what have the three venues in the title all got in common? The answer is, as well as them all selling real ale, I have visited them for the first time in the last few weeks. Here is what I found.
I was in the Head of Steam, which I keep calling Smoke Barbecue, last week. I met Tash and Matty and bumped into Phil Vintin, who I used to work with. Lovely to see Vimto, who is a very nice chap. I also met Uncle Mo. I had a pint of tea beer which was a little underwhelming and although there were 5 casks to choose from (and I hadn't seen four of them before) I decided to move quickly on to the Chimay Red on keg. Its £3.75 a half so pretty expensive, but I have never seen it on keg before, and really really enjoyed it.
The pub does barbecue food from Longhorns smokehouse or similar but I did not try any - maybe another day. They also do American keg beers and a range of bottles. It appears that the Head of Steam chain is owned or operated by Camerons Brewery. I don't dislike Camerons, but am surprised at this being their work.
The venue has been done out really well and, although its not difficult, is many times better than the dreadful Old Monk that preceded it. I know that Head of Steam is a chain, but it seems like a nice place to stop off for a pint or two, potentially does good food, and if they could charge slightly less for their keg and sell pork scratchings I could get to quite like it.
Friday night I was at Micheal and Lauren's evening do for their wedding at the Garrison Hotel in Hillsborough. This was my first visit, and luckily I saw Jambon outside when I arrived, a little late admittedly, at about 21.30. He told me there were two bars, and that one sold real ale. Naturally I went there.
There were three handpumps, maybe two, and they were serving Bombardier and Moonshine. My choice was the latter, naturally. It was £3.30 a pint, which isn't bad for a wedding venue, likewise the fact that they serve real ale at all. The venue itself is open to the public as a bar, if desired, or as a function suite, and I think it sells food. The bar is, as I found out, open until midnight. I probably had six or seven pints in the three hours I was there, and the beer seemed well kept. They also sold some bottles from around the world, not all of which I had heard of, and Caledonian triple hop on keg.
Its not the sort of place I would choose to go for a night out normally but I have to say, a least they are making an effort, and at least they, or some marketing department somewhere, recognize that people may not only want to drink Carling Fosters or Strongbow.
My final first is the Sword dancer on Handsworth. Rumours were around before this was built that the pub would be a Wetherspoon, but instead it opened as a Greedy King Hungry Hippo or similarly named outlet. My mate Christingpher went and described it as one of the worst pubs he had ever been in, wit no real ale or any other drinks of note and terrible food. Mr Shape, a nearby resident, also went in only once to find it very disappointing.
The other night I was in the Old Crown enjoying a pint of something pale and hoppy and decided to pop in. Mainly, having checked the tinterweb to discover they sold real ale. Could this be true? I had to find out. On arriving at gone half eleven the pub wasn't too busy and the customers were mainly sat in the right hand side surrounded by TV screens. That side of the bar has three or four handpumps selling Greene King Abbot, Old Speckled Hen and Belhaven Golden Bay. I ordered a half of that, having never tried it. but alas it was running out, so had a half of the Abbot instead.
I sat outside, in the beer garden, with my half an inexpensive but not unpleasant bottle of wine. No-one bothered me, and no trouble was witnessed. Obviously I did not try the food but I have to say the place was OK. Given that the Turf is currently sadly closed, this now means that as far as I know every pub in Handsworth sells real ale. I may only occasionally go out locally but this is great news.
None of the above pubs are going to compete with the likes of the Bath or Shakespeares but I wish them all the very best of luck. Its refreshing to find venues making an effort and selling in some cases, beers you don't usually find anywhere else, and catering for the needs of the numerous real ale drinkers.
Sheffield once again stands out as a great place to go almost anywhere and enjoy a decent pint.