Saturday, 31 August 2013

Some book or other


           an amount of gnashing has gone on in the last few days (I missed the initial hoo-ha) about a book that has been published which the publishers and editorial team are keen on selling. By sheer co-incidence, around the time of publication, The Good Pub Guide's editor wrote an ill informed, slightly pejorative piece about a subject that we as pub goers likely know plenty about, and more pertinently, care about. The contentious note in question suggested that thousands of bad pubs would close because they deserved to. Bold stuff!

The ensuing wave of indignation was understandable - and having just been on a trip round some fairly, Christ, how shall I put this "down to earth" pubs only yesterday, I could have sought to provide a long list of completely excellent pubs that for whatever reason wouldn't get in, if nothing else, because I seriously doubt they would want to pay an alleged £199.00 to be included in the guide (even assuming they met the criteria for inclusion).

But what would be the point ?

Underpinning this is the ringing of tills (I can't think of a sound that can be linked to the processing of on-line transactions!) and the steady increase in awareness of the book has probably done nobody involved with it any harm.

The best way to react to the book's editor's apparent contentment with multiple pub closures is to go to them thus helping keep them open, and to remember that the subjectively titled book has its own agenda, and you pay to get in it. The only difference between that and the GBG is that the GBG is free to be included in. Despite conspiracy theories to the contrary.....

So for the same reason I no longer react to BrewDog "controversies", which is a word very similar to contrivances by the way, I intend to just sit back and let the book in question get on with being sold to people who would be buying it anyway. Irrespective of what I or anyone else who appreciates the less obvious qualities of British pubs, may think.

And if it helps, I will be buying neither the GBG or Good Pub Guide in the next 12 months.

So I win.


A whistlestop tour of Welsh pubs

Hello again,

      it's a while since I went round some of Wales' national and regional inventory pubs and the last trek was so vast an undertaking I never finished writing it up on here! Time to put that right, and tell you about a frankly unlikely cast list of boozers, very few of which are in snob journal the Good pub guide, that we crammed in over Thursday and Friday.

Please accept my apologies for the length of this post....

We started in sunny England in Worcester, a place I have never drunk in before. Having located our two targets we started at 12.00 in the Wheatsheaf on Henwick Road. Five beers to choose from here,  WF had some of a half (please remember easily shocked people, WF only has a small amount of any beer attributed to him, or better still a soft drink, when we are out on these trips - basically I buy almost every round because I drink almost all of the beers!) of St Georges brewing Friar Tuck, I had a half of the Summer Ale and Arrowhead Bitter from Cannon Royall.

I can't say I rated the St Georges bland, offensively inoffensive output but perhaps they are catering to local tastes - either way, comparative old stagers Cannon Royall came out on top with one of the best beers of the day.

Nearby the National Inventory of unspoilt pub interiors (N.I) Bush is alas, closed, probably having been for a while now - the board outside advertises coming events for February. Recent developments in Worcester re NI pubs, particularly the Paul Pry, see here have been mixed but the pub business for sale sign from Enterprise and for sale by auction signs on the Bush don't look promising. Still, it will be some comfort for the editor of the Good pub guide Fiona Stapley, who would be horrified to think of the pub still trading with its live sports, karaoke and drinks offers - don't get me wrong, were it not for the quality of the interior that wouldn't be my choice of pub either but its perverse that I or anyone else should celebrate its closing down.(that's enough Good pub guide rumblings!)

Off into Wales next and an impromptu stop at the Crown at Pantygelli near Abergavenny heralded rain. Its important not to fall in the trap of cliches and stereotypes but dear God, we must have been over the border all of 10 minutes! Halves of Rhymney Bitter and something from Kite brewery were supped.

In Abergavenny our first RI (regional inventory) pub visit took place. The Railway on Breconn Road is a fantastic multi-roomed pub with an obvious off sales and a traditional bar with vault written in the glass, on your left. Usually serving 5 beers there was a slight shortage prior to some Kinsgtone beer coming on later so we had halves of Butcombe Gold and Wye Valley HPA, coming in at £3.10 a pint. It was great wandering round the many separate areas and admiring the careworn (possibly a euphemism for tired!) fittings and furniture. Definitely one to revisit (with thanks to the landlord for the beer mats).

The Angel at Pontneddfechan was next - mainly to try the Neath Firebrick. Alas they have changed to Rhymney bitter, but it was on good form, and this was a really friendly pub. Well worth a stop off.

An early arrival at our accommodation followed. The Ancient Briton at Pen Y Cae is a CAMRA award winner with 13 hand pumps and what turned out to be very comfy rooms. From the selection available WF tried the Wye Valley house beer and I had a pint of the Tiny Rebel Full Nelson, at £2.85. Easily the best beer of the day, this was a great way to begin our stay at the pub.

The Felinfoel Rock and Fountain at Craig Cefn Parc came next, perched high up above the valley with fantastic views and 3 beers to choose from - I finally got to try Felinfoel stout on cask (ahem...presumably) and WF had a half of Buckleys Best, the round coming to £2.60. Prices throughout the trip were almost all under £3.00 for two halves.

Food followed at Llandyfan. The Square and Compass is a plain looking long pub that looks like it could  have been converted from a house in the not too distant past. There was only one beer on, Watkins OSB, at £3.10 a pint, so I had that to wash down my casually ordered chilli, which was one of the hottest I ever tasted! There was plenty of oddness at the Square and compass and had I had a more grumpy head I might have let this spoil my visit - a strong smell of varnish or polish, no heating, only one real ale, no real olde world charm in terms of fixtures and fittings - but if anything this simply endeared the pub to me.

The pub of the day followed - the community run Cwmdu Inn at Cwmdu is a tiny two roomed pub also housing a shop and other amenities in a row of cottages on the main road, if that's even the right description for the only lane that runs through the village. Just one beer to choose from, which changes regularly, this time Archers Clippper at £2.75 a pint, which was on good form. This is exactly what a local pub should be like - a family moving into the area were getting the low down on what is going on and where, a bloke from nearby Salem was in sat next to the bar as he has done for years, a bloke sat in the right hand room quietly reading the paper, and the walls around the bar were covered in notices and announcements about the pub and the village. A very impressive boozer.

Our next stop was to be the Black Horse at Meinciau, but we abandoned the plan as it was 45 minutes out of our way, and we didn't even know if it would be open,  so headed for Ysttalfera and the Wern Fawr brew pub. We were also supposed to be visiting the Red Cow but alas the pub now stands forlorn and empty just down the road having closed some time in 2011. The beers on offer were all from the Bryncellyn brewery and we tried halves of all 4. To be brutally honest only the Buddy Marvellous really took my fancy and all 4, including Holly Hop, Buddy's Delight and Oh Boy, were fairly forgettable - mind you 2 pints was £4.80 making it the cheapest beer of the trip. The pub itself is a fascinating jumble of artifacts and notices, and despite my lack of appreciation for the beers I can heartily recommend a visit.

We finished back at the Ancient Briton where WF tried the Hobsons Twisted Spire and I had a couple more of the excellent Tiny Rebel before admitting defeat.

Friday saw us having breakfast ably assisted by Janine and Phil who are looking after the pub whilst the landlord is away - fantastic beer knowledge and friendly service from them and everyone at the pub makes this a great place to stop. Our first pub was at the Crown in Rhayader, where we had halves of Brains IPA and bitter at £2.55. A decent start, after we wandered in the NI Listed Lion Royal to find the bar closed and no-one in te building, but the door open!

Llanidloes followed - two RI and one NI pub plus a smattering of real ale venues make Llanidloes a great place to drink. We had a pint and half of purple Moose Snowdonia ale in the Stag on Great Oak street at £2.85 a pint, and sat listening to the regulars discuss the town's drinking establishments and characters - definitely a place to sit quietly and observe.

The Mount Inn on China street was unfortunately closed so we headed straight for the Crown and Anchor, a fantastic NI pub selling two real ales, which is currently up for sale. The landlady explained that she had come to realise she couldn't live there forever and it was time to sell up, but she hoped that any buyer would respect the pubs layout and traditional atmosphere - its Grade 2 listing should hopefully afford some protection, but no sale is imminent. We had two halves of Rev James whilst wandering around taking pics.

We visited the Sportsman in Newtown next - this is the tap for Monty's brewery. Its important to point out that I had already assessed this was one of the pubs of the trip before I was given a free Tee Shirt - hopefully this won't cast doubt on the qualities of this excellent town centre pub. We had a tray of thirds and a half of the Monty's Jailhouse dark, the thirds being Mischief, Sunshine and MPA, coming in at £2.80 for 3. Karen behind the bar was very helpful and knew the Montys brand and beers very well, making us very welcome. A new bar is to be installed in September adding an extra two handpumps.

Llanfair Caerinion is a small town with two cracking pubs - the Goat Hotel and the Black Lion. In the Goat we had halves of Monty's Mwch and Woods Shropshire lass, at £2.40, and had it not been for Wee Fatha's creaking joints we could have slummed it on a comfy sofa. The nearby Black Lion is on the RI by virtue of its excellent bar - here we had halves of Purple Moose Glaslyn at £2.60.

We stopped by the Cann Office Hotel, also on the RI, at Langadfan and were pleased to find it open. They sell two real ales, currently both from Offas Dyke brewery. This large hotel has an unusual mix of austere original fittings from the 1950's, and a much more modern dining area, but still retains enough notable vintage bar work to make a visit worthwhile. The two Offas beers were Thirst Brew which was frankly bizarre, and Pride.

Llew Coch is an RI listed pub in Dinas Mawddwy, which was very conveniently serving food when we got there. Alas the unspoiled public bar was packed but we sat downstairs to eat very good value food and sup two beers from Cader Ales - Gold at 3.8 and Crwr Coch at 5.2%, costing £2.80 for the two.

Our penultimate stop was a pub I have wanted to visit for a long time. The Dovey Valley Hotel at Cemmaes Road was run on ultra traditional lines for years by the long serving licensee - hours were restricted and variable, beer was bottled only, and photography was banned. Jump forward a few years, since the last time I stood outside and wondered what lay inside, and the unfortunate death of the licensee has brought about something of a renaissance.

Now open 7 days a week (from 18.00) for the first time in living memory, the pub is undergoing low level refurbishment, such as uncovering the slate floor under concrete in the lounge, and the restoration of the snug. There is now real ale and outside seating, and the pub is attracting visitors from all round the UK who appreciate unspoilt pubs. Inside there are small additions to the bric a brac and breweriana that are being carefully introduced to fit in seamlessly with the timewarp contents already in place - to the extent that regulars often only spot them after a month or so.

The one real ale ale was Monty's Desert Storm which I had a pint of at £2.80, and we took time to talk at length with Maureen who was running the pub that night. The pub was taken over in April, and Maureen arrived from having used to run the Slaters Arms in Corris - which was our next venue. Accommodation should be available next year and the signs are that there should be little detriment to the traditional atmosphere of the pub - food is also planned. A rare success story of an unspoilt pub continuing to trade and its fortunes improving after the death of the licensee.

So, the Slaters Arms at Corris was our final stop and we were made to feel very welcome by the knowledgeable lass behind the bar in this RI listed pub. A vast range in the right hand bar and some ancient settles are two prominent features in this small 3 roomed pub with a games room at the back. Three real ales were on offer including the Celt Experience Silures which I had a half of, one of the hoppiest and most enjoyable beers of the trip. By now it was getting late and we had to admit defeat. Despite having penciled in another stop en route home the two days had taken their toll, and we bade farewell to Corris and Wales having had a fantastic if hectic tour, of some of its fascinating pubs.

Wee Beefy

New beer "a first for brewing" claim*


            it gives me great pleasure to announce that on the bars of pubs in Sheffield and maybe a bit further afield now, is a beer that has redefined the concept of a mixture of ingredients being cajoled together by a "brewer". The beer, Pilcrow Porter, was brewed not only by some brewer or other in some brewery or whatever; it was brewed by a team of real people, included in which was myself, THE FIRST EVER BLOGGER TO BREW A BEER, ANYWHERE, EVER!

This sensational coup came about as the result of a conversation in a pub between myself and the secretive brewing mastermind "JSB". The upshot of which was a ground breaking deal that would see myself and some people who work at Shakespeares Ale and Cider House on Gibraltar Street in Sheffield (see posts passim) and someone else, congregate at a secret location to concoct a brew made from ingredients which are usually a closely guarded secret.

I, as the only blogger ever to have brewed a beer, am duty bound to lift the veil of secrecy on this closed world and spill the beans in a frankly distasteful betrayal of the brewers trust, thus :

Arriving at an ungodly hour at Blue Bee Brewery myself and Robenbakker, Alex Korner from the band of the same name and other Chris, assembled to take on the almost fanciful process, previously described only in folklore. Here's what we did, and what all brewers do, to make beer :

1. Put the kettle on. Its important to have a "brew", especially since one of the crack team had prepared for the days event exclusively by getting pissed the night before....

2. Make sure you put the big kettle on 24 hours earlier. This needs to reach a specific temperature which credibility forbades my recalling.

3. Weigh out some special salt in a box, and loads of malt - there are 4 types in this brew, one of which is black malt. I forgot to ask what the others were....

4. Feed the glorious grains into the hopper, whereafter this giant chute drops them at a regular-ish rate into the mash tun where the magic water is mixed in. Using a rotating clothes horse, vigorously stir the sludge until it looks unappealing. Use someone called Chris or Robin to chase down the chute the last determined grains.

5. Sparging - we definitely sparged it, which is where you stir it with a wind screen wiper. Unfortunately this is two weeks ago and I've been on holiday since then, so obviously can't remember at what point this happens.

6. Then the wort, which is the grim mixture from the above, is fed into an under-bucket which swirls the mix around before feeding it into the copper, which is basically another kettle if you ask me. Somehow this agitates some starches. Possibly sugars. Possibly neither.

7. In the copper which is very hot, the liquid is heated to another secret temperature that I can't remember - meanwhile, the fermenters are cleaned (as were the copper and mash tun previously, obviously) and the hops are sorted. This involves picking out any slightly not hop detritus by hand and weighing the hops out for adding to the copper. With some other things.

8. You have to empty the kettle at some point I presume. The big kettle that is. Actually, probably both, since you are on with it.

9. There are 4 hops in Pilcrow, not just 4 individual hops, obviously, which is a secret blend. However, for illustrative purposes, you could have used, say, Admiral, Progress, Cascade and Cluster. Once carefully weighed out (600kg of each seems a bit high -  have I remembered this right? Am I at Steel City by mistake?) these are simply popped in the copper and stirred with a besom, until all the ingredients are in the seething tumult of sugars.

10. Then, when this has finished, you simply pump the mass down a tube into a fermenting vessel where it becomes beer.

10a.You probably have to measure the alcohol content in a giant tall test tube resembling a lava lamp - without the lava.

So, that's it. The 10 step secret of brewing is unlocked. Having swapped Chris' at half time the team of ordinary everyday folks in the street, plus JSB, master-crafted a beer that by virtue of its unusual production, will be like no beer you have tasted before.

Its probably on at Shakespeares this weekend. Maybe Monday. I mean, it depends on cask turnover versus available space, possibly also taps. Not the American concept of taps that they think go on bars. The ones you ram in the cask to regulate the escape of matter. The availability differential means the precise date of it being on is almost impossible to determine. So you'll have to go there every day until it surfaces.

Either way, however you come across it, just remember that Blue Bee Pilcrow Porter is the peoples pint, and drinking it unifies strangers in a way that no other beer can. Power to the people! Pints for the people! Drink it now!


Your solemn insurgent in the secret world of brewing and related alchemy

Wee Beefy.

*I can't recall who coined the phrase "a first for brewing" but someone definitely did. I mean, maybe not in direct relation to this beer, but the sentiment is there.....

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Great Greek beer found in Crete shock


     well, here I am back in Blighty after a quick sojourn through the jumble of frustration and disorganisation that is the island of Crete, still only supporting two breweries 30 years after the microbrewery, and a good 10 years after the swanky brewpub/eatery boom, started in the rest of Europe. I updated the blog on the state of beer in Crete from Sougia, on the South coast last week, but quite a bit has happened in that regard since, which I will try and summarise below.

Firstly - chuff me! Chania and Heraklion, with Rethymnon the two last places visited on the trip, certainly came up trumps and provided a whole slew of new Greek beers. Before that, I established after a meal at the matchless Polyfimos restaurant at Sougia that there was indeed no Craft Brewery beer to be had. Thus proving that one of the older established, erm, craft breweries *coughs* has gone to the wall. Admittedly I already read about this on Ratebeer, but I didn't want to believe it since Craft was a welcome oasis in a desert of drab drivel from the Heineken Amstel and Mythos (now Carlsberg) triumvirate of tedium. Sougia proved that there was a need for microbrewery output by overnight becoming less of a beer drinkers paradise as a direct result of Craft's demise - in the end I settled for endless bottles of Erdinger....

Chania changed all that. Back in 2010 I updated the blog about a bar near where Rudi's Beerhouse used to be which sold a decent range of beers including Fischer Pils from Strasbourg on draught, as well as some stronger Belgian offerings. With Wee Keefy in tow I headed back again, if nothing else to establish it's name (it's recognisable by a weird pink and yellow coloured plastic emu type thing with a pink boa - difficult to miss, but equally so to write out.....)

The bar is called Plaka according to the sign, which is potentially also a word which means fun - strange since by the bar's own admission plaka is a paving stone. I have no idea how both meanings could come from the same word! It was obvious early on that finding out the name was going to provide little more clarity than not, however at least I do have an address for it now - its on Sifaka, up from the main square adjoining the harbour off Tsambeliou. So no excuses for not finding it.

The beer menu now has a weighty list of Greek brewers products, although, we had come on the day when the deliveries had not arrived so the range was slightly reduced. Despite this, and at a classy 10.45am, I had a bottle of the excellent Septem Sunday honey ale, which, to my significant delight, although unsurprisingly sweet due to the addition of honey, was packed with hops including Tettnanger, giving it a very rounded but unmistakably hoppy flavour. It was 6.5% and €4.50 for a 330ml bottle. Given Chania's reputation for taking the piss price wise, that's not ridiculous, considering the import taxes imposed on the island.

Next up was a Volkan Black from Santorini for Wee Keefy and a BIOS 5 pils from Piraeus for me. The pils was a little light but very refreshing, whilst the Volkan was a fantastic tasting dark beer, also brewed using honey. We finished on a Volkan Blonde, which perhaps wasn't as accomplished as its darker sibling but still a good characterful beer. We didn't get to try the Mondays Ale and Fridays Pale from Septem alas, but I was already impressed with their work. The menu also has Krusovice imperial, which at €4.00 a bottle is probably a stronger version of the dark Czech beer. Good stuff all round.

We also found time to visit seminal Chania favourite Bororo just off the harbour near the sadly closed Cafe Krita. The beer range hasn't really changed in the last 8 years so the excellence of Plaka  makes it look a little poor now - and it didn't have the Schlenkerla Rauchbeer Marzen I was after either, the second time a Schlenkerla had eluded me in Crete. Still, I tried the Brinks Rethymnian Dark for old times sake instead -  but it was woeful. Burnt dry and bitter with no balance whatsoever. WK was quick to point the finger of blame at it being bottle conditioned, which it isn't, sort of, but whatever the reason this was a terrible drink. Bororo is still worth a visit though.

Saturday was our final day and we happened across not 1 but 2 specialist beer bars in Heraklion by mistake - plus a couple of duds. Draft on 25 August martyrs street was once a travel guide nod for its range of beer but it has dwindled to having Sol as its most unusual feature and is pricey so we didn't bother. Up the road in Lions Square is a swanky looking bar proclaiming the word Brauerie. There was a sign of fonts and I immediately imagined a swish mainland Greek influenced brew pub. Alas, despite the rather admirable intentions of its lengthy beer menu (a whole paragraph about the taste of Carlsberg? Come on!) and it selling excellent Fix Dark at a sensible price, it is not a brewery or a brew pub - a fact made more obvious by the words which seem to suggest its a vineyard as well. Basically it serves beers and wines. Humph.

A long wander round the port and bus station brought us to St Georges Gate and Eleftheria square from where we found the Beer House at Zografou 16, off Averof ( no website but its on foursquare ). A large imposing building with sleek decor inside and 5 draught fonts including Maisels Wiess. Here we once again came across a distinct lack of advertised product but the lady serving us explained with some remorse that they had been cleared out by a party the night before and the beer order would not arrive until at least 7PM. This meant once again the Schlenkerla would elude me, and when we got to her having to list the beers they had instead of us choosing it seemed all hope was lost. Wee Keefy opted for a Kozel Dark and I reluctantly went for the Mary Rose, which she described as being fruity but not too sweet.

No brewery was listed in the menu so I bought it with trepidation, and only then on the basis of the claim it was brewed in Greece. I needn't have worried - its brewed for OK Drinks in Santorini under license by Septem - and tastes strongly of rather fabulous hops. I did politely advise that describing it as sweet may disappoint or put off punters but was also quick to point out that it was excellent - alas it was the last bottle they had, so I had half a Krusovice (the only draught left!) before we moved on. A fully stocked bar should make this a must visit destination for beer lovers in Heraklion.

The other beer bar was another accidental find, off Milatou in an area near Lions Square filled with Tavernas. The Beer Academy sells a very impressive range of draught keg beers including Schlosser Alt, and an even more impressive range of Greek beers. Add to this the good value food and you have a great combination. Searching on the web and perusing their menu which I borrowed shows the academy to be a franchise but I'm not complaining - because the Greek beer selection was the best we came across all holiday.

Once again the unreliability of such products stood out, since there was no Chios organic, Knights of Rhodes and none of the 4 Septem advertised. There was however a Volkan Blonde from Santorini, and to my surprise the prized offering of a bottle of Nissos Pils from the Cycladean Brewing Company on Tinos. A limited batch beer this was fantastically refreshing to taste but also had bags of flavour to balance it out - no sappy watery lager by numbers, this was a quality pils in its own right. I also had a Volkan as above and Wee Keefy a Bios 5 which wasn't on the menu.

You can't escape the prices in Heraklion (both the Bio at 5% and the Nissos at 4.8 in 330ml bottles were €5.80 a bottle and a 330ml Schlenkerla was an absurd €7.50!) but if Crete is to provide the beer mad visitor any kind of respite from the Heinstelos dominance this is the sort of place that has to work. The food was very nice like I said and I got the feeling that all the draught beer was on, and as with Beer House a full quota of advertised stock would make it a great place to wile away an albeit expensive afternoon.

So, a fine end to our holiday, and one which overall showed much improvement in the availability of Greek beers in Crete even at the same time as we lost Craft brewery from Athens.

For more info on Greek breweries here is a link to the Ratebeer Greece breweries list . It seems Greece is finally, if painfully slowly, starting to catch up with the interest in microbrewery beer in Europe.

Yamas to that!

Wee Beefy

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Finding good beer in Crete?


   am in the Crete, Sougia to be precise, supping a cold Erdinger in a bar overlooking the beach. It's rather ace - but what about the beer?

We haven't got to Chania yet so news on Charma Dark and Lager will have to follow. Here in Sougia the excellent Polyfimos still advertises Craft from Athens in bottles but it's not been available anywhere so far and this suggests the info on Ratebeer about the brewery closing is true.

In Rethymno the local beer was fairly easy to find, and two new beery venues have emerged. The Pottery Cafe has changed its name to the Garden of Ali Vafis Cultural venue - and they have added guest draught (keg) beers, advertised on a chalk board. On two visits there was Fix Lager and Dark, plus Berliner lager and Augustijn Dubbel. OK, so no-one seems to know who brews the Berliner but it and the dark are excellent. In Crete you have to lower your beer expectations accordingly...

Which brings me to Beeraria - which Ratebeer made a mess on its self over. This is a decent idea poorly delivered - a good beer menu lists Euro faves but none of the local draught or bottled exotica listed by reviewers on Ratebeer, ahem.. however when one comes to order, the beer is unavailable - after four no shows (response "it is hard to get") we gave up, having had a poor Franziskaner and Mythos draught, and no complimentary nibbles for about 9euro. Pooer!

Finally, Paleochora, and Portofino still does draught Pilsner Urqell, but the real star is Aghios cafe bar, offering Fix dark in bottles along with Chimay, and the full range at that.

I must leave you now before I put my fist through this infuriating laptop! More news to follow back in Blighty.


Wee Beefy

Sunday, 11 August 2013

A Swift One-der in a Walkley Wonderland


       yesterday I was playing host to the A.A, scribe extraordinaire with the "A Swift One" blog. Having kindly profiled me the other week I think I should introduce you to my visitor's work.

Many of you are probably already aware of the A swift One blog. Its been going since February 2007 (that's me all out of research am afraid) and has 4 contributors - Will, Timbo, Ale Ambler and Spurn Pint. Timbo is currently exiled in the North East so Ale Ambler (the aforesaid A.A) and Will have recently taken over most of the posting duties on the mostly Huddersfield area pubs and beer website.

As Mr Ambler is a Sheffield lad, and with him having taken me on a whistle stop tour of Huddersfield last month, we decided I should take him on a bit of a tour of some Sheffield pubs he may not have been to before. Here's where we went.

We met in the Sheffield Tap, and both had the Tapped Brew Co Mojo, which is £2.70 a pint (see how my formula works!) and 3.7%. Its a very bitter but refreshing starter, and to set the tone for the rest of the day I was on a pint and the A.A on a half. Depending on your interpretation, this is either incredibly sensible or a sign of insecurity. Bearing in mind that I was in bed by 22.30, I think its the first one....

A quick ride on the 52 brought us to Crookes and the Princess Royal. I'd never been in when it was empty before, and the lack of customers helped to highlight what a wealth of fantastic unspoilt features the pub has. The Layout is two rooms and arguably it may originally have been 4, with three at the front, but there are still plenty of original features, like the hatch in the snooker room, the corridor behind the bar and the doors, which appear to be of some age. Drinks wise I had a half of Bradfield Blonde, which is £1.50 and Mr A a half of Easy Rider.

We walked down towards Walkley next, past the vandalised shell of the Old Heavygate, the first of a dispiriting troupe of closed boozers on the crawl. Whilst Crookes hasn't lost a boozer in my lifetime, Walkley has been shedding them year on year - the Crown, Sportsman, Freedom View, Freedom House, Royal, Bath and Belle Vue had all disappeared, and there was rumours the Florist was to close for good that day. It looked like visiting two pubs would mean we'd made it to half of the remaining stock.

Out onto South Road and I was mentioning how it was years since I'd been in the Rose House, since they didn't sell real ale - just as I spotted a sign advertising just that. We went in the right hand side and found there was a choice of Spitfire and Black Sheep - we both had Spitfire. The Rose House has an unusual layout with three bars and a small room at the back on a lower level. The beer was well kept and at a sensible price, and after a brief check that we weren't Burnley fans was complete, we had chance for a chat. One thing we did discuss was the Florist - and were told that the Florist definitely wasn't closing for good, just for a short period to allow a clean up and for new tenants to settle in.

The good news continued even after we passed the sorry edifice of the former Freedom House, when we got to the Palm. Palm Street and the Palm Tree pub get their name from the area leading down from Walkley to Neepsend being known as Palmers Hill - at least, that's what the Internet says. The Palm now has two real ales to choose from, Bass and Tetleys, and is another pub awash with old even if not original features, and, as was becoming a Walkley pub feature, it has a three quarter size snooker table.

Mr A is a fan of pub sport so was pinging out questions in a rather more journalistic way than myself, as I snapped the cosy front room. The landlord told us that most of the pubs in the area had a 3 quarter size snooker table, and that there was a strong local 3 quarter league. He also pointed out that the pubs in the area weren't purpose built, and so couldn't fit full size snooker tables in. By this time we'd visited 3 pubs and seen 3 tables with another expected at the Hallamshire. We both had halves of the bass and spent time taking a few pics before heading off for our first guaranteed snooker table free pub of the day.

This involved a winding walk past the Closed Belle Vue and the miraculously open Firwood Cottage, before we headed up Industry Street and along Walkley Lane, past the closed Royal, and down to the Blake. The bar was heaving with a full basket of pork pies so the first of two mission objectives was completed. The next was satisfied with a half of Grafters Dark side of the Moon for Mr A and a pint of the excellent Ilkley Mary Jane for myself. We repaired to the beer garden to take in the views and enjoy the best beers of the day so far.

We slogged up Fulton Road next and round to the Closed Shop on Commonside. The SIBA list that Andy can choose from  is showcasing SIBA champion beers at the moment, so expect to see some quite unusual ones over the coming weeks. I had a pint of the Doncaster First Aviator Ale and Mr A a half of the Highland Breweries Pale, all the way from the windy Orkneys. We enjoyed both sat in the beer garden, planning our next move.

The Hallamshire House was reached via an uneventful walk and we both tried different beers - Mr A gambled on the Les' best and I the Jaywick. The  latter is an enjoyable hoppy beer but I think the Les's was underwhelming - it is after all, rebadged Marples (I think...). Still, our disappointment was reigned in slightly by the excellent beer garden, which Mr A was quite taken by.

The circular aspect of our trek was making more sense next as we headed up hill to the Cobden View. Its rare these days to be able to do a crawl and find 3 back street locals (at least in terms of their being in suburban areas). On the bar were the usual suspects with Raw as the "unusual" guest - so I had a pint and Mr A a half of the JS Best Bitter. We supped this in the beer garden, with lepidopterist Mr A spotting a rare spargled Granny Blue or similar, whilst we soaking up our first sun of the day. Another excellent stop off.

We descended Conduit next and walked along the main road to the University Arms. The excellent Dark Star Espresso Stout was on, from a reduced range of 3 beers. We both went for halves of that, along with excellent chorizo crisps, before I caved in and had a further half, despite being rather hungry, and a little tipsy. Once again we were sat out in the garden - if nothing else this was also a crawl of excellent beer gardens.

The Bath Hotel beckoned but in here we took a break from cask and cooled down with a half of Thornbridge Chiron each. I think Mr A may have let slip a sharp intake of breath at the price (Thornbridge + Keykeg = expense) but it was a good Keg to try on a long slog, and it being cold and fizzy nicely slowed us down on our high speed tour.

We headed off to look at Jessops next, prior to any upcoming senseless destruction by academics, before we nipped in the Red Deer to find an excellent range of beers once more - from offerings including the Highland Pale we both plumped for halves of the Glastonbury stout, a fine looking and finer tasting dark beer at £3.00 a pint.

At this point food became a necessity so we got ourselves some sustenance and then rejoined the route at DAda. A good range of real ales saw us both trying halves of the earthy Indian Head from Bridestones, and sharing a half of the Thornbridge Rattlesnake, brewed by staff at the Greystones - and very nice it was too.

Next up was our penultimate stop, the Dog and Partridge. We both opted for a half of Blue Bee Octothorpe in here, as well as two very sensible halves of water, in preparation for our last stop. Unfortunately it became obvious as we got down the beers that the Blue Bee was a little bit orf - but it was well down the glass before we were certain. I mentioned it to he lass behind the bar on the way out and she gave us some money back to make up for it. That's good customer service, since we were definitely not wanting a replacement, having nearly reached the limits of what we could safely drink in one session.

Finally we crawled wearily into the welcoming bosom of Shakespeares (if, indeed, one can crawl into a bsom?) to sample the delights of the Arbor Mosaic, which I had been wittering on to Mr A about for most of the day. It didn't disappoint - although, I wonder if my decision to have a pint was maybe a little reckless. Here it looks like we took a lot of photographs, before Mr A finished his half and headed off for the train home, leaving me to dream of sleep, and the route of our next crawl of Sheffield pubs. Pub of the day for me was a dead heat between the Palm, Blake and Princess Royal (a bit of my Crookes upbringing making me biased maybe?) and beer of the day was without doubt, the Arbor. Here's to the next crawl, and another festival of fine ale and beer gardens to come....

Watch this space.

Wee Beefy

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Friday Night Likes

Morning slakers,

          last night I was meant to be taking Chala to the Blake for the first time ever - alas, she bailed on me as she had to go and undertake some Thangor* management (her Mum is recovering from an op and needs watering at regular intervals). Despite this upset to my plan, I forged on alone, in the spirit of adventure. And being thirsty.

I headed to Shakespeares as is only normal, and although Mister Christopher and Robenbacher were on duty, there was a distinct dearth of CAMRA folks. I had assumed that I'd bump into the usual crowd but it dawned on me that it was probably GBBF weekend. That event that gets held every year and which I went to once in the 1990's. Can't say I was blown away, but I've no doubt its changed by now.

Anyhoo, consumer groups or no I had to slake my thirst so started on a pint of Raw Cascade and a half of the XT brewing Pi Dark Mild. Not perhaps the finest example i have tried, and alas the Raw was running out, but it still tasted of lovely quality hops and had a fantastic reddish hue which made t look extra appealing.

I finished on a quite fantastic beer - Arbor mosaic at 6.8% was in the cellar as it wasn't quite ready to come on. Seeing it in the glass you could tell why since it was murky orange, but good God it tasted better than it looked. Light biscuit malt, punchy mosaic hops and the fruitiest flavour since Melba combined to make this my beer of the week, if not the month (faint praise since its only 10 days in...). Served just cool enough, had I not been harbouring plans to escape to Walkley I could have sat there supping this beer all night. I can't wait to get back and try it it when its on the bar - I highly recommend you do the same.

A short trek followed walking the 31 route to compensate for my having a while to wait for it - the upshot of which was it only cost me £1.30 to get to the Blake. Luckily the route is running as normal so the uphill slog is much more manageable. On the bar at the Blake there were a few pale beers to choose from and one caught my eye but having taken the money for it the beer promptly went off. The barman suggested I might like the 6.9& Kelham Island mind control - and very kindly let me have a pint for £2.60. Which was nice!

Although this did make me worry about upcoming bouts of relaxation, I happily supped this surprisingly bitter but well balanced strong golden ale, sat in the room on the left. Its an oft rolled out observation every time I visit the Blake but I really don't get there often enough. Hopefully, myself and the A.A will be there in about 3 hours time....

A struggle uphill found me wanting food so I headed for a food outlet near the famous Byrans (Bryans?!?) chippy - only to be informed by the grumpy lady behind the counter that they weren't a chip shop, an observation that was filtering in to my head as I spoke. Still, I knew I could head round the corner for New Cod on the Block where I bought a fishcake butty and received a smile and some goodwill before I headed to the Closed Shop.

Mr Stephens was on hand to serve a range of decent ales once more, and with no thought of what else may be on offer I went for the Blackjack, um, thingy, since it was a Blackjack beer. (it now transpires through the magic of looking that this brown ale was called The River - and was rather nice, as per the below) Once again there were no recognisable faces in the crowd but I enjoyed sitting in the beer garden via the other entrance (stop it...) supping my rather delicious pint of hefty flavoured but rounded beer.

I nipped over to the Hallamshire House next for a half of McConnells vanilla stout from a slightly disappointing range, and headed down stairs to meet the Man of Ash and the lovely Dave. I can quite understand the attraction of the downstairs outside bit and the garden, even at night. Its warm and cool enough to be comfortable and feels a little like being on someone's back garden when there is a party going on in the house. Mind you, the smokers in the crowd all wanted to go back inside so in the end that's what I did too.

I then returned to the Shop to try a Doncaster brewery pale ale that was coming on after the mild - which I should point out I had a fantastic pint of wen I visited briefly on Monday. The quiet and calm of that visit reminded me of the good old days when there was no customers and no-one bought anything. Apparently, this is "bad for business" - bloody capitalists!

Anyway the pale ale was excellent but alas I didn't want to be out late so headed back to the 52 route home to prepare for the mammoth exercise in pub crawling that starts at the Sheffield tap hours time.

I may see some of you later - either way, make sure you visit Shakespeares and get some o' that Arbor darn yer! (not literally).


Wee Beefy

*sorry, I forgot the explanation - Thangor is better known as Thangor the Unpleasable. I hope that helps.

Thursday, 8 August 2013


Now then,

        despite the c-units at hijacking this blog am ploughing on with info about stuff, not to mention things. The last week, for instance, has been busy but rewarding, and here are some details about why.

Last week I had two fantastic sessions with friends in Shakespeares. You've seen the Shakespeares. The first saw me supping a pint of the Liverpool Organic beer with a Higsons mat on the front. Obviously it had a name, but this info is from 8 days agpo. You've got NO chance, seriously... I moved onto a half and then more halves of the much vaunted and eagerly awaited Moor and Arbor collaboration alliance stout at 1 million per cent. Of course, I jibe, it was only 9.2%. Only.

Crucially it was a bout £2.00 a pint cheaper than the Rutland which is why I had waited so long to try it. Yeah, I could have paid over the odds, but why bother? There are many reasons why one pub charges more than another, and the Shakespeares free house status plays a part - but that doesn't excuse the absurdities of the Sheffield Tap on any grounds, to use an example.

Anyhoo, I interspersed between the double dark alliance and another beer which was on, and was dark - whatever it was it was very nice and was likely from Salamander. Always a reliable source of dark ales.

On my next visit I was on pints of the Mallinsons kjuwregtew6546984dsgfs hop beer. Yep. That's right. I have absolutely no idea what beer that was. But it was new hop, with a 3 and a b in it, and it was delicious. I had a pint and a half. Afterwards I met a friend to head for the Wellington. In here we supped a surprisingly and unusually poor Harley's Sorachi - not off, just tired. We sat in the sun enjoying it before moving onto the Ship.

The Ship featured my favourite Bradfield and indeed summer session beer Bradfield Pale at 5.0%. A few pints of this mighty quaffable pale were despatched whilst listening to an odd but eclectic mix of tunes and catching up with a fab friend. Before long however, Shakespeares beckoned once more. And, I confess, this wasn't a research night. So I have no idea what passed my lips.

Finally, on Monday I was off to Crookes with the Wee men for a meal. Our surprising choice was the Ball, previous battlefield of ill informed staff and Greedy King hate policies, to see if their new softer side, i.e. the food, was up to scratch. To my surprise it was. Prior to my arrival I had warmed up at the Closed Shop with an excellent half of Blue Bee Tangled Up, (although, perhaps a little sweeter than normal?), and a pint of the impeccable;e XT Dark Mild. Nom.

In the Ball, pints of the new Abbeydale Invocation made with hops from space, and also Bradfield Farmers Stout, were supped. WK was on the stout all night and WF tried the Copper Dragon Black Gold and a half of the Kelham Sweet Home Alabama.

The beer quality was very good and much to my surprise the food was excellent. I'd expected oven by numbers pubco (Greedy King are that, but worse lets face it) fare but it was, whether by trick or hard work, bloody nice food, and although we all went for full price dishes the 2 for..erm,....less offer featured some great meals.

So, in conclusion, that rounds off a fantastic week of mostly excellent beer and completely fabulous company, which I hope to repeat again soon.


Wee Beefy

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Three valleys 2 - The Ridge, plus other stories..


          following trouble caused by simpletons at the last Three Valleys Festival in June, I can't pretend I wasn't surprised to almost immediately read about the Ridge beer festival - essentially the Three Valleys but with some pubs that weren't included or couldn't participate in the event in June, taking place in August. The dust had barely settled on what actually happened when the promise of another round of bus linked venues was announced. How would the Ridge match up to the wider crawl?

Well, in the end I only made it to two venues! Time restrictions meant I was only able to get as far as the Travellers at Apperknowle (which I understand now has no bus link to Sheffield thanks to Tin-pot Travel's withdrawal of the bus service) having started, and lingered, in the Dronfield Arms.

The last three years has seen me somehow bypass this venue despite it having perhaps the best beer range both this time and in June. So I put that right - but not before I "warmed up" sat in the sunshine outside the Sheffield Tap supping a rather pricey Otley Colombo t 4.0% and £3.30 a pint. Damn! Ignored my own rule again! Always stick to the Tapped beers.....

The Dronfield Arms had a bar outside featuring six beers, 4 or 5 in the pub, with beers replaced when they ran out. On the outside bar all beers were £3.00 a pint of £1.50 a half. Plastic glasses, mind,but judging by how quickly it became busy it's very unlikely they could have afforded to hire in enough real glasses to keep up with demand.

My first drink was a half of Scarborough brewery Cascade, a pleasing pale bitter with a good balance of hops. I then tried  half of the Blackjack Mosaic, at the suggestion of the A.A, who I had met up with at the Arms after he'd sensibly caught the 12.05 train. You can read his review of our short crawl here. This was probably the beer of the day for me, in fact I had two halves in the end, a lovely well rounded hoppy beer, nicely showcasing the mosaic but with a curious yet satisfying creamy malt background - trust me it tasted better than this sounds!

By now I'd been joined by Ally and Malc, along with Rod, the lovely Dave, Patrick, Daves 1 through 5 and Brian. The last 6 folk had real names to be fair, but I wasn't planning on remembering any of them, so simply gave them my own monikers. Much easier. Eh Dave....

I tried some of the Doncaster Porter but it was a little dry if anything so went inside for a glass of water and a half of beer -  and immediately uncovered a pricing mystery. Notwithstanding that I could have accidentally been overcharged, I had a half of Great Heck Powermouse at 3.6%, and a glass of water. It came to £1.70. Now, I don't expect to pay a chuffing penny for water, even if it had been in a glass, nor do I expect to pay a 20p surcharge for a half. So assuming neither dubious practice is enforced, the only other explanation is that this weak beer (not in flavour though) was £3.40  a pint. Which is ridiculous, not least because all the beers outside at higher strengths, were clearly cheaper.

Granted I should have queried this but in fairness after 3 aborted attempts to leave the last thing I wanted was to tarry further en route to my next destination. During which time I also bumped into Rupert and James the Hat, tried a halves of  Raw Apollo and the excellent Slaters Haka, sat on some hay bales and endured some country and western tinged Irish music. You can't win em all it seems.

Next up was the bus to the Travellers, although had I been more blessed for time I'd have popped in the Royal Oak at Coal Aston, en route to which I bumped into John and Mozza, before alighting at the bustling busy and brilliant Travellers Rest at Apperknowle. Set in fantastic countryside, overlooking the Moss Valley, the Travellers had a selection of beers on in a makeshift outside bar and about 6 inside. I tried a half of Blue Bee Octothorpe which was just as crisp and hoppy as I'd hoped. A perfect light beer on a hot summers day.

Alas all too soon I was heading back to the Station to catch the 17.05 train back with the AA, before I met up with Feasty and friends in the Red Deer. Our Saturday night shindig consisted of food and beers, but I was taking things significantly slower than normal on account of my earlier efforts. In the end, along with an orange juice, I had a pint and a half of the Green Jack Golden Ale, which was very nice at £2.95 a pint, to wash down my meal. I can't say I was impressed by the dry sun dried tomato pesto linguine, but my companions seemed to enjoy their choices, before we moved on.

A "classic" WB shortcut brought us to Shakespeares where I started on a pint of Blue Bee Light Blue, and where we also met up with Jules and Will. I moved onto the Pheasantry DA after that, following a catch up with straw-master Dave, and we stayed there for a good few hours supping copious amounts of this pleasant dark ale, until it was really time to go home.

So, not a thorough investigation of the Ridge festival but what I encountered was really good - obviously the buses initially excelled themselves by leaving the station 3 minutes early at the sight of passengers arriving - with only two passengers on board, but other than that the service was good, and crucially the beer range and quality was excellent. A very enjoyable day out in short.

Wee Beefy