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Derby Beer Festival

It happened again to me this summer. This keeps happening to me and I swear it’s not deliberate. It’s early July, and I’m sitting in our luxurious accommodation near Carsington Water in Derbyshire. I’m perusing the pages of the Good Beer Guide.

“What are you checking?” asks Lady Alebagger from across the table.
“I’m just looking at where we should go this evening,” I reply, barely looking up.
“Well,” she says, innocently, “Maybe we should go into Derby.”
Derby’s a few miles away, but certainly not beyond the range of our chauffeur. I look up at her and she pushes a local CAMRA mag across the table at me. I look down at the page she’s indicating. There it reads “36th Derby CAMRA City Charter Beer Festival.”

Derby BF 4

The Derby Beer Festival! One of the biggest of the year! And it’s on tonight! And we’re within striking distance!

All right, enough with the exclamation marks. It’s true though, it is one of the biggest of the year, and I didn’t even know that it was on whilst we were in the area.

We decided to spend the afternoon and evening in Derby, looking round the city and then meandering, as if by chance, into the festival. During the afternoon, we happened to look in the city’s cathedral. It’s quite new by cathedral standards. If you’re used to the great mediaeval aircraft-hangars, then Derby will come as something of a surprise. The oldest part of the building, the tower, was built only in 1510 – 1530. The body of the church is a 1725 rebuild, and it only became a cathedral in 1927. The original foundation of the church dates back to AD 943, but no trace of that building remains. By accident, Lady A and I got invited onto a tour of the tower itself, and were witness to the huge musical box (the ‘carillon’) playing one of its daily tunes at 6 o’clock. I only mention this because of the coincidence that the beer festival this year was in honour of the tercentenary of John Whitehurst, clockmaker and polymath, who installed the carillon’s predecessor in 1745.

The Derby Beer Festival normally takes place in the Main Hall of the Assembly Rooms, but this year, renovations forced the festival into other rooms. Within the Assembly Rooms, there were bars in the foyer and in the Darwin Suite upstairs, along with a City Bar at the top of the stairs outside the Darwin Suite. Dominating the festival however, was the huge marquee which filled the Market Place outside. This was surrounded by temporary fencing, keeping the non-drinking public away from the fun.

The Marquee

The Marquee

We found our way to the gap in the fence, and flashing my bendy silver plastic membership card, I paid the pittance charged to CAMRA members and waltzed in. Seating was at a premium on the Market Place; there was none inside the marquee and what there was outside was the smoking area. Eventually, we squished up on two seats round a table. This wasn’t to last, though, and we soon made our way inside to the Darwin Suite where there was plenty of seating available.

Darwin Suite bar

Darwin Suite bar

The line-up of beers was impressive; 282 ales from over 100 breweries, 32 continental and foreign beers and 41 ciders and perries.

With a selection like that, there are bound to be a few duffers. I guess Lady Luck wasn’t with me that night. I got a fair few of them, and only three would I have been happy to have again on that night. Most of the others were perfectly drinkable, but not exceptional. One or two were awful. Unfortunately, the superb Brass Castle Bad Kitty, which I last sampled at the York Beer Festival in 2011 was not on, despite promises from the programme. Cursing my luck, I tried for the beer which had (for me) the name of the festival – Comrade Bill Bartram’s Egalitarian Anti-Imperialist Soviet Stout, only to find that wasn’t on either.

This happened to me a few times, the end result being that I got to sample very few of the beers that I actually wanted, and ended up just taking a stab at whatever was in a nearby barrel. Despite this, I enjoyed the festival a great deal. There was plenty of room, the live music was in the marquee which meant that you weren’t deafened by it (nothing ruins a beer festival like overloud music you can’t get away from – when will organizers learn this?). The staff were enthusiastic and friendly, and there was a great buzz about the whole affair.

Stillage behind the bar in the Darwin Suite

Stillage behind the bar in the Darwin Suite

My beer of the festival was Grainstore The Nip, a 7.3% old ale. It’s a dark orange in colour, sweet with a strong spirituous overtaste. Raisins and fruit abound and overall it’s very warming, like a barley wine. The finish is especially warm and spicy. Lovely stuff.

The other high scorers were Harthill Dark Hart Festival Reserve and Leatherbritches Game Over. Dark Hart is described as an 18th century style porter, and packs a respectable wallop at 6.5%. It’s chewy and tastes quite strong. Smooth with fruity and coffee notes, sweet in the midtaste, where you can detect a slight toffee hint, and there’s a dark coffee finish. Throughout is an alcoholic overtaste that reminds you of the ABV.

Game Over is a dark mild, though strong for type at 5.0%. It’s very smooth and rich, mainly fruity but with nice toffee hints.

Derby BF 2

I would draw two other beers to your attention – both are worthy of a try. Firstly Spire Sergeant Pepper Stout. There’s a smell like frankfurters to this 5.3% stout. The taste is strong and black pepper is in evidence. There’s a bitter finish laced with treacle (or possibly liquorice). Secondly, Dancing Duck Abduction is worth a go if you see it. It has an interesting taste, strongish flavour and a gentle mouthfeel. There are plenty of hops, giving a real smack.

If I happen to be in the vicinity of Derby at a future date when the festival is on (and stranger things have happened) then I would have no hesitation in going back for another crack. I would recommend you to do the same.

Alebagger at Derby2

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Posted by on 30 October, 2013 in Beer Festivals, Cask Ale

 

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The Moon and Mushroom

Lurking at the bottom of possibly hundreds (or even more) of suburban gardens, there can be found that most superlative of garden sheds – the private pub. I’m aware of several around where I live. Not all garden sheds, there are converted garages and spare rooms (some rooms not so spare!), all lovingly crafted by their owners into their vision of the perfect little pub.

MM5

I’m going to concentrate on one as an exemplar of them all. Otto Rhoden, doyen of northwest beer drinkers and sometime guest blogger on this blog, has created his own little slice of beer heaven in his back garden. It is housed in a slightly outsized garden shed, quite unremarkable from the outside, and is called the Moon and Mushroom.

Whilst the outside may be innocuous, inside, the ‘Shroom is a lovingly created riot of beer memorabilia, and all the fiddly little knick-knacks that can be crammed into every nook and cranny. Little details like the little tables entirely covered with bottle tops, sunk into a think resin surface speak of the hours of patient work that have gone into this place. The bar supports three handpumps, and a smaller shed next door serves as a cellar. On most occasions, three casks of real ale are available, providing plenty variety for the fortunate invitees.

MM1

The ‘Shroom is the venue for regular gatherings held by Otto and Margaret for invited guests. It’s a private pub, for private parties, and so no licence is required. The cost of the beer is shared amongst the participants, making it a private beer drinking club. ‘Shroom days are normally themed, and everyone at least makes a stab at dressing the part. Recent events have included the Hawaiian ‘Shroom, the Hallowe’en ‘Shroom and the ‘Shroom of Love (hippies, not orgies!)

MM8

Of course, every pub needs a smallest room, and the Moon & Mushroom is equipped with the ‘Heineken Suite’, useful for the gentlemen, but the ladies must go into the house to use the facilities in there. The Heineken Suite is richly decorated with memorabilia of that particular horrible fizzy commercial brew. You get the association, I don’t have to draw you a picture.

MM4

‘Shroom events are always accompanied by good food, barbecue on warm days, home-made pies and casseroles on colder days.

It’s a fabulous little venue, where friends can come together, usually in fancy dress, for an afternoon and evening in appreciation of great beer, great food and great company.

MM6 MM7 MM3 MM2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by on 30 April, 2013 in Cask Ale, Pubs

 

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Two Pubs on Railway Platforms

In the past few months, I have had two occasions on which I have been on Real Ale Rail Trails. The first was a birthday celebration of a young lady, very active in the local CAMRA scene and shameless promoter of real cider, who for reasons probably best left to herself, wishes to be referred to as Madame Hoplash. The second was a stag do, certainly amongst the best-behaved and least-wild that I have ever been on.

More about those in later blogs. For now I’m going to concentrate on the first pub we went in on each occasion. This is not as random as it seems, because both are pubs which actually stand on railway platforms.

Stalybridge Buffet Bar

In the case of Madame Hoplash’s crawl, this was the Stalybridge Station Refreshment Rooms (also known as the Buffet Bar). This is a fabulous pub, converted, as the name suggests, from the station’s buffet bar. The bar runs the length of the building. Drinking is not allowed on the actual railway platform here, but there is a spacious seating area to the side of the bar – sort of in the car park, really. When I was there, there were seven handpulls on, including beers from George Wright, Millstone, Timothy Taylor, Partners, Greenfield and Hornbeam. A quick review of some of the beers on offer –

Inside the Stalybridge Buffet Bar

Millstone Tiger Rut, a golden ale with an ABV of 4.0%. It is a pale yellow in colour, and my pint, it must be admitted, was somewhat murky. Nevertheless, there was nothing at all wrong with it. It’s very smooth with distinct citrus and hops notes and a hint of pithiness. It’s very good and somehow manages to be sweetish and yet bitter at the same time.

Partners Ghost. Another golden ale, slightly stronger at 4.5%. The colour can only be described as yellow, at least by me. Another smooth beer with an interesting underlying graininess. There’s a nice hop finish to this one, and I found myself enjoying it.

Hornbeam Galaxy Pale Ale is a pale ale (it’s a very pale yellow, so the description is accurate!) with an ABV of 4.1%. This beer was highly carbonated, so I assume it’s had a good old secondary fermentation in the barrel. The taste starts in a slightly pissy way (sorry to be indelicate, but you probably know what I mean) but develops quickly to be very hoppy and very bitter. Despite the unpromising start (which fades after a while anyway), this beer is very enjoyable and worthy of your attention.

Greenfield Four Hop One – a 4.1% golden. Unfortunately there were very distinct chlorophenol flavours in this beer, so I didn’t progress beyond the first couple of sips. This disinfectant or TCP taste is usually caused either by cleaning fluid being left in a pipe somewhere (either in the brewery or in the pub), or the brew could have been infected by a wild yeast. Either way, it’s unlikely to recur, so I’ll be trying this one again.

Millstone True Grit is a strong ale at 5.0%, again yellow (no dark beers were on at this time). The first thing you notice about this beer is its excellent mouthfeel. Full, smooth and a little chewy. There’s something wonderfully mellow about True Grit, in the way that only stronger beers can manage. Whilst remaining smooth and mellow, there is also plenty in the way of hops and bitterness.

The Trackside

The platform pub visited on the stag do was the Trackside on Bolton Street Station in Bury. This station is on the East Lancashire Railway, a track run by rail enthusiasts from the East Lancashire Railway Preservation Society. They have some magnificent old engines (diesel and steam) and carriages, and a dedicated Rail Ale Trail.

The Trackside is a very similar dimensioned building to the Buffet Bar, buildings on railway stations tend to be long and thin. The bar in this case is along one of the short walls, but still bristles with nine ever-changing handpumps. The bar gets a little more crowded here simply because it is shorter. Unlike the Stalybridge Buffet Bar, the outside seating area is actually on the platform.

The Trackside bar

The bar featured beers from local and local-ish brewers; Timothy Taylor Landlord, York Minster Ale, Phoenix Flash Flood amongst others. I started with a Riverside Green & Black, a 4.5% stout. It’s a lovely deep red in colour with a stable head. The mouthfeel is smooth. There are flavours of smoke and a very slight hint of soap. Perfectly drinkable but not terribly flavoursome.

There were two beers from Sheffield brewer Bradfield. I tried their Farmer’s Stout first. Again, the beer has a nice deep red colour. The flavour is non-smoky with a spicy undertaste that I’m afraid isn’t too successful, at least not for me.

Bradfield Farmer’s Blonde, on the other hand, I found to be excellent. A 4.0% blonde beer (quelle surprise), it pours a pale yellow colour with a white head of tightly packed tiny bubbles. This one is very smooth, with a luscious mouthfeel that is almost creamy. There’s something of cream in the taste, too, and there’s a delightful bready aftertaste.

In conclusion, both these pubs are worth going out of your way to visit. Both feature a good wide range of beers, often from smaller and less well known brewers. The Trackside is not on the national railway system, but is an excellent starting point for the East Lancashire Rail Ale Trail, about which more later. The Stalybridge Buffet Bar is on a national station, and you can hop off here and straight into the pub. You won’t even mind if you miss your connecting train.

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Posted by on 27 November, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs

 

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Golden Ales – BORING!

My foray around the northeast of England highlighted several things to me. Firstly, the northeast has a very active, lively and healthy beer scene. Secondly, there are some superb microbreweries operating in this region. Thirdly, this region has some of the best pubs I’ve ever been in. Fourthly, Golden Beers are mostly desperately boring.

This fourth point is not so much a result of location as of timing. I was touring the area in late summer/early autumn, and all the ‘summery’ beers were still to the fore. This period seems to last longer each year, as people desperately try to hang on to summer – like those people who whinge and moan every year when the clocks go back to ‘winter’ time. It’s not winter time at all, it’s our natural time. Summer time does not make the evenings longer – you just get up an hour earlier. Likewise, golden beers do not make a summer – as has been amply demonstrated this year.

I’ve long been suspicious that breweries are making use of this relatively new style in order to brew cheap and uninteresting beers. My thoughts on this crystallised during my sojourn in the northeast, when faced with yet another barful of the insipid things. I am instinctively wary of any beer labelled ‘So-and-so Gold’ or ‘Golden Something’. The inclusion of the reference to that precious metal is often a clear indication of yet another boring beer. I mean even the names lack imagination.

I didn’t start off my relationship with golden ales with such negativity. It was a long time ago, but I think my first golden ale was Hop Back Summer Lightning.  I was, and remain, very impressed with that. Other goldens have also wowed me, such as Slightly Foxed Bengal Fox, Oakham White Dwarf, Oxfordshire Pride of Oxford (strangely, not so good in bottles) and Red Lion Chardonnayle, to name but four at random.

Like any style, I suppose, there is a wide range in the taste and quality of golden ales, and I am expressly not aiming my comments at those brewers who heap as much care and passion into their golden ales as they do into all their other beers.

Is the golden ale a fad? I think maybe there’s a touch of that about it, but it’s here to stay. Originally, the golden ale was perhaps invented (some time in the mid 1980s by most people’s reckoning; Exmoor brewery claim that their Exmoor Gold – a fine brew by any standards – was the first) to tempt the lager drinker away from their nasty mass-produced tasteless product and to present them with something that looked more like what they were used to drinking. You won’t get a lager drinker to try his first pint of real ale if it’s a heavy porter or a strong stout, the shock of the difference will be too great. But present a real ale that looks lagerish, then you’ve won the first battle.

Does it then follow that the second battle should be about taste? Yes it does. A fine, crisp, hoppy mouthful is what you should expect, but some brewers seem to have taken the line that if making their golden ale look like lager wins the first battle, then making it taste the same by the simple expedient of removing almost every last vestige of flavour, should win the second. The trouble is that nobody is going to go for that. The adventurous lager drinker may try a dull golden, be unimpressed by the absence of taste (he was told to expect so much more), and return to his usual ‘product’. The real ale drinker will be equally unimpressed (he’s used to so much more).

I am sure that I am not alone in disliking having to strain to get any taste from beer. Comments like ‘a bit hoppy, but only a bit’, ‘flavours all rather muted’, ‘slight hoppiness at the end, but not much’ and ‘slight hops fail to get a grip, not much flavour’ pepper my notes from my northeast tour.

A golden ale should not taste like a failed IPA, as many of these do. According to the 2013 Good Beer Guide, in a golden ale ‘…hops are allowed to give full expression, balancing sappy malt with luscious fruity, floral, herbal, spicy and resinous characteristics.’ That’s a tall order, and many very decent golden ales only get some of those, but it’s a hell of a long way from ‘a bit hoppy, but only a bit.’

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Posted by on 25 October, 2012 in Beer Styles, Cask Ale

 

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The Victoria Inn, Durham

My recent trip round the northeast of England took me to many fine pubs. When arriving in a new region, I always like to pick up a copy of the local CAMRA magazine. I find that the articles and adverts give me a good feel for the local beer scene, and some excellent ideas for pubs to visit during my stay. When I arrived in the Durham branch’s region, I quickly found a copy of the Durham Drinker, their publication. I was delighted to see that it was their Awards Issue in which they listed the winners and runners-up of the various awards given by the branch, including the Durham Pub of the Year.

This year, the POTY was won (not for the first time) by the Victoria Inn on Hallgarth Street in Durham itself. Hallgarth Street is a residential street running out of the town towards the south. The Victoria itself is a somewhat unusually shaped brick-built Victorian pub. It’s a grade-2 listed building, and the fact that its interior is virtually unchanged since its construction in 1899 has earned it a place on CAMRA’s National Inventory of historic pub interiors.

All of the above meant that the Victoria hit the top of my ‘must visit’ list for Durham. On arrival, I found the Victoria to be busy and full of animated conversation. Lady A and I found a bench to sit on and we sat for a few moments taking in the atmosphere. The internal fittings retain a real 19th century look and feel, and I felt that I was but a whisper from that time. The clientele was very varied; I saw a gentleman who must have been 80 years old having a conversation with an attractive young woman, a man in a business suit, a small group of matronly ladies and a gathering of what looked like post-graduate students – from their accents clearly gathered from all corners of the world.

All were enjoying beer from the many handpumps that lined the bar. I started with Durham White Velvet, a 4.2% golden ale. To be honest, the flavours here are all rather muted. There are slight hints of cream and a bit of citrus pith. It’s far from unpleasant, but there’s not a lot to make this beer stand out.

My second was Hambleton Nightmare, a 5.0% dark ale that is coloured a very deep red. This beer packs a great deal of flavour. There is a smooth mouthfeel with creamy notes of coffee and a mild chocolate finish. Along with the chocolate, the finish also packs a nice hoppy kick. Great stuff.

Third up was Wylam Gold Tankard, a 4.0% golden ale. Frankly, by this stage on my tour of the northeast, I was getting seriously tired with dull golden ales. This will be the subject of a future blog, but for now, suffice it to say that I found little to get my teeth into in this beer. It’s a little bit hoppy. Big deal.

Finally, I had a Big Lamp Bitter, at 3.9%, more properly a best. It’s a fairly standard best, probably with wide appeal. There’s a malty start and a hoppy finish. Perfectly drinkable and most likely would not have been out of place if served here in 1899.

Towards the end of the evening, the landlord came over to chat with us. I always like it when that happens. I started by congratulating him on his POTY win, but with the number of awards on the wall, this clearly wasn’t a new experience for him. He’d been running the pub for over thirty years, he explained. ‘I always like talking to customers, and for them to talk to one another. You see there’s no telly and no music, so people have to talk to one another.’

I found myself agreeing with him. I hate televisions in pubs. A big ‘Sky Sports’ banner is one of the best ways to repel me from a pub. I handed the landlord one of my cards and told him that I’d be writing about his pub in my blog. ‘Oh good,’ he said. ‘Don’t forget to mention me. My name’s Michael.’

Michael Webster clearly takes his pub and his beers very seriously. He’s a big supporter of local microbreweries and his list of ever-changing beers is impressive indeed. His insistence on having nothing in the pub to distract from conversation is refreshing and very welcome. In all, this is a great little pub, well deserving of its Durham Pub of the Year accolade.

http://www.victoriainn-durhamcity.co.uk/

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Posted by on 8 October, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs, Scooping

 

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Dipton Mill Inn and the Hexhamshire Brewery

A couple of miles south of Hexham, in an achingly lovely spot, sits the Dipton Mill Inn. The Inn is an old farmhouse dating to the 17th century. The Mill (actually two mills) of the name, dating to the 1300s, burned down in 1783, though the mill-race still circles the grounds of the current inn.

This little gem of an inn is also home to the Hexhamshire brewery, founded in 1993 and currently operating from Ordley, less than two miles away up Dipton Mill Road. There are plans to move the brewery to the Inn itself in the near future.

The first impression of the inn is of a picturesque, almost chocolate-boxy looking pub, quintessentially English. Unfortunately, it was too dark to take a useable photograph when I was there, but see their website (address below). Inside, the pub is snug. Low-beamed ceilings, panelled walls and half flagged/half carpeted floor all add to a sense of cosiness. There are only a few tables, and the bar is compact but bristling with handpumps, most dispensing the Hexhamshire beers.

The atmosphere is friendly inside, each time a local walks in, cries of greeting hail them. I was standing at the bar, ordering a couple of sample jars and the landlord, Geoff Brooker, was standing next to me. He spends as much time leaning on the punters’ side of the bar as he does behind it. “So,” I started, “you brew this beer then?”

He shook his head emphatically. “No, no, no!” He pointed at a chap sitting at a table behind us. “He does it.” The chap looked up from his beer. “No, no, no I don’t!” he said. Puzzling. “Unless you like it,” he added. Ah.

As it happens, the gentleman pointed to was actually the brewer, John Henderson. After a couple of pints he came over and sat with Lady Alebagger and myself in the way that friendly locals do in these places. Warms your cockles, so it does. John does the actual brewing, following recipes devised by Geoff. The beers have been very successful, with Hexhamshire Lightside winning an award at the Newcastle Beer Festival in 2010.The brewery’s stout, Blackhall English Stout, goes down so well that Geoff has taken Guinness off the bar (this momentous event has also taken place in my regular watering hole, where Titanic Stout (from a keg, no less) has replaced Guinness).

We chatted for some time with John, who seemed only too pleased to talk about his brewing. His own favourite is Whapweasel, which is the only Hexhamshire beer I had tasted before. The brewery mainly supplies to local outlets, but with some leakage into Yorkshire and Lancashire, where my local got some in March 2011.

John Henderson

So, what of the beers themselves? I’ll start with the Hexhamshire Whapweasel, a 4.8% brew described as a bitter by the brewer, but I would class as a best. It’s a mid orange colour, just about right for type. The first flavour is fairly sweet, redolent of caramel. A nice overlying hoppiness grows throughout the taste to finish with a satisfying bitterness. I’d be happy to drink this any day of the week.

Hexhamshire Shire Bitter is a 3.6% bitter (no argument over this one). It’s a pale orange, again, just right for the type. The beer is clear and bright and packs a good deal of refreshment. Having said that, all the flavours in this beer are very slight, and I had to concentrate a bit to discern what they are. Caramel is in there, as in Whapweasel, but much fainter, as is the bitter hops. This is a very popular brew and is the pub’s regular bitter.

The next brew I tried was Hexhamshire Devil’s Elbow, slightly stronger than the Shire Bitter at 3.8%, but what a difference! The mouthfeel is really smooth. The flavour is rich and full-bodied, with toffee dominating, and just a hint of bittering hoppiness at the end. Given the choice, I’d have this over the regular bitter any time.

I then moved on to the famous stout, Hexhamshire Blackhall English Stout. 4% and a deep black, it looked very inviting. I took a small sip. John looked at me closely. “What do you think?” he asked. I sat still, letting the beer give me its full complement of flavours. “It’s exceptional,” I said, and I wasn’t exaggerating. During my trip to the North East, I spent over two weeks sampling beers from pubs in Northumberland, County Durham and Yorkshire, and out of all of them, this was to be the best. It’s simply gorgeous. Velvety smooth with flavours of coffee, cream, almond and a hint of smoke at the back of the mouth.

Hexhamshire Blackhall English Stout

I returned from the bar with a Hexhamshire Devil’s Water, a 4.1% ale with an orangey red colour. “Now I don’t like that one,” confessed John. Neither did I. It was vinegar. However, Geoff was good enough to take the trip down to the cellar to connect up a fresh barrel for me. I’m afraid I still didn’t like it. It tasted quite harsh and not very pleasant. Ah well, can’t win ’em all.

I was persuaded (quite easily, now I think of it) to have a jar of Hexhamshire Old Humbug, a dark orange, slightly hazy beer, weighing in at a very respectable 5.5% and named after the landlord. “Do you know a beer called ‘Old Peculier’?” asked John. Do I! “Well this is better!” he declared. Throwing down a challenge to my favourite beer? Bring it on! Old Humbug is sweet and malty with distinct spirituous overtones and a thick mouthfeel. Almost a meal in a glass. It is very, very good, but better than OP? Weeell…

I must also mention the food at the Dipton Mill, prepared and served by Geoff’s wife Janet. I had minced beef with dumplings and vegetables, whilst Lady A had haddock with tomato and basil. Both were utterly superb.

www.diptonmill.co.uk

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Posted by on 26 September, 2012 in Breweries, Cask Ale, Pubs

 

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A Pub Crawl Round Sheffield – Part 5

This blog carries on from where I left off here.

The Shakespeare

Last time, I left my epic pub crawl round Sheffield at the famous Kelham Island Tavern. We now stretched our legs a little bit to get to the Shakespeare on Gibraltar Street. This pub has the sort of story behind it that just warms the heart. It was a noted live music venue, owned by Punch Taverns, who closed it early in 2010. After a period of 18 months, the pub was re-opened in July 2011 again as a live music venue and more importantly (for me, at least) as a true real ale pub. The man you should thank for this is William Wagstaff, the Shakespeare’s landlord.

To be honest, the Shakespeare is in a bit of a run-down area, and has a frontage that imposes rather than invites. Nevertheless, it is an impressive building (an 1820s coaching inn). Inside, it’s all wooden floors, wood panelling and a real feel of how pubs used to be. The rooms have been nicely refurbished and are full of interesting items. The seating consists of benches and stools. The bar is very impressive, with nine handpumps in use at the time of our visit.

We liked the Shakespeare, and so stayed for three rounds. I started with Craddock’s Saxon Gold. Craddock’s is a new brewer to me, they’ve only been brewing for about a year and are based in Stourbridge in the Midlands. If Saxon Gold is anything to go by, then I predict that they’ll be making big waves pretty soon. Saxon Gold is 4% golden ale, light and highly refreshing. The finish is excellent, hoppy and yet somehow almost sweet. Lovely stuff.

Next up was a brew from the local Steel City brewery, a 5.7% dark ale called A Slight Chance of Overhopping. I’ve had a number of these hoppy dark ales now, and I’m growing to like them very much. This one is dark in flavour with strong roasted maltiness coming out in the initial taste which then morphs into a good strong hoppy finish. It’s jolly good, but not, I think, overhopped.

The final offering from the Shakespeare was Rudgate Fuggle Trouble, a 3.6% bitter. This is where it all went a bit flat. Just not enough flavour. A bit of malt, a bit of hop. Big deal.

The Wellington

Onwards then. The next pub was the Wellington, a traditional Victorian end-terrace street-corner boozer, and what a little gem. It has its own in-house brewery, Little Ale Cart, and the bar positively bristles with ten handpumps. The landlord clearly supports small breweries, and I got to sample beer from more new-to-me brewers.

First was Newman’s Creative Cat. Newman’s is a joint enterprise with Celt Experience brewery of Caerphilly. Creative Cat is a mid-yellow coloured 4.3% bitter. It’s nicely hopped with a touch of graininess to the mouthfeel.

Essex brewer Mighty Oak provided the next jar, Enter the Dragon, a 4.5% porter. It packs a mouthful of roasted malt with a very pleasing smooth sweetness. I wanted another, but more curiosities awaited me on the bar.

The on-site brewery Little Ale Cart was represented by two beers on the bar. The first one I had was Gay Crusader (yes, really!), a 5% strong bitter. This is a smooth, full-bodied beer with a slight spirituous overtaste. Very nice – my list of beers to session on at a later date was growing steadily.

Little Ale Cart Lumley Castle was next, a 4.3% bitter. Quite a contrast to the previous bitter, this one was very mild flavoured. That is not to say it lacked flavour, because it didn’t. The hopping at the end was light and gentle.

For my last beer at the Wellington, I tried Millstone Vale Mill, another bitter, slightly lighter this time at 3.9% – session ale strength. Vale Mill is light, fruity and refreshing. The taste turns gently to hops providing a light, creamy finish. Three bitters, all quite different from each other.

The Gardner’s Rest bar

Our next port of call (some distance away) was the superb Gardner’s Rest, on the wonderfully named Neepsend Lane. The main bar area is light and airy and there are comfortable seating areas to the rear of the pub. A mannikin sits, looking rather bored, at one of the tables. The bar is well stocked, with eight handpumps and three fizz dispensers. The Gardner’s Rest is the brewery tap for the Sheffield Brewery, and four of its beers – Porter, Five Rivers, Crucible Best and Seven Hills were on offer. Being something of a contrarian, and because I was a bit cold after the hike through the chilly streets of Sheffield, I opted for a Bingham’s Hot Dog, a 5% chilli stout. Just what the doctor ordered. It is rich and malty with a strong chilli flavour to put a bit of fire into the coldest of bellies. Great stuff.

Bored mannikin

Hunger gripped us at this stage, and we repaired to the Hillsborough Hotel on Langsett Road for food. After a very satisfying meal, we caught a tram for the seven thousand mile trip back to our hotel.

Coming next… the final three pubs!

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Posted by on 28 August, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs, Scooping

 

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