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Fitzpatrick’s, Rawtenstall review: you have to go

Danny Moran is still in Rawtenstall talking glorious sarsaparilla with Chris Law

Published on July 6th 2010.


Fitzpatrick’s, Rawtenstall review: you have to go

After 20 years in the pipe fitting trade, Chris Law was looking to try something else when he noticed that Rawtenstall’s ‘Temperance Bar’ was up for sale.

Also recommended at Fitzpatrick’s is the blood tonic, a laser-hued raspberry-ade light as champagne, made with nettle and rosehip.

As a Haslingden-born lad he’d had mild connections to the place through his grandfather, who knew the owner, the legendary Malachi Fitzpatrick. Later on, he’d dropped in for a different purpose.

“We always took a spell here when we found out it provided the most fantastic hangover cure – that was when I was playing rugby. Nobody ever knew what it was. It was like a white powder that they mixed with water. I walked in this shop once on Saturday morning, about 12 o’clock, and by the time I’d left and reached the kerb, it was like I was 18 again.”

He bought the business in 2000 for £50,000, plus £10,000 for the original recipes for cordials and herbal remedies. It wasn’t a fortuitous time to begin trading.

“When I took over, Rawtenstall was a busy town. Bridge Street was bustling. The precinct, too.” Then came Asda. Fitzpatrick's had been restyled ‘Herbal Health’. Its big sellers were herbal remedies, vitamins and mineral supplements.

“I thought, well the bar’s famous for sarsaparilla and dandelion and burdock. Why don’t we concentrate on that?”

The previous owner had told Chris that if he went to Ashton market with 20 bottles of cordial, he might, once a month, have a good day. “The first month I sold 20 bottles with ‘Herbal Health’ on the label. The next month I’d changed the name to Fitzpatrick’s and sold 70 bottles. People were asking, is it the same Fitzpatrick’s that they had in Ashton?”

And that was the thing.

The Temperance movement had long, deep roots in the North West, going all the way back to its founding in Preston by Joseph Livesey. Temperance bars had flourished all over the region (the Wetherspoons in Chorlton is a former temperance hall, as is the premises currently occupied by the original Kro Bar).

The Fitzpatrick family had owned more than two dozen such outlets, right across Lancashire, before the movement foundered in the years after the war. They were the Yates’s of the non-drinking classes. Fitzpatrick’s, Rawtenstall, is the last of its kind. The original cordial recipes have proved a winner, though.

“You get a lot of people saying they don’t like dandelion and burdock,” Chris says. “I say, ‘Where did you buy it?’ And they say one of these big shops, and it’s too fizzy for them. I say: ‘Just try that’. And they end up buying three bottles of it. Because it’s the only dandelion and burdock they can get that tastes like it did when they were children.

“What makes a good dandelion and burdock is a creamy taste. Bad ones are like fizzy water. You want it to stay on the palate for a bit so you can appreciate it. It’s the caramel.”

By way of a somewhat irony-laden contrast, what made a good sarsaparilla, traditionally, was twofold: first, you needed the best sarsaparilla root available (preferably Jamaican, according to Chris). Then you needed sassafras. However, this deciduous laurel native to east America and east Asia, whose root extract, safrole, was a key component in the flavour of sarsaparilla, was deemed carcinogenic in 2002 (“to rats,” Chris emphasises) and a crackdown was enforced.

It may or may not be mere coincidence that safrole is also the direct chemical precursor of recreational MDMA, and indeed now lives ‘large’ under Table 1 of the United Nations convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

World stockpiles of legitimately-tradable sassafras have dwindled to rocking horse doo doo levels.

This presented a problem. “Anybody who knows their sarsaparilla,” says Chris. “They’ll tell you it doesn’t taste the same without it.”

Sarsaparilla manufacturers, of both drinks and confectionery, hit a slump. “We thought, we can’t stop selling it.

“So we got together and tried to get it back to what it was. I tested 50 types of plant root. And then the manufacturers, about six of them, held a competition. A blindfold test. And we won.”

You’d found a way to mimic the flavour of sassafras?

Chris is sanguine. “There isn’t a way. Even the best chemist in the world, and I’m not knocking the best chemists in the world, wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Whatever the secret ingredient in Fitzpatrick’s now-reformulated sarsaparilla, the recommended dilution ratio is one part cordial to four parts mineral water, and the result is still a taste of old times.

Also recommended at Fitzpatrick’s is the blood tonic, a laser-hued raspberry-ade light as champagne, made with nettle and rosehip, and the black beer and raisin (another health and safety victim of yore, having previously been enjoyed as black beer and quinine, which reputedly cut down local flu). The hot ginger is out of this world.

Outside the shop the traffic exiting Rawtenstall’s main through-fare is snarled up. Down the road to our left Rawtenstall’s famous fire station, built to no little local consternation on the town’s enormous main roundabout, stands baking in the sun. But the dandelion and burdock is cool and the caramel stays long enough on the tongue.

Fitzpatrick's
5 Bank Street
Rawtenstall
Rossendale
Lancashire
BB4 6QS

Tel: 01706 231836
www.mrfitzpatricks.com

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Didsbury GirlJuly 6th 2010.

Ah this is one of the places I really miss after moving from Rossendale. Absolutely brilliant place, and I'm glad its still there in the ruin that is Rawtenstall Centre nowadays

cakemaker77August 9th 2010.

Used to go all the time with my unvle, my favourite was the cream soda with a side of colsfort rock, nice!

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