Sunday, 27 March 2011

Hepwoth Brewing Co bottled Iron Horse, Weltons Old Cocky, Blake update

Now then,

        first I would like to tell you about a couple of bottled beers I have had recently.

I still have a couple from the saaaarf, along with a Kelham Island one and some Freeminer BCA from Co-op. I will also update you on a couple of recent visits to the Blake at Walkley and another look at pub etiquette.

So, firstly, the bottles.

1. Brewery & Beer : Hepworth & Co Brewers Ltd – Iron Horse
ABV : 4.8%
BCA or none BCA : none

The final Hepworth offering for me to try, apparently, beer fetcher Keefy confirms the retailer purveying this selection of perfect pop is called The Offie, and is in Brighton, which is in the South, near London, Sussex, as you might say had you no idea about geography.

Iron Horse is a much more rounded offering than the others, perhaps even better than the Prospect on account of its warming flavours, appetising light hobnob brown colour and pleasant aroma.

The bottle claims that its traditional credentials means it contains roasted barley, and I am swayed to report I can smell that, apart from the fact that I wouldnt know if I could. It also claims the beer is a strong pale ale, highlighting an interesting gulf in personal perception between myself and the brewers. Perhaps the Yorkshire obsession with number 1 and 2 malts to give lager like appearance, and the joyous plethora of 5.3% and up awards pale beers available means I view this as a mid brown malty ale, but that does not stop me from appreciating it.

It has an aroma and lovely lingering background taste of toffee and burnt caramel, the latter likely from the roasted malt, but its not overly dry or bitter, it may even remind you slightly of toffee apple. Overall the malt is prominent and balances so well with the hops, their even representation in the mouthfeel means the beer although less hoppy than all the others I have tried probably presents the bitterness better – much better balanced than the Sussex for example.

No specific details of the hops used are provided although they are Sussex grown and may well be goldings and admiral as in other Hepworth brews, alas am not expert in recognising Admiral, even though I can usually pick out a golding flavour.

Largely, the beer shares a number of characteristics with other brews where goldings are prominent so that helps strengthen my certainty of the hop used most, and the mix of malts noted on the label likely contributes to the satisfying and very pleasing malt flavour, although despite this malt predominance, after a few mouthfuls you start to retain a lingering bitterness.

Overall a very good traditional beer which showcase's its ingredients well – just tell us what they are please !

2. Brewery & Beer : Weltons Brewers - Old Cocky
ABV : 4.3%
BCA or none BCA : BCA

Last time I ventured to try a Weltons bottle it had gone mad and mixed all the ingredients together, including the yeast, to make a soupy substance which somehow managed to taste of very nice beer. So promising, but hardly accomplished.

This time there were no such problems.

I stood the beer in the fridge for about 45 minutes and let it stand a further 10 before opening. The beer was clear in the bottle and I was able to see the yeast at the very bottom steadfastly secured to the bottle as I poured it out, leaving only a glass covering in the bottle.

The aroma was the first noticeable feature, the label proclaims gooseberries but alas I am not a goosegog muncher so have no inkling of what that should smell like - instead there was a citrus malt and orange assembly which reminded me of a toned down Thomas Hardy's.

The colour is a golden blonde, with, in the right light, a further orange influence, the head was lively enough to demonstrate the beer was living but not a foaming mass like in so many beers these days - Meantime, are you listening ? We aren't after champagne !

After a while the aroma mellows and the taste takes control, I tasted and smelt citrus hops and warm malt, plus at the end of each mouthful a lingering lemon flavour. However, the predominant taste was burnt marmalade - I think orange is too strong a flavour to identify here, more caramelised marmalade, possibly burnt like I said, with a treacle hint which quickly balances out in the overall taste.

In summary, a pleasing citrus orange flavour gives the malt a necessary boost and the hops make for a drinkable and refreshing golden ale.

So, the Blake again. I make no apologies for featuring said hostelry so often, because despite its relative inconvenience as a venue for me in Handsworth, I like the beer, love the atmosphere, and enjoy taking people to see it, especially those who live in Crookes or Walkley.

After work Friday myself and Mr G caught the 31 and were in about 17.15 and enjoying pints of Potbelly Best and Bradfield Blonde respectively. There was also Kelham Island Bete Noire, probably my favourite of their beers, and I was soon on that followed by a Yakima IPA from Bobs Brewery in Ossett, and then back to the Noir.

We had a sandwich, a Kuppers Kolsh just so Mr G could find out what it was like and several Bete Noir before heading to the Hillsborough Hotel for something lighter, possibly the Hillsborough Pale. Our final stop was the Wellington, for a delicious pint of Salamander porter to round off an excellent evening of refreshments.

On Saturday i met old friends; Jules, Jack n Martin and Wee Keefy for beers and a short crawl. We started at the Princess Royal, trying 3 beers between us. The Sheffield Seven Hills was the least enjoyable as it was the end of the barrel, the Kelham Easy rider was memorably unremarkable, and the Bradfield Blonde perhaps the best - I felt a little bad about the dissatisfaction of the party with the beers since it was my recommendation - also the beer quality was a lot better when I was there back in February.

From here we descended to the Hallamshire House - we did not divert to the Heavygate for time reasons but most of the group assure me it has once again closed down, possibly for good.

Meanwhile, the Hallamshire is about to see a change of ownership or perhaps at least a change of stewardship, I understand from Mr C that Les is about to retire and there will be a new owner or landlord of this veritable old pub. Certainly Les' name is still above the door and the only change I can see is that I think the signage and front woodwork is painted red, although am unsure if that was the case last time. Inside we tried 3 of the beers, I and Martin had the Copper Dragon best which was very quaffable, the others Doom Bar and London Pride. The range seems good and mercifully the hateful spectre of Greedy King is missing from the bar so fingers crossed.

From here it was a shortish walk to the Blake. The pub was busy but we did manage to get a table. Most, in fact perhaps all, of yesterdays choice were gone, so I had a pint of Bobs White Angel, whilst the others sensibly tried halves, including Kelham its cold outside baby, Roosters rare Whiskey Stout - with a price tag to match, and Whim Flower Power.

I tried the latter myself and it was fantatsic, I also braved a half of the excellent stout which was worth its London price tag. The Flower Power occasioned a discussion with the barman re Cheriton/Flowerpots brewery's beer of the same name, the upshot of which was a suggestion they might try and get some.

All too soon alas our time ran out as M and J needed to releive the babysitter so we taxi'd it back to Crookes to their house via Co-op for a beer or two and some essential chorizo.

Finally, an etiquette observation.

Taking a cloudy half pint, in a full pint glass to the bar recently, I remarked that I thought the beer had come to an end based on its cloudy appearance and jarring yeasty taste - the barmaid concurred and poured me the pint I asked for. Now, its true that had I wanted a replacement it might have been awkward having taken half a pint to admit or realise the beers shortcomings, and I did not request such a reimbursement, but given I was willing to buy a round for 5 of us I would have thought the bar person could have said I could have half free since half (at least, in reality) of my pint had been undrinkable.

No such courtesy was offered, and some 30 minutes later the beer was still available for sale on the bar. Whilst I recognise that clarity is a useful commodity, I would argue that in this case a free half should have been offered. I also concede that I should have made that clear, but the fact that the barstaff were in agreement that the beer was off makes it all the more suprising that it remained on sale. Most landlords would be, and indeed should be, keen that the customer enjoys their beer, but on this occasion that appeared to be secondary to the desire to continue selling what was now a bad beer.

I think the pub in question were wrong. Even though I did not ask, it should have been clear ( well, literally, in the case of the beer ) that I had returned the half because it could not be drunk. A somewhat, and literally, sour note to the evening. And, by contrast, the taxi driver from the Blake took us to Barber road Co-op intead of Crookes so had to divert a longer way round - but without prompting, he knocked a quid off the price.

Anyway, thats all for now, do feel free to email suggestions about pub etiquette issues - its an interesting field since what constitutes such an arrangement is often dependent on where you are in the UK, but I would like to know of other examples where you think etiquette has been ignored or rigoroulsy imposed, either well or badly.

Happy supping

Wee Beefy.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Walk over offerton Moor to Hucklow and Litton, 2 new bars to try in Sheffield.


on Sunday me and Mr P headed out into the Dark Peak for a wander, which in reality, being his first and only my second walk of the year, turned out to be a life threatening slog.

We started in Hathersage at 10.30 and walked to Leadmill Bridge, before setting off towards Brough along the river Derwent, on the path that runs along the side and for some reason is now called a heritage trail. As we walked along admiring the scenery and reflections in the river (gladly espying consistent blue skies ahead) it was pleasantly warm and quiet, and the easy pace meant we could work up slowly to our looming ascent.

As you reach the stepping stones a path heads left up steeply through the fields to the hamlet of Offerton. After an initial promising start we were soon breathless and stopped for a drink at the first stile. The next field took two goes and a further stop. We reached Offerton at a snails pace, only to see our next section ominously towering above us.

We zig zagged up a poor lumpy and tufted path up onto the top of Offerton Moor, by now so acutely aware of our lack of condition that we stopped perhaps 10 times on the way up. Finally, having seen and passed a couple of fake summits, we reached the top and looked back at the tiny thread of blue grey that was the river in the distance.

Crossing the moor we encountered some light drizzle, there were dark clouds amassing to our right over Bradwell direction, and a brisk wind, but this was a necessary companion to cool us down from the climb. We quickly crossed onto Smelting Hill and then took the path right past the edges of Abney and onto Abney moor, where we propped ourselves up out of the wind against a wall for dinner. The scenery and views on the moor were fantastic with the golden tufted grasses and yellow fauna starkly contrasting with the ink black portents of precipitation which were framing the scene. Dark clouds shadowed the edges of the moor on the skyline to provide a stirring scene of joyous contrast.

En route over the moor we found a disturbed burial chamber and a cove, an ancient two stone structure thought to be precisely positioned to frame the winter sun or particular stars. We soon came out in Abney Grange and headed round on the road past the gliding club. We should have cut through Great Hucklow woods but instead I insisted, wrongly, we literally follow the instructions, but eventually we wandered into Great Hucklow in afternoon sunshine to find the Queen Anne Inn heaving.

There had been a christening somewhere near by and the pub was rammed with families in their Sunday best. Despite this unseemly melee, we were served relatively quickly by the harassed but friendly staff, and managed to secure a table outside. I have to point out though, even amidst this sea of people, someone was still selfish and divorced from reality enough to pull up a stool and sit at the bar - this despite the fact that you could barely turn round with your drink to leave. Mind you, it could have been even worse, he could have opted to stand drinking at the bar, thus inconveniencing the bar staff as well as customers.

Anyway, there were two real ales on, Tetley Bitter and Bradfield Farmers brown Cow, which we both had pints of. My last visit had been perhaps 12 or 13 years ago and I had one of the Mansfield Deakins seasonal beers, but a lot has happened since then, and the Brown Cow, recently sampled at the Old Crown Handsworth, is a nice change.

I can't really tell you much about the interior because it was so crowded, but suffice to say, for a circa 15th century inn, its very traditional, with beams and flags and low ceilings, and is probably a fantastic place for a meal.. I will have to go back when its quiet to appreciate it better.

All too soon we were off tracing the path to come out on the main road from Tideswell. It looked like we would come out near the 3 Stags, but after following a clear pattern of signs and substantial if near unassailable stiles, the path simply disappears as you drop into a small dale. With time getting on we left the field by the gate and walked down to the 3 Stags Heads, turning our phones off prior to entering.

Inside they were taking the traditional values to heart and not entertaining modern intrusions like electricity, with no lights in either of the rooms. Once i Had managed to focus and after asking the barman, i realised there were 4 Abbeydale beers on. We had pints of the Deception which was very nice, before i tried a half of the Black Lurcher, a dark 8% beer brewed for the pub. I don't get very often, but every time I do I try this and its either old, tired, sharp and bearable, or its excellent smooth and enjoyable.

Alas this time it was the former, and although I could recognise its classic flavours it was a disappointing drink, although its important to stress that it wasn't off. And just to show us it was a conspiracy of random events, as we struggled out treading on feet and dogs and stubbing our toes on stools, the lights came on.

Our final destination was Litton, about 25 minutes walk away, and the Red Lion. The pub was busy, but we managed to get a table, and the beer choice was the Oakwell Brewery Bitter, Buxton SPA and Abbeydale Absolution. Mr P had the bitter and I the excellent hoppy SPA. We got ourselves a seat and a table in the small newly opened 4th room on the right and sat down to rest our feet and peruse the menu, just out of interest. In the end, the temptation was too great, so instead of finishing our beer and catching the half 6 bus, we opted to eat and drink some more and catch the last bus at 20.45 to Chestrefield then get the train.

This involved two fantastic meals in hearty portions, sold at usual pub food prices, between £8 and £9.00 for veggie sausage veg and mash, and steak pudding chips and veg respectively. Our extended stay also heralded the opportunity for me to have some Absolution, and then some more SPA, also to sit in the other rooms as the main dining crowd dispersed, before we finally caught the bus to Chez Vegas, and the 22.00 train to Sheffield.

A measure of how tired I was ( and I mean from exercise, not from refreshments ), came from the fact that i didn't even fancy stopping for a last one in the Sheffield Tap. I just wanted to get home, eat some food and go to sleep, which i did.

A quick update on a new bar to try and yet another pub I visited from the past. On Saturday night I took the soul destroying 70 minute journey to Crookes (that's just one bus all the way through) to meet Rob and friends at the Cobden View on Cobden View Road Crookes. I remember drinking in here many times in the early nineties and also Wee keefy and friends of ours go in still so I have been in in the last 18 month, but only now and again.

This unorthodox preparation for a day of walking involved a good session on the excellent Copper Dragon best, but there was Bradfield Blonde and other real ales available. I convinced myself that drinking the same beer all night would make me less hungover, but this was moot point Sunday morning as I came round from the 6 or 7 I had on Saturday. The Cobden is a cracking back street pub with a good mix of clientele, some pleasing neglected corners, and, a source of unending fascination through the evening, a cracked support beam in the front right room. No doubt this has been cracked for years but we wondered how popular the seats below are....

The new bar to try is in Leopold Square, and is called Popolo (I think). It serves a good range of bottled beers and strangely, more than one keg bitter, as well as a decent draught cider, and an interesting selection of spirits. I drank the Freedom organic dark lager, which, despite it making no mention of this on the bottle, carries a hearty sediment, making it an honorary real ale. Chala tried a few spirits and we also looked at the appetising food menu served upstairs. Downstairs is red lighting themed, with prints on the walls and comfortable seating, in a very modern overall look.

It might not be everyones cup of tea, but is a nice change when in the area, and can be the start of a night which includes the nearby pubs of Trippet lane and the Red Deer - where we ended up, with Chala on draught Leffe, and me on Bradfield Irish Dexter, eating probably the best plate of chips I have ever tasted in a pub.

Roll on Saturday for the Walkley wander!

Wee Beefy.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Shakespeare Well Road Heeley, Red Deer Pitt Street, Walkley real ale pubs

Good evening imbibers, in today's post I will tell you about the Shakespeare, Well Road at Heeley, the Red Deer in town and all about my final visit to Walkley, which is where I will begin.

I call it my final visit to Walkley - but that's not because I have fallen out with it, or am banned by a court order, or that either the area of Walkley or myself are imminently about to expire, but simply this is a reflection of the fact that I have been there many times over the last month, and, unless I find something astonishing when I head that way a week tomorrow, I reckon this should be my last update from Walkley for a while, so I can frequent some other areas.

However, this last fling begins in the University Arms, which I know is not in Walkley, but was a good starting place for Davefromtshop to meet me, especially since he had never been before.

We started our crawl at 14.00 on a weekday, mainly because the shop has to have someone in it if Dave is absent, so a Friday or weekend jaunt simply wouldn't be possible. We both had a pint of Allgates Southern Cross, a 4.1% pale ale from Wigan, and halves of the Acorn Old Moor porter from a range of 5 or 6 real ales. I also, by means of an albeit staggered comparison, tried a half of the keg Bradfield Farmers Stout. Its never going to win me over to keg or anything, but in some achingly trendy bar or a boozer with a too slow turnover of real ale, I can see it being a useful barfront addition.

Anyway, the Allgates tasted fine but was quite, indeed perhaps significantly, cloudy. This may have been a chill haze or just a minor brewery glitch, but it didn't stop us enjoying this refreshing pale beer that Dave was sure had the triffid like takeover hallmark of Nelson Sauvin hops. Onto the bus to Crookes next and a walk to, and past the Princess royal, sadly but not unsurprisingly, it was not open on a Thursday afternoon.

Our next stop was the Heavygate, to see if manager/tennant/main man Ian's promise of ales in two weeks would hold true. It did because, as predicted, it would have to be Greedy king fayre, and it was. Eschewing the dubious pleasure of the IPA we had a half each of Abbot, not a flavour I recognise from when it was one of my favourites in the 1990's, and tasting, like all of Greedy Kings 50 odd god knows how many real ales, fairly standard within their basic taste template. The pub was empty when we left, but its true what they say - you can't serve beer to customers when you are shut. As an aside, I heard from a Crookes resident a week later that the Heavygate had closed again - but I cannot confirm this rumour so hope it is still open.

Off now to dispel my fears about the Walkley Cottage. Rumours of it being opened again proved true, and it was busy, with a range of about 4 real ales on, staple regional faves like Tetley and Landlord, plus Easy Rider from Kelham Island, which we both had a pint of. It seems that a manager is in place for the moment so hopefully this will pave the way for another long term incumbent to make it as good as it was only last year.

We walked down the hill towards Hillsborough afterwards and into the Florist, with the slight possibility that we were the first in, or maybe there was just a lull. We both opted for the Bradfield Blonde which was in excellent condition, and got chatting to the lass behind the bar who kindly filled us in on the beer situation and local boozers.

One such topic was the Crown, forlornly shuttered and closed but missing none of its livery, directly opposite the Florist. It appears that it has been shut for some time, and is to be made into apartments, virtually therefore guaranteed to never reopen again. I can't get misty eyed and tearfully recall long hazy evenings in the Crown, because unless I had a coke in there when I was 10 I likely never went in. However, any pub closure is a sad indictment of an industry slow to change, fighting against a Government with no idea how to help or even any inclination to try to help the pubs in the UK, and of course the strengthening mass market grip on alcohol posed by the supermarkets.

Its ironic in some ways, that whilst breweries were spending so much time and money marketing mass produced dross, they simultaneously pioneered new techniques to make it taste almost the same from a bottle or can, whilst trying to ensure that all pubs sold only those very same products. Whilst real ale in a bottle is often an inspiring version of the real thing, there is no viable real ale at home alternative for the majority of its drinkers, unless, shameless plug alert, you live near the Archer Road Beer Stop in Millhouses, and can take it home fresh from the cask in a container.

No such problem for smoothflow, creamflow and pretend foreign lagers brewed in Luton drinkers, who can buy the same thing for a 6th or even a 10th of the price at the supermarket, rather than venture out to have to smoke outside, pay over the odds for crisps and cigs and any other food afterwards, and fork out a fortune on private transport home. Although this situation is less straightforward now that there are only about 2 main beer producers in the UK and they sold half of their pub stock to overseas companies, there is still a dichotomy in Molson Coors and INbev brewing so much for supermarket only customers whilst tying up the main deals to supply the pub companies who now run their former pubs - they can't have it both ways.

So, Walkley Bank Road loses two pubs and in their place "gains" some vital , no doubt prohibitively expensive dwellings. Well done capitalism.

Back to the crawl and on next to the Palm on Palm Street. Still the Black Sheep is the solitary ale but it was in good nick, and the early time of our visit meant we could get a seat in the snug on the right and try and work out from the stanchions on the ceiling and the floor markings where the room walls would have been when the pub was multiroomed. A bit difficult to do, since, it appears from the outside to be two small terraced houses together. We did not linger long as the conversation topic was disappointingly heading for the safe haven of the lazy that is racism, racism in pubs being a topic that is almost unendingly fertile, and too lengthy and potentially too depressing to address in these pages.

Up the hill then next, and on South Road we stopped at Lucks Kitchen for fishcake and chips and sat on the wooden flower bed edges near the Rose House to eat them in a biting wind, before finding cash at the other end of South Road. Our next venue, The Freedom, is still saving money on lighting to the extent that I had to assure Dave it was open. Once inside, in the room on the left of course, we both had pints of Moonshine, and I retrieved my scarf. Except for somewhat refreshed gentleman who came to chat to the barmaid the room was empty, but this helped to remind me that, despite previous misgivings, I reckon I actually probably really like the Freedom House. The sight of an albeit turned round Pedigree clip also suggests there may be more choice than just Moonshine and Deuchars, and I feel sure I will find myself in here again soon enough.

Next we made a rather haphazard descent through pathways and jennels to Infirmary Road and the Masons Arms where we were joined by Christingpher. The decor I could now see was actually more subtle and less kitsch than I remembered, and we were able to sit in the small room on the right behind the bar.

This is open on three sides, and bears what look like fittings for and actual bar shutters, one of which states "waiter" underneath the paint. The let down was that unfortunately the cider had run out/gone off (I did try it and concur), although I am assured they will get some more. Dave had a whiskey and I rather unwisely opted for an eclectic glass of white wine, while Christingpher, perhaps unintentionally, opted for a "pint" of Guinness from a can. Not good, but an enjoyable new venue to sit in, and once again, to play the find the walls game.

Our penultimate venue was the Blake, which we reached by a rather odd route courtesy of yours truly, demonstrating that a little knowledge is almost always a bad thing. Also, the unshakable cough I had meant that on reaching the pub I had to wait outside for 10 minutes coughing myself stupid before I could venture inside. We had 2 pints each in here, all having the Fellows Morton and Clayton Fellows Centenary ale first, followed by an utterly fabulous pint of Potbelly Beijing Black, which is also a very admirable BCA.

Our final stop saw Dave take ownership of his senses and catch a tram, whilst I took leave of mine and pushed on to the Hillsborough hotel - not that this is an indication of insanity in itself, just that this almost inevitable set me up for paying for a taxi home. Before so doing, I had a delicious pint of Brooklyn Dark, and Christingpher a Stannington Stout. Or it could be the other way round. Both were very nice I can assure you. An enjoyable end to a brilliant and joyful crawl.

Recent wander - Shakespeare Well Road Heeley Back in the good old days when everything was nice, erm, at least some things were, I visited the above pub a few times. The first was a CAMRA pub of the month presentation which may have been as long ago as 1998, certainly I think I was living in the area and that makes it last century. The Shakespeare had an experienced and friendly landlord who I gathered had been there for many years, and was a fan of Tetley, but also of accessing their many guests, including, at that time, their Allsopps range of recreated ales from Burton, although I have no idea where they were brewed. In my youth I would have balked at trying the Tetley but in the landlords skilled hands it was no doubt a cracking pint, and I went back a few more times in the next year or so, enjoying a quiz and a games night with some free food, always a bonus to a skinny man on crap wages.

Alas at some point said host left the pub and although I am unclear of the order and manner of events it ended up being closed, probably many times, and certainly as recently as a few years ago. I surmised with a sad heart that it could not recover from the loss of a longstanding licensee (especially with previously noted pub company lack of expertise in such matters), and that the opening of the Sheaf View had put the final nail in the Shakespeare's coffin.

I came to revisit the pub on Wednesday, not after some useful tip off on its reopening, but on a whim as I was at the Sheaf View anyway. The Sheaf View, as you may well know, is not only the sister pub of the Blake (or is that the Daddy pub, having re-opened first?) but is also the busiest pub I have ever been in, and the winner of numerous and deserver of more, awards for its beer.

Me and Mr P had caught the 53 from town and arrived about 10 to 6, which I now believe forms part of a winning formulae for attaining seating. Because there were 5 tables free on arrival , but by 18.30 none. So theres the trick. Beer wise we had two excellent pints from Great Oakley brewery, their dark, and a stronger pale one called dazzler or similar - will ask their website, so to speak.

It was from here we ventured up the hill to the Shakespeare which I had spotted was open again as we walked along Chesterfield road earlier. Up the steps from the entrance is a cosy bar with a pool table on the right and an Old Rosie handpump in use on the bar,and another with or without clip. On the other side were further handpumps and a chalk board proclaiming guests landlord and Kelham Easy Rider. Sadly, both were run out, but there was still Tetley on, and not only did we choose that on the basis that cider would be a bad idea, but because for all its unfortunate qualities, Tetleys can be a good beer, and its seldom we have it.

We sat to the far right end of the bar in a small narrow room which juts out with views over Chesterfield Road below. This is probably an excellent vantage point, a fact I'd confirm were it not for the slightly shameful fact that I can't recall if it had a window at the end! The significance of our seating choice was that not only did it afford us the opportunity for a quick chat, but also for me to reminisce, somewhat incoherently about the fact that I had sat in exactly the same place when I had last visited some 13 years ago.

The Tetleys was, as you'd expect, Tetleyish, but by no means a bad pint, and a pleasant change. As we left there was a rational calm discussion about hunting going on, which helped highlight the influence of a mix of clientele and also emphasised the relaxed atmosphere - no powder keg verbal vitriol or stand offs, just salient thoughtful ideas shared by friends over a drink. So, lets hope the Shakespeare continues to sell real ale, and I can make it a venue that I will aspire to visit each time I am in the area.

Talking of which, our last stop was reliable stalwart the White Lion on the main road, we didn't get to go in the legendarily small snug on the left, but sat in the small second room on the right supping a pint and a half of Kelham Easy Rider. Always a pleasant stop off, and the brilliant interior at the front of the pub enhances any visit, I can safely say that I can always find time to pop in the White Lion when nearby, and despite an unfortunate but likely unavoidable prevalence of major regional brewery ales, there is always at least one interesting guest.

My final stop, after Mr P had retired from refreshments for the evening, was the Rutland Arms on Brown Street where I bumped into friends enjoying some food, and speaking very highly of it too. I had time to slurp down a delicious 5.9% pale ale from Raw brewery in Stavely whilst chatting to someone who is brewing there at the moment - keep an eye out for Blue Bee beers when they come on, the Rutland is usually a good bet for finding them.

My final despatch is from Tuesday night and a surprise wander after work - not a surprise in a Walkabout dream sequence sense (note this is referencing the film, not the shit dreadful Australian themed warehouse on Calver street) but in that I was only popping for one, and the familiarity of that statement only now makes it obvious that I would stay for a few. I started at the Bath Hotel and had a delicious and refreshing pint of Abbeydale Deception to start, before trying a pint of a smokey heady smelling and deliciously dark Vale Black Beauty Porter. I like the Vale beers a lot so was pleased to see this, which I don't think I have tried before.

The Red Deer on Pitt street was my next stop, a bit busier than the Bath and sporting a range of about 8 real ales, including a guest from a small brewery, on this occasion Wharfebank Tether, which I had tried only a snifter of at the Rutland in Holmesfield in July last year. I had read a review and article about the brewery and its beers so was interested to give it a try. I could detect the American hops which I thought the article referenced, but only in the bitter aftertaste, the main body of the beer however was a little thin with no strong flavour dominating. I tried in vain here to secure a copy of beer matters to read whilst enjoying my solitary refreshment, but ended up with a copy of kerrang instead, the reading of which was an exercise that demonstrated nicely that at 36, I could recognise only a 5th of the bands featured, and found myself tutting at bands with short hair.

The Red Deer seemed to have undergone a bad phase at some point, without my noticing. I think i didn't go in for a couple of years which is allegedly when this malaise took place. My first return whilst the pub was under its current stewardship was last year, when they kindly let me into use the loo even though they had stopped serving so couldn't allow me to buy a drink, and most recently at Christmas on mad Friday, an over hyped event that was no more chaotic and insane than any other near Christmas orgy of drunken revelry. The pub now has a nice new food menu which I have purloined a copy of, ostensibly to write my beers down on, and this is served until 21.00, which is handy to know. There is a good range of beers available including some regionals but usually good ones like Landlord and Adnams Broadside. Overall a cracking pub in a brilliant near secret location that deserves to do well.

I went next to Trippets for a read and a pint of one of my favourite Bradfield beers, the Irish Dexter, what with it being St Patrick's on the Thursday. I also briefly popped in the Grapes for a half of Moonshine, and got to sit alone in the almost never empty snug on he left as you enter. This gave me a chance to see the nice tiling on the far left side and admire the view, alas my phone memory was full so couldn't snap the pleasant scene of looking across the apparent island of the bar with its tall bar back and shelves, from the comfort of the snug.

My final stop, clearly having lost track of time, erm, somehow, was in Henry's. Here they had also seen Vale and had their Black Beauty on, so I had a half of that and half of the Liverpool Organic Brewhouse Bitter, before I headed home. All in all then, a brilliant week or two of drinking in some excellent pubs. Roll on Sunday, when am off awalkin over Offerton moor with Mr P.

Cheers Wee Beefy.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Another Horsham bottle graces Beefy...


now don't panic, this is not intended as notice of daily bottle reviews, however, instead of rolling up at the computer armed with a few scrawled notes often from a week ago, I thought this may be a good chance to report on a beer I supped literally 20 minutes ago.

First of all, thanks to my brother Wee Keefy for bringing me some excellent ales form the saarf, namely Brighton, comprising the 3 Hepworth already tried plus another, and couple of BCA's from Weltons, also based in brewing hotspot Horsham.

This gives me a handy opportunity to add another little twist to the BCA debate. Because whilst its not as good as the Hepwroth Prospect, its also not as grim as the Old Bear Bruins mild - a horror that consistently, despite having been purchased by 3 different people within a few months and from different venues, was off. No, its not that either. Is a middle ground BCA anomaly.

Beer and Brewery : Sussex Pride, Weltons
ABV : 4.0%
BCA or none BCA ? : BCA

I have had this bottle, almost undisturbed, for 12 days before opening, stood up in a cool consistent temperature environment, and prior to opening, stood in the fridge and then at room temperature for 2 and 1.5 hours respectively. I feared the worst when, although detecting no initial explosion or sour aroma, i detected a lot of yeast, and carefully and slowly poured out a pint of minestrone.

Oh no I thought, I bad mouth a couple of BCA's and the beer guardians send magic yeast infantry on the wind to infect my beer. There is no reason why a beer treated with that much cautious dedicated care should pour like I have had it in a rucksack whilst exercising on a trampoline. I have moved it carefully, refrigerated it to reduce the carbonation which in turn helps the yeast stick to the bottom and not mingle too much with the rest of the beer, and have opened it like an antique artefact. I am disappointed with the stewing mass that stands before me.

However, and here's the clever bit - it tastes great. Yep, no point being dishonest, it tastes of lovely malt and citrus hops and if you choose to ignore the initial aroma it could be the finest beer you ever taste.

The malt taste is the real winner here - as the label proclaims, it has rich roasted malt flavours and hints of spiced rum, and they are right on both fronts. The printed advice on achieving a crystal clear glass of beer seems a little optimistic given the above but otherwise the info is brief but accurate.

Its a sort of malty citrus brew that tastes somehow warming - I know this likely does not make sense, but by way of explanation, a light hoppy or bitter beer not only benefits from being served a little cold, but also tastes cold and if light in alcohol, thin somehow. Conversely, the opposite applies to the darker maltier beers which, owing to a fuller flavour and mouthfeel and likely higher ABV, always somehow seem to taste "warm" even when served at the correct temperature. This is a psycho-analytical beer taste assessment which ultimately can herald rewards for no-one, but to simplify my response, this beer made me feel happy.

Not, I should caution, in a euphemistic way. Instead, in a satisfying moreish way which says "yes, I would like another of these".

So onto the appearance. It is not dark, despite the label claims. It undoubtedly also isn't supposed to have the cloudy mud like consistency I saw so its perhaps unfair to compare label advice with this beers appearance. The aroma, by the way, quickly mellows out to a lovely sherbet like malty one, and its uncannily similar to another beer - possibly one from the excellent Fox brewery in Heacham Norfolk - it must be the excellent malt they used.

So here is the conundrum. How do Weltons get the yeast to escape into the beer so easily, thus risking a horrific yeasty broth, yet still pull off a great beer ? The answer, frustratingly, is they just do. When Thornbbridge started bottling BCA Jailpur soon after launching it, it was, almost unfailingly, cloudy. This presented them with a problem, as purveyors of excellent products, they were presumably uneasy with the prospect of people screwing their faces up on observing their prize Jaipur ale in a glass. Despite this, it was always nice.

Then there is none BCA Brew Dog Punk IPA - a whole quarter's worth of 330ml bottles purchased by me were cloudy. Yet they always tasted spot on. And how many times have you bought a pint of delicious pale ale in a pub and got to the table to find a chill haze or unexplained cloudiness preparing you for a return trip, only to find it is brilliant, an experience I had in the Queens Head in Tirril with their beer brewed at the time, on the premises.

In conclusion then, BCA's eh, you gotta love um.....

I liked this beer a lot but wish it was clear. Perhaps my stronger Weltons offering will set the record straight.


Wee Beefy.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Wee Beefy's bottled beer reviews 2

Hello again,

today my glass is half full following an enjoyable night of pleasing food and good wine. In order to pick the right beers for such an event I went to a major retailer. That's right, a seething behemoth of a foreign owned conglomerate, in order to buy beers that would go well with my evenings menu. Christingfer was the subject for my raw fillet steak carpaccio followed by 6 hour bolognese experiment (no guests were injured in the course of this test), and the might of Asda was tested for the beer purchases.

In an ideal world, I would buy almost all my bottled beer from Archer Road Beer Stop. Well of course I would, I used to work there, am still good friends with Dave, and I continue to honestly and wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone. However, its an hour bus journey each way, and I had a simmering bolognese to contend with, so wanted to be out of the house for no more than about 40 minutes, hence I went to the supermarket.

Like all major supermarkets, Asda thinks its leading the way in proffering a range of different ales for sale, has jumped on to the local produce bandwagon and offered bottle from a couple of local breweries, and offers 2 BCA's from a range of about 40. The thing, is, this is barely any more than any other major supermarket chain.

The best range available anywhere was always Safeways, but they were bought by Morrissons who quickly replaced any quirky or unusual bottle lines with endless varieties of Greedy King, Wolverhampton and Dudley and Refresh UK products, all conveniently having different brewery names so it looks like there is a massive choice. And whilst I admit that they do offer some unusual foreign ales and interesting English offerings like White Horse, they can only dream of being as good as Safeway were. And I don;t think they offer a single BCA.

Anyway, back to Asda, and they recently dropped their 3 for £4.00 promotion on all British bottled beers (which they don't adorn with a sign they are ciders according to the cards on the aisle). Cause for celebration you might say, finally a supermarket taking heavy alcohol discounting seriously, but, er, no, that's not how it pans out. Certain beers are still at the above price, but only recently have they included a lower gravity beer. If you want to encourage responsible drinking, your range of products has to viably offer for sale products that are lower in alcohol. There are perhaps only 4 of the range that are below 4%, but only the Brakspear Bitter is currently in the offer. And when they have been reviewing prices in the past, Brakspear Bitter has always been £1.70 or more, making it as expensive as their Triple, at 7%, and Innis and Gunn's offerings at 6% or more.

So, if you want to drink lower alcohol beers you have to pay more, is essentially the message. If you can find the lower ABV beers then don't expect to be able to match them for a reduced price either - that is available only with the W+D and Greedy King beers, including of course their stronger brands. I know that I shouldn't be surprised, which is good, because I am not. It still makes you wonder though what they think they achieve by making responsible drinking less convenient and more expensive than getting tanked up on super strength cans or gruesome spirit mixers.

So, onto the beers, and there are 3 to sample this time.

A : Brewery & Beer - Brakspear/Tillverkare "double dropped" Bitter
B: Strength - 3.4%
C: BCA or none BCA - none.

There is a lovely malt flavour to this beer, but there is enough bitterness coming through to make it refreshing, and its not to sweet, which is a bonus for a beer of this strength. There is a nice citrus aroma and you can taste it clearly in amongst the light hop flavour, and there is also barley on the nose. The colour is a light golden brown.

Overall a nice clean lightly bitter ale with a traditional English flavour and appearance. The question is, who brews it ? I thought Brakspear beers were brewed by Refresh UK along with Wychwood, since Brakspear brewery closed down some years ago, but the label says "brewed in England for Tillverkare The Brakspear Brewing Co" so who knows ?.

A : Brewery & Beer - Naylors Brewery Pinnacle Blonde
B: Strength - 4.3%
C: BCA or none BCA - none.

I thought I had picked up the wrong bottle from the shelf when I tasted this - the next bottle along was a ginger ale from the same brewery and I swear you can smell ginger when you open this, and taste it initially as well.

The bottle tells me its a beer brewed with optic malt and a touch of wheat, perhaps its this combination that lends itself to suggesting spice such as ginger - it does state that the are citrus and spice notes to the beer. The hops are Hallertau, which gives it a nice bite and this combines well with the malt, neither ingredient is allowed o overpower the overall taste.

The bottle states that the beer is matured for two weeks then cold filtered. I am not sure what kind of benefit in terms of taste in the finished product, that this affords, but its a clean tasting strong almost spicy bitter with a long dry aftertaste. Very nice beer to wash down something in a thick sauce, and would also be good as an appetiser.

A : Brewery & Beer - Cains - Finest Export Lager
B: Strength - 5.0%
C: BCA or none BCA - none.

A pleasant change, a strong lager malt flavour and barley come through, mingling with more traditional bitter beer aroma and flavour. Its a pleasant gold colour, but not overly pale like many beers brewed with lager malt. This is a good attempt at making a lager using the less than helpful British ingredients - the label mentions the finest hops, which s well as being fairly ambiguous also doesn't necessarily mean they are British, but also the Maris otter malted barley.

So traditional is maris otter in beer making in the UK its nice to see that this is a lager made to show lager producers that we can have a stab at their a\rt, albeit this lager is not a patch on Edelstoft or Augusteiner or Fruh kolsch, but its a pleasant drink and worth buying to cleanse your palette after a big meal.

So, overall, an interesting selection, purchased from the supermarket, but affording a good mix of styles nevertheless.

More reviews in the next few weeks.

Wee Beefy.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Wee Beefy's bottled beer reviews

Hello thirsty folks,

I have decided, what with my 13 years experience of working in a specialist off license, and with a burgeoning collection of special, celebration or just strong bottle conditioned beers ageing around my house, that I should start trying to review the bottles I try.

Not just the towering delights of beers such as a 10 year old bottle of Thomas Hardy Ale (December 2009) or a 4 year old bottle of Fullers Vintage (same night, and what a fantastic beer!) but also the humdrum, mass produced , supermarket fosited and chain off licence over promoted stalwarts, as well as unusual and obscure stuff I either pick up on my travels or am fetched from afar by friends and family.

Today, I will tell you all about Hepworth and Co ales from Sussex, but before that, I should clarify the following :
BCA stands for Bottle Conditioned Ale - a beer with live yeast in the bottle which conditions much like a cask does, providing the drinker with an enhanced freshness and quality of flavour;
None BCA - any beer in a bottle, not containing live yeast.

Lets begin.

A : Brewey and Beer - Hepworth & Co Brewers Ltd - Sussex.
B : Strength - 3.5%
C : BCA or none BCA - None.

This is a bit of a departure for me. Whilst I don't think you can top a hoppy bitter pale ale at 5% or a strong thick stout or porter at the sort of strength that porter or stout deserves, that being 5.5% upwards, I do love the undervalued and often ignored delights of lower gravity beers. I think it makes a pleasant change to treat your tastebuds to something that they have to work for a bit, rather than wallpping them from the off with a massive beer whivh takes an hour to drink. I have time for, although can rarely find examples of to buy, the sort of beer you can sink a few pints of at lunchtime without spending the afternoon asleep, the milds, the light bitters, the old style luncheon ales, the bottles you find covered in dust on bar shelves in old regional brewers pubs.

However, its fair to say that, even having prepared myself for a light strength ale, and even having returned only a few months ago from the junior beer kingdom that is the saarf, ie Hampshire and Dorset, I was a little surprised at just how subtle the flavours were to my partly desensitised Yorkshire palette.

The Sussex, as the label proclaims proudly, is a wholly Sussex made product, and utilises Sussex Goldings and Admiral Hops and Sussex malted barley and is an honest light in colour and alcohol bitter beer, not dissimilar to Courage Georges Bitter Ale from the past, but perhaps having a little more edge.

The bitterness is slow to hit, the first taste is a pleasing if unabsorbing beery mouthfeel before a subtle malty note nudges in and the bitterness finishes the taste as you swallow. This would make an ideal starter for a tasting evening, especially if you get hold of some Harveys dinner ale or light ale to measure it against.

Overall a pleasant, but not incredible, bitter beer.

A : Brewey and Beer - Hepworth & Co Brewers Ltd - Pullman, First Class Ale.
B : Strength - 4.2%
C : BCA or none BCA - None.

A stronger stablemate of the above, from the same brewery, sadly this time a bit less forthcoming about which hops are adding the bite - I don't expect brewers to write their recipes on the side, but why the mystique ? Telling us they have expertly crafted malt and hops is a bit obvious when you start drinking their mixture of water malt hops and yeast. See Saltaire bottles - very well informed notes letting you understand the flavours and the ingredients used.

Anyhoo, I digress. Pullman is much more to my taste, having a little bit more bitterness, although its is still quite a subtle beer. This is not a hindrance to enjoyment however, as it lets the drinker appreciate the mix of hops that balance with the malt. The bitterness rides in a little earlier when you drink a mouthful and so mingles with the overall taste as you drink, which gives the beer a more satisfying edge.

A good bottled beer, moreish, and not too strong, so you could down a few.

A : Brewey and Beer - Hepworth & Co Brewers Ltd - Prospect - Sussex organic pale ale.
B : Strength - 4.5%
C : BCA or none BCA - BCA.

Hold on their Hepwoth ! When did you make this a BCA ? I am ashamed to say that I somehow managed to drink this beer without knowing it was bottle conditioned - the lively head created by the conditioning meant that I inadvertently left about a glass bottom covering in the bottle, hence avoiding any sediment.

This could be a complimentary celebration of the brewers art, because these days bottle conditioning is something of a dark art, almost as if it unlocks so many possibilities that few brewers seem to want to understand and learn about its full power. In not instantly noticing this beer is bottle conditioned, I would say that Hepworth know what they are doing; it shouldn't explode and fountain out the top, or take your nose off with the strong smell of yeast. It doesn't, ergo it is good.

Sadly, many years after widespread bottle conditioning of beers took off again, far too many brewers approach the process with an over optimistic mad professor slant, putting far too much and/or completely the wrong yeast in the bottle, resulting in cases of foul undrinkable yeast piss being sold to unsuspecting stockists and consumers alike. This is the failure of the brewing industry to understand or take sufficient care when bottle conditioning. Hats off then to Hepworth for seeming to understand what is required of them.

Prospect is hoppy with not too much malt to distract you and is very easy to drink at 4.5%. It pours clear very easily allowing you to appreciate its golden colour. The label info suggests this is simply a stronger, organic bottle conditioned version of Sussex, having the same ingredients, and this may well be the case - either way, its a cracking drink.

However, the bottle conditioning aspect is a tease - the bottle does not carry a banner or neck tie showing its BCA credentials, which is partly what made me miss it, but also does not sport a "CAMRA says this is real ale" logo. This is strange since Hepworth seem to be doing something that many brewers find impossible, that being producing good BCA. Yet at the same time, CAMRA allows its logo to be shown on some truly unthinkably bad bottled beers. Thus, herein lies the folly and failure of embracing BCA's without, seemingly, finding out what they taste like, or what quality control measures individual brewers put in place before CAMRA endorse the beer.

The county of Sussex is rich pasture for BCA's, with one former brewer leading the way in its heyday, and one continuing to produce them. King & Barnes of Horsham, the location, if not perhaps the same building, that Hepworth now come from, and of course Harveys of Lewes.

King and Barnes produced good quality reliable BCA's from their range, including the impressive boxed Millenium ale, which I rather foolishly drank by myself on new years day 2000, instead of leaving it to improve, and their excellent stewardship of White Shield, to name but two.

Harveys meanwhile dallied with a BCA version of their incredibly good Porter, released in February every year, and this may well still be bottle conditioned. Also, I think, they do occasional one off specials such as Firemans Ale, which was brewed in honour of those who fought a blaze at the brewery. There is however, a sting in this tale, which nicely illustrates why bottle conditioned products can bite you on the bum.....

Harveys brewed an impressive strong Imperial Stout at 9.0% which was corked, possibly at the time at George Gales, and could be laid down for years to mature. I bought a couple of bottles and was blown away by how fantastic they were, but at some point, possibly the last vintage they produced, the beer ran into difficulties.

Waiting 3 years to uncork a non-conditioned jar of sour molasses is disheartening to say the least. I had however purchased 4 or more based on the excellence of earlier vintages. I contacted Harveys who very kindly promised to send me a couple of replacements when they did their next batch, but this has never transpired. Worse still, it seems they knew that the yeast was not working quite soon after its bottling, but, crucially, did not pull the product or recall it from sale.

Waiting 6 years for a replacement is bad PR, but worse than that, the nature of such an ale means that it would likely be laid away to mature, and years down the line its often impossible to remember or prove which retailer you bought it from. I was promised this refund only after contacting Harveys myself, but who else went to that length ? The money had already left the pockets of suppliers and customers and there is a strong possibility that no-one has received anything in return.

So. BCA's are simultaneously brilliant and exasperating, as proven by the above, but CAMRA's role in this is no better. I can say that probably 20% of all BCA's for sale are undrinkable or at best amateurishly produced experiments not good enough to sell. Some people, who may buy a large range from across the UK, may well find that in their personal experience its a higher percentage. So poor have many of the offerings been that I have tasted, I have wanted the brewer them self to be there to tell me exactly how they think the frothing yeast soup in front of me represents their often award winning cask conditioned beer. CAMRA, keen to help popularise and make available BCA's, allows its catchy logo and tag line to appear on almost all BCA's now, but so many of these bottles are of unacceptably poor quality.

If a consumer pours a glass of some of the crap that I have had in bottles and then reads back the promotional line "CAMRA says this is real ale ", they must think " well what do they know ? This is not real ale at all ". Or worse "if this is what real ale tastes like I won't drink it again". It seems strange that CAMRA spent so long campaigning to save real ale from oblivion, as part of which they strove to dispel lazy and ill informed myths about it always being flat or cloudy or warm or tasting funny, yet they are happy for breweries to produce third rate apologies for their draught beer in bottles with their endorsement, that do nothing but suggest the old wives tales about beer are right.

Bad CAMRA, lazy CAMRA back in your box.

Wee Beefy.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Town and Walkley info, white rose festival.

Now then,

recently my friend Mr Shape at work told me about the City Bar opposite the Casbah in town, which he reckoned was a decent place to go for a pint. This place used to be Henry's, which it has since reverted to, but the change that started with the city bar is extensive in terms of drinkers choice.

As you enter up the steps from the tiled entrance, there is a long bar against the back wall in front of you, with 9 or 10 handpumps and a number of continental beer fonts, and wines housed in wooden racking to the right. There is a mixture of comfy settee seating and more vernacular tables and chairs to choose from, in several separate seating areas, and steps to an upstairs gantry. All around the edge of the premises are high glass windows giving the opportunity to watch people trying to look cool whilst walking up towards the town hall, and, if you put a camera in the right place, pausing to stand under the h of the henry's sign...

There is a huge mirror at the end of the left hand side near the loos, which is probably an invaluable commodity if you are on a night out and want to subtly espy yourself to make certain that you look good, something i saw a few people dong not so surreptitiously when I was in on Tuesday evening. With the aesthetics taken care of, what about about the beer ?

Well, on my two visits so far there have been 2 ciders on - or it may have been one cider and one perry - plus 8 pumps dispensing real ale, from the Henry's house beer, favourites from the larger regionals, a Sheffield brewing company beer and a number of guests.

Prices start at £1.95 for the weaker beers and increase 5p per 0.5% of beer strength, although the lady behind the bar conceded this was really a rough guide rather than exact science. The Continental range includes Erdinger wheat beer and Dunkel and Franziskaner, as well as Leffe and I think Peroni.

On my first visit I went in for a quick pint by myself on a Friday night, and this was a good opportunity to see whether it was a friendly pub by day and a bustling cattle market at night - a fear dispelled almost instantly by my discussion with the barman about the range of beers, and the number of couples quietly drinking and chatting. I had a pint of Hopback brewers challenge which was about £2.05 and got a nice table near the blocked off entrance that I had walked up the steps to earlier, and which is pretty much guaranteed to attract a percentage of all other visitors until they spot the sign at the top.

It was nice to spot a Hopback beer because they seem to have disappeared from Sheffield bars of late, and this new beer of theirs was a welcome change.

I visited again last week in the evening with Waarf, and ended up staying for a meal. The wine list is a little disappointing, but the beer range was excellent. I started on a pint of Elland brewery Bargee, which went down a treat, so quickly did it that i had to have another after 10 minutes. I also tried Hereford Brewery Celtic pale, Liverpool organic brewhouse celebration bitter and some Erdinger Dunkel which made a nice change. Overall a positive "new" venue in town and a good beer range and pleasant location to boot.

Despite our fulfilment there was time afterwards to visit the forum where there was choice of two Kelham Island beers, I opted for the Pink Floyd themed special, before we migrated to wines.

Good news from Walkley now, especially since the pub stock seems to be disappearing at an alarming rate. I visited the Florist, which i don't think I've ever had a pint in before, having visited once 10 years ago and found no real ale, and previously as a kid sat outside drinking coke.

There is a John Smiths bitter handpump on the right as you look at the bar and round the corner where the bar finishes on the left is a Bradfield handpump, dispensing their Blonde. I had a pint and a half of the Blonde and can confirm it was in very good condition. I also had a half of the Smiths, strangely the Bradfield was cold, perhaps a smidgen too cold, but the Smiths more or less warm - but, this is not a bad thing, as it allowed me to find the subtle malt and bitter flavours, in what is lets be honest a fairly uninspiring beer, and which are usually hidden when served at a low temperature.

The interior looks like it may recently have been refurbished although of course I can't be sure, its a sort of modern cool greys and browns look, a bit like the Royal Standard, the difference being that it works at the Florist owing to its traditional layout. Although there aren't separate rooms, the areas are sufficiently different to appear separate, and I sat in the right hand side, where a really old and incongruous out of keeping table has been retained in front of the wall alcove seat on the right hand wall - perhaps a regulars spot ?

This development is good news since opposite, the Crown is closed, and perhaps has been for a while, and until I wander round on Thursday, i don't know if the Walkley Cottage has reopened.

This trip to the Florist formed part of a Walkley jaunt on Friday. I started in the Blake where I met Christingfer, and had several enjoyable pints of the Toad Brewery Blonde, and a Shardlow 5 Bells. We then headed up to the Firwood Cottage where I could keep my promise of returning for a magnet, although with funds almost exhausted we only had halves of magnet. The magnet had an interesting malty flavour but not like I remember it ( not that long ago )used to taste in cask form. It was good to see the pub busy, it caters for a more mature clientele - I think we were the youngest people there apart from some kid playing pool in the back - but the atmosphere was relaxed and it was friendly.

From here I continued alone, stopping on South Road for some chips and curry sauce which I simultaneously ate and painted my coat and bag with. I then went to the Freedom House, which, I can report, is very much open, just not with the outside light on. I sat in the left hand side, which is weird, because I always do that yet there is no discernable reason why i can't go in the right. There are usually two real ales on, the Deuchars had just run out so I had a pint of Moonshine, which being one of my favourite beers is no great hardship.

Nothing has changed here it seems since I used to come in about 10 years ago, there is still noise from the right hand bar which seems to be busier, mingling with the gentle hub of conversation in the left; a couple at the far end having a drink and a hushed chat, and a group of lasses next to me discussing dreadful 90's pop bands and Rasta mouse. Despite leaving my scarf here (which provides an excuse for returning on Thursday with Davefromtshop ) it was a pleasing experience all round.

I went to the Florist next as already described, before heading down to Hillsborough. I had fleetingly considered popping into the Freemasons which had been selling real ale, but that was along time ago, and the deafening music and rowdy atmosphere made me think twice.

I ended the night in the Rawson Spring Wetherspoons. Depending on your outlook its either a canny use of space, a hellish meat market with no character or a kooky Gothenberg style beer hall with a range of real ales, although it was so dark and so noisy I could barely see or hear what was on offer. I had two halves, one from Black Hole brewery in Burton, and something called Chuffin Ale, but no more detail was provided. I managed to find a table in the small room on the left to avoid the unseemly scrum of aftershave and perfume in the main area. That said though the beer was nice enough, and its certainly an unusual venue to enjoy a pint in - perhaps I should go back on a weekday in the early evening to appreciate it more.

Finally, despite succumbing to some terrible virus, I struggled to the White Rose Festival at the Magna centre yesterday, allowing me to catch up wit Matt who used to work with me in Rotherham, and his family. That was reason enough to venture out, but there was a free ticket for me as well, and a good festival to boot.

Now, Magna, there is a unique venue for a drink, large enough to make the Rawson Spring look like the Brown Bear in terms of size. The 3 cavernous hall areas, including the entrance, plus some smaller rooms enabled the organisers to replicate the transitory feel of Oakwood by housing different regions beers in different places, hence we had Derbyshire, Cumbria and Hampshire rooms. The programme boasted 220 or more beers, I certainly gamely tried about 14, including some Hampshire beers which we did not find whilst down there last year. This also gave me the opportunity to try some Brown Cow beers which always seem to elude me.

According to my highly scientific recording system, which involved me ticking or scrawling next to in the programme (which, I lost at one point, then went back to where I thought I had dropped it and recovered it, so as not to lose the info...), I tried the following beers :

Bird Brain Black Bishop; Brown Cow New Beer (its says that, but it did have a proper name, will have to look at their website to find it out - I know it was about 4.3.% and tasted fantastic ); Naylors Pinnacle Porter; Wainstones Jet (which I was told was a mild, but is more like a porter); Geltsdale Hell Beck; Ulverston Fra Diavola; Nutbrook Mongrel; Barlow Anastasia; Botley Old Cooperage; Havant Stopped Dancing; Irving Type 42 - tried it, not a fan; Steel City Brewing St Brendan - saw Dave unpronounceable, hats off to him for this pale ale; Toad Dark Side of the Toad; Five Towns Flintlock: Golcar Mild; Old Spot Spotlight.

Overall the range of beers was fantastic and there was still plenty of choice when I left about 20.00. My favourites were probably Golcar Mild, the Steel City St Brendan, the Brown Cow and the Bird Brain Black bishop.

The venue was fantastic, although the West Yorkshire bar was set in a tall lofty space with only patio heaters for warmth, so was incredibly cold all the time. And the 1 hour break was done only partly well, since everyone was told the only place we could go was the South Yorkshire Bar, when we could have gone to the Fat Cat cafe bar and queued considerably less for food; also the Bombadier bus was trying to sell beer during the break, which I applaud them for, but they were stopped. This slightly contradicts the stated reasons for the break which are that the staff need a break. The Bombadier bus bar staff didn't want or need one, so why stop them from selling beer when they are not part of the main festival staff ?

Other than that, a great festival, and the free bus to Meadowhall was a good idea - I just wished I'd looked at the website prior to going so didn't spend 1 hour 20 minutes getting there....

Definitely an event I will try and get to in 2012.

Wee Beefy.