After a few more distractions, here’s a continuation of my tales from the North (apologies for lack of pictures – this is pre-Instagram obsession/new camara)… Sheffield is known for many great things. Nestled in the stunning peak district, it’s a city with a proud history of steel production and some even say this is the city where modern man was created (Sean Bean, in case you wondered). Attractions include masses of green space, quirky shopping in the Devonshire quarter and the delightful Winter Gardens. Of course, to enjoy any of these you would need to somehow tear yourself away from the many, many, many exceptional pubs. I’ve always enjoyed drinking in Sheffield since it seems to be spoilt with such a high standard of local brewers. There’s Kelham Island, Bradfield, Sheffield, Abbeydale and The Brew Company (by no means an exhaustive list). Plus, it’s in the ideal part of the country to catch the best of the rest of Yorkshire (where all the best things come from) and Scotland. However, until this trip I hadn’t fully appreciated the sheer number of outstanding pubs but luckily, this time we had a pair of friendly local guides in the form of the OH’s sister and brother-in-law. So here’s a round-up of where we went…
A real proper pub with proper pub games. I was frankly bewildered by the bar billiards which seemed to have the most random points system I’ve seen. Thankfully, the landlord was there to help and seemed to know all the crazy rules by heart. Sheffield-Brewery tied, it also boasts an impressive selection of bottles and continental taps as well as several taps devoted to guests. I tried a lovely I.V.A (The ‘V’ stands for Vanilla!) (4.2%ABV) by Maypole which was a deliciously delicate pale ale with a light creme brulee flavour and by far my favorite on the bar that day. The next half was a rather unappealingly named Brown Ball (4%ABV) by Blue Bee which, to me, smelt a little eggy but had a biscuity dark malt flavor. To finish, I decided to try a Sheffield Brewery ale since we were in their house so I went for a Sheffield Porter (4.4%ABV) which I found to be surprisingly thin but with a nicely rounded nutty flavor.
Another real proper pub with a lovely beer garden. It’s fairly shabby and charming, with genuine history all over the walls in the form of old posters, newspaper cuttings and pump clips. The brother-in-law, a keen bell-ringer (cooler than it sounds), was rather excited to see framed on the wall some historical sheet-music for a Kelham Island sequence. The Fat Cat is tied with the famous Kelham Island Brewery and out of the 11 taps you can expect to see at least four devoted to home with the rest offering a fine selection of guests. I was served by a rather friendly and knowledgable chap who was prompted to break out into song by one of my ales, Satisfaction (4.3%ABV) by Holden’s Brewery which was a perfectly acceptable light session bitter. However, I was rather more excited by Marble’s Ginger Marble 6 (6%ABV) as I love ginger and I love Marble. Although I am normally disappointed by ginger beers (mainly because the bar has been set too unfairly high by Wheal Maiden Grandma’s Weapon’s Grade), true to form, Marble came up with the goods. The ginger was less a burning stinger and more of a sweet and jovial ginger-bread man with a slight sourness.
You can literally get decent beer in nice surroundings anywhere you go in Sheffield, including the soul-less modern West One development in the Devonshire Quarter. Behind the shiney glass facade, nestled in with the Revolution and Las Iguanas, lies an ultra-hip yet cozy bar that somehow has the feel of somewhere that’s always been there (it only opened last year!). The Sheffield Hop is the latest of three venues opened by the director of Ossett Brewery, Jamie Lawson, Mike Heaton who drums with Embrace and ex-Virgin Japan MD Mike Inman so they’re pretty much covered for music and beer expertise. The dark wood, gargoyles, stained glass and band posters covering the walls give the place a shabby-chic vibe that in no way feels pretentious. The bar is well-stocked with Ossett along with some guests and I was pleased to see Salamander Black Watch (4.8%ABV) on tap which is a well-rounded, smooth and chocolatey porter. It’s not just about the Beer though – The Hop is also home to some cracking award-winning pies. I had the Steak and Treacle Stout which was one of the best pies I’ve had. At £3.50 for pie, peas and mash or £5 for all the above plus a pint, there’s no excuse not to! I should also mention (since I somehow didn’t see the poster) that if you’re a CAMRA member you get a 10% discount off beer!
A more traditional boozer – we went for the incredibly hard pub quiz (9 out of 20 in case you were wondering) but the beer made the trip worth-while. I went for a Brewster’s Stilton Porter (4.9%ABV) which had a heavy, creamy, malty character but no stilton sadly.
This is by no means a complete list of the best Sheffield has – peering through the windows as we walked the streets, it was clear that decent beer of all varieties is a staple everywhere from the student dives to the trendy bars. If you love beer, find an excuse to visit for a few days at least.