OF COURSE, I’d always thought the interface between craft ale haven and up-market charcuterie had been shamefully neglected.
Perhaps if I’d written more often and more forcefully about this glaring gap in the market, it wouldn’t have taken until now for Friends of Ham to come along and plug it so successfully. But they have, so all’s well with the world.
Beer-wise, it occupies the same kind of territory which has been successfully explored by the likes of North Bar. Food-wise it takes North’s simple platters of cold meats and cheese to a whole new level, offering enough cured hams, beefs, and craft cheeses to put the average delicatessen to shame. For this interesting combination of great beer and continental deli-grazing, only Veritas on Great George Street could really come close.
Just a few years ago, places like this would never have happened, and could never have worked.
Stepping in from busy New Station Street, you emerge alongside a long bar topped with assorted handpumps and gleaming chrome fonts. The selection changes regularly, and you need to duck and dive between customers perched on the bar stools, just to browse the entire range. Being a shy type, I check out the blackboards instead.
Downstairs there is more bare wood than a Swedish kitchen – big chunky tables, bare floorboards and farmhouse chairs. Leather sofas offer some lounging options; a shuffle-table some old-school entertainment. A long table seemingly fashioned from hunks of stripped pine and some offcuts of scaffolding dominates the centre of the room, ideal for sociable drinking and dining.
Yet today I’m drinking alone, with just Twitter and a paddle of three third-pints of beer, chosen for variety to distract me from the raucous noise of the bunch of drunken lads across the room. Someone should have told them that Sunday afternoon is the time for a quiet beer with the newspapers, not for shouting about how much you’ve drunk and how much more you can take on board. Prats – there’s a Yates’s next door, go there.
First up is Best Saison from Somerset’s Wild Beer brewery (4.5% ABV). As the name suggests, Saisons are seasonal beers, generally brewed by Belgian farmers in autumn or winter and served to their hired hands at summertime and harvest. There is perhaps a neat analogy between these amber beers and the Milds of the English midlands. Though quite different in character, both were specifically brewed to quench the thirst of the working man – the farm labourer toiling in the Belgian sunshine, the factory worker thirsty after his shift in the heavy industry of the Black Country. This one is rich and dry and a nice place to start.
Macclesfield’s Red Willow brewery styles its Witless II (4.8%) as a mango wheat beer – and there’s nothing in its cloudy appearance or gentle fruity aroma to contradict that. Yet once on the palate it morphs into a quite different beast, all bacon frazzles and pea soup, and not a mango in sight. Weird, but curiously appropriate in a bar named Friends of Ham.
In better news, the drunken lads move on before I start on the third, the leathery, espresso-rich Put It In Your Pipe (5.1%) – a dark satanic smoky porter, again from Wild Beer.
Midway through this I gain sufficient courage to wander over to the shuffleboard, where a couple of expert regulars explain the basics. Essentially it’s a bit like curling, but without the ice, the brushes, the heavy iron weights, the skates or the Scotsmen. And it’s a lot smaller. You’re getting the picture, clearly.
The Dewsbury and Heavy Woollen Beer and Cider Festival opens at 6pm today at Dewsbury Town Hall. 80 real ales, 15 ciders and perries, and bottled beers from all over the world are at the festival which has full days tomorrow and Saturday, starting at noon both days. There’s also live music and food. Further details at dewsburybeerfestival.co.uk.
Name: Friends of Ham
Type: Real ale haven and delicatessen rolled into one
Manager: Chloe Hewitt
Opening times: Noon-11pm Mon-Wed, noon-midnight Thurs-Sat, 1-10pm Sun
Beers: Great choice of draught beers – both cask and keg – from around £3.30-pint. Third-pints available.
Wine: Good choice from £4-glass and £16-bottle
Food: Cosmopolitan selection of meat and cheese platters from around £4.50.
Children: Not suitable
Disabled: Slightly tricky access to ground floor, but main drinking area is down a flight of stairs
Entertainment: Shuffleboard downstairs, books and board games
Beer Garden: None
Parking: Pay and display and multi-storey areas nearby
Telephone: 0113 242 0275
Beer of the Week
By rights, Pilsners should all come from Plzen in the Czech Republic. The style takes its name from the city of Plzen, just west of Prague, which is where the first true golden lager was brewed in 1842.
For some years locals had been unhappy with the beer from their local brewery, and in 1838 after a huge batch turned out sour, they had it all poured down the drains.
They then created a new publicly-owned brewery – bringing in a Bavarian brewer and equipment from England. The soft water of Pilsen, Bavarian malt and Czech hops combined to create a crystal clear golden beer with a big white head. But they must have been too permanently sozzled to remember to trademark the name – so brewers anywhere can make one. But Urquell is the original. At 4.4% it’s a little less potent than the standard 5% European lager, but a lot more interesting than many of them, crisp and palate-scouring, yet with a genuine deep bitterness which only gives way to softer, buttery, banana notes as it dies away.