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News from the West Riding....

The West Riding Brewery started out in Huddersfield way back in 1979. Set against the background of the times, this was a significant landmark as it was the days when big brewers held sway, with the likes of Tetleys, Websters, and Bass dominating the front of the bar. A free house back then would give you the addition of beers from the Youngers stable, or Theakstons, but otherwise your choice was, certainly by today's standards, limited.

The brewery was set up by 5 friends - Ken Williamson, Dave Jessop, Ron Crabtree, Mike Field and Jim Turney - who, as is often the case with a good idea, were chatting over a pint or two, and came up with the idea of setting up their own brewery to offer more choice and variety to local beer drinkers. After a year or so planning and organising, the brewery was set up in an old mill behind Huddersfield Town's old Leeds Road Stadium, and in 1980 the first beer, West Riding Bitter, was brewed to much acclaim from local drinkers!

However, it was when another of their beers, Tyke, won Champion Best Bitter at the CAMRA Great British Beer Festival in 1981 that their fame began to spread further afield. Expansion was required to keep up with the increased demand, and following a fire at the Leeds Road site, brewing was moved to a new site in Meltham. Brewing continued for another few years, but another fire - always an issue with those old mills - put paid to that.

However, Tyke lived on, continuing to be brewed for another few years under contract by Tony Allen at the Oak Brewery in Ellesmere Port, which eventually re-invented itself as the Phoenix Brewery in Heywood.

All this came back to me when news broke a few days ago that Ron Crabtree had passed away. Ron had continued to brew his Linfit Ales at the pub he owned, The Sair at Linthwaite, an old country pub in the Colne Valley near Huddersfield. The pub is still going strong and, as has been the case for years, is in the Good Beer Guide for 2017. I only met Ron a couple of times and it seems he did have a reputation as not suffering fools gladly, but I never experienced that and always enjoyed my infrequent visits to the place. Now I haven't visited the Sair for a number of years, but it continued to have a large number of followers from near and far to sample the beer - with names like Old Eli and Enoch's Hammer - and the somewhat bohemian character of the place, which was not for everyone. I remember once taking Our Tom's mum in not long after we'd met. Whilst she worked at the pub that had been bought as the West Riding brewery tap by Ken and Dave, the Barge and Barrel in Elland, she made it clear that she was not in a rush to dash back to the Sair! 

Ron had been suffering from throat cancer for a few months, and sadly became the second of the group to pass away following Ken Williamson a few months ago. I had got to know Ken very well when he and Dave ran the Barge and Barrel. It was a cracking pub in those days which I have mentioned previously. The Barge was eventually sold to new owners and gradually all traces of the old West Riding Brewery disappeared, although some of the brewery etched windows remained until fairly recently. One of the old brewery signs even spent a while in the garage at my parent's old house, athough what I was going to do with it and what ever happened to it was never clear!

So with only Mike Field left in the industry, heading up the Beerhouses group which includes the West Riding Refreshment Rooms in Dewsbury, the Sportsman in Huddersfield, and the Buffet Bar in Stalybridge, another link with that pioneering brewery from those different times has been sadly lost.

The Sair Inn, Linthwaite
Ron Crabtree's funeral will take place on Tuesday October 25th at Huddersfield Crematorium, Fixby, HD2 2JF at 2.00pm.


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