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Empire In The Sun....

I spent a sunny afternoon in Huddersfield and the Colne Valley settlement of Slaithwaite last weekend, my trip including a visit to one of the several breweries that are based in the area as well as calling in the odd pub or two....

I had decided to head over to Huddersfield way at the weekend with a loose plan to visit Empire Brewing in Slaithwaite who were having an open day and then call in an assortment of pubs in the village, time permitting. However, when I arrived at Huddersfield station, I was stopped at the entrance by one of the staff who asked where I was going. He explained that due to construction work at the station, no trains were heading in and out of there, and so it would be the dreaded rail replacement bus to Slaithwaite and everywhere else, for that matter. My plans thrown into confusion, I didn't panic, and did what any rational person would do when faced with such a problem and 40 minutes to wait, namely repair to the Kings Head next door for a pint.

Plenty of people were sat on chairs and the steps outside in the sunshine, and it was pretty busy inside too. It turned out there was a beer festival taking place - although it seemed to be mostly the usual suspects on the bar - and my pint of Magic Rock Ringmaster had been reduced to £3.00. I had a  quick chat some people I knew from Brighouse, and then headed to the smaller (and normally quieter) of the two rooms to consider my options. I decided that for one stop, it would make more sense to go for the rail replacement bus rather than a normal service one, and so I booked my return ticket on the phone, and settled down to enjoy my pint (NBSS 3.5).

The buses were leaving from Lord Street, about 5 minutes' walk away, so I finished my pint, bade farewell to the Brighouse folk, and walked down to catch my bus. I arrived to a scene reminiscent of leaving an airport at the start of a holiday where there is mass confusion as everyone is trying to find the right coach to take them to their onward destination. People were milling around, asking a couple of high-vis guys with clipboards where to catch their bus. Having finally got some sense out of them, I was waiting for bus number 25. I was joined by a large group of lads who were doing the ale trail, who had just arrived from Dewsbury. The 25 arrived a few minutes later, and we embarked, the ale trailers occupying the back of the lower deck of the bus behind me. We had hardly got going before the singing, chanting, and whooping started, which added to the experience, and by the time we were dropped off on in Slaithwaite my head was pounding. As they were disembarking, one of the lads kindly invited me to join them, which I politely declined saying I had things to do, but despite this kind offer, just in case they followed me up to the brewery, I held back, and waited for the chanting to disappear into the distance before going down into the village-like centre....

Now Slaithwaite causes much discussion about how to pronounce its name. Is it 'Slath-waite', or 'Slay-thwaite'? The locals call it 'Slough-It', and having a sister who lived in the village for a few years I feel gives me some local connection, so that is how I refer to it. It is a small town or sprawling village on the River Colne between Huddersfield and Marsden. On the steep hillsides above the valley, it had always been difficult to grow any crops but conditions were ideal for sheep farming. The then small village began to grow in the 19th century when first the Huddersfield Narrow Canal was constructed and then the railways came, leading to several woollen mills being built in the town, several of which still stand today, although most that do have different uses these days. The canal ran through the heart of Slaithwaite, and by the mid-20th century had fallen into disuse, but its subsequent restoration has enabled the revitalisation of the centre, particularly around the high street area alongside which it flows.

I walked alongside the canal for a few minutes as I made my way to Empire Brewing, located in the old boiler house of one of those mills beside the canal which I had walked past several times during lockdown.  A crowd of people were stood outside Upper Mills, leaning against the safety barriers next to the canal whilst more were seated at a number of tables at the entrance to the mill. Music was playing from speakers beside the outside bar which featured 5 hand pumps. I went for the nearest pump to where I stood and it was a beer I recognised, Golden Warrior, which I had drunk several times before but not for a few years. The brewery started out here in 2006 and is one of a number of businesses based in the mill. It was originally a 5 barrel plant, but since 2011 the capacity has been 12 barrels (a barrel being the equivalent of 36 gallons).

Golden Warrior is a 3.8% pale gold ale, and after paying a very reasonable £2.50 I took my pint and found a place to lean on one of the red and white safety barriers beside the canal. I took a sip, and gosh, the beer was good, clean tasting and refreshing (NBSS 4), and as I enjoyed it I realised that only living a few miles away I hadn't seen Empire Beers in the Calderdale area for years. Looking at the pump clips, they have had something of a re-brand in recent years which looks very smart, and going by the t-shirts worn by the team behind the bar, the brewery's advertising strapline is Land of Hops and Glory. 

I enjoyed my beer so much I went back for another, but after another Golden Warrior, I then decided to have a change of beer. A switch to a 4.1% blonde ale called Fluke, featuring Centennial, Mosaic, and Citra hops, was a slightly backward step (NBSS 3.5), but it was still very enjoyable. I decided to try a half of the Moonraker dark mild, which was delicious, fruity and malty (NBSS 3.5). The beer is named after the nickname by which residents of Slaithwaite are known. The name arose as a result of a local legend that in years gone by, excise men disturbed a group of villagers one night who were trying to fish out bottles of smuggled brandy from the canal. They explained that they were doing nothing wrong and were merely "raking the moon from the canal." It sounds crazy, but then think about some of the claims made by some of our politicians these days!

As I was supping my mild, I was greeted by Sam Addy, formerly Sam Smith of the Sportsman and the Corner in Huddersfield, and the Buffet Bar at Stalybridge. She was here looking after the food, whilst her husband, Richard, was helping out behind the bar. It was nice to have a catch up, and I have to say I enjoyed the friendly atmosphere beside the canal in the sunshine, with plenty of people stopping by for a drink to break their walk along the canal, some with dogs greeting each other with a bark or a sniff as their owners chatted. There was the regular ring of a bell as groups of cyclists negotiated their way through the throng. Some people simply just walked past with barely a glance, whilst some were curious as to what was going on.

Pleasant canal side atmosphere at Empire Brewing

I finished my beer, took my glass back to the bar, and decided to head into Slaithwaite for a pint before getting the bus back. I was just setting off when I bumped into a guy who I had bumped into in York only two days earlier, having not met for several years before that! He was here with a mate from Marsden. So I went back to the bar for another drink, this time of Porter, and had a pleasant catch up for the time it takes to drink a half. The beer was another NBSS 3.5, rich and a touch dry with a pleasant malty base.

I finished my beer, and this time I did set off, and a few minutes later I walked into the Commercial, situated on the roundabout in the middle of the village. I had been in this popular free house many times, but it was a few years since my last visit. It is a Good Beer Guide regular, and features 9 hand pumps, with it almost being the Empire Brewing tap, with a house beer brewed by them and others of their range featured. There are normally up to 5 rotating guest ales, and it was one of those that I tried. It was a few years since I had tried any beers from Scarborough Brewery, so I went for a pint of Ship of Fools, a pleasant enough 4.5% pale golden ale (NBSS 3). Other beers were from another local brewery, Small World, plus North Riding, from near Scarborough. The pub, which despite being regularly visited by Ale Trailers, also has a solid local following, and it was busy this evening, with many watching the late match in the first Saturday of the new Premier League season which was showing on TV.

I went to catch the rail replacement bus, which was picking up from the A62 rather than the station, and within a minute of arriving at the designated bus stop it was there. The driver waited a few minutes but there were no more takers, and with only a few others apart from me on board, it was considerably quieter than the outbound journey! It didn't seem to take long to get back to Huddersfield, and after getting dropped off at Lord Street, I decided to pop in to the Wood Street Social, formerly Northern Quarter, and before that the tap for the former Hand Drawn Monkey brewery. It was fairly dark when I walked in, but once my eyes had adjusted to the light, I was delighted to see Shangri-La from Arbor on one of two hand pumps. I ordered a half of this pale 4.2% bitter ale, lightly hopped with a slight maltiness and hints of tropical fruits making for a most enjoyable glass of beer (NBSS 3.5). The bar, which regularly features live music, has a good friendly vibe and is well worth popping in.

It was then back to the Kings Head for a final drink before going home. The pub was busy as it had been when I had called in earlier, and this time I opted for a pint of Vellum from another local brewery, Beer Ink, which seems to be pretty much a regular on the bar here nowadays. It is a 4% hazy pale and was in great form (NBSS 4). I ordered a taxi as I was finishing my beer, and it duly arrived to take me home after an enjoyable afternoon in the heart of the Colne Valley....

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic


  1. You're still getting good quality beer up there, Chris. Great to read.

    Cask seems to have survived the summer so far. Pubs having fewer pumps helps.

    NB I thought it was "Sleets" !


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