Friday, 18 March 2011

Shakespeare Well Road Heeley, Red Deer Pitt Street, Walkley real ale pubs

Good evening imbibers, in today's post I will tell you about the Shakespeare, Well Road at Heeley, the Red Deer in town and all about my final visit to Walkley, which is where I will begin.

I call it my final visit to Walkley - but that's not because I have fallen out with it, or am banned by a court order, or that either the area of Walkley or myself are imminently about to expire, but simply this is a reflection of the fact that I have been there many times over the last month, and, unless I find something astonishing when I head that way a week tomorrow, I reckon this should be my last update from Walkley for a while, so I can frequent some other areas.

However, this last fling begins in the University Arms, which I know is not in Walkley, but was a good starting place for Davefromtshop to meet me, especially since he had never been before.

We started our crawl at 14.00 on a weekday, mainly because the shop has to have someone in it if Dave is absent, so a Friday or weekend jaunt simply wouldn't be possible. We both had a pint of Allgates Southern Cross, a 4.1% pale ale from Wigan, and halves of the Acorn Old Moor porter from a range of 5 or 6 real ales. I also, by means of an albeit staggered comparison, tried a half of the keg Bradfield Farmers Stout. Its never going to win me over to keg or anything, but in some achingly trendy bar or a boozer with a too slow turnover of real ale, I can see it being a useful barfront addition.

Anyway, the Allgates tasted fine but was quite, indeed perhaps significantly, cloudy. This may have been a chill haze or just a minor brewery glitch, but it didn't stop us enjoying this refreshing pale beer that Dave was sure had the triffid like takeover hallmark of Nelson Sauvin hops. Onto the bus to Crookes next and a walk to, and past the Princess royal, sadly but not unsurprisingly, it was not open on a Thursday afternoon.

Our next stop was the Heavygate, to see if manager/tennant/main man Ian's promise of ales in two weeks would hold true. It did because, as predicted, it would have to be Greedy king fayre, and it was. Eschewing the dubious pleasure of the IPA we had a half each of Abbot, not a flavour I recognise from when it was one of my favourites in the 1990's, and tasting, like all of Greedy Kings 50 odd god knows how many real ales, fairly standard within their basic taste template. The pub was empty when we left, but its true what they say - you can't serve beer to customers when you are shut. As an aside, I heard from a Crookes resident a week later that the Heavygate had closed again - but I cannot confirm this rumour so hope it is still open.

Off now to dispel my fears about the Walkley Cottage. Rumours of it being opened again proved true, and it was busy, with a range of about 4 real ales on, staple regional faves like Tetley and Landlord, plus Easy Rider from Kelham Island, which we both had a pint of. It seems that a manager is in place for the moment so hopefully this will pave the way for another long term incumbent to make it as good as it was only last year.

We walked down the hill towards Hillsborough afterwards and into the Florist, with the slight possibility that we were the first in, or maybe there was just a lull. We both opted for the Bradfield Blonde which was in excellent condition, and got chatting to the lass behind the bar who kindly filled us in on the beer situation and local boozers.

One such topic was the Crown, forlornly shuttered and closed but missing none of its livery, directly opposite the Florist. It appears that it has been shut for some time, and is to be made into apartments, virtually therefore guaranteed to never reopen again. I can't get misty eyed and tearfully recall long hazy evenings in the Crown, because unless I had a coke in there when I was 10 I likely never went in. However, any pub closure is a sad indictment of an industry slow to change, fighting against a Government with no idea how to help or even any inclination to try to help the pubs in the UK, and of course the strengthening mass market grip on alcohol posed by the supermarkets.

Its ironic in some ways, that whilst breweries were spending so much time and money marketing mass produced dross, they simultaneously pioneered new techniques to make it taste almost the same from a bottle or can, whilst trying to ensure that all pubs sold only those very same products. Whilst real ale in a bottle is often an inspiring version of the real thing, there is no viable real ale at home alternative for the majority of its drinkers, unless, shameless plug alert, you live near the Archer Road Beer Stop in Millhouses, and can take it home fresh from the cask in a container.

No such problem for smoothflow, creamflow and pretend foreign lagers brewed in Luton drinkers, who can buy the same thing for a 6th or even a 10th of the price at the supermarket, rather than venture out to have to smoke outside, pay over the odds for crisps and cigs and any other food afterwards, and fork out a fortune on private transport home. Although this situation is less straightforward now that there are only about 2 main beer producers in the UK and they sold half of their pub stock to overseas companies, there is still a dichotomy in Molson Coors and INbev brewing so much for supermarket only customers whilst tying up the main deals to supply the pub companies who now run their former pubs - they can't have it both ways.

So, Walkley Bank Road loses two pubs and in their place "gains" some vital , no doubt prohibitively expensive dwellings. Well done capitalism.

Back to the crawl and on next to the Palm on Palm Street. Still the Black Sheep is the solitary ale but it was in good nick, and the early time of our visit meant we could get a seat in the snug on the right and try and work out from the stanchions on the ceiling and the floor markings where the room walls would have been when the pub was multiroomed. A bit difficult to do, since, it appears from the outside to be two small terraced houses together. We did not linger long as the conversation topic was disappointingly heading for the safe haven of the lazy that is racism, racism in pubs being a topic that is almost unendingly fertile, and too lengthy and potentially too depressing to address in these pages.

Up the hill then next, and on South Road we stopped at Lucks Kitchen for fishcake and chips and sat on the wooden flower bed edges near the Rose House to eat them in a biting wind, before finding cash at the other end of South Road. Our next venue, The Freedom, is still saving money on lighting to the extent that I had to assure Dave it was open. Once inside, in the room on the left of course, we both had pints of Moonshine, and I retrieved my scarf. Except for somewhat refreshed gentleman who came to chat to the barmaid the room was empty, but this helped to remind me that, despite previous misgivings, I reckon I actually probably really like the Freedom House. The sight of an albeit turned round Pedigree clip also suggests there may be more choice than just Moonshine and Deuchars, and I feel sure I will find myself in here again soon enough.

Next we made a rather haphazard descent through pathways and jennels to Infirmary Road and the Masons Arms where we were joined by Christingpher. The decor I could now see was actually more subtle and less kitsch than I remembered, and we were able to sit in the small room on the right behind the bar.

This is open on three sides, and bears what look like fittings for and actual bar shutters, one of which states "waiter" underneath the paint. The let down was that unfortunately the cider had run out/gone off (I did try it and concur), although I am assured they will get some more. Dave had a whiskey and I rather unwisely opted for an eclectic glass of white wine, while Christingpher, perhaps unintentionally, opted for a "pint" of Guinness from a can. Not good, but an enjoyable new venue to sit in, and once again, to play the find the walls game.

Our penultimate venue was the Blake, which we reached by a rather odd route courtesy of yours truly, demonstrating that a little knowledge is almost always a bad thing. Also, the unshakable cough I had meant that on reaching the pub I had to wait outside for 10 minutes coughing myself stupid before I could venture inside. We had 2 pints each in here, all having the Fellows Morton and Clayton Fellows Centenary ale first, followed by an utterly fabulous pint of Potbelly Beijing Black, which is also a very admirable BCA.

Our final stop saw Dave take ownership of his senses and catch a tram, whilst I took leave of mine and pushed on to the Hillsborough hotel - not that this is an indication of insanity in itself, just that this almost inevitable set me up for paying for a taxi home. Before so doing, I had a delicious pint of Brooklyn Dark, and Christingpher a Stannington Stout. Or it could be the other way round. Both were very nice I can assure you. An enjoyable end to a brilliant and joyful crawl.

Recent wander - Shakespeare Well Road Heeley Back in the good old days when everything was nice, erm, at least some things were, I visited the above pub a few times. The first was a CAMRA pub of the month presentation which may have been as long ago as 1998, certainly I think I was living in the area and that makes it last century. The Shakespeare had an experienced and friendly landlord who I gathered had been there for many years, and was a fan of Tetley, but also of accessing their many guests, including, at that time, their Allsopps range of recreated ales from Burton, although I have no idea where they were brewed. In my youth I would have balked at trying the Tetley but in the landlords skilled hands it was no doubt a cracking pint, and I went back a few more times in the next year or so, enjoying a quiz and a games night with some free food, always a bonus to a skinny man on crap wages.

Alas at some point said host left the pub and although I am unclear of the order and manner of events it ended up being closed, probably many times, and certainly as recently as a few years ago. I surmised with a sad heart that it could not recover from the loss of a longstanding licensee (especially with previously noted pub company lack of expertise in such matters), and that the opening of the Sheaf View had put the final nail in the Shakespeare's coffin.

I came to revisit the pub on Wednesday, not after some useful tip off on its reopening, but on a whim as I was at the Sheaf View anyway. The Sheaf View, as you may well know, is not only the sister pub of the Blake (or is that the Daddy pub, having re-opened first?) but is also the busiest pub I have ever been in, and the winner of numerous and deserver of more, awards for its beer.

Me and Mr P had caught the 53 from town and arrived about 10 to 6, which I now believe forms part of a winning formulae for attaining seating. Because there were 5 tables free on arrival , but by 18.30 none. So theres the trick. Beer wise we had two excellent pints from Great Oakley brewery, their dark, and a stronger pale one called dazzler or similar - will ask their website, so to speak.

It was from here we ventured up the hill to the Shakespeare which I had spotted was open again as we walked along Chesterfield road earlier. Up the steps from the entrance is a cosy bar with a pool table on the right and an Old Rosie handpump in use on the bar,and another with or without clip. On the other side were further handpumps and a chalk board proclaiming guests landlord and Kelham Easy Rider. Sadly, both were run out, but there was still Tetley on, and not only did we choose that on the basis that cider would be a bad idea, but because for all its unfortunate qualities, Tetleys can be a good beer, and its seldom we have it.

We sat to the far right end of the bar in a small narrow room which juts out with views over Chesterfield Road below. This is probably an excellent vantage point, a fact I'd confirm were it not for the slightly shameful fact that I can't recall if it had a window at the end! The significance of our seating choice was that not only did it afford us the opportunity for a quick chat, but also for me to reminisce, somewhat incoherently about the fact that I had sat in exactly the same place when I had last visited some 13 years ago.

The Tetleys was, as you'd expect, Tetleyish, but by no means a bad pint, and a pleasant change. As we left there was a rational calm discussion about hunting going on, which helped highlight the influence of a mix of clientele and also emphasised the relaxed atmosphere - no powder keg verbal vitriol or stand offs, just salient thoughtful ideas shared by friends over a drink. So, lets hope the Shakespeare continues to sell real ale, and I can make it a venue that I will aspire to visit each time I am in the area.

Talking of which, our last stop was reliable stalwart the White Lion on the main road, we didn't get to go in the legendarily small snug on the left, but sat in the small second room on the right supping a pint and a half of Kelham Easy Rider. Always a pleasant stop off, and the brilliant interior at the front of the pub enhances any visit, I can safely say that I can always find time to pop in the White Lion when nearby, and despite an unfortunate but likely unavoidable prevalence of major regional brewery ales, there is always at least one interesting guest.

My final stop, after Mr P had retired from refreshments for the evening, was the Rutland Arms on Brown Street where I bumped into friends enjoying some food, and speaking very highly of it too. I had time to slurp down a delicious 5.9% pale ale from Raw brewery in Stavely whilst chatting to someone who is brewing there at the moment - keep an eye out for Blue Bee beers when they come on, the Rutland is usually a good bet for finding them.

My final despatch is from Tuesday night and a surprise wander after work - not a surprise in a Walkabout dream sequence sense (note this is referencing the film, not the shit dreadful Australian themed warehouse on Calver street) but in that I was only popping for one, and the familiarity of that statement only now makes it obvious that I would stay for a few. I started at the Bath Hotel and had a delicious and refreshing pint of Abbeydale Deception to start, before trying a pint of a smokey heady smelling and deliciously dark Vale Black Beauty Porter. I like the Vale beers a lot so was pleased to see this, which I don't think I have tried before.

The Red Deer on Pitt street was my next stop, a bit busier than the Bath and sporting a range of about 8 real ales, including a guest from a small brewery, on this occasion Wharfebank Tether, which I had tried only a snifter of at the Rutland in Holmesfield in July last year. I had read a review and article about the brewery and its beers so was interested to give it a try. I could detect the American hops which I thought the article referenced, but only in the bitter aftertaste, the main body of the beer however was a little thin with no strong flavour dominating. I tried in vain here to secure a copy of beer matters to read whilst enjoying my solitary refreshment, but ended up with a copy of kerrang instead, the reading of which was an exercise that demonstrated nicely that at 36, I could recognise only a 5th of the bands featured, and found myself tutting at bands with short hair.

The Red Deer seemed to have undergone a bad phase at some point, without my noticing. I think i didn't go in for a couple of years which is allegedly when this malaise took place. My first return whilst the pub was under its current stewardship was last year, when they kindly let me into use the loo even though they had stopped serving so couldn't allow me to buy a drink, and most recently at Christmas on mad Friday, an over hyped event that was no more chaotic and insane than any other near Christmas orgy of drunken revelry. The pub now has a nice new food menu which I have purloined a copy of, ostensibly to write my beers down on, and this is served until 21.00, which is handy to know. There is a good range of beers available including some regionals but usually good ones like Landlord and Adnams Broadside. Overall a cracking pub in a brilliant near secret location that deserves to do well.

I went next to Trippets for a read and a pint of one of my favourite Bradfield beers, the Irish Dexter, what with it being St Patrick's on the Thursday. I also briefly popped in the Grapes for a half of Moonshine, and got to sit alone in the almost never empty snug on he left as you enter. This gave me a chance to see the nice tiling on the far left side and admire the view, alas my phone memory was full so couldn't snap the pleasant scene of looking across the apparent island of the bar with its tall bar back and shelves, from the comfort of the snug.

My final stop, clearly having lost track of time, erm, somehow, was in Henry's. Here they had also seen Vale and had their Black Beauty on, so I had a half of that and half of the Liverpool Organic Brewhouse Bitter, before I headed home. All in all then, a brilliant week or two of drinking in some excellent pubs. Roll on Sunday, when am off awalkin over Offerton moor with Mr P.

Cheers Wee Beefy.

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