yesterday I was a busy lad. I had to meet my friend of 34 years Christingpher at the Sheffield Tap at lunch (well, I say had, perhaps preferred to) for a catch up and then later I was off out with Davefromtshop for a tour of Sheffield's newer real ale venues that he had never visited before. Since Christingpher has never been int Tap, this makes our visit the start of my crawl, which involves taking people to pubs for the first time. (Not literally. Not reformed Methodists or anything. Or Puritans neither. You get the picture though....)
Dave's tour will be in Part 2.
I was a trifle late having crammed some last minute food into me to soak up the beers I expected to have (although my achy heavy head wasn't exactly suggesting I have anything more than a glass of water). As I entered my drinking companion was enthusiastically coming out of the pub to greet me - I had to explain that I was delicate and at risk of sudden unconsciousness, which is usually a status I achieve at the end of the evening. We went inside and got served straight away by a barman with a dry sense of humour. I watched Christingpher eyeing up the beer and recommended the Marble Stout - then I had half an orange juice. The barman passed the stout over describing it as manly and went to get my "kids orange" - I asked for a balloon and a sweet, and was given a free biscuit. Bless.
We sat down in the seat next to the fireplace that overlooks the bar. We had much to catch up on, but due to a minor misunderstanding, Christingpher had come on his motorbike, and thought I was only staying for one. He made a great job of slowly supping his pint but I soon finished my OJ and admitted defeat - I would be having beer...
I opted for a pint of Marble Pint (hur hur, it sez pint, and it is (etc)...) which was a nice enough drink, but, if am to be honest, nothing like the beer I was expecting. It seemed a little dull actually, which surprised me. We tried moving seats to the booth in front of the bar, to see if a change of scene would improve things, but all this did was present me with a vista of beers and prompted another purchase.
I gave Christingpher the last quarter of my Pint and bought a new pint of Marble Stout. This was a far better beer, with coffee and smokey malt bitterness and a short but pleasant finish. Our discussions soon turned to Magic Rock, - as Christingpher is an artist I figured he'd love their artwork, and he did. We looked at the Magic Rock bottled beers on the beer menu and having decided they were too expensive, finally I caved in and went to buy a half of the Magic 8 ball (7%) on keykeg dispense.
I knew that keykeg was more expensive than cask, (never really understood why) and, with all due respect to the Tap, in a venue not afraid of expense, this could be a bad combination. Worse still, as I bought something else at the same time, I wasn't entirely sure of its price. I can reason however that a half cost me between £3.60 and £4.00. Now, I'll come to describing the beer in a moment but lets be clear. That, is fecking expensive. No mincing of words here, thats more than twice as expensive as anything they have on cask and nearly as expensive as the barrel aged 9% Bracia they had at the Hallamshire House. It felt wrong and reckless to spend so much money on one half of beer. It would have to be very very damn good.....
And it was, of course. Even for a keykeg, a dispense method which I don't rate that much. Don't get me wrong, keykeg beers can taste good, but its so rare you get to try a beer in keg and cask side by side to make any kind of meaningful comparison. Even if you could, I can't see room temperature, conditioned cask ale tasting worse than higher carbonated colder keykeg, and vice versa. Quite simply, this was fantastic.
More importantly, having tried numerous Black IPA's now, I think it was a really very good example. None of the imbalance of dry ascorbic hops and no finish, or dry stout flavours with odd peaks of hoppy bite, this was bitter, yes, initially, but then followed instantly by a smooth and creamy warming taste, much like a rich lustrous stout, and finishing with a joyous mix of malt and hops that followed the creamy taste perfectly, rather than being crowbarred onto the end. Brilliant, and nearly as good as Red Willow Faithless.
Christingpher figured a half was in order and he had the Nogne Porter, also 7%, partially based on my recommendation, verging on insistence. I warned him it would be pricey, and he uttered not a word on the price. If you transposed the cost percentage difference between Magic Rock and Nogne bottled beers (although they may be different sizes) I think he could have parted with £4.50. Jeee-eee-zus.
I tried a bit and it was very nice, not as good as the Magic 8 Ball, but with an endearing and curiously brilliant taste which was suggested to be Bubblegum. I couldn't for the life of me work out for certain what it was, but it was a central flavour of the beer, and really enjoyable. We sipped our wares slowly, me enthusing about the 8Ball every time I went back to sip it (I probably spent an hour or more drinking it) and although I had to go by 4PM I'd had 2 and a half pints in 3 hours (how sensible!) and a fantastic time catching up with a great friend.
Roll on 18.30 in the Hop!