Monday, 30 January 2012

Wee Beefy's beer crawl bites

Hello all,

    as threatened yesterday, here are some of the details of my second night out with friends over this last weekend, supping in some decent, and less than decent venues (but all of which sold real ale....)


This was our agreed meeting place for the evening and it was completely rammed a good 2 thick at the bar as we entered. Our progress to the pub had been retarded by a surfeit of peasant waggons, my injuring my shins on a black bottle box left on our dark street, and a lack of cash machines in working order. These may all have been contributory factors to my lacking patience on an epic scale at the bar.

Once at the front I ordered a half of Paulaner for Chala, and spied an SWB logo on a pump clip. Knowing that I was furthest from it, I asked the barman for a pint of the Summer Wine brewery beer. He did not know which this was, but did not attempt to spin the clips round for a peek. Without time to explain that i can hardly see I simply pointed impatiently at it, but still to no avail, in fact it was only a half remembered half recognised word that enabled me to purchase the beer at all - I thought it was called Diablo, which it was. Jesus wept, what a chuffin rigmarole!

Anyhoo, seated at the bottom end of the pub were John, Steve from the night before, Fluff, and Trudi and Paul. Here we were all at different stages of drink, and chaos reigned early on as those all important rules on leaving and reordering were not in place. Plus, annoyingly, the Diablo was at the end of its life and heading for diabolic.

Unperturbed we went back to the bar, John had a half of Rock or Bock (we weren't sure), and me a pint of Spire Porter, which had a little tang, and wasn't as good as it had been at the Ship.


We were off across the dual carriageway next to go into the Fat Cat, which being perhaps the second smallest venue on our route was rammed as well. Mind you, that we found this in every venue is surely notice of a burgeoning drinking scene, which can only be applauded.

Out back were Miss Wish, Angela, Mr C and Si, and we were soon joined by Saul and Dan. Here I happened across my favourite and most peoples favourite beer of the night. Finally now able to name the bugger, I had a number of pints of Spire Candleriggs 1909 Porter. This was in excellent condition, and clears up the mystery from earlier posts on the subject of what I had in Tarlequin.

We stayed here for a while in the beer garden, where I enjoyed a fabulous pork pie to be washed down by my excellent beer (didn't try the Black Iris bitter alas) before moving inside and getting our ordering and drinking speeds all wrong - it doesn't matter though, when you are only going round the corner next...


And so it was we reconvened in the Kelham round the corner. Here recollections become a little interpretive, and this I am sure is in no way connected to my having a pint of Gorlovka Stout. And surely, there is no suggestion that I had more than one, even though it was delicious..... To be fair we all ended up on something strong in here, and I know we had at least 2 each, before last orders was called. Below is a helpful picture of the pub, at the time. Sort of.

The beer in here seemed to be appreciated by everybody; it seemed every one of our motley band of cider, real ale, lager and spirits drinkers managed to find something to suit their tastes, which is maybe why the KIT has won so many awards. By this time however, fatigue was setting in and the company had started to unravel. In a last musician on the Titanic scenario, first Fluff, John and Steve headed off home, whilst others went straight to the Washington in a beer carriage, leaving me and Chala, Mr C and Miss Wish to find our own way.

West Street Live

 Music was the main draw, well, for't young uns any roared, as Wee Beefy is a slow moving hairy object, as opposed to a slick dance move machine. Here we were joined by the last of our party Chris, who showed the dancers how to do it whilst I stood awkwardly but not unenjoyingly (is that even a word?) on the sidelines. Beer in here was Wychwood Hobgoblin, which I had a pint of, and, undoubtedly, tasted of beer. I can't confirm that though.

Washington BC (before catatonia)

Our last stop at gone half one was the Wash, which was a seething mass of sweaty thirsty people and music played too loud for the speakers. We didn't care though, at our venerable age me and Chala were just pleased to be somewhere interesting, her with half a Staropramen and me with a pint of yellow cloudy Moonshine which tastes like it only does in the Washington, but somehow alright. We lost track of a few of the clan in here alas, and despite fleeting glimpses of Si, Wish and Dan we were awaah by 2.15 and off for the night bus, the timetable for which helpfully reads "last bus 23.44", which, at the risk of losing some journalistic kudos here, I have to say is just downright fucking stupid.

All in all this was a fab night out with great people and fantastic real ale for the most part, and ironically, this time, despite not being a beer crawl as such, I did have an excellent beer, the Spire 1909 porter in the Fat Cat.

Now for a week without alcohol methinks...

Wee Beefy.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

A night out drinking in Sheffield

Good evening again,

  my mate Fluffy, who is called that, and everything, came up from that London over this weekend and on Friday I took him on a pub crawl, based vaguely on the route I took with Barraharri, except we were starting at 19.00 so had much less time to cram em all in. Here are the details I can remember from that night out.

Sheffield Tapped.

as a Friday night meeting place its arguable that the Sheffield Tap is perhaps a little down the list of ideal locations. Its invariably full, to the extent that the welcome addition of two extra rooms now seems far too tame an undertaking when you see a sea of people covering every inch of floor and furniture ahead of you. Below is a grainy picture that singularly fails to depict the above described scenario.

Its also noticeable as you enter from the road, that the panelled room hosts a striking miasma of sweaty fog. A most unfortunate side effect of small crammed spaces filled with alcohol partaking persons. Sigh. Despite this I was spurred on by a parting of the sea of bodies and soon found myself stood at the bar behind someone who had just got served, so I was served pretty quickly. There was a selection of Magic Rock beers on, I really fancied a dark one but the Dark Arts was 6.6% - not an ideal starter for a pub crawl - so I ended up with a pint of the Curious, also Fluff's choice, and my starter when I did the crawl last year.

In here I met up with Fluff, Steve and Natalie. This was to be our band of beer troubadours for the night. We soon worked out that strict rules would have to apply on when people went for their next beer, and that the crawl organisers instruction to leave was final. We called Steve away from the bar to demonstrate the regulations in action, and avoid unnecessary delay, and headed for the Rutland.

Rutland Arms Brown Street

Not unsurprisingly the Rutty was also rammed. It was difficult to get to see what beers were on, and I had to be quite unsubtle in freeing up a bit of bar to stand at. Rule number one - never stand at a packed bar with your back  to it - you are taking up vital space!

In here Steve had some Stowford Press cider (not ready for the hard stuff yet it seemed), Natalie got an amnesia, sorry, unrecorded drink, and me and Fluff had a couple of halves. I had Blue Bee Nectar Pale, he had Revolutions brewery Devolution, and we both had a half of the Steel City Brewing Dark Funeral. Its important to make clear at this point that Natalie isn't a real ale drinker. Its perhaps a bit harsh to make her come out on a real ale pub crawl, but to be fair there was a decent mix of traditional and modern, and she could have said no. Just to clarify that she wasn't kidnapped, since that's what it probably looked like....

Anyhoo, back to the beer. The Nectar was OK but I was glad it wasn't Fluff's first taste of the beer, the Revolutions which is a brewery that usually produces good beer was OK but had a weird aftertaste plonked on the end that didn't work. The Dark Funeral was about as subtle as a depth charge, but this was what we expected and desired. At this point, it became clear that somebody wasn't quite dressed for a walk. So me and Fluff set off on foot for our next pub whilst the others settled down for another drink and a taxi.


The Cranes was quite busy and there was some decent music on. There were two Blue Bee beers on but we found out the Bees Knees had finished so both had our second Nectar Pale of the night. It tasted a little better than it does at the Rutland so that was a good coup but we had to make a snap decision. It transpired that Steve and Natalie were not yet in their taxi and confused about where we were. Since we had decided to have halves in some pubs, we decided to direct them to Dada and make this a short visit. We stuck to our half each and stopped in the Cranes only a little while longer, chatting to Rick.


Right on cue, London living Sheffielder Fluff asked me as soon as I told him where we were going why it wasn't called Dee-dah, and I have to confess I don't have an answer. Perhaps its only a matter of time before this nickname becomes the real name?

Inside it wasn't too busy when we arrived, and our companions were already sat down drinking so we took a little time to decide on our important choice of beers. Fluff had a half of the Fyne Highlander and the Pub scrawl, me a pint of the same. Alas, the Scrawl had crawled lamely to the end of its life and we replaced it with the same quantity of Brother Rabbit from Thornbridge.

Brother Rabbit isn't really my first choice Thornbridge beer, I find it a but thin and it seems to play to its strength rather than defying it, so it was a surprise that it was so enjoyable. It probably helped that we had a lower strength beer anyway what with time getting on and many more stops to fit in. I did however via an informative chat with Emily, purchase the Thornbridge Steelmaker, only half, and which to my disappointment was  a lager. Despite its strength, something about this beer made me feel let down; there just wasn't any of the flavour or taste I was expecting. Perhaps as if to embody this imbalance, here again the crawl became disjointed, as me and Fluff struck out alone for the far away treats of the 1854.

The Dear Old Deer

As we had picked up pace and were walking past anyway, and with no contact possible with Steve, we opted to pop in to the Red Deer for a quick half. Alas the recent flurry of guests seemed to have blown over and we were back to a more conservative range, so we had halves of the Moorhouses Blonde Witch. This was in decent form, and probably our only North West beer of the night.


Over the car park and we were entering the subdued lighting, comfy seating, eclectic but usually good music providing ambiance of the 1854. Fluff was on his first visit, and Steve did also catch up with us here as well. Having experienced frothy Deception last night I had my pint without the sparkler, a trespass of logic that flabbergasted and enraged Fluff, who has to suffer traditionally flat beer rather than choose it. He opted for sparkler on, which given that the beer had calmed down was maybe a better bet. Nevertheless it was still a nice pint and a good chance to chill out and catch up for a bit with Barraharri.

University Arms

Our penultimate stop was the Arms, where I had a pint of Dark Star Hophead, Steve a pint of amnesia, and Fluff some Leadmill B52. Someone definitely had a half of the Raw Edge IPA, but to be fair, I have no idea who did, and given the fact that my notes had by now become artistic rather than informative, only a phone call to Fluff will sort this out. Importantly though, the beer was very nice. Unless Fluff didn't like his B52. Which I also can't remember.... no doubt the details of our final stop will be resolutely crystal clear!


Unsurprisingly, as is always going to be the case if I am in, I had a pint of a pale summer wine brewery beer - but wait, tell me oh magician of words, what exactly was that beer called?

Well, to report my notes literally, it was apparently " SWB Porside". So, using English, it could be Portside, it could be Portico, it could be, well, just about anything beginning with P to be honest. No doubt this will leech some of the credibility from my telling you that it was very enjoyable, but there you go. I know Fluff had a pint of Rudgate Grain of Truth and Steve a pint of the Gwynt Yr Draig Black Dragon cider so it just me who's unclear!

After this the last two survivors left and I went back to Dada, an unwise move since the DJ was on so I couldn't attempt my usual bar leaning chat trick. I abandoned ship and headed for the safety of Harrisons where, as well as having a rather inadvisable glass of wine, I ended up getting a lift home from Johanna - I think she must have realised I was going to fall asleep on the night bus that I kept repeating my intention to catch. Am very grateful for my safe return.

So, all in all, a very enjoyable wander with some OK beer but alas very little truly excellent beer, in fact I may be so bold as to suggest that the first pint was the best.

Luckily that whetted our appetites for doing something similar all over again on Saturday, the details of which I will impart tomorrow.


Wee Beefy.

Wee Beefy's beer bites - bars and pubs and front rooms round up

Good afternoon,

     Burns o beer

on Wednesday 25th January I went up to celebrate Burns Night with Wee Fatha, as is customary.

He usually manages to get an all Scottish beer selection but even combining the beer choice of Sainsbury's and Morrison's there were few to be found. That said, I was very much impressed with the ones that he did get from Sainsbury's, a few details of which are below.

Wolf Brewery Battle of Britain ale 3.9% (RAFA) RAFA bottled beer
Williams Brothers Caesar Augustus Lager/IPA hybrid, 4.1%
Ridgeway Bad  King John Black Ale, 6.0% BCA Ridgeway brewery info courtesy of
Innis and Gunn ale, 6.0%
Brewdog Hardcore IPA 9.2%

I would have put a link on for the Williams Bros beer but they seem reticent to say much about it, and reviewers were almost exclusively supportive yet underwhelmed. I did find one review from another beer blog which is here : Folk & Ale review Sainsburys beer challenge beers. I liked it though, it was a nice beer to have with the meal (haggis, neeps and tatties, what else?) but my one gripe was that the cold filtering or lagering process succeeded in creating a lager flavour and texture but the hops added at the end failed to make it anything like an IPA - 5.6% and twice as many hops would have worked better perhaps.

The Innis and Gunn was quite warm as we'd had it out in the room for a while and this suits the creamy honeyed flavour perfectly.

The Wolf was a very average beer am afraid, admittedly I can't think of any charity beer that's been really nice - remember those ale by numbers Tolly Cobbold offerings from the nineties? I suspect the beer is marketed with almost anyone in mind, so the taste is wilfully safe and inoffensive in order to be mildly enjoyed by anyone purchasing it.

The Ridgeway was a real strong dark ale, very malty but with such a giant flavour it didn't really matter that there was little trace of hoppiness.

The Brewdog Hardcore IPA, was, well, as you'd expect, an awesome orangey explosion of dry biting bitterness and warm citrus that demanded you drink it slowly.

Overall WF pulled off a great Burns evening and the beers were the perfect compliment throughout. It appears that the lager/IPA was one of the Sainsbury's beer challenge winners so they may be selling it for  a while yet, but the range is very good, so it may be worth taking a look for your self.

Note - Morrison's did have a Scottish beer - McEwans/Youngers Champion Ale. Its OK for what it is but its been around so long and is so widely available that I'm glad WF went with the other options instead.

Sportsman Crosspool

I was in the above on Thursday for a meal with family, and selected a few of the ales on offer. I had pints of Thornbridge Pica Pica oatmeal stout, and Top of the Hops, which despite no information to support this, am sure is a Cropton beer. Both were well kept and really enjoyable ales. Wee Keefy went for the Wooden Hand Pirates Gold from Cornwall, which was as sweet and malty and uninspiring as I remember it in bottle, but its good to see it so far from home.

Harrisons 1854

As usual I had an inevitable stop off at the 1854 where my tipple of choice was Deception again. It was a bit lively so I had it served without the sparkler - its always interesting to see how a beer changes its character without a foam topping and I was ccertainly able to detect more of the floral and citrus hop notes which I think are intended to be prominent, but are sadly, often lacking in this beer. A pleasant change.


I also found time to prop up the da-bar in da-da (etc). Pub Scrawl was on good form and I also got chance to sample a Raven IPA and Kill Your Darlings on keykeg, which made a nice change. I was quite smitten with the Darlings, but its notable that the Raven was less of a nice drop. Interestingly, I preferred the Raven in cask - the colder and more carbonated keykeg version lacked some of the balance of the cask version and was a little harder to drink. Barkeep Jamie suggested that some beers are better suited to keykeg dispense, a view shared by a few of the newer micro brewers for instance Camden Town.

Personally, I enjoy the chance to try the more lager and Belgian style beers on keykeg, and also to compare the contrasting versions. This means I will have to try a half of Jaipur on keykeg, which I have to say is not something I am hopeful of enjoying, having had some that was stood in Dave's cellar for 6 weeks before now, and some when it first came out and was regularly cloudy, both of which still remain the best versions I ever tasted.

More beer news later kids!

Wee Beefy

Monday, 23 January 2012

Wee Beefy's beer bites : old hairy man tells you what some beer tastes like

Now then.

  I have had a bottle of beer, and so here, using an oft used template, are the details of that experience, for your delectation.

Brewery : Dunham Massey, Cheshire
Name : Porter
Strength : 5.2%
BCA/none BCA? : BCA.
Purchased : Dunham Massey brewery shop.

Pictured below is the beer and its gloriously death metal inspired bottle, pictured in my evil fakir receptacle which I only last night learned was a beer housing imposter. Looks orate in it mind...

Colour : dark brown, nearly black, muddy with orangey red hints in the light, with a thick, white coffee coloured, bubbly head. (note, the exposure used makes it seem jet black, but the label is more so...)

Carbonation/Pouring : quite highly carbonated, although this may be because it wasn't artificially chilled at all, only cooled naturally from being in front of the empty fireplace. The beer is slow to settle but looks very appetising with its frothy milkshake coronet.

Aroma : surprisingly light; having troughed a few of their bottles I can now identify their signature scent, but apart from strong malt and the feintest roasted hint on the nose I couldn't smell anything else.

Taste : Strong malted milk and an incredible smooth creamy mouthfeel, a trace of white chocolate is suggested before all is washed over with a wave of bitterness which resides in the aftertaste. As you take the second swig and following on as the beer continues to settle and warm, the bitterness becomes more prevalent and some of the creamy malt fades away, which is a shame.

See the pic below with helpful sugar tin to provide perspective, lest you should think the bottle was the size of an oil drum, and a homely angle that makes it seem like I might like sweet tea or breakfast cereal.

At this point, I started to detect a coffee flavour, which was not entirely pleasant, like a mug of coffee made with viscous granules from an ancient jar in a holiday cottage where the granules haven't separated in the mug. I'd earlier retained the yeast in the bottle to get as clear a dark beer as possible, and had added that to see what difference it made.

Dunham Massey beers are great because you can almost always drink the yeast, which I always consider a good sign, given the grim astringent bite of some bottling yeast which I always think puts the beer in perilous danger of turning sour.

This additional impetus releases the creamy balance once more and straight away tempers the harsher ends of the roast bitterness, whilst adding none of the sharpness that sometimes can occur. Both the head and the aftertaste now remind me of milky coffee and the sweeter malt is coming through more.

Head retention - the head is very airy and bubbly and slides oozily down the sides throughout, resting on the beer and depositing thick trails all the way, perhaps its density is its downfall as it settles irregularly on the sides and splits toward the end.

WBrating : 7.9
Am afraid I have succumbed to my strongly held view that this is the best Dunham Massey bottled beer, so I may have cranked up the score a little to reflect that. Definitely only able to get this score with the yeast added, and served a little warm which avoids an imbalance in flavours. Having followed that advice, a lovely creamy finish contrasting with the roast malt is perhaps its star turn.

More bottle reviews to come as I try the last remaining offerings from my large selection of Christmas beers.

Wee Beefy

Low strength beer - a revelation or a deliberate discombobulation?

Good even

    I noticed earlier on on the excellent Beer Today website that there had been a beer tasting in Parliament of a range of low strength beers this week, organised by the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group and the trade body the British Beer and Pubs Association, or BBPA as they call themselves.

There is no suggestion that this is all of the beers available in the UK at or below 2.8% ABV, or indeed that they are the best, but when you see the menu, you'll perhaps agree that it sends out a fairly dismal message - the future of affordable beer seems to be mainly (Brodies and Brentwood excepted) represented by mega national brands, the majority of who's stablemate products are not only homogenised, but often emasculated of their strength.

Its important at this juncture to consider the list - I couldn't find it for myself using honest means so the best idea would be to take a look at the post on Beer Today at Beer Today - MP's sample low strength beers . I searched tinterweb for more information, and to my surprise, almost nowhere had more than the briefest details available, except for, erm, "renowned" beer website Caterer search : Parliament low gravity beer sampling . Perhaps this surfeit of facts is because one half of the organisers and possible beneficiaries of the event, the British Beer and Pubs Association, has its website down, but nevertheless, it was a surprise.

Anyhoo, my point is this. Almost exclusively the beers supplied came from regional and mega regional breweries, along with the giant multinational brewers lagers. The absence of an official line from any organisation about what was intended to be achieved means I can only guess, but its safe to suggest that there was a shared desire to promote and prove the worth of, lower strength beers. This all seems entirely laudable, but it raises a few questions. (below is an image of a glass bearing the logo of what I hought was a now defunct ex Tolly Cobbold product in what would have to be an old glass, but which to my horror I now discover is a "new" beer launched/relaunched by Greedy King to save them money. Its a different beer in the glass though)

1. Were all breweries in the UK offered the chance to provide the House of Commons with their lower strength beer? I ask only because as I pointed out above, with two exceptions  only brewers of a certain magnitude appeared to have contributed. I wondered if this was symptomatic of the market across the brewing industry as a whole. Micro brewers have excelled in the field of strong ales over recent years, so does it follow that they aren't willing or interested in making sub 2.8% ale? Admittedly a giant regional brewer probably has sufficient spare capacity or funds available to develop and launch a low gravity beer quickly in response to October's ill thought through duty changes. But does the lack of microbrewery representation in this event speak of disinterest or unavailability in that sector, or is there a self serving big brewery bias in the selection?

2. Remember Morland Old Speckled Hen? I used to like it many years ago, (I was a novice drinker who liked GK Abbot and Castle Eden Ale, in the days before hops) I always used to see it in Whitbread "Ale House" pubs as a guest and tried it a few times down in Oxfordshire in what were perhaps the nearest thing to actual Morland pubs. Then, mysteriously, after the acquisition of Morland by Greene King, the ABV was reduced from 5.2% to 4.5%, apparently to address a gap in their range (although range overlap in breweries who have acquired too many other beer ranges usually ends in stopping brewing the beer altogether, so every cloud eh...).

This is not the only notable strength reduction by the big brewers - Stones down to 3.7% from at least 4.1 if not higher, Whitbread Gold Label down to 8.5% from nearer 10. No-one is saying that these are classic beers, or necessarily that they aren't as good now (Stones is of course back to 4.1% but well over a hundred miles from where it ought to be brewed). The things is, big brewers are quite happy to reduce ABV's but this marked reduction in duty paid doesn't seem to be reflected in the retail price. So when Adnams, Greedy King, Thwaites, Lees etc roll out a whole range of low strength beers, will we suddenly be paying much less at the bar for our pints?

3. Whats bad about MP's enjoying low strength beers? What does it matter if a few MP's get to taste examples of these products I hear you ask? Well, MP's of course are the ones taking the decisions over duty in the UK. Having made an inexplicable decision to reduce the viability of strong ales and punish the discerning drinker for liking something special ( I note that 3 months after implementing HSBD its still unclear what they really hoped to achieve and why, the HMRC statement is purely factual) they need to be able to demonstrate that the trade off in the deal actually achieves its aims, and that it justifies the impact on strong beer sales and long term viability.

If they are led to believe that this range of tasty but lower strength beer, is as good if not better than traditional strength beer then they are vindicated. Their aimless sleepwalk into beer meddling will not only deliver extra revenue (allegedly) but also will have created a whole new vibrant market. Everybody wins!

Except that, very few people do win, and focusing on the so called benefits of this arm of the legislation keeps them nicely and conveniently shielded from justifying the rate hike at the other end of the scale. Why has so little been said by serving MP's to justify the higher tax on beers that take longer and often more skill to produce? Is it because they didn't think it through and now realise they got it wrong?

That they now want to focus on the "merits" and exciting new opportunities afforded to brewers and the general drinking public by weak beer speaks volumes, if you'll excuse the pun, of how much they privately at least, think of HSBD.

I can see lots of brewers marketing lower strength beers, I really can, but not out of a noble determination to push the limits of brewing further by extracting more and more complex flavours from the lower alcohol, instead out of financial need. And the apparent support of the BBPA lends lobbying weight and perhaps credibility to the part of the legislation which its of course entirely in MP's interest to promote. Meanwhile, the pub goer or drink at home fan won't pay any less (as demonstrated time and time again by pubs and supermarkets who fail to make a noticeable reduction in cost when the ABV is considerably lower).

Perhaps there will be some truly great beers to come from this - there are already some slightly above 2.8% classics like Stonehenge Benchmark and Palmers Copper Ale and Ilkley Mary Jane, but I can't see how the unproven potential for increasing diversity and excellence in lower strength beer can come at a price worth paying.

Only an MP would believe its fine that we should lose our magnificent selection of UK and imported strong ales from supermarket shelves and pubs to make way for weaker beer that maybe good, but is ultimately not the same.

Wee Beefy.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Miniature morsels of bowz neeowz....

Good tidings,

    I have just a few snippets of finely trimmed beer strands for you tonight.

Deda da da

I seem to have accidentally ensconced mi sen in the Dee Dah (Dada, if you insist) three nights running. Thursday's visit was a mission to reappraise but made all the more enjoyable by the staff so I had no reservations in bringing Waaaaarf and Thangor the Motherinlaw there on Friday, especially with the "Pub Scrawl" do being on.
That said I confess I didn't see much art apart from a penis themed scribble on the wall on the left, so perhaps I missed something. Either way, beer was the main feature as always and didn't disappoint. Thangor had a half of unfiltered Bernard Pilsner, Chala a half of Thornbridge Mechelen ( I and her thought at the time it was a Mikkeller which was a very interesting scenario given his brewing pedigree, but I concede that the malty Belgian ale style should have rung alarm bells...). It was not.

Nevermind though, I had a pint of Fyne Highlander to start then as Chala grabbed a Timmermans I ordered halves of Tzara and Versa. The Versa was far less hoppy and much more banana weighted than I recalled and the Tzara was cloudy and perhaps relatedly so, unrecognisable, yet still nice. Perhaps it was the bottom of the key-keg - no beer dispense is infallible after all....

Alas we had time only for these drinks here on Friday.

Interestingly some gents who rolled up at the bar Saturday claimed that Dee-dah was a word used to describe folks from Barnsley but I felt sure it was a Barnsley term for us -  at the risk of igniting a storm here, which one is it? 

Harrisons 1854

After a brief sojourn to have very expensive but delicious wine in the Leopold Hotel we parted company and I headed to the 1854. Here I had more wine and a delicious pint of Farmers Blonde, given that the Deception was a trifle cloudy. Much good conversation was had, including Dave showing his excellence at ice smashing, as the photo below attempts to report....
I had a goodly stint here before leaving with the intention of returning to Dada but popped in the Red Deer again instead - almost as if to welcome me, the beer range had changed again, and I had a delicious pint of Inveralmond Lia Fail, whilst talking to Jose who had been so helpful the night before. An enjoyable stop off.

Closed pubs and the Wash

It was about now that I noticed a surfeit of options. To my surprise the Beehive and Old House were closed so I headed to the Washington, via a queue at the Forum, which I decided was a step too far. Odd but enjoyable cloud fest of Moonshine in my hand I enjoyed a brief sojourn round the pub before the night bus called me.  An ever reliable fall back once again, the Washington.


I also ended back up in Harrisons on  Saturday having left an important personal item behind the bar.  This warranted another pint, this time a more enjoyable Deception, mainly because it was so lively that Dave agreed to serve it without a sparkler.

I also revisited Dada for a catch up, and tried the palatable Pub Scrawl from Thornbridge, along with a Kill Your Darlings Vienna style lager, and even retried the Holly Daze that I had disliked previously. The star was probably the Scrawl, hoppy and with an interesting malt flavour which suggested they had been careful to create an uncomplicated yet highly refreshing beer. The Holly Daze I concede was less horrifying than I recall.


I must metion that I have had a Dunham Massey Gold tonight. I intended to leave it for a full review but ploughed on regardless anyway. I feel the need to comment on its hoppy and sweet malt flavour and nose, making it very Belgian in style, and more than a match for some renowned Belgian Blondes. That said, it peters out a little in the long haul but is still an interesting beer.

That's all for now folks, keep supping!

Wee Beefy

Friday, 20 January 2012

Wee Beefy's Beer Bites, new bar, old new bar


     find below a hopefully brief recount of a few beer facts...

Harrisons 1854

Just a quick note that the Farmers Blonde, despite my reservations but lately lass then magnanimous appreciation, was on fine form, replacing the for now missing Deception as the star ale on offer. Moonshine was back on but, even with a slight chill haze (which cleared soon enough) I have to say that the 54 has got hold of an admirable batch of the Blonde, and as a result, it comes to you highly recommended.

Red Deer

Pleasing but maybe a tad overdue changes int Deer, with about 3 new real ales on offer yesterday. St Peters Best Bitter (rarely spotted on draught), North Cotswold Winter Solstice and Wharfebank Camfell Flame. The St Peters was left til another visit, the Flame was an unusual but not perhaps rounded winter beer, and the Cotswold offering was very palatable, giving exactly the kind of malty and roasted flavours expected of a winter beer. Top marks.

Dada reappraisal.

Don't get the idea I am not interested in detail, after a fuzzy recollection on Wednesday night I, erm, "forced myself" in last night to find out which key keg I had drank in Dada's. Mercifully all looked unchanged, and having tasted the weird and how shall we say unique Flying Dog offering, I knew it wasn't that, and realised I had tried the Thornbridge Chiron.

Better news was to arrive with the fact that I had another delicious pint of the Pollards, a touch less cool then the other night and now, just that little bit more perfect. My final taster here was the Tzara Kolsch which retained an impressive amount of flavour for a key keg offering. That said, who thought that a head height copper tube was a good idea? As you can see above, you can't make eye contact with the bar person, unless you are both tall enough to see over the pumps....

It was also interesting to catch up with the staff, 1 from and 1 not from, Trippets. It was enjoyable getting their outlook on the operation and the subtle differences between the two venues. "No TV's!" (unq) was one comment, which I realised I had never considered before, but immediately recognised this as advantageous. A great stop overall.

Maggie May's

As I was hurtling up to West Street to cut through Leopold Square to catch the bus I noticed he dour edifice that was Alibi had changed its name. In a moment of rash recklessness I ran in expecting to see a maudlin tide of disappointment, but to my amazement, a real live handpump was on show.

Further unexpected Euphoria came from the fact that it was on and was hoped to be a permanent rather than a test of the market feature. The Abbeydale Deception was £2.80 a pint, which is more than reasonable for the area, and I can confirm gratefully that it was in fine form. The idea appears to be a sort of late retro theme ("no music after 1989") which I suppose if nothing else nails the era OK, remembering that its seventies as well, but also succeeds in making me feel incredibly old.

I only had time for the briefest of visits, bizarrely it was precisely the drab selection of continental draught and bottled offerings that kept us out of Alibi, but Chala can have Peroni and I am happy with the sensibly priced real ale so it may require a return visit.

thats all the gen for now, more details soon.

Good health!

Wee Beefy

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Wee Beefy's Beer Bites - beer and pubs and pubs and beer


    just a quick note or two about some beers I tried last night whilst out and about with Mr Cain.


 "I would give all my fame for a pot of ale"

Luckily that sacrifice won't be necessary, as I am in the Gibraltar Street hostelry spending a modest sum on one of their range of really good ales. Last night there was plenty that caught my eye - Sheffield Porter was the only dark offering but I decided to start light and had a pretty good choice to go at. Whilst Mr C stumped for cooking lager, which the barman protested less than vigorously was a term that didn't apply to Becks Vier, I had halves of the Ossett Winter IPA and Staithes brewery Boulby Blonde  a surprisingly punchy bitter pale ale at 3.5% which stood up admirably to the Ossett IPA at 5%.

The next round saw me get to try some Wantsum Brewery beer from Kent, something I failed to achieve when I was down there in 2010. I had a half of their dark brown 4.6% Dynamo along with another really enjoyable glug of the Winter IPA. Its strange that I almost always plump for the guests at the Hop (assuming that is, it is a guest, see posts passim) and as if to justify that trend, this IPA at Shakespeares was one of the best pints of Ossett I've ever had. Maybe I should only drink Ossett when its a guest elsewhere...

In News news, there is a beer festival coming at the end of February here with the potential that they may keep back a beer from the cellar at the moment to have then - this info not fully confirmed yet though so keep an eye out for further details.

The Cranes

No dark ales in the Cranes alas but the Blue Bee beers are still a feature so I had a pint of the Nectar Pale, back to being hoppy but somehow still tasting different to when I tried it in the Rutland in the summer. That said it didn't matter since it was a very refreshing bitter beer. The pub was moderately busy which is always a good thing and there are a few decent brews advertised on the coming soon board - looks like I'll have to pop back again later in the week for a thankful tope.


Dee-dah's on Trippet Lane has finally broken its Christmas imposed ban on selling anything new and got some new offerings to tempt us. Mr C and I were well catered for with a pint of decent lager for him and for me, the dream of all beer lovers, a whole delicious pint of Thornbridge Pollards coffee milk stout, all to myself. Not even marred by it being a trifle too cold, I enjoyed every last drop, deven though I changed my order for round 2...

Mr C had a very agreeable pint of Thornbridge's Kolsch style lager Tzara, and I had a half of the Fyne Highlander, which lived up to its name by being a gloriously malty but bitter Scottish ale, and I also tried one of their key keg offerings. Of course, vital to my making a point of trying the beer was to attempt a comparison, but I've forgotten what the hell it was! Also available was the new Thornbridge offering "Scrawl" brewed to coincide with Friday's live arts pub crawl event, where 10 artists will display their work in 10 pubs or bars around Sheffield, for free, for one night only. For more details go to Pete McKee pub scrawl .

It could have been one from Flying Dog or possibly Kill Your Darlings from Thornbridge, but am sorry, I can't recall for certain. I do remember it was quite cold which was a shame, but it meant that I probably enjoyed the Fyne a bit more, and to be honest, when it had warmed up a bit it was very enjoyable, erm, whatever it night have been.

  The 1854 overture

I still had time for a last drink in Harrisons, the beers were falling fast when I arrived as is often the case on the first night open after the weekend, but my half of fresh Farmers Blonde gave me a chance to pay it a bit of attention and try and work out what those prevalent flavours are. Its certainly quite dry, it was refreshing, but I think the off putting feature that lets it down a bit is the particular malt they use. Its still a nice well kept pint though, and in no way resulted in my falling asleep on the bus on my way home...

Do go and check out some of these pubs for yourself, and happy drinking!

Wee Beefy.

Concise questions of beer


   In order to shorten the transition from beer posting to comment (hmmm...) and thus question raising, I have decided to post the most pertinent questions of the issues again. Am glad you have read the reasoning behind these queries in my last post but wonder, and indeed need to know, if my protestations are incorrect or flawed!?

Please therefore see if there is an answer to the below, and if so feel free to respond to the following teasers :

1.Would better beer keep more pubs open and halt the decline of  beer sales in pubs?

2. Given that mega regional's real ale is less distinct, and widely available, is  there sufficient quality in the overall market to sustain interest, appreciation and growth in real ale?

3.If not, will and should the real ale industry promote and embrace less bland more consistent beers or will it fold under a cloud of mediocrity?

4. Finally : are the most commonly found beers actually not worth drinking or are they simply a victim of their success?

I hope we can see if these are far flung irrational premises or predictions that rightly chill us to the spine and require addressing.

What do you think?

All the best

Wee Beefy.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Quality, consistency and the magic of interaction

Good morning,

  I have noticed lots being written and debated about beer quality and consistency recently. This issue was never far from my thoughts when I worked selling bottle conditioned beers, and the same applies when I continue to find crap undrinkable cask gunk served by people who appear not to know what they are doing. So I wanted to ask you, the reader, a few questions.

Unfortunately I don't really have loads of page views, I only have 3 followers, who I'm eternally grateful to, but unlike Tandleman or similar, I don't have numerous regular posters of comment that generates discussion. And I always seem to end up reading other blog posts too late to comment.

So I thought this would be a good opportunity to try to summarise my thoughts on the issues of quality and consistency, and see if I can tempt anyone nito blurting out a reckless and unreasonable opinion of their own, to misquote Mr Cholmondley Warner.

I'll do this by looking at both cask, and bottle conditioned beers. Tonight, its all about the cask. Below is a handy pictorial reminder of what cask ale can look like. Although if you are unsure, its debatable if there's much point you reading on....

I love cask ale. Be it hand pulled, gravity dispensed or electrically assisted, its still a fantastic product to be enjoyed. Such a shame then that its so inconsistent and often of poor quality. Why is this?

1. Staff.

How many times have you had a pint of sour beer passed to you? Its got to be lots (I've been drinking 20 years now, sort of). In this time I've witnessed a real ale boom in the mid nineties, a micro brewery boom through the noughties, an explosion in Key-keg beers in the 2010's, and yet against this backdrop of soaring success, there is still a prevalent belief that you can sell off beer, and come armed with a 1976 guide to justifying why said beer isn't off.

It seems like a parody but staff, (landlords, stewards, cellarman, etc) still love to roll out the same story. Choice gems still heard whilst holding a pint of vinegar in my hand include "no-one else has complained", "its meant to taste like that" and "it can't be off, its a fresh barrel".  Sometimes you can shame a person into admitting they don't have the faintest clue about keeping beer, and an equal number of times I've had pints swapped unbegrudgingly. However, some people blindly refuse to recognise the spirit and legality of the sale of goods act, and this seems to be happening more and more. This really can't continue.

This is a problem that has to be addressed by the custodians of the bar. I'm sure back in the eighties and earlier there was crap beer in the market, and that this shoddy situation was allowed to flourish by landlords forming and never shaking bad habits, maybe neither knowing or caring about looking after beer. Ironically, nowadays, good beer is almost exclusively found in pubs with long serving licensees, so its beneficial to have an older or more experienced custodian.

Even then, so much pressure is applied by pub companies to achieve pie in the sky sales targets in every pub, that now a new breed of custodian is commonplace, someone who travels the country for a Pubco turning round, just keeping going or sometimes actively running into the ground, their pubs. Where's their motivationn to stay put gaining knowledge and appreciation of beer and cellarmanship naturally, over time, when they could be in a keg only pub next week?

Whats the risk if this situation continues ? Most people argue that falling sales and visitor numbers to pubs are down to a cocktail of ills; beer duty rises, cheap supermarket alcohol, cheap Euro imports consumed at home, and the smoking ban. I think all of these play a part, but what about badly kept or just plain rubbish beer? People have a more developed palate these days, are better informed, and have an expectation of choice and quality. If this isn't being met, then you only need to combine that with one of the above causes and there's an explanation right there for why revenue is dwindling. So maybe it really can't continue?

So my question is :

Would solving the issue of inconsistent and poor quality beer in pubs help revitalise the industry and stop so many pubs closing?

2. Yawn and groan-a-likes

Then there is the issue of woefully bland beer. Often mass marketed, and shipped all over the UK without thought for its travelling capabilities, its probably had its ABV reduced in the last 10 years for "market sector" reasons. Bland beers are down to breweries. Some breweries are rubbish. Sorry, but thats a Wee Beefy beer fact! (fact subject to personal interpretation). Their beers aren't necessarily always off or anything, but they might be samey or simply lacking in flavour.

This observation is a response to changing tastes - a flood of New World hops and punchy American takes on our own styles has made us yearn for something that stands out. That doesn't mean a traditional mild or a low gravity small beer isn't good, but whilst ever it represents such a small percentage of regional brewers output then its not the above, but the big blands that we see almost all the time.

And this desire for more interesting, more distinct, micro brewery and  "Craft" (whatever that is, I think it involves card and glitter) beers comes at a time when the big breweries no longer nrew, and those remaining are pursuing a widening roster of drab, inoffensive, allegedly easy to keep Unibeers.

Back in the 1990's I was wooed by almost any beer not brewed by Whitbread, Tetleys or Bass North! Yet, all these breweries actually could produce good ale,  if it was kept well, and, if you could find it. Examples included Tetley Walker Wild Rover, Whitbread one offs such as Ryman's Reserve,  Stones Dark in cask form, and even, when I didn't rate it that much, Bass. The thing is, this was the result of major breweries still being that, and allowing fleeting glimpses of what they could do using the retained experience of brewers who probably rejoiced at the chance to brew something different.

Nowadays, different is paid lip service to but isn't part of the big plan. The super regional's swallow up other regionals and even large micro's then whittle out the quirky and notable in their acquisitions, and brew everything in one place, whilst neglecting the gems in their existing portfolio. The only boundaries between these brews are their oft barely detectable geographical origins.

They still own and supply untold thousands of pubs, yet only their most non descript products fit the requirements of a pubco or their own estate. The nett result is "doing a Whitbread" and producing 15 rebadged beers with little tangible difference between them, a brooding rainstorm of dreary blandness from which the average tied house or pubco pub visitor cannot escape. The monotaste brews then fall out of favour leaving them conveniently free to concentrate on mega brands. That's bad for choice, and bad for beer, (and crucially, means we are presented with numerous offerings that I doubt you could make less bland and thus less crap, by being a genius in the cellar)

So my question is :

with mega regional's real ale becoming less distinct, and more widely available, are there sufficient spikes of quality to sustain interest and appreciation of real ale, or is the future a dread flatline of mediocrity? 


3. Not that again...

Its lazy to claim that any brewery with a large portfolio is spreading itself thin but its true that many drab ales come from such producers. But market dominance in any form is bad news, even if we love the breweries that achieve it..

If you see the same choice of beers every time you go out, even if you are often drinking in pubs with a wide range of beers to try, aren't you usually disappointed at the sight of something that's on everywhere? It seems to be the case that the widespread availability of a breweries beer means you will end up drinking it in places that only sell one real ale and don't really have the knowledge of or interest in looking after it. Its brilliant to have local breweries doing well but sometimes their very prevalence is detrimental to how we see the product and how easy it is for them to sustain its consistency .

Take two beers that I don't really bother trying in pubs anymore. Both are pale and designed to be more modern in flavour and to an extent perhaps attempt to attract the curious lager drinker Both of the beers come from producers that have had to expand to meet demand, and who have made stringent efforts to get their beers into a huge number of pubs in Sheffield. So now that we know for certain which beers I mean, I wonder, are they of poor quality, or does their very familiarity dissuade me from making a fair assessment of the beer's merits? I think the answer is the second possibility.

That they have saturated the market means by the law of averages there will be poor quality examples of a good batch of the beers, instead of such examples being from a bad batch. And if I am not fed up of seeing them in pubs where I'd prefer to see something more unusual, I'm glad to see them in non real ale savvy pubs where they then taste grim. So I find myself forming the opinion that these aren't good beers because I am so desensitised to them that I can't tell if they are being presented how the brewer wants them to be.

So my last question is :
are the most commonly found beers actually not worth drinking or are they simply a victim of their success?

I concede that my 400,000 word thesis is a bit lengthy. It may be supercilious. It might be a bit wandery. It may even be the reason that I rarely get comments on my blog! Despite this, even if you only take up one of the points, I'd love to hear from you,in responses up to but not exceeding a million words if possible.

Thanks for your time and continuing support,

Wee Beefy.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Wee Beefy's 2012 Derbyshire Dales walk


    I am fully recovered now from my first yomp of the new year, when I walked from Birchover to Matlock Bath via Winster and Bonsall, trying some new and old pubs along the way.

The Bus to Beelzebub

With the above song in mind (Soul Coughing fans) I set out on a hellish trundle to my starting point. As usual I'd got up later than planned then fannied around for ages doing crap that I really ought to have done the night before like a sensible person. I even managed to rustle up some breakfast even though I had miplaced its ingredients - in the end I had a less than classic walkers prep of a bowl of shepherds pie....

The bus arrived on time and we quickly realised that hell was not its destination; instead it was hypothermia. One of the windows in the what looked like 1960's bus was wedged open. All the way to Bakewell we were blasted by icy cold wind. Great. Things didn't improve any in Bakewell either - I had to go for a coffee to get warm but finished it all too quickly, then had 25 minutes to fill in before the bus, which I spent walking round trying to warm up.

The 172 bus ride to Birchover is beautiful on a frosty sunny day like Saturday - as you wind up through Stanton in the Peak every house and wall is finely dusted with frosty icing sugar, and the fields were bathed in sunlight as we passed the edge of Stanton moor, with large swathes still white from the hard frost. I started in Birchover at Barn Farm and made my way across what would have been a muddy lake of a field normally,  in low set bright sunshine, biting cold wind and crispy ground to Uppertown.

Uppertown is a bit of a weird title for part of the village which lies below Birchover - unless its meant to be part of Winster, in which case its still the lowest part. Clearly this is a countryside in-joke that I don't get. From here I followed Birchover lane then took the path past the cemetery to the road leading to the top of Winster, where most of the fields and fauna were still frozen. Looming up round the corner at the top was my first stop.

The Miners Standard, Winster

I'd never been in this pub so was quite pleased to find it open and to finally get in for a beer. There's an outside porch and then a sign above the door as you enter - some say the initials are the names of two locals who built the building, others that it stands for the words in a lead miners saying - either way, I can't be sure what it stands for and annoyingly, I forgot to write it down! If anyone knows the letters or their meaning please let me know.

Inside there is one room split into 2 areas with a passage heading out to the loos and presumably the back, although I had no desire to sit outside so didn't check. There is a real fire in the left hand side and a fireplace to the right might also have one. The long wooden bar sports three or four handpumps and I tried the Brakspears bitter - £2.25 is a damned decent price in Derbyshire these days and not to be sniffed at - better still the beer was very well kept and managed to retain a lot of flavour, considering its 3.4%.

The pub seemed to be full of locals but I know its popular with walkers, and the landlady regaled the occupants of the table across from me with a story from Facebook, which she could barely say whilst crying with laughter. She also used a phrase I hadn't heard before - when she was explaining to one of the regulars children what she was doing, she said "I'm mending the fire up" I can't say I've heard anyone say that before, so maybe its a local phrase. Although it could just be incorrect. Nevertheless, after enjoying the Facebook tale myself I decided to stop for another, and had a good pint of Pedigree, which I think was £2.60 a pint. This is a cracking pub all in all, hopefully one I'll get back to soon.

Bonsall Moor

From here I pressed on over Bonsall Moor. I was going to walk all the way to Upper Town in Bonsall on the road but it was such a beautiful day I decided to cross the moor by path instead. On the way up the first half mile or more of the road, I had to walk on the left, because the right was in shadow and was still covered in a slippery white hoare frost. The road is quiet, disturbed only by a handful of cars and a coal lorry, in fact the whole area is blissfully peaceful; and until you reach the edges of Bonsall a mile or two later, except for a clutch of farms, and a ruined building or two, there's nothing but stone walls and  rugged Derbyshire moorland to see.

The path across the moor is a bit short on worded signposts after you leave the road, but I found my way past numerous crossroads and junctions despite having forgotten to bring the half of my decimated White Peak map for this part of the walk. The route is diagonal and crosses many fields with squeeze stiles to negotiate - luckily the walls are low so I could swing my legs over, ottherwise I would never have made it. All of the fields traversed were edged with frosty white, and some had long sparkling fingers of cold placed across them, even at about half one in the afternoon.

The Barley Mow

The path comes out on a lane at Uppertown and leads to the bus stop - I mention it only because the bus route seems so incongruous, winding up through the narrow streets and out up towards Bonsall moor then along the back of the highest part of the village and turning round in a space that suggests it needs a good 4 goes to get round. I then followed Bankside down to The Dale - a sign at the top warns the road is unsuitable for HGV's - hopefully the pic right will demonstrate why.

As I walked down the road to the pub I noticed again that one whole side of the steep sided dale was still blanketed in white powder, although someone had hung their washing out, presumably in anticpation of the sun reaching it sometimne around March. Please note, the far wall in the picture is in fact the garden of the house and is therefore the edge of the road as it turns left at the absurd hairpin bend.

The Barley Mow is a small long buildng the back of which is carved out of rock, and has a single room with plentiful seating and a range at one end and the bar and kitchen at the other. The toilets are outside, and the front has just enough sepace for some people to sit outside. Remember to take the door on the left though - the one as you climb up the steps leads to the kitchen. I used to come to the Mow a lot but haven't been for a while now, a fact demonstrated by the fact that the new owners had been there more than 3 years.

When the previous landlord and owners had it there were two real ales on, Hartington Bitter and Greedy King Abbot. Now the beer range has changed considerably, with all 4 handpumps in use. I started with a pint of the Blue Monkey Original, a 3.6% beer packing as much hoppy flavour in as a lesser 4.5% brew. Despite this beer being my third of the day, I didn't allow myself to be tempted by the homemade food which smelt lovely, as I had a pile of unappetising squashed sandwiches to enjoy later.

All too soon my beer had mysteriously disappeared and I had to go back for another couple of halves - I had the Otley Columbo pale, and the stronger Whim Snow White Weiss, at 5.0%. The Otley was as expected, lovely citrus hops and sweetish malt but inevitably slightly cloudy. The Whim was cloudy intentionally and was a really nice beer even though it failed to taste like a wheat beer at all. All beers were £2.90 to £3.00 a pint.

Every year, the Barley Mow claims to be the centre of UK hen racing - apparrently hens have been known to complete the race, but usually just sit down, walk in circles or peck through the gravel in the car park looking for worms....

Temple Hotel bar

All too soon I had to drag myself away and head down the semi frozen dale and over the hill to Matlock Bath. It was only about 3PM but it was cold once again, althoiug I was at least warming up as I toiled up through the village, bypassing the closed Kings Head (I think they keep quite strict lunchtime hours) and heading up to the church and then following the steep winding ember lane to the woods behind Matlock Bath.
Having climbed up so high I then had to precariously climb down a very slippy muddy steep path at the edge of the woods to bring myself out at the Upperwood area of Matlock Bath. As directed by a local dogwalker, I was to walk down between two houses and at the entrance to Gullivers Kingdon I would see on my right what he called a plane. I knew what he meant as soon as I saw it - its an interesting word for a ginnel or snicket but I suppose its loosely based on an inclined plane, which they used to send small trucks loaded with coal or rocks down on a pulley.

Soon I was overlooking the Bath with the Temple Hotel on my right. As you enter the bar is immediately on your right - I point this out because I didn't notice it at all at first, in fact am not even sure there is a sign. Inside is an L shaped room (or it maybe continues past the left hand end of the bar) with ample seating and a long bar sporting 5 handpumps, all in use. I had a fantastic pint of Blue Monkey Evolution, which was £2.90a pint, and there were plentty of other options available, an Oakham Scarlet Macaw, Abbeydale Dr Morton's Snake Oil, Full Mash Spiritualist and a real cider, which is on a gas assisted pump.

I soon got chatting to Chris, who runs the bar, about the beers he has on and his and his customers favourite brews. I mentioned my love of Blue Monkey, and he advised me that BG sips my favourite of their beers was on next, indeed the Oakham died a death so I ended up trying that as well. In between times, having finished my pint of Evolution, I had a pint of the Dr Morton's snake oil. Far better than my recent Abbedydale experiences this was a really tasty, bitter golden beer.

It turns out Chris used to live in Sheffield and visit the Archer Road Beer Stop so we agreed we have probably met before, and whilst propping up the bar (but crucially, not being in the way) I also got into a chat with a couple from Nottingham who had been to a gig in a sheffield pub and loved it. Alas, they couldn't recall the name, its location or the identity of the band, but it did have a bar on the left. After much guesswork a friend was called and we found out it was the Broadfield - which explained why I didn't recognise the description, since there isn't a right hand room anymore.

The other thing I noticed, apart from the fact that I was there for nearly 2 hours which is much longer than I had planned on, was that almost every beer drinker who arrived remarked on there being Blue Monkey beers available - it seems that many people share my love of this brewery's output, and Chris confirms this is one of his big sellers. Trade was brisk whilst I was there with a mixture of guests and other visitors, and I was impressed to see that it seems highly regarded - overall though the most impressive aspect was the dedication to quality shown regarding the beer. I wasn't allowed to taste the Oakham offering by Chris until he had, because he thought it was pulling light and running out. He confirmed it was tired, which when I tried it was, and then took it off.  All the beer was in tip top xconditin and it was an interesting range as well. This is another pub I hope I can get back to soon.

Princess Victoria

From here I had to find my way down to the A6. A couple of locals suggested I walk down the alleyway that would bring me out near where the pub was - I didn't find an alley I fancied however and did the trip on the road (although I found the alley at the bottom?). I was soon at the bar in the Princess Victoria perusing the choices. I haven't been in since it was a Batemans house selling guests, and its now owned by Ashover Brewery. The Batemans XXXB was still available, and thats what I had a pint of. The only Ashover offering was their Light Rale which I don't rate, and nothing else caught my eye at all hence my enjoyably conservative choice.

I have probably only been in about 4 times and for some reason I never seem to be able to get on with it. I like the way it looks, I like the food, I like its quirky design, but for reasons unknown I never want to spend long in there, and the disappointing beer range put me off persevering. Perhaps an early crawl stop might alay some of my misgivings.

Midland and County and Station

I now knew that I wasn't going to make the Plough at Two Dales, so that still remains one of my "target" pubs to visit. Instead I went and grabbed some chips from a chippy down the "seafront" and went back out into the freezing cold to eat them quickly. I now had an hour to fill in before my bus so ventured into the Midland. They served 4 real ales, Farmers Blonde, Peak Ales Swift Nick, Bakewell Best and their seasonal Noggin Filler which I had a half of.

This was a comfy enough quite large pub, with a mix of tourists and locals, and was, thankfully, quite warm, which was a merciful relief I can assure you. The guy behind the bar seemed quite loud but the atmosphere was congenial and had I had more time, money, and had drunk less earlier, I think I may have stopped for a pint of what was a very nice Peak Ales winter brew. I think a longer visit next time is required to sample some more of their range. The picture on the right is the bar in the Midland.

Alas I hadn't really spent long enough in there so to avoid dying of exposure I nipped in the County and Station across the road. There was Pedigree and Jennings Cumberland on the bar so I went for a half of that by way of a change. It was tired, one dimesional and a little warm, a pale imitation of what can be a good drink. The pub itself is OK, but a little odd, a transient unpreposessing venue comprised of a collection of unfulfilled ideas.

Whilst you had some quite traditional pub decor and dark wood fittings, there was also a pool table in a boistrous back room, the inevitable imposing Sky TV Screens, and a restaurant, prominently advertised, on the right. It was bit cold, and a single couple sat in there eating pub fare. I'm glad it stocked some real ale but I can't see me rushing back to visit again.

By now it was too near to the time of the bus to squeeze in another pub visit and find the bus stop, so to keep warm I walked towards Matlock, stopping to check the time at each stop, which wasn't many since they are spaced well apart, and looking out for another pub where I might quickly nip in to use the facilities. With 10 minutes to go I arrived at a bus stop outside some toiletsa (actually open!) so I was ready now to settle down to the ball ache which was the journey via half of the Derbyshire Dales to Belper and then onto Derby.

The Best Bass you'll ever taste

I got into Derby at about quarter past 9 an hour or so before my train and got a bus round to the train station, then ran round to the Station Inn on Midland Road (where else?) The door was open for a change, which is very unusual for a Saturday night when Derby have been playing, and was quite crowded with sound barrier threatening footy fans. I got to the bar and was welcomed warmly by Dave, who correctly but not entirely difficultly predicted my order would be a pint of Bass from the jug. I could then retire to my seat behind a wall of wannabe footbal managers and refereeing experts to quietly enjoy one of the finest pints of ale in the UK.

I even had chance to enjoy a further pint of the glorious tasty Bass whilst there, before I had regrettably, to leave the pub and head back to the station. Here, my train was delayed so to fill in some time I popped in the Noahs Ark, to find painfully bright lights, an argument in the doorway and no real ale, so I returned to the station. In the end, the train was over an hour late and I was back in Sheffield at gone midnight.

Late 1854

With a thirst still to quench after 2 hours waiting or travelling I decided I had limited options for decent beer at this time. Despite my blog promise in my last post to start going to Harrisons early on I hot footed it up town and got there in time to have a pint of that wonderful Deception that I had the other night, and also had chance to catch up briefly with Barraharri whilst I supped it. This was a nice way to end the evening, sate of thirst, tired of legs, cold of frame but happy nonetheless.

Overall I had a really enjoyable day out and visited some truly excellent pubs, drank some fantastic beer and saw some stunning scenery, and not even the rank incompetence of the train companies ("the train is currently limping into Leicester") could put a downer on my fantastic first walk of 2012.


Wee Beefy

Friday, 13 January 2012

Forum bars pub crawl

Aah, readers,

      last night I embarked on a mission to compare the drinking and dining experience in some of the Forum Bars chain's premises. I made 3 of the 5, before me and Chala opted for a more sedentary repose at the 1854. Here are the salient details of that hard working assessment.

The Broadfield Ale House

As we found ourselves up Nether Edge way, and seeing that the Union was closed (but not knowing if this was down to it being pre 17.00 or the rumoured ill health of the licensee), we headed down to Abbeydale road for Chala's first trip to the "new " Broadfield. Both me an err used to live nearby and given that the other nearest pubs were on Chesterfield road or further up Sheldon Road, the Broadfield was our local, even if it wasn't our most oft visited boozer. Chala reckoned that, having seen the sign and entered the large room that is now the whole of the pub, it had changed beyond recognition. Personally, I think the left hand side is very similar, but better decorated, and am reasonably certain that the bar remains in situ.

I knew that we'd have to walk round the bar to discover the secret that was the beer range, and on noticing a dearth of Chala-friendly continental draught (no wheat beer? Come on now...) I quickly chose my pint, whilst Chala eventually plumped for a bottle of Erdinger. The lass who served us was very friendly and helpful, although she missed that there were two Belgian draught beers, Westmalle Tripel and Kwak - both of which I have never seen on draught before. We went in the right hand side as we were only drinking, to find our first annoyance of the night.

Not two minutes after we had sat down a staff member came and plonked an A4 sheet on our table and informed us it was reserved for someone we didn't catch or care about's 50th birthday shindig, as if this somehow made it less irritating. Granted, this unwelcome intrusion was not happening until 19.00, nearly 2 hours away, but I can't agree with reserving an ordinary table for having a pint. That's just daft. Still, that didn't stop me enjoying my pint, although maybe that would have been a good thing since it lasted me 4 minutes. The Farmers stout was better than it can be at the Old House and was a little flat, making it deliciously and eminently suppable.

I went back to the bar to order a pint of the Leveller from Springhead, and to moan about reserved tables and the lack of a cask beer board.  I meant it half seriously but mainly in jest and it was treated like that. This meant i wanted to be served by the same lass again - quite often bar staff don't understand sarcasm, comic exaggeration, irony or just humour, so finding someone similarly tuned in was a winner.

I was back minutes later, after enjoying some of my delicious but more bitter than I recalled Leveller, to grab something so Utopian in its naming that I feared I may have dreamt it - a pie menu, and a sausage menu. Manna. Having spotted many a tempting mix of flavours from both we set about trying to get a table to eat. And here again, alas, the Broadfield came up with trumps.

Why, I hear you ask? Because there are almost no free tables (over half reserved) and even the ones reserved don't have a sign on. Here, our old friend expectation plays his hand - I expected to sit at a table I liked, in trying to do so my hopes are dashed, I expected to find a warm place to sit, but in having a choice of about 3 tables only, all in direct draught line of the doors, my hopes aren't realised once again. We select a seat at a nice table in one of the bay windows. Its really cold. Thanks for that.

We order our food and me another pint, enquire again about a real ale board which am assured is being done, which is good, and then ask for a wine list. I don't want to sound like I have forgotten that this is a pub, but I expect it to be similar to the York and The Old House. Both have excellent wine lists. The Broadfield needs to catch up. Only one Rose (for Chala, not me obviously), all the whites are dry, and there are only 3 reds.  Chala goes for a Pinot Noir which is OK, but better with food, and am never sure if that is a good sign - personally I reckon not. I go for more Farmers and a watery but tasty Acorn Yorkshire Pride.

The food comes and is delicious in decent sized portions, and only £6.50 so that's decent value. By the time we finish eating the place is rammed, but alas this extra warmth has not floated to our table and its been a cold dining experience for the most part. Paying at the bar I recommend to my chosen staff member that they should invest in some double glazing.

Overall ? Nice decor, great food, good real ale but an over reliance on standard Abbeydale and Bradfield offerings,. stupid table reservation policy, bad seating layout, excellent friendly bar staff, best pint of Farmers Stout for a very long time. 7/10.

The Forum

This was our second venue after we had tried and failed to desire staying in the green Room - details further on. The Forum is fairly busy for what must be 20.00. All we have to do is choose where best to sit. So many times we have been frustrated at being pounced upon by zealous staff waging a secretive war against incomers choosing their table, by keeping almost every table reserved without them seeming to ever be occupied. So we head left from the bar to find seating. There is a raised settee festoooned bit which overlooks almost all of the main seating areas, which I don't recall seeing before, and we find a nice comfy place there to relax and enjoy our drinks.

In reference to which, on the bar there are two handpumps, one clip is turned round but there is an Abbeydale Gothic pump clip showing. Excitedly I ask for a taste. It smells of vinegar. It tastes sour. Its horrible. "Jesus wept" I helpfully remark, expecting the barman to be disappointed that a beer he deems suitable to sell is in fact off. Nope, he says "yeah, I don;t  really like the taste either". Its off for Gods sake - whats to like? I am mildly horrified that he may have tasted it and thought that was the beer's unique character coming through, or the idea that no-one all day had ventured to buy real ale, but I put these niggles to one side to peruse the wine list. (note, the below picture is intended to be a tiled freize depicting a jester. Although he could be a harlequin. Read into that what you will....)

Its changed quite a bit since the summer but that's not necessarily a bad thing, although I really fancied the Villa Maria NZ Sauvignon Blanc. Instead Chala has an Italian Rose and me a Chilean Pinot Noir. Despite the glass being needlessly warm, this is a nice drink.

Overall? The music is OK, the decor is best ignored but isn't encroachingly bad, and the ambiance is relaxed. The beer range uniformally disappoints, in fact its best when only Moonshine is available given their odd stewardship of guest ales. The wine is good and comes from a list, so well done there, and the food menu has changed and it looks better than it used to. 6/10.

The Old House

Twice in one week is a worrying trend for us but I'm definitely in the mood for some ale and reckon there's likely to be a Farmers Stout waiting for me. The Old House is busy and the only free table is a chilly one plonked thoughtlessly near the door but the beer cloak is knitting itself round me so I don't mind too much. Chala has a Margarita, I have a pint of the Abbeydale Epiphany having missed it on Sunday. I was right, its better than the transformation, but I have to say its hardly an outstanding beer.

The musics good in here as well so that makes us relaxed and we are soon back at the bar, Chala plumping for a reorder and me giving in to the Farmers Stout, which is better today than last time, but still can't match that I tried in the Broady.

Hopefully the brevity of this assessment will not suggest an unwillingness to fully explore the inherent merits and faults of the venue, but really I can't say much else about our experience - we came in, sat down, had great drinks, talked and enjoyed ourselves. This then, serves as the summary. 8/10. (I like the Old House).

So, that concludes our Forum bars crawl. But what does it tell us?

Well firstly, reading this back, it seems that I am 37 going on 70, but in more practical terms it suggests that:

We found contrasting approaches to real ale in all 3, we found contrasting wine selections in all 3 pubs as well. In terms of quality of beer the Forum seems mainly at sea where real ale is concerned, the Broadfield keeps it well but seems nervous of anything more radical then the Leveller, the Old House always has one dark beer on and that's got to be good for the soul.

The Forum and Old House know their wine and more importantly inform and advise customers about its range and availability, which is creditable, and the Old house beer bible makes the blank blackboard at the Broadfield seem like an unfortunate own goal. Food wise I haven't eaten at the Forum for a year or more and wasn't exactly blown away but the menu has now changed, meanwhile the snap at the Broady and Old House has been great, more especially at the Old House if I'm to be honest.

That the Forum has morphed into 2 real ale pubs selling food, 1 real ale bar, a music bar and erm, the Common Room, is tribute to their good business decision making and a positive sign of growth in the Sheffield real ale scene. If the individual venues could share info about each others strong points then the Forum quintet could well leave other competitors standing. 

The Green Green Room of woe.

Not that its Forum owned but the Green Room was our intended venue on arriving in town. I had been in on the works Christmas night out to find it busy late on, but with the disheartening sight of a single pump clip on one of two handpumps, turned round. Before the Three Cranes reopened Rick who is there now was behind the bar at the Green Room, and he had some Blue Bee beers on. All seemed well after a whole year seemingly without real ale, just a string of promises that it would be on in a fortnight or next month. So what would we find?

Well, cue deja-vu. There it was, that solitary handpump dressed in a clip, with its back to us. When I enquired when it would next be facing us, I was almost amused but disappointed to hear that there would not now be real ale on for a fortnight. Oh! How you mock me Green Room! The barman ventured that he was waiting for a delivery or to get hold of some ale - it turns out the much sought after beer was Moonshine. How long do you have to wait for a cask of Sheffield's most oft encountered real ale?!?! The guy then changed his story to it being a month before we'd see the glorious drink, although he claimed they were installing another 2 handpumps.

I was determined to be fair to them though so having clocked that there were no continental beers worth having I asked what wines were on offer. I plumped for reds; there were 3. They looked like they were missing only the word "lifestyle" or "Happy Shopper" from the label and although you certainly can't judge a wine by its label there wasn't anything to tempt me. So once again, no Beefy household money enters the Green Room's till. Silly Green Room.

Harrisons 1854

A quick note of praise for my favourite hometime bar (although i promise I'll make it my first stop of the night sometime soon). Whilst selecting a decent wine and ordering Chala a tequila and coke, I decided to have a half of Deception. This is not an unusual set of circumstances, but it was perhaps one of the best drinks of Deception I ever tried. Certainly the finest that has passed my lips at Haribo's anyhow. Such a shame that the rigours of the the crawl and my big meal meant I favoured a half only. Full marks to Barraharri and the team for ending our night on a hoppy high.

That's all for tonight, I need to prepare for a beery trek in wildest Derbyshire tomorrow.

Keep thirsty

Wee Beefy.