I dunno, we are slightly spoilt here in the Sheff. As well as a number of outstanding real ale pubs selling a vast range of real ales and slightly more expensive key kegs or bottled exotica, theres folks toiling with spanners and taps and sales reps to arrange the coming together and dispense of a range of beers on gravity, in pub beer festivals. And, having not been to one since August, all of a sudden three come along at once.
Because yesterday, heading for Shakespeares to continue to sample the delights of their 4th beer festival, I accidentally discovered there was one on at the University Arms as well. The pain! The imposition! The likelihood of attendance....
So it was that I crawled across town on the fool waggon and disembarked on Brook Hill to find a range of beers on the bar at the University Arms, as part of their Coastal festival. And before I could even make a decision on what to sup, someone said "there's a beer you've just missed which you'd really have liked". Now, this is a bold opening gambit, since it simultaneously creates a sense of anticipation and guaranteed disappointment, but on pressing, and being addressed by a member of staff who somehow recognised me from this blog (he could only see half my face I suppose...?) I discovered that said brew had been Ayr Brewery Rabbies Porter, 4.3%.
The prediction was correct, I was gutted, especially since, technically, in a unitary authority sense, Ayr is my home town, but also because this was the third occasion that I had heard positive praise about this beer.
In the end I opted for half a Scarborough Mild, and half a Blue Ball Dunkel. The mild was inoffensive and had a pleasing roasty character and went down well. The Dunkel was a trifle odd, well meant, but not managing to create the glorious creaminess of a good German version, which would no doubt be stronger. It was also from a not exactly coastal brewery - but, I was assured, the criteria was within thirty miles from the sea, so it counts. ...
Off into the conservatory bar next, where it was freezing cold, which was good for the beers at least, and the stillage was offering a selection of about 15. There were also delights in the cellar which the bar staff would fetch if required. I went with a half of Ayr Brewing Company Towzie Tyke, a decent if malty Scottish pale, and settled down with a copy of Now Then to sup my festival beers.
An interesting mix of clientele came through, quite a lot of students who either automatically wanted a super hoppy Dark Star Hophead (or the Cullercoats Rocket Brigade which I had tried and was recommending) or were led straight to the novelty of the Blue Ball Pumpkin IPA. There were also a lot of more mature attendees, perhaps here for the music, who were slaking their way through the paler offerings in traditional Sheffield style.
Before leaving I also had a half of the Tryst Pils which was the beer of the festival for me - refreshing, crisp, pils flavours mixed with more biscuity malt and pleasing citrus hoppiness. That clearly does it no justice - you'll just have to taste it for yourself.
On my way down to Shakespeares I popped in Fagans for the first time in yonks. The beer range is still steadfastly Tetley bitter and Abbeydale Moonshine (of which I had a half) plus a real cider, the pub is still charming, and nothing seems to have changed in all the time I have been going there, now nearly 20 years. Its interesting that the pub is known as Fagans after a previous long standing licensee, having previously been called the Barrel. The current mine host (who's name I forget!) was celebrating a milestone of running the pub some ten years or so ago so he may well have been there 30 years himself. And the result of slow turnover of landlords? In this case, careworn comfort, regulars, legends, sensitive change and consistency. Long may it continue.
Down at final port Shakespeares there was a melee at the bar but not as dwindling a selection of beers as I had feared. To my surprise the Raw Porter Geist was still on so I somewhat recklessly went for a pint of that (5.9% £3.10 pint), about the same time as the Cross Bay Aurora and Fyne Hurricane Jack, my intended next two tipples, both ran out!
I picked a spot in the left hand room and set about fighting my way through the dark chewy beast which was the Porter Geist. It was very enjoyable, but I think a half may have been a more sensible option. I also then got a half of the Urban Brewhouse Smoked Stout, (4.3% £1.40) which was very nice and smooth, but I wanted something citrussy and fruity and light to stave off the black creep of the two current offerings. Luckily I found a very enjoyable Oldershaw Mellow Yellow on the bar, and had a half of that.
Wee Keefy came down to keep me company and he had the Jolly Sailor Cue brew, then I went to the bar and bought half of that, and the excellent Cullercoats Winter Warmer (£2.65 altogether) whilst he ventured upstairs for the Marlpool Straw Dog and a half of the Red Willow chocolate stout, which, having a sweet tooth, he possibly enjoyed even less than I did. The Cullercoats Warmer was a very assured wintry beer and the cue brew a surprisingly dark but enjoyable ale.
This was a great end to my festival visiting, overall I think the Fyne and the Allendale from Friday were still perhaps my favourite although the Urban Brewhouse, and Cullercoats ales in general, come very highly recommended. Another finely organised spectacle (both) with a great range of beers from breweries old and new.
And, to finish on a separate pub beer festival note, Wee Keefy also reminded me that we were going camping in North Yorkshire next weekend - at the New Inn Cropton beer festival, which runs Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th November as far as I know. Camping or not, I am sure, if last year is anything to go on, we'll enjoy the festival tremendously.