When we left off last time, I was crawling back to my hotel for our second night in Sheffield. The following morning, we started off, not too early, with breakfast at the Benjamin Huntsman, a city centre Wetherspoons. From there we made our way, in a genteel manner, to the Sheffield Tap, one of Sheffield’s best known pubs.
Only recently restored, this building was originally the refreshment room on Sheffield Midland Station’s platform 1b. It had been disgracefully neglected by British Rail and was in a state of partial collapse when renovations began in 2008. Today it is a beacon of hope, demonstrating just what can be done with determination and hard work. In a word, the place is beautiful. In the bar room (right onto the station platform) is a superb long wooden bar topped with a very impressive array of taps.
There are plenty of Thornbridge beers available at the tap, and I started with Thornbridge Frank as Apollo, a 4.6% bitter. Frank as Apollo was the winner of the Thornbridge Great British Home Brew Challenge, and was brewed by Paul Carruthers. It’s a nice brew, bitter and hoppy, refreshing and easily drinkable. Hops are very evident at the finish and are quite sharp.
I followed up with another Thornbridge brew, Black Harry, a 3.9% mild. Malt is the major taste sensation in this beer, though not strongly so. Not unpleasant.
Spotting a Magic Rock brew, Dark Arts, I couldn’t resist. Magic Rock is currently making waves in the beer world, and the opportunity to try one of their beers cannot be missed. Dark Arts is described as a ‘surreal stout’ and weighs in at a respectable 6.0%. The taste is very dark, bitter and malty. There’s also a touch of smoke deep down in the flavour. The finish adds a pleasant dash of coffee. There’s a good hop character throughout. Very good.
Another Thornbridge beer on the bar was Versa, a 5.0% keg wheat beer. Now I’ve mentioned before that I’m not overfond of this style, but I do keep trying. What can I say about Versa? It’s wheat beery. There is, however, a distinct sherbet taste in there too. Well, I tried.
Finally, I spotted a Redwillow brew (one of my top new breweries). Faithless XI is a 7.4% Strong Ale, dark red in colour. There are bags full of flavour in here. The smell is very fruity and this carries on into the taste along with vanilla and toffee and plenty of bitter hops. A massive mouthful of complex flavours.
We considered that we had dawdled long enough in the Sheffield Tap (it’s easy to do), so we set off again, this time to The Harlequin, quite a hike from the Tap. The Harlequin is a lovely, comfortable Victorian street corner pub with up to 14 real ales on the bar at a time. It also serves very good food and we settled in here for our lunch. The Brew Company, a nearby brewer, provides a monthly special exclusively for the Harlequin.
I had three beers here, with mixed results. Firstly, I went for an Ascot Penguin Porter, 4.5% and quite black. The taste is dark with a good deal of bitterness – malty bitterness, not hoppy. There’s also a hint of smoke. Lady Alebagger tasted chocolate biscuits in the flavour, but I couldn’t find them.
Secondly, I plumped for a Black Iris Great Eastern Transatlantic Porter. 4.6% and quite black, I reckon it was made from Atlantic water. Salty, salty, salty! Eew!
Finally, I had to try one of the Brew Company’s brews – Atomic, a 4% golden ale. An attractive bright yellow colour with a distinctly orange smell, the taste is pithy and hoppy. Cleaned my mouth out nicely. Refreshing and bitter.
Lunch finished, we strode purposefully out into the cold Sheffield air, crossing the stinky River Don and on towards the area of Sheffield called Kelham Island. We couldn’t resist stopping in at the Kelham Island Brewery Shop, where I bought a nifty Fat Cat tee-shirt. Handy, as that was our next destination.
The Fat Cat opened as a real ale pub in 1981 and really kick started the real ale scene in Sheffield. 11 real ale pumps were on the bar at the time of our visit. The main bar area is small and somewhat cramped, but there is another, spacier room next door. Our itinerary didn’t leave us much time here, so I just had two beers.
My first was the excellent Newsome Trial Porter, 4.9% and very black. Very smooth, dark roasted malt flavour with hints of bitterish smoke towards the end. A fine porter.
My second choice disappointed. From the Kelham Island brewery, which we passed on our walk here, I had their Best, a 3.8% bitter. Frankly, it’s not terribly nice, but I don’t condemn a beer on a single tasting. I’ll have to try it again some time.
Our next choice of pub was obvious, twice CAMRA champion pub of Britain, the Kelham Island Tavern was just a stone’s throw away. The Kelham Island Tavern sits in a rather sterile area of town, little around it and facing a large car park. Inside, it is pleasant, with tiled floors and a carved wooden bar, on which were eight handpumps, though not all in use when I was there. At the back is a small but attractive beer garden, where we sat to drink our beer. It’s sheltered, and despite it being only the 3rd March, it was warm enough to sit out, with coats on. There was only time for two here, but it seems I chose well. Derby Penny’s Porter is a very dark red, 4.7% porter which is smooth and sweet and extremely drinkable.
Castle Rock Urban Fox is a seasonal ruby ale at 4.5%. It is smooth and has a lovely caramel taste. It’s quite sweetish.
The afternoon was drawing to a close, so we left the Kelham Island Tavern behind as we continued our exploration of the pubs of Sheffield. Thanks for sticking with me, more to follow…
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