Thursday, 30 January 2014

21st century Rotherham pubs

Naa then,
          word on the street is that Rovvrum, which is how you actually spell it, and the place that I worked for some 5 years, has gone and got its sen some pubs. This wouldn't have been a surprise to me last century when there were a number of city centre pubs selling real ale, although admittedly nothing of the micro brewery type, however it seemed from intermittent 21st century reports that one by one those boozers had closed down or changed hands. So I forgot about Rotherham's pubs. Now, I felt it was time to head back and take a look.

Arriving in persistent drizzle I was heading for the Crinoline Bridge pub. I was fairly certain (and still am) that this must have been the only pub in the UK with that name - and was even more certain that the bridge you crossed to reach it from the Interchange wasn't made of crinoline. Heading for wjere it was I was surprising to find there was no bridge - perhaps it had indeed been crafted entirely from fabric and succumbed to the elements? Either way, in its place is a subway and arriving on the other side of the ring road I discovered there was no longer a pub. Instead, a cafe called Havanas. Having drank Landlord in the Crin at my leaving do in 2003 this was quite a sad discovery, but there were other pubs to see and pints to be supped.

I was planning on going to the Kingfisher but couldn't for the life of me remember how to get there - I was probably in the right place where I was to be honest but returned to the Interchange side and ended up at the club behind the Bridge Inn.  Kind of knowing the way, I decided instead to amble uphill to the Crofts, and the Blue Coat. Inside it was warm and friendly and there was real ale in one of Rotherham's two Wetherspoons. From a fairly decent range I had a pint of the Dukeries Gun smoke, a reddish brown 5.5% beer that didn't seem particularly smokey, or as dark as I'd hoped. However, it was £1.99 a pint and went down very nicely.

Next I wandered out past the town hall and popped my head round the door of the Top House, now F.U.B.A.R, to see a gleaming bar devoid of handpumps. Although I was only there to drink real ale I eschewed the delights of this as well as the Lloyds Cornlaw Rhymer, and headed for my furthest pub, via a pub graveyard.

There's no reason why Rotherham should be any better placed than other Yorkshire towns and cities to avoid a reduction in its pub stock, but Westgate encompasses both sides of the story of urban pubs spectacularly in a short stretch.  On the one hand, the road has two fantastic old pubs right next to each other, the Alma, and the Cutlers. Both have impressive frontages but for different reasons. The Cutlers is sturdy and functional and has beautiful carved stonework and terracotta looking Stones branding above the central door and windows, with a pleasing reddish theme throughout. Meanwhile, the Alma is taller and more ostentatious but has some fantastic detail and Bentleys Rotherham Ales signage (and on the side) with a "rebuilt 1903" sign on the very top. It also sports some intricate foliage and small shrubs and is very much resolutely closed. Both are no doubt ripe for ruination. Sorry, development....

It occurred to me that it was the Alma that used to sell Acorn beers many moons ago and that I had been in a number of times around that period. I don't recall it having any particular stand out features in the interior, but I know for certain that I never ventured in the Cutlers, which was open at the time, and that I also never made it into the Wellington, a former Wards pub across the road. This is occupied by the academy of music, so at least it isn't being reclaimed by nature. Further down Westgate, where the road splits stands the pub, now also seemingly an empty building, known at one time as the Dusty Miler, while the building next to the baths was a pub at some point in the last century but I never remember it being so. However, the other side of the pub story on Westgate comes from its only survivor. The Prince of Wales Feathers, now owned by Chantry brewery and renamed the New York Tavern.

The New York is an attractive looking corner pub, long and narrow throughout, with some 1950/60's looking loos at the far end. On the bar are are two ciders, one Chantry brewery ale and one guest, plus five more on the left sporting the full Chantry range, Iron and Steel bitter, Diamond Black stout, and New York Pale Ale. There are also two pub specials, including Mighty Millers at 5.5%. And all real ale is £2.00 a pint. I had a half of the Millers (it felt wrong to drink a beer of that name) and a pint of the New York Pale and it was in fantastic condition. I also tried the 18 eighteen which was a ruby ale, but the New York stood out. It was the beer of the day.

On the left there is seating facing the bar and an end room similar to the front of the Talbot in Ripley, with groups of drinkers sat in both sections. A friend mentioned to me that it didn't seem very friendly but I think it's just a traditional boozer, with the odd raucous drinker and some loud banter. More importantly its a (virtually) town centre pub selling well kept, sensible priced, local micro brewery beers. So its gets full marks for that.

A quick detour to a pub that I think used to be the Devonshire followed - now the Urban Tap or similar, and resolutely real ale free. So I finished where I intended to,  in the Bridge Inn, formerly Nellie Denes. I'd heard good things about this (former?) Old Mill brewery pub and I wasn't disappointed. It was rather ace. From a range of about 7 real ales including Landlord and Reverend James and some more common local guests, there was the Demo red ale from Revolutions and the Chantry New York Pale. So I had a pint each of these, at a bargain £5.20, and sat near the bar in a busy pub with a friendly landlord. They do steak pies and peas and gravy for two quid, and the beer was well kept. A great end to my brief wet wander round Rotherham town centre.

One thing I do hope is that there aren't any more pub casualties to come. The grim tale of abandoned boozers was a stark contrast to the recent resurgence in Rotherham and means I came away with as many highlights as low points. So its perhaps not going to become a first choice place for a nights drinking, but I have friends in Rotherham and promised to go over and sup on their turf soon. So maybe it won't be too long before I'm back.


Wee Beefy.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Drinking what I said I'd drink, and what happened.


            as reward for her covering my stint at the NGH I decided to treat Miss N, and lets face it, Mi Sen, to a trio of aged or otherwise interesting beers that I had around the house. In the end, we tried 4. The weakest was 8% and all of them came with the weight of expectation upon them. There were contrasts, conundrums and contention. And, as is only right, there was a winner.

The first beer we tried was Durham Brewery Something Blue. This was a 10% bottle conditioned beer brewed to celebrate someone's wedding or something. I had bought it and laboured for  a few years under the delusion that keeping it, with its noteworthy provenance, may make it a sought after item in years to come. In the end, after a frank and searching exploration of the merits of such an undertaking, I couldn't be arsed.

The beer had a lovely ruby colour to it and an aroma of marmalade and something vaguely but not unpleasantly woody. Miss N considered the malt predominated, and described it as a great big malt comfort blanket. There was quite a lot of carbonation, and taste wise it had a noticeable bitter aftertaste, some malt flavours that reminded me of a Belgian yeast influence, and an initial sweetness that gave way to quite a dry finish. It said on the label that there were fuggles hops in the brew, and there was something of that pungency that comes to the fore when you drink green hop fuggles beers ,but crucially all these tastes combined perfectly. And it didn't really taste or drink like it was 10%.

Next up was the wild card. The Something Blue had  a couple of years on its best before date but our next beer didn't even have one. Nor, indeed, did it have anything so superfluous as a description. Or even an ABV.

Courage 1977 Jubilee Ale was a bit of  a gamble to say the least. Beer rarely excels after more than 25 years in the bottle, less so 30 years,  but this was asking for trouble, having likely been brewed around the beginning of 1977 in time for the jubilee some months later. Would it even be beer?

In terms of appearance it had a very pleasing silver foil cover over the cap and had purple coronets printed on the foil on the neck, and there was 275ml of it. Taking the top off the bottle there was no carbonation whatsoever - a hardly unforgivable state of affairs, given its age. What there was aroma wise didn't disappoint however. A huge blast of sherry. Sweetness, but crucially no off aromas.

Storage is the key with aged bottled beers. I once bought a 26 year old bottle of Charles and Diana Royal Wedding Ale form Greenwich market and should have paid attention to where it was stored - since all the vendors wares appeared to be locked in a metal container and the bottle itself was standing in a metal drawer. As it was, the beer had plenty of suggestions of what it should have tasted like but predominantly tasted of metal. In this case, bearing in mind I was sacrificing this as I had two bottles, I probably opened the well kept one - because it didn't taste of anything but sherry, malt and, if you tried really hard, hops.

One interesting feature, and I don't know what the proper term is, was that it seemed to have  "split". After the strong alcoholic punch of sweet malt and other flavours, there appeared to be water at the end. Almost as if the beer was 90% of the content and the rest of the bottle was water. As we drank more there also appeared to be a caramel flavour which I associate with aged or out of date bottled beers, and once you got past the waft of sherry there was an interesting aroma of leather - again, unlikely to be a positive feature, but interesting nonetheless. Miss N thought its basic flavour characteristics, bottle label design and gentlemen's club mustiness made it seem very much of the age in which it was brewed. Overall though, it was fascinating to try.

Our third beer was to have been the last. We let bias and the gaunt spectre of expectation trick us into thinking we'd need to pour the jubilee ale away and that our saviour would be the Ilkley Brewery Worlds End, an 18 year old whisky barrel aged version of the Mayan Chipotle chocolate porter. All the ingredients were there - Ilkley's pedigree, chilli, chocolate, dark beer and whisky. This had to be the winner. Except it wasn't.

I really enjoyed the Mayan and just as much appreciated the Magic Rock Chipotle Punchline earlier last week. So imagine my disappointment at encountering a lack of fire, and a distinct lack of any balance. Things didn't start that well with an aroma of wood, burnt malt and phenols from the whisky. The first taste was promisingly peaty, earthy as well, and then I expected the chocolate to balance it out and the bite of the chipotle to zip on the tongue with the malt and hop flavours, but that didn't happen. The peat was actually quite harsh and the chocolate non existent, and even after adding the yeast it was still difficult to drink. The aftertaste was almost acrid and the longer the drink went on the more we could smell peat. We had made a crucial error in assuming that this would be the winner before we started. So now we needed another beer.

Its fair to say that the quandary of shall I shan't I regarding keeping bottled beers of strength crops up quite a lot - over the last 18 months the stunning Thornbridge and Brooklyn Alliance bottles I'd kept since 2007 rewarded me richly, suggesting that there were benefits to the aging process. So surely I could dip into another from my collection...

One of the bottles I'd kept had a surprisingly short best before date on given its 10% strength. And having been impressed over the years by their Temptation and since we enjoyed the Something Blue, it seemed like a good idea to drink a bottle of  Durham Brewery Decade, brewed to celebrate their 10th anniversary. Presumably before 2006, since that was its best before date. I was going to prove them wrong - it was going to be ace.

Lessons that go unlearned are a matter for some frustration I find and the Decade was no different. Initially the signs were very promising - even though the beer was 8 years out of date the lovely sweet malt aromas that escaped from the bottle suggested a hugely satisfying beer. However, the proof of the matter was in the difference between the aroma and the taste. There wasn't a difference. It tasted exactly as it smelled, and although it smelled inviting, you can't identify all of the complex flavours that go to make up and ultimately balance a  beer in the aroma alone.

A reflection of the lack of complexity is the  brevity of my notes. My notes are quite concise. "Smells sweet. Tastes very sweet. Strange aftertaste. Reminds me of the sweetness of De Dolle Stille Nacht without the soft Belgian yeast". That was it.

So, what we learned is, being out of date is no reason to write a bottled beer off. Neither is it a reason to hope to enjoy drinking it. Meanwhile, reputations count for nothing, because even the best make mistakes, and sometimes you can't get better than what you started with. So Durham's accomplished Something Blue was the winner.

Now don't get me started on expectation again....


Wee Beefy.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Second century begins at Tapped

        am not suggesting that the Tapped Brew Co is about 1900 years behind the rest of us, am just  trying not to use the word century or hundred in this post about their...ninety ninth plus one brew. I can see this will be a fruitless exercise however....

Anyway, on Tuesday the Tapped Brew Co had an event on at the Sheffield Tap where you could see the whole brewing process from start to finish in one night, and taste some of their hundredth brew. It was called 100 Cent, and used centennial hops. Do you see what they did?

Admittedly the merit in being twice as good as 50 Cent is difficult to measure but if we get over it not being called Centenary, we can appreciate the beer for its ingredients. I am led to believe it was Mojo with the change being to make it with 100% centennial hops.... but I wasn't paying attention. What am I, your information monkey?! Ge darda yere....! No, really, I sort of think it was Mojo rebadged. It was a very tasty brew whichever way you looked at it. Especially since I love centennial hops - Mallinsons single hopped centennial was my beer of the 2012 Sheffield beer festival, so I was instantly sold on the tastes we had.

Having been delayed by hospital responsibilities I was quite late arriving so we only wandered into see who and what was there at the end, and to soak up the wonderful smells that brewing creates. It was interesting seeing the next size of kit up from Blue Bee and to try and spot beer twitterers and bloggers (I didn't). If you want to know how to brew beer by the way, this barely factual post here tells you everything the author knew about brewing beer. That's as much as I'm willing to promise.

The evening was also an opportunity to sample some other excellent ales and formed one of the highlights of a week of rather good beer. The Magic Rock Chipotle Punchline, a mightily maverick but hugely satisfying chocolate chilli porter,  had just enough bite (a difficult balance to measure) and just the right amount of bitterness to work. It was also a beer that probably worked best in its Keykeg guise,  given its powerful blend of flavors. Either way it was very good.

The other notables this week were found in just two venues. DAda, as I alluded previously, had Red Willow Heartless chocolate porter featuring 85% cacoa single origin Colombian chocolate. Again, the trick here was to expertly blend the bitterness of the chocolate, the hops and the sweetness afforded by the malt, to make something palatable and eminently suppable. Heartless was just that. It was not, a Wednesday night beer. It was a beer for a long Saturday. We had a couple of pints to show willing though....

The final duo came from Shakespeares Ale and Cider House. There was a North Riding Galaxy single hop in the cellar, and I bloody love galaxy as a hop so it was nailed on that I'd have that - it was exactly what I hoped for, lovely citrus bitterness but none of the dryness that single hop beers sometimes allow to creep in with more astringent hops. This was accompanied by pints of the Hopcraft "The Beast" IPA at 6.5% and £3.30 a pint. There were plenty of hops to get your taste-buds round but it wasn't a 6.5% drink, and there were no unpleasant lingering aftertastes or other untidiness to distract you from enjoying it. As I did. Thrice.

Its often said that older and more experienced people know best. As the bairns at Tapped Brew Co roll out their 100th brew, Hopcraft are already a go-to brewery for me, and Magic Rock and Red Willow are renowned established brewers. With quality like that to aspire to, the prospects for newer breweries, and those supping their beers, look mighty fine. May things only improve!


Wee Beefy

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Happenings and openings


       As I career aimlessly towards my dotage (I'll be 80 in just 40 odd years) I find that remembering stuff is quite difficult. Especially important pub related stuff, and more so, when one is distracted by celebratory events like Christmas and birthdays and New Year. A few of those events played a part in my weekend, as Alibob Jack and Miss N celebrated their recent milestones on the same night. And continuing last night's theme, as the damp cloth of sobriety falls over my head, I've ended up remembering some long out of date pub and beer sorta news that I was supposed to share with you. Probably.

Saturday I was dutifully up at the hospital thinking about how I'd like to walk back down Rock Street to photograph the long closed Rock Inn before it falls down, and how since the Bay Horse at Pitsmoor sold Wentworth WPA about twelve years ago, it had to be worth popping in now to see if they still did. These are the sort of beery thoughts that preoccupy me on the soul destroying public transport marathon to and from the hospital but all these noble plans were dashed by Wee Keefy giving me a lift to DAda. Later I would be seeing WK in our childhood environs of Crookes. Well, the pub environs of environs. I know I ought to cut short this bit but I can't. Anyway....

After meeting Miss N for a coffee and no beer at Sellers Wheel we spent some time acquiring a taste for beer (it took no sips) at the Rutland, before both heading to Crookes for pints and a meal. The Crookes clan all met up in the Princess Royal but they had it easy. They only need to walk out their front doors and they're virtually there. We had yet another bus trek to undertake. So we met them in The Ball instead.

A few good guests adorned the bar and we both went for pints of Rudgate Ruby Mild at £2.90 a pint. This was in very good nick and was proving popular, although I'm sure the Kelham Island guest was selling at pace as well. We were meeting here for food and it was good to have them serve until 22.00. A lot of pubs stop selling food at 20.00 or earlier but that's just daft. At one stage I recall the Bridge Inn at Ford served food until 19.00 - for who!?! The sensible timings meant we could meet for drinks first and still get a few in the pub with our meals, which we did.

The Ball might be a Greedy King pub and the pub food is very much standard fare but you know, it was two for a tenner, its still a locals pub, and you get to sit in an area at the back away from the busiest spots and actually, the food aint bad. Especially when washed down with more excellent Ruby Mild. Its the first time I've had it for a while and it was a really enjoyable change.

As time was getting on we decamped, as is the tradition when Paddington, Jack, Jambon and the like meet up, to the Noahs Ark. This pub has changed management again in the last 6 months, at an educated guess that's probably the 8th time in a few years, but you can't bloody tell - and I mean that as a compliment. One of the slippery slopes that pubs get onto is the revolving door of landlords who all bring their own ideas, plans, misgivings and regulars to a pub that never establishes an identity. The lack of continuity and the inconsistent quality attached usually spells the end for a pub but somehow the Noahs seems to consistently be the place to go if you want one or two inexpensive real ales in a proper boozer, open late, with terrible, yet somehow brilliant, karaoke.

And so it was that we sat in our usual place (ish) with the karaoke music list whilst the long standing Karaoke compere introduced the songs in her highly individual style, and we supped inexpensive pints of real ale in a thronging pub. On this occasion, both myself and Miss N were on Jennings Cumberland at £2.50 a pint and it was in perfectly good nick. The proof of my appreciation was in the fact that I normally loathe karaoke but somehow, and it must be down to dark arts, I don;t mind it at the Noah's. Long may it continue to be the case.

Whilst celebrating the delights of my former haunts its time to reflect on two pub changes coming up soon. Firstly, and I'm not sure if this is a secret, but I found out on the 3rd January that the Devonshire Cat had been bought by a brewery and everything. That's all I know. Or am willing to tell. Its too late to text "them"and check its not a secret after all. Lets just hope it improves is all I can say!

Lastly, Barlow brewery what make nice beer are opening a venue on Chatsworth Road in Chesterfield called the Tap House in soon. Their unofficial brewery Tap is the Hare and Hounds at Barlow Commonside which is a pub I really rate. Yet even I have to concede that a pub in he beer centre of Chesterfield would provide a higher profile for Barlow's wares.  The Tap House are on Facebook as of last week, here is their page, however that seems to be about it at the mo. If my "legendary" sleuthing is to be believed, the Tap House will be where the Brampton Ale House used to be, based on the Post Code, but am once again already out of info on this one. I would keep looking at their facebook page for updates.

What this shows, along with the Buxton Tap House (which, in a disappointing theme, I have also neglected to visit) is that some notable local breweries are opening dedicated outlets for their real ales. If you take the examples of Spire, Brampton and Acorn, to name but a few, I would suggest this is  another positive development for the wider area.

It also justify's, as if that were needed, the selection of Sheffield as a top beer destination by the New York Times. Clearly chaps with their heads screwed on, and a love of eclectic public transport links....

Wee Beefy.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Reasons to be cheerful


           its been a fortnight of firsts and two weeks of reassuring regulars here at Beefotronic PLC. Having trekked through the East end to find new and untried boozers last weekend, in between times and thereafter I have been sticking to what I know. Below is a sample of some of the ales and pubs encountered in Sheffield lately, and news of a new brewery tap for you to try out.

Immediately after my Don walk I met Miss N in the Red Deer. It was entirely rammed, as it is on a Saturday night but we patiently acquired a seat and plenty of company, to sup pints of excellent Roosters Wild Mule. I haven't always got on with Roosters beers for one reason or another but this one really hit the spot.

Afterwards, and a couple of other times recently, we were in DAda. On every occasion it was on I sampled the excellent Burning Sky saison which was on at a price cheaper than the Bath and the Sheffield Tap. When that ran out I sought solace in redoubtable old stager Halcyon from Thornbridge. There's a Red Willow chocolate stout in the cellar but over the last week there has been nothing but Thornbridge cask wise, yet in a moment of recklessness I tried a pint of Kipling for the first time in ages. Having dismissed it as being past its best and no longer a decent beer I was pleasantly surprised to find it in good nick and I even admit to having had a few pints of it. Like I said to Jamie, you can't complain a beer is shit without trying it. Other quality ales sampled recently include the Schlenkerla Rauchbier at £4.00 a pint, which is possibly too heavy for a whole pint but an excellent finisher nonetheless.

The Rutland was my destination yesterday and I tried the Magic Rock Rapture on cask, and the 8 Ball and High Wire NZ on keykeg. Both are quality beers but I was annoyed with myself for not remembering that I didn't rate Magic 8 Ball on keg - with any luck it will resurface on cask one day...

Meanwhile Shakespeares continues to be good at being good. Recent treats have included the excellent Cross Bay Zenith, which is a really well balanced beer, and the cask De Ranke Pere Noel at a very reasonable price - £3.40 for a 7% beer. I also finally got to try (and enjoy) Potion Number 9 from Penzance brewing Co, beloved of Boak and Bailey, along with the excellent Tornado from the Little Ale Cart brewery, and the Geeves Imerial Stout at 8% - an excellent finisher. On my last visit on Friday, the Imperial brewery Burning Amber was a very palatable session beer, and the Great Heck Black Jesus specifically wasn't - yet was every bit as good as it was at the Sheffield beer festival.

The Sheffield Tap nearly provided the beer of 2014 with the impeccable Hardknott Vitese Noir, as covered in my last post and also recently sold a palatable Bristol Beer factory UPA, and a rather chewy Buxton Dark Knights. The Buxton was potentially too bitter for a stout but the UPA was very well balanced. Despite this am still not sure I "get" Bristol Beer factory's cask output.

An impromptu trip to the University Arms heralded a rather fine pint of Crouch Vale Anchor Street Porter at £3.00 a pint. It was notable that as well as the Acorn Old Moor Porter that had been on earlier that day, all the real ales were below £3.00 a pint. Definitely something to bear in mind if you are thinking of having some real ale in the area.

Finally, the new brewery tap I mentioned. In Rotherham, the Prince of Wales Feathers on Westgate has been bought (seemingly months ago - get me for being up with developments!) by Chantry brewery and reopened and renamed as the New York Tavern. Selling the full range of Chantry brewery beers the pub is, I read with horror. the last  on Westgate - I know its a long time since I traveled to Rotherham but that's ridiculous! Here is a link to their website should you need details that I am short of having never visited - although, I may never venture in, based on them advertising "world bottle beers". I don't want to seem pedantic, but it should be "bottled"....

Either way this reopening is further great news in a  town with, if we are to be brutally honest, little to offer the real ale drinker beyond the Bridge Inn and the Blue Coat. So, there you have it, choice and value for money and reasons for optimism. What more could you want from January?


Wee Beefy.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Subtle heavyweights

Now then,

        over the last couple of weeks, as befits the cold wet slog of January, I've treated myself to one or two "luxuries" in the way of beers. Somehow the grim reality of coming back to work, the constantly wet feet and the dank wet washing aromas in your house, combine to persuade you that actually, you've bloody well earned a bottle - or more expensively a pint - of something strong. And recently, two such examples have particularly stood out.

The other night I was going home like a good boy to make some warming food and get an early night. No frol would pass my lips, no bar would see my money, and I'd be rested for another day pushing the dead-weight round the horse gin of failure. Or working for the civil services, as ts otherwise known. Despite these noble abstentions plans, I discovered Miss N and Matty were in the Sheffield Tap and it was suggested I might join them for one, on my way home. The Sheffield Tap is not on my way home. And one wasn't an option.

Matty had ordered me a delicious pint of Magic Rock High Wire NZ on cask so this was a pretty good start, and formed part of another night ending line up, like you see now and again at the Tap. The High Wire didn't hang around, and with my eye on the Dark Arts I was contemplating a slow, careful clamber up the ABVs to the Tapped Brew Co's excellent Roulette Imperial Stout. However, despite being able to have independent thoughts and make rational choices all of my own, when Matty asked me what I thought about the idea of having an imperial double vanilla stout at about a million percent. and despite my brain saying "No! That's madness!" my lips made other shapes and I seemed to have agreed.

I may have mentioned before that my initial opinion on Hardknott brewery was that, for whatever reason, they were weighed down by a lot of hype. I reckoned I ought to love their brews based on their excellent label designs, innovative brews and, well,  I admit, their repute among my peers, but it wasn't until last year when I tried their Infra Red that I started to "get them". That night, I done gone and got completely got. Because Hardknott Vitesse Noir, perhaps absurdly, is already looking like the beer of 2014. Nurse - the screens!

If I'm right, having read a few reviews and Hardknott's website I think that Vitesse Noir is a triple imperial stout with vanilla chocolate and coffee. Now, initially there were numerous aspects to this beer that made me cautious. Not least its 11% strength, and the fact I was buying it in the Sheffield Tap, but also the prospect of the vanilla or chocolate being too overpowering and making it syrupy or cloying, or there being a burnt coffee bitterness that would wipe out the subtle sweeter and softer flavours. Luckily, with the exception of the price. none of these concerns were realised.

It was an incredibly smooth well balanced beer. Not a jarring roast malt or an overly sugary vanilla or chocolate hint to be found, this was just layers of perfectly balanced flavours enjoying each other's company in a glass. A precision crafted beer jigsaw where every piece had been made with care and passion. It was very very good indeed. Even considering that it was £152.96 a third at the Sheffield Tap*

Having assumed that the bar had been set well beyond the reach of any other beer I was quickly reminded that in an ever evolving and in my opinion improving beer scene, bars don't stay at one height forever. This week, after a lovely meal, cracking red wine and some admirable dark beers, I decided to open my bottle of Spire brewery Xtinguisher, a 12% barley wine.

One of the interesting observations about barley wine is that its a beer that never seems to sound as tempting as an imperial IPA or an imperial brown or a triple stout. This is not just a language or aesthetic consideration, I think this is a refection of the fact that when I first started drinking beer, stronger beers were, if I recall correctly, a bit, erm. Dumb? Huge sledgehammer morasses of lumbering malt and overwhelmed hops with sugar obliterating any flavour in the desperate chase for alcohol. Barley wine came in nip bottles, was inexpensive and therefore the choice tipple of wannabee outdoor lager enthusiasts, and had usually undergone a label revamp in 1975. In short it was so-o-o-o-not cool. So what would a brewery proud of producing some fairly traditional styles in it's range, do with  a barley wine?

Well, the answer is succeed. With some aplomb.  Despite being a  few years old and starting off at a mere 12% the beer was disconcertingly easy to drink. Instead of the teeth tingling sweet honey flavours of other barley wines, there was a subtle Fullers like marmalade in the background which mingled perfectly with a sweet yet subtle mix of malts. Bottle conditioned, the beer was a great advert for why, when done right (must. not. discuss...crap...B.C.A.s.....) the conditioning can improve the beer brilliantly. The yeast added even greater complexity, and made the beer even easier to sup, and the carbonation was just right, creating a head the same size as you'd expect from a hand pulled pint.

The alcohol was also a factor, it was after all probably a smidgen above it's starting ABV, but the almost whisky punch was so delicate and sat so well with the marmalade and malt flavours in the body that not only did you feel like you were getting a treat, but you were able to tell that it was a strong beer commanding respect.

The above shows that even when you have a new beer at every turn and even when you have compiled a list of what you consider to be reliable breweries and beers, there are still surprises to be had, and expectations to be exceeded. There might not be huge similarities in terms of beer styles and online presence or even label designs to link Hardknott and Spire but both have created beers of exceptional quality which have illuminated nights where some very high quality beer was already being consumed.

Lets hope I encounter Vitesse Noir in a pub again soon - and that I can somehow get hold of another bottle of Xtinguisher  to put away for a grim January night in 2018....


Wee Beefy

*Of course that would be ridiculous. The Sheffield Tap don't sell beer in thirds.....

Monday, 13 January 2014

Two sides to the river - not quite the valley of beer.


             there are two Don valleys in Sheffield. The upper, which as it leaves Hillsborough starts to become the valley of beer, and the lower, which meanders its way to Rotherham past a dwindling pub stock. In between is one of Sheffield's seven hills where Herries Road takes you past Longley and Southey into Owlerton and back to the Upper Don valley. Having recently written about the trail of dead pubs between Handsworth and the Northern General, on Saturday I decided to walk some of that route and explore what the East End and the area around the hospital have to offer the intrepid real ale drinker.

Starting in Darnall with Christingpher our first stop was the Sportsman on Main Road. The Albert and the Sportsman stand next to each other facing a housing estate, defiantly serving customers in an area where almost all other pubs have failed. The Sportsman is run by Paul, and sells two real ales at very reasonable prices. When we arrived there was one beer on, Coastal Sea King at 5.5% - and £2.00 a pint. It seemed silly not to have some..

We settled down in the right hand room where the tellies are and the numerous boxing posters and supped a very easy drinking pint whilst we watched the joyous spectacle of Wednesday vs Leeds. The pub was slowly filling up and a second beer went on, but we didn't get chance to try it. We had a long walk to start, and a lot of pubs to sup in.

We had been aiming to cut across to Tinsley Park Road to visit the Friendship but sadly that was demolished some time in the last couple of years. This would have brought us out near Broughton Lane and could have also involved a visit to Fiery Fred's formerly the Greenland. Alas that also appears tp have fallen by the wayside - there is a photo of the Friendship here.

Instead we headed down Main Road past new houses and abandoned factories and arrived on Worksop Road and the canal aqueduct. Here the scene becomes similarly depressing. There are two pubs the left and two on the right. The first was a cafe after it was a pub and it had been closed for a long time but still boasts impressive carved stonework above the door. Judging by the carving, the pub may have been the Stag or White Hart. Next along is the Cocked Hat - a regular in the Good Beer Guide for many years under the Robshaws, the pub looks run down and is resolutely closed. It is for sale Freehold, but it would be  a brave move to try and bring it back to life.

Over the road Fara's has aluminium shutters on the doors and windows and is for sale, while the Britannia also appeared closed but with no indication if it was for let or sale. Luckily, on Attercliffe Road, there is some good news. The Don Valley Hotel reopened a couple of years ago after the former Coach and Horses underwent numerous guises. Now it has settled on being a hotel with a public bar. The bar is on your left and is mall and cosy and traditionally furnished. There are two handpumps, on this occasion both dispensing Howard Town beers.

The Dinting Arches was about to run out so we had pints of Glotts Hop, at £2.60 a pint, and settled down in the busy pub with racing fans and pool players (its 20p a game!) and resident bulldog Bruce, who seems to be in dog heaven moving from table to table to check out the smells and be fussed. The pub is friendly and seems to be doing very well, and they also sell snacks for thirsty pub walkers to soak up their ale. Its the first time I've ever been in, and I don't think it will be the last.

Heading for the Carlton further down Attercliffe Road the familiar roll call of casualties begins again. The regional inventory listed Station Hotel appears to be closed - that said, it doesn't have a for sale or to let sign, and all the pubs on Attercliffe Road have shutters so its difficult to tell what the situation is. The same could be said for the Kings Head and the Horse and Jockey although that looks in good nick so maybe opens evenings only. The only certainty as you head towards town on Attercliffe Road is that the Carlton is the only traditional pub open until you get to the Big Gun on the Wicker.

The Carlton opened in 1845 and used to mark the start of Attercliffe Road. Old maps show the stretch of road from Washford Bridge to the Carlton as Carlton Road - so that may be where it gets its name (the sign depicts a steelworker). Inside the Carlton houses the original bar from the Yellow Lion at Apperknowle, and there are 6 hand pumps. There were two beers on, Welbeck Harley and Cross Bay Sunset. I asked for a taste of the sunset and was told, whilst having one poured, that they didn't usually give tasters since Carling and John Smiths drinkers don't get a taster. That maybe true, but unfortunately as a living product, real ale is subject to numerous factors that may make it taste less than palatable, and also there are thousands of different ones brewed to suit multiple tastes. Anyway, no-one need have worried since the Sunset was one of the beers of the day. I even allowed myself an extra half  - the beer was on at £2.50 a pint.

Heading back on ourselves along Attercliffe Road onto Attercliffe Common and Carbrook, there are more skeletons of the areas past - the excellent Adelphi theatre lies abandoned on a dead end side road near Attercliffe liberal club and institute. An amazing looking frontage hides a huge building which did briefly reopen as a club in the late nineties, only to all too soon fall silent again. Across the main road is the Travellers Rest. It looks in OK condition but I can't ever recall it being open since I used to come past in an evening coming back from Rotherham in the late nineties. Christingpher however used to drink there in about 1995 when he worked locally and remembers the pub's long bar and tardis like size. Just down the road, the sign is still on the Greyhound, reopened by Marstons about three years ago, but now an IT company offices.

Respite comes in the form of two pubs at the Broughton Lane and Hawke Street roundabout. The Arena Square is a new build eatery which we popped in out of investigative need rather than desire - they sell Bombardier at £3.00 a pint. Next door on the junction of what little remains of Bright street and Milford street right next to the huge black edifice of Forgemasters, is the former Wards pub the Wentworth House Hotel. Now refurbished, with the bar resited centre right as you enter, the pub sells three real ales, and is opening a restaurant in an extension being built at the back.

The pub is currently only open Thursday, Friday and weekends unless there is an event on at the Arena but will resume more traditional hours when the restaurant opens. There is a small room with a lovely fireplace on your right and the main room is straight ahead offering a variety of seating areas, before you come to the extension and a corridor at the back housing the loos. The house beer is rebadged Thwaites Original and the two guests were Bradfield Belgian Blue and a hoppy Blonde ale from Rat brewery. I'm quite partial to a Belgian Blue, as well as to a good news story, and the saving and resurrection of the Wentworth House, a boozer since 1833, is just that. They are on Twitter as  WentworthHouse1 and post their opening times on there, so check before visiting.

Carrying on up Attercliffe Common the former Pheasant across the road is a sad tale. It changed its name to the Stumble Inn around the time the arena opened (as did the Railway on Broughton lane, see below) but was still a traditional boozer for many years, selling Tetleys and featuring a Yorkshire drinking corridor and a wonderful unspoilt snooker room at the back, complete with a sink for the steelworkers to wash their hands before playing a game of snooker. In a grim chain of events the pub was bought and turned into an Indian Restaurant by a new owner who claimed the "brewery" - one assumes he meant pubco - had stipulated that it must not reopen as a pub. Unannounced work and a reluctance by English Heritage to attach any importance to the interior yielded inevitable results. Another lost regional inventory pub - there is a link to an article in The Star about the whole sorry affair.

Further on along Attercliffe Common we popped our heads round the door of the Carbrook Hall pub. This supposedly haunted old building has a beautiful panelled room on your left as you enter, but sadly, also has a very long bar with no handpumps on it - it used to sell Bass in the nineties. Or maybe Stones... the lack of anything worth supping meant we only had a cursory glance, but there is a picture and article here with some interesting info.

We backtracked again next to visit the Noose and Gibbet on Broughton lane, walking past the short stretch of tiled wall that marks the outline of the front of the Enfield Arms.  The Noose and Gibbet was original called the Railway, and also known locally as the Top Common. It also changed its name briefly to the Stadium, and was known for a while as Ronnies, but now has the novelty name Noose and Gibbet despite not being built on or being the nearest pub at the time to, the spot where Spence Broughton's body was gibbeted. Inside its dark and the harsh lights don't carry so being in around 16.00 when there is nothing on at the Arena is a lonely undertaking. No real ale here but we opted to try some keg Bradfield Blonde for research purposes. It was £2.60 a pint, and nearly, but not quite, as grim as the pub.

Leaving the lower valley we headed along Hawke Street to Brightside and past the Sheffield Arms up to the Ball on Upwell Street. This large former Bentleys pub has been licensed since 1825. It appears that the pub was original at 66 Upwell Street and now at number 70, the suggestion being that this is a 1910 rebuild of the original. Inside it has very high ceilings but little, if any, original fittings to speak of, although the left hand side which I understand has a snug, was closed. No real ale, but we opted for halves of Magnet on keg at £2.65 a pint anyway. An interesting picture Sheffield link shows the Ball incongruously looming in the background next to Brook Cottages in Old Grimesthorpe.

From here on its up over the hill to rejoin the Don and Christingpher departed at Page Hall, whereas I detoured slightly to visit the Sportsman on Barnsley Road. This former Whitbread pub currently sells real ale - Doom Bar when I visited, and was friendly if not particularly busy. I met Mr P for a quick half in here before I caught the bus up Herries Road to visit the Devonshire. This is a large Greedy King pub set back from the road (and thankfully near a chippy since this was turning into a long day) and has three real ales on. Of interest was the 7.2% Double Hop Monster which was GK's take on a strong IPA. I can't say it was in particularly good nick but at least this was an interesting change from GK IPA and Old Speckled Hen.

After a long tedious trek down Herries Road I arrived in Owlerton and out on to Penistone road, through the Wednesday ground  and round the corner to the last stop on my Don to Don trek, the Riverside bar and pub on Leppings Lane. Being where it is, I was surprised to find the pub almost empty - apparently fans stream in before and immediately after the match but then head off through Hillsborough, so the pub usually shuts quite early Saturday night. Alas my journalistic vigour was impaired somewhat by this stage so I never did ask when they actually open...

The pub is the upstairs part of the building with a balcony overlooking the ground and serves two or three real ales and bottled Yorkshire lager from the Cropton/Great Yorkshire Brewery. It is furnished traditionally and has plenty of old beer and brewery memorabilia on the walls - its easy when you are there to see the same hand at work refurbishing the Wentworth House, which is owned by the same person. On this occasion I had a pint of Belgian Blue, one of the last few barrels knocking around in Sheffield, and which I enjoyed in another pub I was visiting for the first time, but envisaged visiting again.

Having reached the Upper Don valley this is of course the starting point of a bibulous wander into town through the valley of beer but to be honest I'd had enough walking and libation by this time, so got a tram into town to meet up with  Miss N. Obviously we went for  a pint - but that's another story....

You can potentially see some photo's from the crawl here assuming you have a Facefriend account.


Wee Beefy

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Beers in the post Christmas dead zone.

Now then,

         I've noted before that the period from Boxing day to 30th December is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to getting a pint. This also applies to New years day and, when there are two days before the weekend in the new year I'd extend the have a guess period to tomorrow as well. This year, having not been so rash tas o venture out into the countryside (we once traveled to Kettleshulme and back via Staffordshire to find no pubs open and end up in the Peacock at Owler Bar in desperation), I spent some time in Sheffield. Here's what I found....

On the 27th as you know I was Crookes bound with Carlos, but on the 29th I was Crookes Ale House. By this time the Magic Rock Ringmaster NZ had run out, and the other beers in the rammed pub were getting low too - not surprising then that they only opened for a couple of hours on the 30th with only a few pints and bottles on sale. On this occasion I started with a pint of Sheffield Brewing Ci porter but it was a bit thick - but not in a robust way, more a tired way. So next I had a couple of pints of their First Gold which was a bit better - I also purchased a bottle of Youngs Imperial Russian stout. Well done to Rob and Kitt for their pop up pub experiment, and best of luck to them setting it up permanently in Handsworth as promised...

We headed to the Cobden next where my brainier companions were doing and winning the quiz. Here several pints of excellent Farmers Belgian Blue were consumed before Miss H very kindly paid me home in a taxi.

On the 30th I was in town meeting Miss N at the station - it seemed rude not to celebrate her return with a pint so we nipped in the Sheffield Tap. Thankfully, Anarchy's sublime chaos breakfast stout was on (I checked the price first but it was the same as last time) so we had a couple of pints of that, along with their Blonde Star and a Firestone brewery red IPA which was very palatable. As testified by my pics on Facebook earlier, the back room was completely empty when we left before 22.00.The dead zone - it lives! (?)

Straying out of the days when punters disappear, on New Years Eve I found myself having to reluctantly go for pints at Shakespeares which is a really good pub. There were quite a few in but it wasn't raucous and there was of course some good beer on. Waiting for Miss N i had a couple of pints of excellent Mallinsons mosaic which was in fantastic form and far too quaffable - indeed it ran out after I got Miss N her pint. I moved onto Steel City Capt Morgans revenge (I think - but it may have been Unholy trinity. Whatever it was there was coffee and probably rum in it. Or something...). I didn't like it as much as I'd hoped as it tasted a bit too much of burnt coffee or filter coffee that had been stewed, which was a shame.

Finally on New Years day we found ourselves in town with an hour to kill - and Sheffield centre a ghost town. Not that I'd wish working on New Years day on anybody but it was noticeable that away from town the pubs were open. Luckily, wandering thirstily around near the station (where even the Howard was closed) we discovered the Rutland opened at 17.00. It being not long after, this was a result!

We started on pints of Brew Company Oat Stout which was a good start, and then onto halves of Solstice lager and Magic Rock Big Top. In the end, the Magic Rock was too good to resist ( I somehow missed it when it was first out) so we stopped for another couple before paying a lot pf money to get home. At least there was good beer to be had....

So, this year's dead zone looked the same as usual, yet somehow, by chance or otherwise, we seemed to land on our feet whenever we fancied a pint. In contrast, over the next couple of days, I hope to be posting about an area where the dead zone applies to pubs full stop - with the promise of at least one open pub in the mix.

Cheers and happy new year

Wee Beefy

More goldener pints


          last year, or rather at the end of the last year before last, I "went mad" and completed my list of the Golden Pints of 2012. My first foray was notable for my having not paid $4.95 to Google to increase my image storage limit so I didn't have a logo. And this year is no different. They can keep their lousy storage limits....

Anyway, having experienced almost incalculable pleasure in compiling a list of things which were good, I felt I should perhaps have a stab at it again. So I have :

Best UK cask beer - um. Is this a top twenty? God this is difficult! How does one choose? Am thinking somewhere between the bestest, and the most often tried, with a sprinkling of consistency. Revolutions Demo unfined(imfiltered) was a beauty, Thornbridge Melba was high up there, and most Mallinsons should feature but for outright consistent brilliance Anarchy Brew Co Sublime Chaos gets my vote. Just delicious.

Best UK keg beer - well, this has to be a tie between Magic Rock Human Cannonball and Thornbridge Halcyon. Possibly the ball edged it.

Best UK bottled or canned beer - Thornbridge/Dark Star EDIT - sorry, it was Brooklyn! Alliance 2007. And any of the different reserves. All were impeccable.

Best Overseas draught beer - Anchor Old Foghorn. A very very complex and powerful strong ale without raspberry, fir-cones or mace in it.

Best Overseas bottled or canned beer - Santorini Crazy Donkey IPA. Mind you, it bloody wants to be at that price.... (see here for a review of all 3 donkey beers)

Best Collaboration brew - Steel City Brewing/North Riding CC. Alas, not a beer dedicated to the gentle pursuits of county cricket, but a far ruder acronym. Lots and lots of very complimentary citrus hops combine to make this a very quaffable strong pale ale which I had far too much of.

Best Overall beer - that is Burning Sky Saison. The only way of improving on Dark Star's excellent saison from 2012 have the brewer leave and set up his own brewery and brew an even better saison.

Best branding, pumpclips or label - Magic Rock, mainly because thy have a lot of material, but if it were bottle labels alone then I think Beavertown and Weird Beard Brew Co both have brilliant designs.

Best UK Brewery - Aaah. Another top 20. I'm going to say Art Brew, just because everything they brew is ace.

Best Overseas brewery - having become enlightened and joined the saison appreciation society (and continuing to be a member even though I'm supposed to like sour and gose) I'd suggest Brasserie Fantome.

Best new brewery - Burning Sky. Not just because of their saison.

Pub/bar of the year - Shakespeares ale and cider house, Gibraltar street, Sheffield. My home from home which just so happens to feature a magnificent clock, an impeccable range of whiskies, great staff and an excellent range of beer - not to mention order in curry from across the road.

Best new pub/bar - The Closed Shop Commonside - I know it was already a pub but it has no connection in terms of qualities, with it's previous incarnation.

Beer festival of the year - SIBA Beerex. Especially for Unpro and Katedave. Hugs....

Supermarket of the year - can I say Booths even though I've never shopped there? Otherwise it would have to be Waitrose, beer wise.

Independent retailer of the year -  a bloody strong field in Sheffield, impartiality means I shouldn't nominate my former employer - but I will, if only because I haven't (apart from buying two bottles on launch day) sampled the three newcomers yet. So its Archer Road Beer Stop. Go there!

Best beer book/magazine - I rarely read beer books but this year I am in the process of reading Pete Brown's Three Sheets To The Wind - however, since I haven't finished it, I perhaps ought to give the award to Doghouse magazine....

Best beer blog or website - Dimpled Mug. More nepotism, since Mr M is a friend of mine, but I never miss any pics he posts on his pub photo blog.

Simon Johnson award for best beer twitterer - Can he win his own award?

Best brewery website/social media - it is rare that I actually like reading a brewery website - since most of them are out of date misleading or written in poor English. However, I like the Revolutions Brew Co one for having useful info on,like what their beers are called, and Kelham Island's for the same reason.

Food and beer pairing of the year - Blue Monkey Marmoset with Moroccan chicken and saffron casserole. I just made that up.

Next beer fad - OK, its got to be a popular continental style, possibly with a twist, or an obscure one which only a handful of beer geeks will have tried, having paid £15,000.00 to travel to the other side of the world to sample it. So...I dunno. Black gueze. Lemon mai bock. Unfiltered cask rauchbier (actually, that sounds lovely!)

So, that's it. That is what rocked my world in 2013. Lets hope 2014 can bring a similar cavalcade of quality cask and keg, and that I'll be struggling to single out winners in most of the categories once again in 12 months time.


Wee Beefy