Lost Ramblings : Ratebeer Sheffield, Summer 2008

Here's a unfeasibly-long postcard I sent to my dear old friend, Hugh Jarse, last summer. It never arrived - Hugh having changed address at Her Majesty's Pleasure yet again - so now it's been returned I thought I'd share it with you.

Dear Hugh. Well, here I am in the capital of the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire. Sheffield is dreadfully sunny and hot, with none of the sleet and hail that the brochures promised at this time of year. Passport control was very lax. All that time spent learning the names of champion whippets was wasted – no-one asked me any questions and I was allowed to leave the station unmolested.

I met up with Gazza, Mrs Gazza, Dave Swij... zwege... Dave Unpronounceable and a few others before ordering a breakfast so large that it arrived on a plate bigger than my head. For a Wetherspoons it was a real culture shock – there was a barmaid who was chatty, polite and knowledgeable about beer. I wonder if that attitude can be exported to the further reaches of the JDW empire?

Suitably cholesterolised, we took a bracing walk downriver to a charming public house. The Harlequin offered a superb range of beers, light and dark, weak and strong, handpull and gravity, little and large, eggs and bacon, Tom and Jerry.... a slew of beers were imbibed as several more jolly Ratebeer types joined us. Even when Dave farted and blamed it on a sleepy Alsatian, we still enjoyed the brews which included such delights as Weyerbacher Double Simcoe.

Eventually, we moved on to the Fat Cat, just down the road. Here we sat outside, warm sun permeating the slight shadows. There is a certain joy in taking the Yorkshire air of an afternoon, particularly when said air is located next to a fine drinking establishment. Such joy is multiplied by a beer brewed within sight of the bar (well, it would be if you could see through several brick walls). A Kelham Island special was ordered. "Mieszko!" said I. "Bless you!" came the reply...

Sustenance was now required by all and sundry. Rather than partake of the award-winning menu here, the party decided to build up further our appetites and take a sturdy yomp to another pub further down the valley. Thirty seconds later, we'd arrived there. The Kelham Island Tavern was mackerel-tin busy so I wasted no time in securing my usual round - one pint of Pictish Brewers Gold, two Red Leicester cobs. The wait for hot food proved lengthy, too many hungry topers in one place, so my reserve cob soon became the subject of a bidding war. Until my fellows realised that the basket on the bar was full of them. More friends turned up, Steve and Chrissie having been taking in some of the architectural delights of the city beforehand.

Amongst the melee, a bottle of De Struise Pannepot appeared from nowhere. Well, it appeared from the rucksack of an exceptionally-bearded Scottish gentleman sat next to me. Craig (for it was he, hirsute-of-chin) and I shared surreptitiously this fine Belgian ale and I made note to secure further supplies for winter-fireside-topering.

Once food orders had been satiated finally, we wended our way to the Wellington. Here, our thirsty crowd all flocked to order Pictish El Diablo, a notably hoppy stout. Indeed, so popular it proved that before I reached the bar it "burst", the latter apparently being a beer aficionado term for "run out". I settled for Oakham Endless Summer; weak in alcohol, strong in hop flavour. Shortly after, a chance remark (which was sadly not recorded) led to the gentleman next to me displaying his training shoes as surrogate mammaries. Or "Mes's Nike Tits" as they became known.

Not only are the beers tasty at the Wellington, but it is well situated within this Valley Of Beer. Only a few minutes amble from the other houses visited so far and so close to the passing tramline that the windows rattle as one passes. Our party availed itself of the aforementioned transportation to whisk us onward to our next calling point, the Hillsborough Hotel. Here, we were encouraged outside once again by the bracing mid-evening air and panoramic views over the Don Valley. And of the dry ski-slope. And of Mecca Bingo. Plenty of high-quality, low-cost, on-site brewed beer was imbibed, the Crown Hillsborough Pale Ale becoming a swift favourite around the table. And it was charming to watch the doyen of scoopers, Gazza Prescott, holding court in front of the camera.

The rest of the day descended into a steady haze. Another pub or two was found, fellow topers tailed off and away, an enthusiastic homebrewer tried to convince me that elderflower wheat beer was the future. It had been the usual pleasure to crawl the Valley of Beer, moreso to be in good company. I look forward to inviting you over here for a drink or four sometime in the near future; do let me know if your injunctions and court orders prevent you from travelling to this particular county.

Chin chin!

The Reluctant Scooper