Tag: Barnsley

| Books, Pie Fidelity, Pies

Where were you while we were getting pie?

In case you hadn’t noticed, this week is British Pie Week. It’s also just four weeks until my next book, Pie Fidelity, is published. Pie Fidelity is about a lot more than just pies: it’s a celebration of all that’s great about traditional British food. But to celebrate British Pie Week, here’s another off-cut from the main book that tells the story of when I witnessed the closing together of two great Yorkshire legends: Tetley Dave, and Percy Turner’s pork pies.

Pic: wikipedia commons

I’m back in Barnsley, to help celebrate the fifth birthday of Acorn Brewery, which has resurrected the legendary Barnsley Bitter decades after the brewery that created it has been closed down. A few friends, customers and media folk have been invited to the brewery to sample the beers and have a chat. As a beer writer who grew up in Barnsley, I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of Acorn since I first met founder Dave Hughes a few years previously, and he’s asked me up here to do a talk to the throng. 

One of the customers is publican and local legend ‘Tetley’ Dave Parker. Tetley Dave runs the Shoulder of Mutton in Castleford and is what’s known in the trade as a ‘character’. He reminds me of the late Jim Bowen, presenters of Bullseye, only Dave is funnier and more confident. As soon as he enters the room, he seems to be in the middle of every single one of the various conversations going on around it. He has a quip or gag to answer every point anyone makes. He’s in the audience today, in the middle of the third row of chairs, and yet somehow he’s centre-stage throughout the entire thing. He’s not scheduled to give a speech, but Tetley Dave doesn’t do schedules.

When I take the stage to share some thoughts about cask ale and tradition and Barnsley’s place within it, it quickly becomes clear that this is going to be a dialogue rather than a speech. Tetley Dave sits with his arms folded, sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing, sometimes with nothing much to add, but he adds it anyway. I’ve dealt with hecklers before, and I’ve dealt with aggressive people who want to interrupt and take control. This is different. Tetley Dave is not being difficult; he’s just being Tetley Dave. He simply doesn’t recognise the conventions of public speaking, the implied contract between speaker and audience. There’s no such covenant when he’s behind the bar in the Shoulder of Mutton, when everyone just piles in and the sharpest tongue wins. I think he genuinely doesn’t realise that there are situations that behave differently from the pub. Why should they?  

After the formalities, the brewery unveils lunch, the kind of beige buffet the beer world seems to subsist on, and is at least as much to blame for my middle-aged weight gain as the beer itself. There are plates full of small pork pies, two or three bites worth, still warm from being freshly baked this morning, the jelly still just about liquid, the meat around body temperature, slightly gamey, pink and glistening rather than the dead grey of the cellophane-wrapped supermarket pie. They’re insanely good. I ask Dave Hughes where they’re from.

“Percy Turner’s in Jump,” he says. ‘Had to queue for ‘em for half an hour this morning.”

It turns out that Dave Hughes’s experience is not uncommon. There are queues outside Percy Turner’s shop in the village of Jump, just outside Barnsley, most mornings. The queues of several hundred people on Christmas Eve have become a bit of a celebrated meme on the unofficial Percy Turner’s Pork Pie Appreciation page on Facebook, unaffiliated with the butcher’s itself, with over 4,000 likes. Other shops in town have A-boards outside giving an estimated time when their consignment of Turner’s pies will arrive. There’s a spoof M&S ad one admiring fan made for YouTube, but I’ve failed to find any official recognition for the best pork pies in the world. Percy Turner is too busy making pies to bother with a website, entering competitions, or indulging in any kind of promotional activity. But then, he hardly needs to.

Something’s not quite right in the room. The atmosphere is oddly muted. The silence extends from seconds into minutes. And then I realise: Tetley Dave has stopped talking. 

I go back to the buffet for a second pork pie, and am alarmed to see that despite a ratio of pies to people that was at least 4:1 ten minutes ago, they’ve almost disappeared, so I nab a third. Still the room is quiet. No one speaks at all. After ten minutes of this bustling brewery doing as pretty good impression of a Trappist monastery, the final evidence of Percy Turner’s pork pies ever having been here is been eradicated from the room.

Ten seconds later, Tetley Dave’s voice rises from the centre of the throng: “Nice bit o’ growler is that.”

Pie Fidelity is published on 4th April by Particular Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

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Barnsley man fails in quest to revolutionise pub, but gets credit anyway

Just writing a feature about the innovation that’s happening in cask ale dispense right now, with new hand pumps from Greene King, Bombardier, Black Sheep and others. And I just found out something that absolutely delights me.

The invention of the beer engine or handpump is commonly credited to one Joseph Bramah, a hydraulic engineer and locksmith who invented the hydraulic press, a decent toilet, a money printing press, and lots of other stuff.
On 31st October 1797 he successfully gained a patent for a manually operated beer-pump which he believed would have tremendous advantages for “the masters of families and publicans’.
Because there’s no previous patent, he is cited everywhere as the inventor of the modern beer engine. But the truth is that his device bore no resemblance to the modern (i.e. traditional) hand pump, and never dispensed a single pint of beer. Whereas hand pumps depend on pressure from the beer engine on the bar to create a vacuum that draws the beer up the line for the cask, Bramah’s sketches show a system of pistons inside casks, weighted with heavy bags of sand. The piston pushes the beer down inside the cask, through an opening in the bottom, and up the pipe to a simple tap at the bar.
There were two impracticalities here: one, pub cellars didn’t have the height to set up the pulleys and weights required. Two, we all know what beer casks look like. They have curved sides – making them utterly useless for any kind of internal piston action. The publican would have had to transfer beer upon delivery into special containers the piston could work with, which would have been far more work than just getting the pot boy to run down to the cellar and dispense the beer manually, which is what the system was meant to replace.
The story is confusing because the beer engine that actually worked was in widespread use just a few years after Bramah registered his patent. But whoever came up with the successful idea, there is no record of them – and it wasn’t Bramah.
Anyway, that’s all fine. But the thing that caught my eye is that while Bramah may have been a rubbish beer inventor, he was from t’Tarn! Joseph Bramah was born in Stainborough Lane Farm in Wentworth, South Yorkshire, just outside Barnsley. Of course, Wentworth is the wrong side of Barnsley – it’s out towards Rawmarsh. He may have been within walking distance of Jump, home of Percy Turner’s legendary pork pies, but south of Barnsley is still south of Barnsley. Anyway, in 1783 he made up for the error of his birth by going on to marry Mary Lawton, who came from Mapplewell – the village I grew up in!
He probably had a pint in the Talbot. He probably met Mary while going round tarn on a Friday night, maybe in Ye Walkeabout.
Anyway, the couple soon moved down south, to That London.
Well, they had to. If you tried being an inventor in Barnsley they’d just laugh at you and say “Thee and thi fancy hydraulics. Backbreaking labour in the white heat of the world’s first industrial revolution, man and machine chained together as one not good enough for thee and thi posh mates, is it?”
Two centuries later, I feel a certain bond with this man from Barnsley who tried to change the face of beer, failed, but is still remembered for something he didn’t actually do.
Detail on Bramah’s rubbish beer pump and the emergence of one that worked are from Peter Mathias’ excellent Brewing History in England 1700-1830. A bible to any beer historian since 1959.

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From Oak(well) to Mighty Acorns. Or something.

This is a long post – a magazine article rather than blog entry, but I can’t think of anywhere else to sell it to and don’t really have time, so I’m putting it here instead. No-one’s saying you have to read it all…

Allegedly you can’t trademark a place name as your brand. When I wrote Three Sheets to the Wind, I always wanted to finish my round-the-world journey back in my home town of Barnsley, and compare what I’d seen with good old Barnsley Bitter, once a legendary brew, bought and killed by John Smith’s in the 1960s because, if you believe the locals, it was too good to have as competition.

Such is the scale of the cask ale revival that, when I was planning my Three Sheets trip to Barnsley in early 2005, Barnsley bitter was not only back; there were three different beers claiming to be it. One of them was brewed in Blackpool, which made me doubt its authenticity somewhat. Of the other two, one was brewed in Wombwell, a village on the other side of town (or t’tarn) from where I grew up, and one was in the crumbling old Oakwell Brewery, in the shadow of Barnsley FC’s famous ground, the site of the original Barnsley Brewery. I chose to write about the Oakwell one, because it seemed to have the most authentic lineage. The owners of the brewery were extremely secretive. The passage in the book was fine, but uninspiring. The beer was good. I’ve heard nothing about the Oakwell brewery since.

It’s now looking like I backed the wrong horse.

The Wombwell-brewed Barnsley Bitter came from the Acorn Brewery. What I didn’t know then was that Acorn was very new at the time, and had links with the Blackpool one, which was by then defunct. Since I wrote the book, Acorn has gone from strength to strength, and the first part of my 40th birthday jaunt north was to help them celebrate their own fifth birthday, on 4th July.

Me and Dave, the head brewer at Acorn. A vast majority of brewers in the north are called Dave.
I arrived at the brewery to be greeted by a smell of warm meat and pastry that made my stomach growl. A proper northern buffet had been laid on in the bar, the centrepiece being Percy Turner’s pork pies from Jump.

You may think you know what a pork pie tastes like. Not if you haven’t been to Barnsley, you don’t. Pork pies are to Barnsley what truffles are to the Dordogne. There is no shortage of pork pies in Barnsley, but according to the Acorn lads there had been Soviet-style queues outside Percy Turner’s shop that morning, and this was not uncommon. These were real pork pies, the pastry crumbly, the jelly runny, soaking into the soft, salty, peppery, still-warm meat as it fell apart and melted on your tongue…

Oh yes, we were supposed to be talking about the beers.

The buffet had been laid on because there was a bit of a tasting session happening, and it soon became apparent that I was leading it. I didn’t mind – I do a lot of tasting session now and am good at winging them, but this one was different: the attendees were, in the main, northern publicans. Publicans tend to be an opinionated bunch. They’re not accustomed to sitting quietly while other people speak. And northern publicans – well, I crossed one once. I shan’t be doing it again.

First came Rob from the Gatehouse, Barnsley town centre’s best pub. Rob looks a bit like how Norris out of Coronation Street would look if he was suddenly kidnapped from Weatherfield and dropped in the jungles of 1960s Vietnam, and learned to survive on his instincts and by acquiring the ability to kill with his bare hands. Rob’s pub is one of the busiest on Barnsley match days, and yet he makes no secret of the fact that he’s a Sheffield Wednesday fan. His hard gaze can make you void your bowels involuntarily. And that’s when he’s in a good mood.

But behind Rob came a man who clearly saw himself as the King of the Northern Landlords. He’d even brought an entourage.

Tetley Dave runs the Shoulder of Mutton in Castleford. He worked at Tetley’s for decades before taking over the pub, and fought a ‘Battle of the Alamo’ when the pubco who owned it wanted to shut it down. The Acorn lads had been talking about him coming, and I guessed it was him when his voice boomed from the corridor, insisting that the only beer he’d ever stock permanently was Tetley’s, but that if he was impressed, he may well take a cask of Acorn back with him. He took control of the room as soon as he entered – a tall, man with grey, close-shaved hair and glasses, wearing the trousers and waistcoat of a grey three-piece suit, a white shirt open at the neck. He found a seat that was closest to both me at the front, and Turner’s pork pies down the side. “Nice bit o’ growler, this,” he mumbled between mouthfuls of his third one.

Tetley Dave was accompanied by a man in his late forties with bubble-permed peroxide hair. He drove a RAV-4, the kind of vehicle you normally see covered in the livery of local pop hit radio stations. “He’s a professional entertainer, him,” said Tetley Dave, jerking his thumb at the man who stood grinning inscrutably, leaning against the wall. “He lives wi’ us.” A better writer than me, someone like Jon Ronson (who I was introduced to last weekend and who was, sadly, a bit aloof, perhaps because he took it the wrong way when I described his reading as ‘meandering’), would have been able to get to the story behind this. But I had beers to talk about that I hadn’t yet tasted, and more people were arriving, and the moment passed.

In the brief lulls between orations on the nature of beer, pubs and the universe (well, Yorkshire, and that’s practically the same thing) I managed to run through about five of Acorn’s beers.

Summer Pale was an extremely pale golden ale, white gold, with a floral and sherbet aroma and pear drops washing over the tongue.

Barnsley Gold had a citrus aroma with chewy, gloopy, caramel notes followed by a gentle bitterness.

Then onto Barnsley Bitter itself, a silver medal winner two years ago at GBBF. Combining the drinkability of a true session bitter with a dark richness, a hint of chocolate and red berry fruit, this is the kind of beer that Yorkshire does better than anywhere else.

So Acorn brew good beers. But they’ve been going beyond that. In 2007 they brewed ten different IPAs with different British hops. This year, they’re doing the same thing with American hops: the same basic beer chassis, a 5% IPA, with a different single varietal hop each month. I have to confess I’m a bastard for Cascade hops, I love them, the aromas intoxicate me on their own. So while the Liberty hop IPA was the new one, and Cascade last month’s news, I was guilty of flipping them around. The Liberty IPA was great, full-bodied and rich with the hops not shouting out, but creating a complex brew to savour. But the Cascade… it was a riot, a tropical fruit salad with papaya and citrus fruits. I’d say it had about 90% of the sheer hop hit and bold character of an American IPA, but at 5%, it was distressingly sessionable. The best IPA I’ve tasted since the lads from Stone came over earlier in the year.

This was the point at which I really gained my audience’s attention, and we talked about the legend of IPA, and my journey. One man – who had also arrived with Tetley Dave – took a very keen interest and questioned me on my Indian experience quite closely. I didn’t know who he was then, but Ian Clayton is a well-known broadcaster on ITV and a stalwart of the Yorkshire arts scene. “Oh, I write books as well,” he said at one point during the tasting, when I was talking about my IPA book. I did my best encouraging smile, ignorant twat that I am. Days later, Ian sent me a copy of his latest book. Richard Hawley calls it “beautiful”, Robert Wyatt “a magical roller coaster”, and Record Collector magazine thinks it’s “One of the best books about popular music ever written”. Half way through as I write this, I agree wholeheartedly with all of them. If you only buy one book this year, and you already own both of mine, buy Bringing it all Back Home.

Finally we tasted Old Moor Porter, full of fruit cake and liquorice, laced with vinous notes. I recently did a radio programme for Diageo about stout and oysters and this eternal match was fresh in my mind, so I thought my audience would appreciate the story of how porter was once the drink of the working man, and oysters were the food of poor people, and they just happened to go together in a sublime fashion. Ian nodded thoughtfully, but it was the chance Tetley Dave had been waiting for.

“I had ‘alf a dozen o’ them oysters t’other week.” He paused. “Only two o’ the buggers worked!”

I couldn’t let him get away with that unchallenged. “That’s it!” I said, “That’s who you remind me of. You look just like Jim Bowen!”

Suddenly, Tetley Dave was out of his chair, jabbing his finger at me furiously. “Don’t you mention that name in here! That bloke still owes me five hundred quid!”

As I doubled up with laughter, another no-doubt amazing anecdote slipped by, and escaped. Tetley Dave

Jim Bowen

After that it was time for Rob to leave. He’d enjoyed himself. You could tell this because, although he still looked furious, like he was about to punch someone out, he told us that he’d enjoyed himself.

As he neared the door, Tetley Dave, ever mindful of opportunities for his entourage, called out, “Hey, have you got any entertainment at your pub?”

“We will have if tha’ comes in,” replied Rob, and he was out of the door before Tetley Dave could respond, victory snatched at the close.

The best endorsement for Acorn’s beers is that Tetley Dave took away a cask of one of the IPAs in the back of the RAV4.

That night, the Acorn boys took me out drinking. Allegedly Sheffield has more different cask ales on tap at any given time than anywhere else in the country. We tried as many as we could, and stayed out until we started to fall asleep in our curries. We exceeded the government’s recommended daily intake of units, it’s fair to say. I’m keeping my diary clear for Acorn’s tenth birthday in July 2013.

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What’s going on at The Guardian?

It’s galling when the newspaper you read is one of the very worst of a bad bunch for beer (and Barnsley FC) coverage. Since Roger Protz’s column was axed a few years ago they’ve carried no regular beer coverage. I’ve soke to Matthew Fort, the Weekend Magazine’s food and drink editor and a passionate cask ale fan, several times about it, and he says he’s simply not allowed to feature beer by his wine-drinking bosses.

But now this seems to be changing.

Two weeks ago, there was a full page feature on Thornbridge, one of my favourite breweries. Now, two weeks later, here’s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with the lead food article, saying “Forget wine – beer is our national drink, and it’s time we used it more often in our cooking”, giving recipes including beef in ale stew and Guinness and walnut chocolate brownies, plus a separate supplementary piece on sourcing great beers.

There’s probably nothing here that’s new to hardcore beer bloggers – that’s not the point. The point is one of the most notoriously anti-beer newspapers in the country (ask any freelance beer writer on that one) seems to be having a Damascene conversion to the cause.

All this, and they fronted the sports section with a full-length, intelligent, non-patronising feature on Barnsley that only mentioned Dickie Bird once.

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Did you have a good weekend?

I did. Here are some things I can remember about it:

  • Kayo Odejaye taking the ball on his chest, turning and simply running at some of the world’s best defenders. Time, after time, after time. They didn’t like that. They were rattled by it, and all they could do was foul him. After twenty minutes of this, we started to believe.
  • Barnsley defenders throwing themselves into every tackle as if their lives depended on it, putting too many bodies in front of Ballack and Anelka, showing no fear: they shall not pass.
  • Martin ‘Disco’ Devaney keeping his nerve and waiting… waiting… waiting… until the perfect moment to send in his cross and pinpoint Odejaye’s head.
  • The sheer audacity – seasoned by a sprinkling of knowing irony – of Barnsley fans – their club four points off the relegation zone in the Championship – singing to Chelsea – one of the best teams in the world – “You’re shit, and you know you are.”
  • The sheer audacity – seasoned by a sprinkling of knowing irony – of Barnsley fans – their club four points off the relegation zone in the Championship – singing to Chelsea – one of the best teams in the world – “Are you Wednesday in disguise?”
  • The Barnsley fan, minutes after the final whistle, being interviewed by Look North. While the rest of us were still trying to get the result to sink in, he’d already jumped past the prospect of a semi-final, an FA Cup final for the first time in almost a century, and was talking enthusiastically about Barnsley winning the EUFA cup next season. The life was crushed out of this town twenty years ago when Thatcher gang-raped it and left it desolated. It’s a town that can now dream again.
  • Meeting the chaps from Acorn Brewery, who brew Barnsley Bitter, in the town’s only decent real ale pub half an hour after the game. Everybody in the pub was drinking Barnsley Bitter – how could you not? On the bar next to it? A guest ale by the name of London Pride. Sometimes you find perfect poetry in the most unexpected places.
  • The deluge of text messages, phone calls and messages to this blog over the last day and a half, as if I’d scored that divine goal myself. Only football can do this.

So what if the Sunday Mirror dropped their feature on me? They probably figured that I would become unbearable if it had run on top of all this. What a weekend…

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It’s summer, it’s raining, it can only mean one thing…

Time for Barnsley to purge the squad of anyone who looks capable fo scoring goals.

Danny Nardiello slept and ate pies through the middle of last season but woke up towards the end just in time to score the goals that kept us up in the Championship. These excellent performances mean he cannot stay at the club, and this week he duly moved to QPR. Admittedly this time Barnsley wanted him to stay and seem very upset at his last-minute change of heart, but why can we never hold on to anyone who threatens to get a double figure goal tally?