The return of the pint

The Victoria Hotel, 519 Bradford Road, Batley. (D501D236)
The Victoria Hotel, 519 Bradford Road, Batley. (D501D236)

It’s no secret that pubs in the UK are facing challenges.

According to the British Beer and Pub Association, there has been a sharp decline in the number of pubs operating in the UK, from 67,800 in 1982, to just 50,395 by 2011.

The problems have been felt more than most in West Yorkshire, which came to a head in 2011 when, after 180 years, the historic Tetley’s brewery in Leeds was closed down, with production moved to Wolverhampton.

But a group of independent brewers and ale lovers in North Kirklees have been fighting back, and now the Heavy Woollen district is seen as a hotbed for up-and-coming ales.

Mike Fretwell, editor of Real Ale Talk magazine, said that the past few years have seen dramatic changes for the fortunes of micro-breweries.

“Some of the breweries aren’t even ‘micro’ anymore,” he said. “A lot of them are expanding rapidly because real ale has got so popular.

“Two or three years ago, there was only one microbrewery in North Kirklees. Now there are five.

“I think the reason for its growth in popularity is that it is reaching a much wider audience these days. People who would not have tried real ale a few years ago are now wanting to experiment and try new things.

“A lot of pubs which have been closed, particularly in West Yorkshire, have been bought up by some of the new breweries, so we are seeing things come full-circle, and pubs are being owned by breweries again, rather than the big landlord companies.”

One new brewery which is moving into owning pubs is Dewsbury-based Partners brewery, which was set up in 2010 by Richard Sharp and Paul Horne.

After success with their beers, which are brewed at their premises in Savile Bridge Mills, the company bought the Victoria Hotel in Batley last June.

Director Paul Horne said: “A lot of the pubs which are just serving your basic lagers are now struggling to get people in and keep going.

“In addition to that, they have to pay a lot of duty on beer and their utility bills are massive – but many pubs in the area have shown that if you have a good selection of real ales, people will keep coming back, and that is exactly what we are seeing.

“Since we bought the Victoria, it has gone from strength to strength and we are always on the lookout to buy new pubs.”

French historian Hilaire Belloc once noted: “When you have lost your inns, drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England.”

But despite floundering in recent years, the pub industry looks as if it has made it through the choppiest of waters.