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Full Steam Ahead at The Cock of the North....

For the past 11 years or so, the Halifax Steam Brewery has been brewing its own range of beers, mainly for consumption in its own on-site bar, the Cock of the North, named after the former Whitakers brewery in Halifax. Set back from the A644, between Hove Edge and Hipperholme, it is a place that has always done its own thing, and in doing so has attracted a loyal band of customers along the way.

But it wasn't always like this. When the plans were first put forward for the place on some open ground next to the Vulcan Engineering Works by local businessman and brewer David Earnshaw, he was met with stiff opposition from local residents, who dubbed the planned wooden building 'The Last Chance Saloon'. But persistence paid off, and eventually planning permission was granted by the council, and the Halifax Steam Brewery and Cock of the North were born.

Dave had originally been brewing in his garage, so the new found space gave him the chance to brew a bigger range, and then sell it in the bar in the next room. Most of the beers were light, blonde session beers, with the pump clips often featuring rather attractive young ladies. Some such as Aussie Kiss and Lily Fogg, named after a notorious Halifax character, are still regular beers today. There were a number of exceptions to the light beers though; Cock of the North, a strong traditional full-flavoured bitter, Uncle John, a dark beer with a devoted following, and Jamaican Ginger. In those days, no spirits were sold, lager was only available in bottles in the form of Lindeboom, a 5% beer from Limburg in the Netherlands, and the wine choice was limited. However, the place took off, ironically many of those that had objected to the plans for the pub amongst those won over by the comfortable bar that had opened in their midst with friendly staff, tasteful decor with classy prints, breweriana, and subdued lighting, and an eclectic mix of music playing in the background.

Things never stood still with Dave, and one day, a giant tank arrived, was fitted behind the bar, and stocked with koi carp, which made for an unusual moving display and talking point for the customers. The outside became home to a very pleasant beer garden with a bandstand-style shelter, and the adjoining field became an accredited site for touring caravans. Dave had always done the brewing, but was joined by the leather-coated Trigger, who eventually did most of it. With the place's popularity continuing to grow, the bar became packed regularly, and eventually the decision was taken to extend, which meant the brewery moving into part of the engineering works next door, and the Cock of the North taking over the whole building. The bar was moved to the back of the building, with the fish tank becoming the base for the bar. The amazing thing was that the place still looked exactly the same, there was just more of it! Outside, the exterior of the wooden building was painted in a tasteful subdued grey.

A couple of years ago, though, Dave decided to sell up after 9 years at the helm. It was taken over by Sam Davidson, one of the lads who worked behind the bar, with Richard Bentley, who had also worked behind the bar, and had become increasingly involved in the brewing side, producing the beers. And it has carried on successfully, in many ways as it always was, but with a few changes here and there. Draught lagers and spirits have been introduced. The beer garden has been tidied up and new furniture and decking added. It continues to attract an eclectic mix of customers of all age groups, with families and dogs most welcome.

There have always been regular beer and music festivals there, and yesterday it was this year's Spring Beer Festival, with around 30 beers on and music from Psychoslinkies, The Rainey Street Band, and Stand Alone. It had been a lovely sunny morning, but the heavens opened in mid-afternoon, resulting in the bands having to play inside. I arrived and caught the final few tracks from the Psychoslinkies. The place was packed, the beer was flowing, and the music rocking. Great to see a lot of familiar faces there as well as most of the usual gang. I left after the usual great set from The Rainey Street Band and headed off home, which meant I missed Stand Alone, but despite having enjoyed a burger from barbecue earlier on, a few more beers afterwards meant I needed some more food!

So that's the Cock of The North. If you are ever in the area it is well worth a visit. A friendly welcome, a comfortable bar, a lovely beer garden, and beers you won't generally see anywhere else. And from my point of view, it is only 10 minutes walk from home!

The Cock of The North, Hipperholme, Halifax


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