Ay up beer monsters,
I have quite a lo to tell you about today so will do two posts in order to make the info more easy to digest. First, here are the details of my trip to West Sheffield yesterday, and some beer news from way back in December which eluded me.
Back in 2011 I was in here to meet up with Bobert, Coops, Big G and Mick amongst others, for a pre Christmas drink. The Sportsman, whilst never having been my hostelry of choice in the area (I used to go in the Bell Hagg in the nineties, and never really felt compelled to drink in the Crosspool Tavern at any time) and its a while since I was last in before this visit - I seem to remember it was early nineties and me and pathos Brian were in to share a half prior to meeting friends. It wasn't resolutely traditional then, but did at least have the now novel feature of separate rooms, as all pubs should.
It was with some dismay that I noticed the homogenised signatures of the Ember Inns chain, indicating to me that i would virtually know the much changed interior already : lots of pale wood, a big dark chunky bar, many dividing walls replaced with boxes of sawn down pine logs, and much soft furnishings. And so it was to be, my Mystic Meg predictions came true, but what I hadn't forseen was the beer range.
On the bar were Tetleys cask (now brewed in Northampton or somewhere ), Leeds Pale, Keltek King, Orkney Dark Island and another offering that I have managed to forget. Both the Leeds and the Orkney were tried, and were found to be in good nick, and not too expensive either - I think the Leeds came in at about £2.60 a pint. Round the corner of the bar, the upcoming brews were advertised by being on the furthest pump clips. This practice is guaranteed to wind me up as it creates a false expectation but at least I was intercepted en route to inspecting the pumps by a member of staff who made it clear they were coming soon (and on closer inspection there were small "flags " atop each pump clip attesting the same).
So, overall this was a surprising and quite pleasant discovery. I thank my lucky stars that i don't have to make a food pub my local, since its atmosphere vacuum means its a transient rather than a long comfortable session venue, but the beer range shows imagination and the pricing is logical and sensible. At least you can be assured of something worth drinking if you end up in the Sportsman.
West of Sheffield wander.
I went up to see Davefromtshop in his native Woodseats and we went on a brief but interesting crawl around some of the pubs that the area had to offer, starting on Fraser Road at the Ale house, previously known as the Sheaf.
The Ale House
Owing to the period between New Years day and the first proper weekend of the new year also being a weird time in terms of pub openings, we approached the pub with trepidation - partly because of its design, a modern possibly 1960's bungalow style estate pub making it seem dark and unopen almost all of the time during the day. Luckily and gratefully we spotted the door open and went inside for a look.
The bar sports 7 handpumps, but two beers had run out over the busy new year period. As Tony the gaffer pointed out, he is a massive fan of Saltaire beers so there were 4 of them, and one other, that being Gorlovka stout from Acorn. I tried the Saltaire Winter Tipple but despite it not being listed sniffed out some unwarranted spice shenanigans, so I went for a pint of the Cacscade, described as the Ale House beer of the year, and fully deserving the accolade. Dave had a half of the winter and the Triple chocolate. All 3 beers were very well kept, and having enjoyed a chat with Tony we decided to stop for an extra half - both of us had the excellent Gorlovka.
If you want to stay up to date with the pub and bands that they may be having on, or sometimes details of upcoming ales, you can find them on Facebook at Ale House Sheffield .
White Lion, Heeley
Next we took a walk down Cawthorne Grove out onto Archer road and down Little London Road to the White Lion at Heeley. This was reassuringly lit up, which was good news, since we had figured we had plenty of time to kill before we could be sure that our final destination was going to be open. A range of about 7 real ales was on, and to our delight, the bar snug was empty so we had chance to sit in there and soak up the atmosphere.
I had a pint of the Thornbridge Sequoia, which am warming to, and Dave the Ossett Silver King. Both were in good form, with the Sequoia perhaps edging it for me. It was also nice to soak up the sense of history in this redoubtable old boozer in the impressively retained original snug, a credit to Tetley that they took enough interest in the pub to retain its original layout (even if the rooms at the back are a recent addition).
The grim spectre of expectation
This visit allowed us chance to discuss and see in actinon the concept of expectation and opinion, in relation to pubs. Expectation, I think, plays a crucial and unavoidable role in your assessment of a pub or its beers. It also of course prevails in other aspects of daily life, which was manifest in the coming discourse, and in an interesting rule I noticed pinned up behind the bar. It advised that persons wearing a hoodie or baseball cap (and assuming not politely offering to remove them) will be asked to leave the premises.
Me and Dave both thought this was a rarely seen edict, and this is what started our discussion over two delicious halves of Thornbridge Jaipur. The rule was not one that either of us disagreed with - but then you have to ask yourself - why is this an issue? Well, because once more, expectations, perhaps here crossing over into prejudice, are at work.
I can only assume that the rule came about because of either perceived behaviour associated with persons wearing such attire, or actual encountered behaviour from the same. I have always found dress codes a contentious issue, but this seems to conveniently open apply when they affect me! I was once denied entry to a Wetherspoons in Ayr because I was wearing walking boots - behind the bouncer were people chucking fag ends and ash onto the floor, swilling from bottles and using a breathtaking array of middle English. Luckily, for the sake of humanity, none of them had stooped so low as to wear boots, thank God!
Curiously here though, I recognised that I like the rule writer had an expectation that a person wearing the above attire may well be one bringing trouble, and that's interesting - I don't own a hoodie or a baseball cap, because I am a mature adult not a 12 year old boy - but here was an expectation that I had, matched by the licensee, which quite blatantly painted a huge group of persons as being unsuitable visitors to the pub. I wondered how many other pubs carried out so specific a dress code,and what the reasons were - does anyone know of any others in Shiny Sheffield?
Our next study of expectations surrounded our final destination, the Broadfield Ale House on Abbeydale Road. I used to visit the pub a lot in the days when it was run by an experienced landlord, under the iron grip of Pub maniacs Sherwood Inns. I remember its faux antique furnishings, expensive beer, and odd layout, but also its excellent jukebox and the helpful bar staff who used to give us tastes of increasingly perilously hot chilli sauces that they kept buying. Meanwhile, I have been to the Old House and the York, and their shared ownership with the Broadfield meant I had a clear expectation of what I would find.
The snug was quickly filled up with drinkers returning from a visit to said pub. One was quick to provide a soundbite "shite" and was quickly backed by his companions who elucidated further. Choice comments included "its not how I remember it", "I had a lager served in a warm glass" and, tellingly "the stout was an OK drink of beer, but it didn't taste of chocolate at all, it was nothing like the description on the sign in front of the pump". This nugget was most interesting because the story changed when repeated to the licensee, to "I had two shit pints of beer", which could have been to appease the person dispensing their pint, but was a notable shift in recollection in just a couple of minutes. Notwithstanding the fact that I noted the complainants listed a Guinness and a Carlsberg in their menu of favourite drinks, it occurred to me that there were at least 3 faults which were likely tthe result of expectations not met.
If the lager is warm, use the magic of speech to convey this, and get it replaced - it only needs a slightly colder glass after all. If you expect a beer to taste of chocolate, firstly, that's a slightly odd flavour to desire, but if it doesn't, then advise a staff member, and maybe enquire if something similar is available (bearing in mind that the detection of flavours in beer is entirely subjective). Finally, if your overall expectation is that nothing will have changed, or if its made up of a series of expectations set in narrow parameters that must be met, take a step back! I myself am regularly guilty of making an assessment based purely on what I had expected not being so, rather than whether something is good in its own right. Its the devil on my shoulder all too often and am starting to realise now that it plays an important role in my and most oher peoples assessments.
Shakespeare Well Road
With our brains tired from our discussion, we left the White. Our penultimate venue was a brisk uphill walk from Ponsfords. Having decided that the Sheaf View would be rammed, and that the Shakespeare was likely worthy of a reassessment since I visited in the summer, we had decided to pop in here for a half. On entering up the steps I noted a cider handpump but no signs of real ale. Nervous disappointment spread across our faces as we contemplated having to sneak back out unnoticed - but I spotted the landlady and asked about the availability of the glorious drink, and the option was Doom Bar from Coors. We sighed and decided to stop for a half.
We sat as always (well, that is only twice) in the room that sticks out opposite the bar and overlooks the sheaf valley, and having secured the football results, enjoyed what was a surprisingly decent drink of Doom Bar. What the cellar person had done, was turn a drab market saturated brown beer and made it interesting. Not wishing to overuse the expectation concept, its worth mentioning our expectations that there would be a couple of real ales on at least, and that the Doom Bar would be crap. Neither were met, and our visit was still an enjoyable one. Time now to try and have them met at the Broadfield....
Broadfield Ale House
We entered through the right hand door which used to take you into the separate and far less salubrious right hand games room, but now it takes you into the left hand side, which, erm, well now isn't, its all one large albeit multi-textured and full of different areas, single room. Earlier in the day Dave had remarked that it was hard to find all the handpumps and this proved accurate, they were in 3 separate sections all round the bar and there was no indication that you needed to seek them out because there was no list of the real ales on sale. This was a flawed approach, but one we had expected!
My obvious beer choice was the Abbeydale Chocs Away stout - the unchocolatey beer maligned in the White. Dave had the equally dark and interestingly more stout like Springhead Leveller which was very nice, and both beers were £2.85, which is on par with other pubs nearby. And the stout? Well, it did taste of chocolate, but chocolate malt, not actual dairy milk. Perhaps the description should have made this clear (I didn't see one) but its subjective like I said. And honestly, who expects beer to taste like chocolate anyway? Beer tastes of beer and its inclusive ingredients, any similarities except in the case of an actual chocolate beer are therefore entirely co-incidental.
We found a seat in the busy pub over to the left of the pub facing the bar with the whisky selection behind - curiously, the visitors we saw earlier had failed to pick up on this incredible and impressive collection, although, with a beer tasting ahead, I neglected to try one. Although a couple of tables were reserved, which is incredibly frustrating if all you want is to sit down and sup a pint, a kind couple, Sadie and Gareth, let us squeeze onto their table, and even shared a taste of their food with us. It was now that I noticed teher was a delectable menu of comforting fare available. Lets face it, any pub with a separate pie and sausage menu is onto a winner..
We enjoyed our friendly company and our beers and despite being a little disappointed with the beer selling approach, its clearly a pub to revisit in the future. Alas, all too soon we had to escape to Handsworth for our tea, which afforded us a last pub expectation experiment on the way home.
White Rose, Handsworth Road
The White Rose, by virtue of being physically nearer to my house than any other licensed building, is therefore my local. However, apart from a brief mid noughties period where we often went in after work for a meal, I almost never go in, because its really not to my taste. A large modern bungalow style new build, but with none of the character attempted and achieved in the Ale House. A pool table, a restaurant, legions of smokers outside, massive noisy TV screens and a bar groaning with mass market dross. Despite this, it did seem to always at least sell one real ale. So we expected to fit in a quick half of whatever was on offer before we arrived at Beefy Towers (note - this is not a euphemism).
Tetley was the only cask on offer, and having been served and paid £2.25 for our 2 halves, we sat down at the table to discuss where we thought the Tetley's was brewed before simultaneously smelling our beers and pulling a face like a man biting into a mouldy sandwich. It was truly foul. Never mind that it was soupy in appearance, I had been in and had a half of soupy Black Sheep last year which was tolerable, but this was rank.
We took it back to someone who may have been the manager. "Your Tetley's off mate" I helpfully advised. Straightaway the man tried to discredit our claim, by saying it had been tapped for 4 days. Erm, what? This had nothing to do with anything since it was clearly rancid. Dave asked him to taste the beer but he insisted a number of times that it was against company policy, in fact I'm not even sure he accepted our invitation to smell it. He was quite happy to get us something else, but having established that there was no other cask on offer, we asked for our money back instead. The question that bothers me here is, how long has that been on sale, with no-one noticing its foul smell when pulling it through, even assuming anyone had bought any at all since it went on? And why had no-one thought to taste it at anytime? Does company policy forbid the cellarman to test if the beer is suitable for consumption, never mind sale?
Overall, the White Rose may well not be the most suitable pub to sell cask. I have heard staff comment in the past that it sells OK "because the older folks drink it" which is always a a nice thing to hear after you have just ordered it, but its clear that those punters are either staying away or switching to smooth. Once again, expectations kill an experience if they are, in this case so profoundly, not met. So best keep punters expectations to a minimum by making it clear that real ale is not available.
More details later of me and Davefromtshop's beer tasting...