Beer & pub column

MOST eyes in York’s beer scene this week have been on Micklegate, where Scottish brewing giant and pub chain BrewDog opened its latest bar.

It opened its doors on Friday after a vast refurbishment of the old Portfolio Studios building, and we'll take a proper look in the next week or so.

But believe it or not, that’s not the best thing to have happened in the York pub world this week.

For across the city centre, and with far less fanfare, something very special may be about to happen, where it is needed most: not on the city’s busiest drinking thoroughfare, but outside the Bar Walls (albeit only just).

The Woolpack in Fawcett Street has served York drinkers for 180 years (originally as The Fat Ox), but now stands on the brink of a hugely exciting new era.

It closed in September but reopened on Thursday under new management who have big ideas and a superb track-record.

York Press:

Chris and Sharon Sherratt ran The Craven Arms in Birmingham for almost four years and turned it into a genuine destination pub, renowned far beyond its own neighbourhood.

Last month, they called it a day, finding their ambitions at odds with those of the owners, Black Country Ales. And now, keen to work their magic elsewhere, they have been lured to York.

York Press:

The Woolpack, in Fawcett Street, is owned by Paul Crossman and Jon Farrow. They also have The Slip Inn in Clementhorpe and The Volunteer Arms in Holgate, and Paul runs The Swan in Bishopgate Street, but The Wooly has not yet taken off like the others have. Cue this latest relaunch.

Revolutions Brewery’s bar operating arm has taken on the lease, and Chris and Sharon have signed on as managers. To beery diehards and local pub fans, the news is hugely welcome.

York Press:

It’s like hearing your football team has signed a multi-million-pound striker, who might take from mid-table to the Champions League. And, tellingly, beer fans in Birmingham seem clear that they’ve lost a superb duo.

Chris had been a science teacher until deciding to leap into the pub trade, to try to create excitement on the bar in place of the tedium he had often found elsewhere.

He quickly built a good reputation, sourcing the best of the best of British beers and hosting events with innovative and pioneering brewers including Siren, Cloudwater and others.

York Press:

Sharon and Chris Sherratt behind the bar, with John Foulger of Revolutions Brewing Company (left) and Harry Ling (assistant manager) 

One Birmingham-based food and drink writer told me they turned a “run-down backstreet boozer into a beautiful beer haven” and another said: “There were many who very vocally said it not only had the best-kept cask in Brum but the best beer variety of any pub in the city, and I’d have to agree on both counts.”

And here in York? Chris says: “We want to try to recreate the type of pub we had at The Craven Arms. The emphasis is on supremely well-kept ale, primarily in the first instance focusing on Yorkshire breweries…. We want to bring it back to what it can be.”

They’ll be putting a lot of focus on live music in the new year, but Chris stresses: “Primarily, it’s all about the beer, and some that you do not necessarily see that often in York.”

York Press:

They’ll begin with six hand-pulls, hoping to increase that to at least eight down the line. Revolutions will have a permanent presence on one, but Chris says he’s also eyeing up some of the up-and-coming South Yorkshire breweries, and also named Five Towns, Tigertops and North Riding as likely arrivals.

He says Birmingham was “bereft of good pubs”, largely due to the dominance of large companies, but says he’s been impressed so far with York’s scene.

Paul Crossman, meanwhile, is thrilled to welcome proven operators.

“The reputation they built in just a few years at the Craven Arms in Birmingham is fantastic, so we are really looking forward to seeing where they can take The Woolpack.

"We were lucky enough to have been approached by a lot of people about the pub while it was closed, and we are very grateful for all the interest shown, but in the end we had to make a choice, and Chris and Sharon, with the backing of our old friends Mark and Andrew at Revolutions Brewery emerged as ideal candidates.

"We will do everything we can to support them.”