Beer Of The Week: Trough Ales Of Fond Memory
Trough Brewery, Albion Mill, Louisa Street, Idle, Bradford
This beer column started in the Yorkshire Times
when the pubs closed for the lockdown. At the moment there is much talk of some kind of scaled re-opening, beginning on July 4th. Although my original idea was to simply write reviews about good beers that could now only be obtained locally in bottle form, I intend to carry on reviewing even though soon people may well be able to resume their old drinking habits in their local.
I have perhaps had a tendency to concentrate on small breweries, brewhouses, craft ales, although two big players, Black Sheep and Sam Smith’s, were also duly sampled and approved. Glancing back over the ones I’ve done in my Beer of The Week, Wednesday Wallop and Beer of the Month series, I do detect a couple more biases, geographical and gustatory. I personally know the West Riding and the Dales rather better than, say, South Yorkshire. My favourite type of beer is bitter or blonde. I intend to try to look beyond what I hope are pardonable prejudices.
My worry is that many of the craft beers I had intended to review may not be available after Covid. Talking regularly by phone to small brewers, I detect a rather sober mood at the moment. Yes, there is a glimmer of hope that pubs will soon re-open but a wariness about rushing to brew beer in readiness for it. Hundreds of gallons have been already poured away: what happens if, God forbid, an extension to the lockdown becomes necessary? Not everyone is in a rush to fill their mash tuns with so much uncertainty around.
One long-established small brewer told me he had heard that almost fifty per cent of the smaller enterprises may not survive. They are heavily reliant on selling and promoting their ales at food festivals and many of these, of course, have already been cancelled. His opinion was that those with debt to service would probably go the way of all flesh. Some, I fear, may already have gone – if the plethora of unobtainable telephone numbers is any kind of indication.
Young people think that the boom in real ales started this millennium: certainly from about 2008 onwards dozens of microbreweries have sprung up, often from humble backgrounds. Starting in a garage seems to be a favourite. But we had a similar period in the 1980s and ’90s, which started even before the historic Beer Order of 1989 had resulted in the big brewing companies having to sell off half their tied houses.
It was in the 1980s that I first got an interest in drinking beers other than Webster’s and Tetley’s which up to that point had become pretty much all you could get in my part of the West Riding. The Castle Inn, in Bradford - where I used to go to see Dave Lee, a fantastic Jerry Lee Lewis boogie pianist, from whom I learned a lot just by watching - suddenly introduced me to a beautiful mellow bitter, the best I’d ever tasted, brewed locally in Idle. Trough Brewery, opened in 1981 at Albion Mills, Idle, had at its peak about forty tied houses in the area. Their beer was as near to perfection as I could then imagine, a crystal-clear, mahogany-coloured ale with a mellow malt flavour, bitter sweet but also light and a little fruity. That's how I remember it thirty years on.
What happened to them is a salutary boom and bust story.
It was started by Richard Priestley and existed for a decade or more. The wonderful old Artillery Arms in Bowling Back Lane, originally a Whitaker’s house also took it. This Halifax brewer’s famous Cock o' the North signs were sadly seen no more after being taken over by Whitbread in 1969. I remember the landlord telling me he’d doubled his trade virtually overnight when introducing Trough beers as an alternative to Whitbread. This came about as a result of the 1990 amendment to the Brewing Orders, which allowed tenants of pubs in certain circumstance to stock a guest beer. His customers demanded Trough once they had tasted it - and the 1991 CAMRA Good Beer Guide paints a sunny picture, reporting that the company had just signed a contract to supply beer to the Cameron’s Tap & Spile chain of ale houses. They were clearly on the way up.
Two years later, the brewery was liquidated - just before Christmas in 1993.
Off the top of my head I can think of a fair few local breweries that started at a similar time, seemed well established and then disappeared for one reason or another.
One good story to end on. I laboured under the misapprehension for many years that Big End, of Harrogate, had disappeared. They brewed a gorgeous dark stout, Old Lubrication, which I was pleased to lubricate myself on many a day. I shall discuss in a forthcoming review how they somehow metamorphosed into the current Daleside Brewery which still brews Old Lubrication.
Next week’s Beer of the Week, which has now come to hand, comes from Ossett Brewery.