Rat & Ratchet, 20 Continuous Years in the Good Beer Guide

This year marks a special anniversary for the Rat & Ratchet, one of Huddersfield’s most endearing real ale pubs. It is one of only a few local pubs to have featured continuously in every edition of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide for the last 20 years. This is an outstanding tribute to the succession of owners and landlords who have consistently served Good Beer Guide standard real ale since the late 1980’s.

Sam Birkead (licensee) receives the award from Mark Davies (Deputy Chairman, Huddersfield CAMRA) with members of Huddersfield CAMRA

Back in 1987, the Rat & Ratchet (formerly the Grey Horse) was advertising in Ale Talk as having 8 handpulled real ales and a real cider. Even then it was one of the best free houses in Huddersfield offering a wide choice of quality ales with live music every Sunday lunchtime.

Two years later Kirklees CAMRA branch voted it into the 1989 Good Beer Guide where it was described as “a large pub geared to students on the edge of the town centre,” – nothing new there! The regular beers were Marston’s Pedigree, Old Mill Bitter, Taylors Landlord and Ram Tam, Tetley Bitter and Thwaites Mild with always 3 guest beers available. That same year the Rat also featured prominently in the Real Ale Guide to Kirklees.

For some reason the Rat missed a year in 1990 but was re-instated the following year. Since 1991 it has been a regular entry in the Good Beer Guide never missing an edition despite having had a number of changes of landlord. By now the Rat had increased its range to 12 beers and was described in the Guide as “undergoing gradual refurbishment”.

In July 1994, Andrew Moorhouse (landlord) and John Lee installed a small brewery in the cellars of the pub, changing the Rat into a brewpub. The first brew was launched just before Christmas and was named Old Xperimental, a strong 5.8% abv ale. This was quickly followed by Black Death which came out at 5.6% abv and was an instant success with the Rat fans. Later it was reduced in strength to 5.0%. Dirty Rotten Rat, 4.7% abv, came next and was followed by Tim Pogson’s 30th birthday beer – Birthday Celebration Ale, a 4.2% abv bitter. Strangely, the brewery did not appear in the guide until 1996 when it achieved a listing under the independent breweries section.

The Rat’s first beer festival, the Great Gnawthern Beer Festival, took place in 1997 and was probably a first for a Huddersfield pub where the beer festival wasn’t a CAMRA one. This was repeated 4 years later in September 2001 when Andrew held the next long awaited Great Gnawthern beer festival featuring over 30 new and rare cask ales.

The Millenium saw the Rat attain its first 10 years in the Good Beer Guide. In recognition of this achievement, the Branch presented Andrew and Maxine Moorhouse with a CAMRA award certificate and a specially commissioned stained glass plaque depicting a handpull with a Rat & Ratchet pumpclip to commemorate the event.

In the Spring of 2003, Andrew ran a single brewery beer festival featuring almost the entire range of the Ossett brewery beers. Was this a taste of things to come?  In May, the Rat was voted Huddersfield Mild Pub of the Year. A decisive factor being a mild called Desert Rat, an excellent 3.9% abv dark ruby mild brewed in honour of our lads fighting in Iraq at the time. Later in the year the Rat was put on the market but still continued brewing.

A year later the Rat won the Huddersfield Mild Pub of the Year again. Then at the end of September 2004 it was sold to the Izakaya Pub Company trading as the Ossett brewery. The Rat brewery ceased brewing after 10 years in existence and there was a new landlady, Tracy Fawcett. The pub was sympathetically refurbished, retaining the split-level seating areas and the traditional alehouse image. And revolutionary for the time, the back room was turned into a no-smoking room – a feature common to all Ossett pubs and well in advance of later government legislation enforcing a smoking ban in public places.

A change of ownership did not diminish the number of handpumps or the quality of the beer. There were four award winning Ossett beers, two Taylors beers and six guest ales of which there was always a mild or porter available. In addition, there was real cider.

2006 was a good year for the Rat. David Kendall-Smith was now landlord. He organised its first beer festival devoted solely to Mild. The Mild festival was held to coincide with CAMRA’s Mild May campaign and featured 10 different milds which was almost unheard of. This was another first for the Rat and since then has become an annual event attracting mild drinkers from all over the country.

Later that year the Rat was voted Huddersfield CAMRA Pub of the Year 2006, although the presentation did not place until the next Mild festival in May 2007. The Rat not surprisingly won the Huddersfield Mild Pub of the Year 2007 which featured even more milds than before. Towards the end of the year, Dave left to take up a position at the Ossett brewery. Sam Birkhead, who looked after the cellarwork and managed the bar, took on the role of landlord. Since then, Sam has maintained the high quality of the beers and gone onto win numerous CAMRA awards.

In 2008, the Rat won Huddersfield CAMRA Pub of the Year and at regional level came runner up in the CAMRA Yorkshire Cider Pub of the Year 2008 competition. The Rat has always supported real cider over the years and usually stocks at least two ciders and perries either on handpull or on gravity. The range is drawn from a diverse and interesting collection of regionally produced real ciders and perries. In the last two years this has also included locally produced Uddersfield ciders made from garden windfall apples by former landlord, David Kendall-Smith.

The Rat was again successful in winning Huddersfield Mild Pub of the Year in 2009 after yet another excellent Mild festival, the best so far.

This year, the Rat celebrates 20 years in the Good Beer Guide from 1991 to 2010. The award was made to the current landlord, Sam Birkhead, by Huddersfield branch Deputy Chairman, Mark Davies. However, given the history of the Rat, this award is not only for the current and past landlords but also for all the bar staff who have helped achieve this fantastic record of continual real ale success over the years.

The Rat & Ratchet can be found at Chapel Hill, Huddersfield, HD1 3EB (map).

The Huddersfield Branch of the Campaign for Real Ale