This week, I arve been mostly drinking.....very little. I have however, made it out three times in the last ten days and have some news to report. Full details are on their way later but firstly I'd like to say a few words about the brilliant, ever expanding, infuriating and popular pub which is the Sheffield Tap.
I was out the weekend that the Tap first opened. Having been in some sort of vacuum for a while it seems I missed all the buzz about it opening, but on the first Sunday it was I happened to be sat in the Devonshire Cat (only been in once since ironically) reading a copy of Beer Matters and noticed the announcementt. I decided to pop in for a neb.
The first thing that struck me was the interior fittings and decoration. I had no idea that this place existed, and being a fan of Edwardian and Victorian pub interiors, I was gobsmacked by its opulence and high ceilinged grandeur, topped off by that amazing one piece bar back (which I think they had specially made).
The second thing I noticed was that it was cold. It was the 6th December 2009 and there appeared to be no heating. I sat in the panelled room which is the one you walk through from the road to get to the bar, and even out of the draught it was cold.
The final thing I noticed was that all the beers on the first weekend were from Thornbridge (am pretty sure!). It was when they were doing some of their novelty lower strength beers. This helped to identify that, as a regular Kelham Island Tavern guzzler, the beer in here was a tad expensive. On an unrelated note, early guest ales were from BrewDog (including Punk and Hardcore IPA in cask) and Orkney.
In two years extra space has appeared and heating has been installed (or turned on), and the beer range is now 4 Thornbridge and four or five guest cask ales and a cider. There are ten key keg taps with three from Bernard and guests including Sierra Nevada pale ale on the first weekend. Initial visits always seemed to involve me sat with a friend with up to seven glasses of beer on our table (for two of us!) - almost like we knew what we wanted next but were so desperate not to miss it that we'd be unwilling to finish the beers we had before reordering. That would never happen in the Red Lion, Ampney St Peter....
I am in too often. And I have even started to take an interest in drinking keykeg stuff, despite the obvious expense. Usually stuff you can't get in cask, making the expenditure worthwhile, having already done a few comparison beers. Am still awaiting the chance to try a cask and keykeg beer side by side however...
There are still gripes, obviously. No pub is perfect. There seems a lack of bar staff at busy times, and certain products are disproportionately expensive. To their credit however, staff usually let you know if you are about to be asked to part with an obscene sum of money, which is only right.
The Saturday of the Steel City 666 Black IPA tasting I was in the Tap afterwards trying some Liverpool Organic Brewhouse beers. I tried a strong pale one, a little cloudy, called amnesia - not literally (although it could have been called Losenotes since I have, and now can't recall its name). This was not really a great example of their beers which was a shame, but the other two were really good.
The Kitty Wilkinson Chocolate and Vanilla Stout (4.5%, above middle) was brilliant, and I had started with a half of their refreshing Pale Ale. One of the things that's good about the Tap is that they quite often have a guest brewery and because of the number of pumps available, if for some reason you don't rate their output you can always have one of the other guests. They also have some beer samples poured to show you the colour, and if this is still not enough info then you can always ask for a taster.
This was a great opportunity to try a selection - and there was one of their beers on this Saturday as well. Yesterday, indeed, was Buxton Brewery day. I tried halves of their Best Bitter, 3.9% and stout 4.3%. These two came to £3.45, which is steep, but both were excellent examples of their style. The Bitter was a hoppy and refreshing beer whilst managing to be complex and robust, all crammed into a fairly low alcohol brew. The Stout was traditional with lots of roast malt bitterness, a little bit like Titanic Stout, and was probably the beer of the week for me.
I also tried halves of Pennine Amber Necker and Bristol Beer Company Sunshine. These two were more reasonable at £2.85 for the two halves. I didn't get on with the Bristol, it had a strange malty sweetness which was neither to my taste or what I would expect from a summer beer - too "sticky", if that even makes sense, to quench the thirst. The Pennine on the other hand was an aptly named beer which didn't hang around long, with a very dry bitterness that made it stand out, but ultimately, very quaffable.
My final pairing was a Camden Pale, and a Stone IPA (6.9%) on keykeg which came to a fiver. The Stone was intensely bitter, possibly using Simcoe (which I understand is BrewDog's signature bite, rather than Nelson Sauvin?) followed by a yeasty Belgian sweet malt. This was a very good example of its style, a strong Belgian inspired American IPA, but it was too heavy to be enjoyable, and I was pained to leave some in the glass. The Camden was quite light and didn't really benefit from being cold - I would have loved to have tasted it in cask, assuming it was available in cask, before Camden announced they were concentrating on keg in 2012. One feature that I did like was its bite - for such a light refreshing beer it had this pleasant hoppy sting at the back of the throat, which despite my choice of words, was actually quite nice, and an impressive flavour.
All too soon I had to go - which brings me to my final eulogistic point - as with many old bars (or old recreated bars, am still not sure) there is a carriage clock built into the fitting. The difference with the one at the Sheffield Tap is - it works.
A clock used for telling the time - what will these innovative brainiacs think of next?