Despite living my entire life below the Watford gap, I have a particular affinity with the North. You won’t catch me drinking cask ale through a sparkler, but I’m definitely more than partial to a cheeky chips and gravy after a night on the town.
However, in spite of immensely enjoyable trips to the likes of Manchester, Liverpool, and beyond the border in Edinburgh over the years, it is the county of Yorkshire that captures my heart the most. On a particularly memorable recent trip to Leeds and Huddersfield, I decided that the region was my favourite place to drink beer in the UK. But is it also objectively the best?
There is a pretty strong case to be made for the county. In Leeds and Sheffield, Yorkshire has two cities to rival any comparable region in the country. Two great pillars of tradition and heritage, rapidly reinventing themselves as modern and forward thinking beer destinations. Then, there is York itself; smaller, but perfectly formed and no less diverse for its selection of beer and pubs.
Yorkshire also has breweries coming out of its metaphorical ears, from the brilliant Magic Rock (who also happen to have, for my money, the best taproom setup in the country) to the high-flying Northern Monk. It also has Timothy Taylor's and Landlord, a beer that, when on form, comes as close as is possible to the definition of a perfect pint of cask ale.
Then there are the drinking establishments themselves. Leeds leads the charge in this department, which a hugely diverse range of watering holes to cater for every possible scenario, all conveniently located (just about) within walking distance of one another. Sheffield, York, and even Huddersfield all also have wonderful pubs and bars in spades, but Leeds brings together tradition and innovation in perfect harmony, and wraps them up in a pub crawl possible, but not advisable, to complete in a single evening.
This diversity is perfectly represented by the co-existence of Whitelocks Ale House and The Turk’s Head; a venue in which one can order a pint of John Smith’s, or walk through a couple of doors and instead enjoy a schooner of Kernel Damson Sour. Whether you’re enjoying a quiet pint of best bitter in Whitelocks, fresh tank lager at Tapped, a few thirds of hop gravy down at the Northern Monk Refectory, or making questionable decisions in North Bar at 2am, there are great times to be had and stories to be told in every corner of this magical city.
Plus it has Bundobust. So yeah, there’s that.
However, I think what really makes Yorkshire my favourite place to drink in the UK is it’s people. Enjoyable though it is, going to the pub alone in London often feels to me like a bit of a lonely endeavour. Try as I might, and this is partly down to my own social anxiety, I don’t seem to connect with punters and bartenders in the city, who can occasionally come across as aloof, disinterested or just plain rude.
In Yorkshire, it is an entirely different proposition. People just seem more friendly, talkative and approachable. They want to know what brings you to their home, and what you make of it. This warm and welcoming culture doesn’t stray into intrusiveness. I’ve found people are pretty good at sussing out when I want to be left alone, but even then, the bartender still serves my pint with a smile.
The people of Yorkshire, be they the student bartender serving my drink, the blogger who tells me how much they enjoy reading my work, or the owner of a brewery thanking me for lavishing praise on their beer, are the lifeblood of the county’s spectacular beer culture. They are what makes visiting so special, and why my heart will do a little flutter everytime I step off the train and hear that signature gruff Yorkshire drawl.