity for export success.

We spent the evening in The Fleece, which is a fantastic pub (with one of the best beer gardens around) on the riverbank in Otley. The team there really do get the food right  –  the menu was incredibly well-paired with the beer on offer. Acquiring The Fleece -and The Half Moon in Pool – has always been high on Martin’s agenda, and I asked him how the two were performing. ‘The pubs have all traded well, despite the poor spring weather.’ he says.

‘The Fleece has gone from strength to strength with the new management team of Oliver Renton and chef Simon Miller.  Oliver runs front of house and Simon was recently a quarter finalist on BBC Masterchef The Professionals.’

The Half Moon in Pool-in-Wharfedale has traded well, with great support from our local community. Fred and Heather are our managers and are a doing a fine job. We’ve introduced simple, locally sourced and freshly prepared pub food,  along with our refurbishment of 5 letting bedrooms. We are also building the cask sales so that the introduction of  guest ales should become a permanent feature very soon’. The Half Moon is a cosy village pub, and one worth stopping at if passing through Pool.

rook-2Most recently, Wharfebank joined forces with Castle Rock to take the reins at The Rook and Gaskill in York. It’s a different proposition from the other two, as Martin explains. ‘The Rook  is run by Steve Bradley, who also runs the thriving Fulford Arms. Since opening in late 2012, we’ve has created a  beer range on cask and keg that is proving really popular. The recent introduction of The Yorkshire Lager – from the Great Yorkshire Brewery –  has also been very well received to compliment  Freedom Pilsner, Titanic Stout and the 10  ales we have on. There’s always 2 beers from WharfeBank and 2 from Castle Rock  the bar, always a LocAle from the York region plus many fantastic rotating guests. Food has slowly been introduced – which is  a unique offering of Caribbean! Music and events are also driving trade, so yes, overall a very positive outlook.’

SO, overall, a productive and positive year for Wharfebank, with some real focus and attention on the places that you can enjoy their beer in as well as the quality of the beer itself. Behind the bar, they’ve also launched a Master Cellar Club, which provides a strong link between brewery and publican, providing training, special beers and general support. This idea is one that I think sums up Wharfebank very well – a small regional brewery thinking like a larger one, especially when it comes to that area we all love between brewery and consumer – The Pub.


The Old Cock, Otley: A Labour of Love

IMG_0197‘Tell you what; that’s a lovely radiator.’

Three grown men, myself, Stewart Ross (of The Flying Mallard Pub & Wharfedale Brewery) and Lee Pullen (erstwhile Landlord) sit there, beers in hand, admiring the grey-steel radiator. Like something from Metropolis, it hangs on the wall in pride of place; practically an ornament. Which is exactly what it is.

‘It doesn’t work.’ laughs Lee. ‘It’s from Joshua Tetley’s son’s house in Roundhay. We bought it and the fittings to use as a feature.’

This may all seem a little over-the-top; but for Lee and his wife Linda, The Old Cock deserves such attention to detail. A real labour of love, I don’t think I’ve ever met a landlord who can honestly say he built the pub. Let’s go back a little.

In 2007, after many licensing wrangles and planning squabbles, Lee and Linda finally procured the empty building, which was then being used as The Sugar Street Bistro. Lee had the sole intent of turning into a pub; and, with his background in construction, had no fears about taking the job on himself. Built in 1755, the building clearly had charm – it had been two little cottages at one point – but a pub it was not. The cellar had been filled in; new windows were needed – and that was just the internal works. Externally, the roof and pointing all needed replacing.  This was no makeover job; this was a solid project with a pub for the community springing into life at the end of it.

The work took a little over two years to complete. The aforementioned cellar was dug out entirely by hand, reinforced, then concreted. Again, as with the radiator, you’ve got to appreciate the details; the cellar is tiny but impeccably designed, with everything in its place and a place for everything.

IMG_0191As Lee takes us round the building, the story of how the pub blossomed into life out of a construction site comes into focus. Lee and Linda spent hours going up and down the country, scouring auctions and eBay for pub mirrors and breweriana such as acid-etched glass to use in one of the snugs. The bar is made out of wardrobes, and even the table we are sitting at was made by him. I know it sounds corny, but when Lee says that he’s probably laid his hands on every surface in the pub – every brick, every roof tile, every pipe – he’s telling the absolute truth.

As you’d expect, it wasn’t easy. Money was tight, credit was racked up and wrung out of every avenue they could find, but it didn’t matter. Lee and Linda were building their pub. Thier pub.They christened the pub The Old Cock; both a nod to the hens and cocks that the couple keep at home, spiced with a little Yorkshire cheek. ‘The regulars say it’s named after the Landlord’ Lee chuckles, quite happy to help perpetuate the myth. ‘People stand outside the sign sometimes and take pictures of the blokes stood underneath it – before coming in for a pint.’

Opening weekend went by in a blur, but Lee remembers that his first beer pulled was, interestingly, a Tetley’s bitter – with some Wold Top on the bar to keep it company.Now, the focus is very much on local beer and a minimum of beer miles being used up. The likes of Briscoe’s, Rooster’s, Wold Top, Naylors, Copper Dragon, Ilkley, Goose Eye and Rodham’s make regular appearances; joined by beers from further afield that Lee seeks out to add a little colour. Dark Star, Ulverston, Bristol Beer Factory, Hawkshead – as well as independent Ciders – all make guest appearances. It was rightly awarded Leeds CAMRA’s pub of the year in 2011.

IMG_0198‘It’s not just local beers for the sake of it, though.’ Lee asserts. ‘We want our beer to be varied and popular. It’s not unusual for us to sell out of a certain beer in an afternoon in busy times, and I think that proves how going the extra mile to get something good in pleases the customers.’ He won’t, for example, always go for the crowd-pleasers. ‘I tend to not stock the bar with just ‘Pale and Hoppy.’ he laughs. ‘I like to have all styles covered; a stout, a porter…and a mid-colour beer!’ he muses. ‘I love chestnut-coloured beers, but they can be hard to find, but we love ’em here.’ Now there’s something you thought you’d never read; think on, brewers.

It’s well appreciated by the locals – at 1400 on a Tuesday afternoon, the pub is pleasantly busy with drinkers ranging from your typical CAMRA types to your couples resting their bones after a meander through Otley. The beers we drunk during the afternoon were in tip-top condition; Little Valley’s Stoodley Stout smooth and silky, leaning toward  on the bramble/fruity side of stout than dry and roasted; Rooster’s Fort Smith effortlessly bold and brassy, and an interesting ‘Cask Pilsner’ from Copper Dragon (Silver Myst), that ended up being simply a really crisp, grassy Pale Ale.

The Old Cock is the kind of pub you want to bump into when visiting a market town like Otley. There’s plenty of pubs in Otley – and many with history – but The Old Cock is a perfect example of the kind of pub you’d like to run if you did one yourself. Building it brick by brick? That’s special indeed.

You can see more pictures of the project on The Old Cock’s excellent website here. Also, if you feel like taking a ride over to Otley and spending the day there, there’s an excellent new project called The Otley Pub Club which will give you all the info you need for a day’s drinking around the town.

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