yesterday I hopped on the bus out to Dronfield, the new real ale capital of, erm, North East Derbyshire, to visit the Hill Top Sports & Social Club in the same, sample their beer festival, and head to a few local pubs into the bargain.
Having splashed out £5.50 on an explorer ticket I was duty bound to go as far as Chesterfield, but I was straying from my plan early on as the bus I caught doesn't really go near the club. Luckily, it passes the Three Tuns at Hallowes, so I popped in there.
The Three Tuns is a pub I've only been to a few times but its growing on me. Regular visitors may find this surprising since its immediately obvious as you enter that its a shrine to real ale, but its not growing on me from a cold start, I just mean I seem to be liking it more and more. Initially I was only popping in for a couple of halves, although I could have had thirds since there was such a huge range to try, but I got talking to Dave the brewer at Spire and it seemed rude not to at least stop for another.
So it was I tried halves of the Spire Dark Side Of The Moon, which had a nice berry edge to it in amongst the creamy roast malt, and was reminiscent of Black Isle Porter, as well as half of their Sovereign escort pale ale, which was a lovely fruity IPA style beer, with a nice balance of hop flavours in the mix. I finished on the ever reliable Burton Bridge Porter.
It was well past 3 when I hopped on the 43 to Gosforth Lane, but luckily the Hill Top Club wasn't that difficult to find, and they had also gone mad and put a sign up at the top of Longacre Road. Being a small festival there was no need for an outside marquee or similar, they had simply hired and fitted a bank of handpumps from Barlow brewery, and all teh ales were served from the bar, which is on the right as you enter.
On the advice of T_i_B I started on a pint of the Barlow Jolly Roger Porter at 5.2%. This was everything I expected, and whats more everything I could have asked from a porter - dark, smooth, rich, well balanced with roasted malt in abundance. A perfect moreish black beer to suit the weather, which had conveniently turned to rain on my walk up to the club.
The Hill Top Club's has to be one of the smallest and simultaneously quietest beer festivals I've ever been to! There were just two groups of festival goers sat near the bar when I arrived, and although I'd like to think that I was in no way the catalyst for the exodus which followed, within 20 minutes everyone had left! So I had a quick chat with the lass behind the bar, and a much needed sandwich, before it started to get busy around 17.00. Now it started to resemble a more familiar festival scene with tasters and discussions and good atmosphere abounding.
My next pint was the Ashover Liquorice Alesorts, one of the beers of the Three Valleys beer festival earlier in the year and still on good form here. I then had halves of Sheffield Brewing Co NZ IPA, Abbeydale wheat, which was a little too sweet for me, and the immense Full Monty IPA, a 6.5% monster of a beer from Barlow brewery. Perhaps I am becoming too accustomed to zesty citrus hop monsters with a light colour and quaffability, but I was surprised at just how big and sweet the Full Monty was. Having said that, it was a very enjoyable beer, although I would have struggled to get through a pint.
I finished off on an ironically hoppier beer but at nearly half the strength - Raw Blonde was only 3.9% but more than stood up in terms of hoppiness, to its towering fruity bedfellow.
Alas this was my last beer, as I had neglected to bring enough money, which is a bit stupid really. So I didn't get to try the Brampton Mild, the Barlow Three Valleys, the Muirhouse Lurch's Liqour Stout or the Ashover Poets Tipple, to name some of what was available.
This was my first Hill Top Club beer festival (and indeed my first visit at all) and it was a very enjoyable way of spending a few hours - a good range of beers, all well kept, and all the beer was a fantastic value price of £2.80 a pint - or, at least, that's what I think the barmaid said....
With an hour of daylight remaining I went to catch the bus into Chesterfield, but once again had to change my plans as I had just missed it, so headed to the Coach and Horses instead. Here I supped an enjoyable pint of Thornbridge Brock and a half of their excellent Halcyon, no doubt the increasingly long list of stronger beers wasn't helping my attempts to remain compus-mentus.
This was more apparent when I got outside and decided, rather than wait 10 minutes for the bus to Chesterfield (a privilege for which I had earlier paid handsomely) I would simply jump on the bus back to Sheffield. Luckily as I spotted the Sheffield bus coming round the corner, I remembered that the White Swan was waiting for me and crossed the road in time to get the oncoming Vegas tractor.
Once in Chesterfield, I headed a rather odd confused route through the churchyard to the White Swan. Busy, and with the regrettable vision of bouncers on the door, I was a little dismayed to see a distinct lack of dark ales on offer. However, in the end I opted for halves of Abbeydale Chocolate Stout (the dark beer) and the absolutely excellent Raw Mucky Duck, as recommended by the barstaff. Had I not been knowingly undersober, I might have stopped for a whole pint of this delicious beer.
Next I headed down to Coco for some more rather ill advised strong beer - this time Raw Pacific Ghost IPA (5.9%) a fantastic orangey bitter pale beer, which I enjoyed slouched sottishly on the black sofas surveying the cloudy and disconcertingly wobbly scene.
A mere 50 minutes wait followed, for the now assumedly intentionally late last 43, which I used as a great place to catch some zeds on, before I nipped in the Bankers Draft where I had two halves of.....erm....beer. One was dark. One was from a brewery I'd never heard of. Both were cold, and £1.00 a half. I also bumped into Mr Shape who was out with some mates, none of whom got to speak to him after I collarred him at the bus stop as well!
So, another good day out, and a brilliant little beer fest (which I only noticed this morning said in the programme that it ran from Friday 12th October to Sunday 14th May, 2012, the tricksters!) and a cracking selection of ales in excellent venues.