after watching the Docfest films about pubs in the past I decided to go and make my own artistic contribution to the enjoyment of ale. I popped into the Sheffield Tap to partake in a live installation of a man drinking beer, and to simultaneously see what they had to offer.
A couple of real ales caught my eye, not least the excellent Dark Arts from Magic Rock, but it felt early (it was actually about 12.15) so I opted for two halves of sensibly moderate strength beers to begin my worship at the altar of ale.
First up was a half of the St Peters Bitter, along with a half of Brewsters Hophead. I drank the St Peters first as I was convinced that despite a noticeable harshness in bottle it was going to be maltier and sweeter than the Brewster's. It was, but that wasn't to its detriment, it was the perfect starter, a refreshing mellow lightly hopped bitter. The Hophead was an altogether different affair.
Despite being weaker, it packed in a dramatic sackful of dry sharply bitter hops, the prominent flavour was one that I recognised - I have tasted it in Brass Monkey and Grafton Brewery beers to name but a few, and its not my favourite, but I was impressed by the amount of sheer bitter flavour crammed into a beer of this strength.
Aloha to the bank manager
Next things became a but weird, and very expensive. I had a half of the Maui Coconut Porter, 6.0% and £3.30 a half. I understand the cans, which caused a bit of a buzz when they were first spotted over here, retail for a fiver. All this is tremendously silly in terms of cost to the consumer versus cost to the manufacturer, but it was worryingly easy, especially buying halves, to legitimise the expense.
Yes, given its £6.60 a pint you need to at least have a reason for drinking it - I figured my impending birthday and a smidgen of hype, plus innate curiosity of how the two flavours would combine met that requirement. I am, however, fully aware that I paid an absurd sum of money for 268ml of beer (although, it was so lively, that with the kindly proffered top up glass I got more than a half in the end, but shhhh, don't tell anyone).
The Maui porter was exactly as and everything that I had expected. It was a scrumptious luscious creamy porter, a little bit like the Nogne, and it somehow managed to glide elegantly into the sweet coconut flavours like it was the most natural combination in the world. It was not a heavy beer for 6.0%, but nevertheless it was probably not something I'd have a session on. Besides, next I was about to attempt to drink something far stronger.
Having purchased a sandwich in preparation for the sudden intake of a bit too much alcohol, and having checked the price of this behemoth in advance (so that I knew beforehand that I was about to buy the most expensive drink of beer I had ever), I was ready to try a half of the Magic Rock Bourbon cask Bearded Lady, 10.5%. I think I might never be able to consider anything a beer of the year again.
Bearded lady bourbon cask stout is an epochal brew. A staggering wall of flavoursome delight which made me want to stay sat where I was for the rest of forever. I bought a half, am not mental after all, and it took me about 50 minutes of persistent sipping to finish it. It did not cloy, it did not wain, it did not disappoint. Christ, it was so tasty that it was barely credible. It is the end of beer.
I think I may struggle to convey the finer points of its taste but having just last week enjoyed the incredible tastes of a 5 year vintage of Durham Temptation I think I'm well qualified to state that this is the best stout I ever tasted. Better even than a 4 year vintage of the Thornbridge Islay cask reserve, even than the 11% headiness of a Rogue coffee porter (yes, I realise that's not a stout). It was like the best stout you ever tasted, but then better again, with an unbelievable satisfying rich and lingering finish, joined by a bite of bourbon which quickly mellowed into a rapturous melee of soothing , comforting malt loveliness.
I should point out by the way that it was expensive. Very expensive, at over £8.00 a pint. And yes, I remember that I nearly bust a lung with anger at Thornbridge Bracia being over £9.00 a pint, but without tasting that, I would be amazed if it could have equalled the matchless excellence of this immense beer. To put it in perspective, I paid £4.25 to have 50 minutes of unbridled pleasure, and it was legal. What's not to love?
And in other keykeg news
Nicely ignoring the fact that this years finest ale was on keykeg, for which I dislike my self a little, it was unfair play from the Tap to have had such an amazing line up on - St Peters IPA, Odell and Thornbridge Pondhopper and Mikkeller Big Worse Barley Wine were also available on keykeg, for those with an entire day to drink their way through the offerings. Along with Magic Rock Rapture and Dark Arts, and Thornbridge Black Harry, all on cask, this was possibly the best line up of beers I have ever seen.
To the Rutland...
What to do after drinking the best beer ever? Wh-hy, head off to the Rutland to try and better it of course! Entering the quite busy pub I immediately noticed that those scamps at Steel City had brought out another 2.7% beer. Perfect! I thought, and I'll just get a half of that Arbor Ales beer whatever its called. When Paultous charged me I assumed, naturally, that in his youthful exuberance he had made a critical error in ringing the sale into the till. Unfortunately I was wrong. I had just bought a half of a 10% beer. Oh dear.
I jokingly said I'd down it in one and have the Steel City afterwards as I was sure it would be packed with flavour. True to my word I tasted the Arbor Down Deeper Sports IPA, enjoyed its initial bite of hops but perhaps less so its lingering sweet finish, and downed it. Childish it may sound, but I really thought the longer I lingered over it the more my body would remind me that this was all a tremendously bad idea.
The Bolshevik Revolution from Steel City was not as good as Parasite God but still a good lesson in flavour, and I finished off my visit with a half of the Blue Bee Red White and Blue which was in excellent nick. And then I went for a walk.
This was mainly to clear my head and also to search out food, which I did at a disreputable global conglomerate, before sitting down near the bottom of Fargate for a nosh and a brief spell of thinking. Clearly the additives in the distasteful muck I was eating had addled my brain, because I decided to go for a last one.
I arrived at Dada much the better for my mastication and perambulation and spotted James on the way in - even though it was not required, I quickly apologised for leaving my three quarters of a pint of Revelation from the night before - details of that yomp to come tomorrow. Once inside, noting that it was still on, it seemed silly to miss out, so I had a half this time, a very pleasing and not exactly out of place given the earlier consumptions, pale ale at £1.65.
I also had a nice half of the Brock, and gleaned some upcoming news about beers at Dada, where they also had Purity Mad Goose on the bar. Apparently, Magic Rock Cannonball, High Wire and their new Wheat beer Clown Juice should all be popping up soon - I can't be certain which ones were on keg so its perhaps best to find out by popping in over the next couple of weeks just to make absolutely certain.
And so ends a tale of strong beers, steep prices and unbounded joy in the hostelries of Sheffield. Wishing myself many happy returns!