In the spirit of exploring the world on our own doorstep, Kate and I spent two days in Sheffield to celebrate my 32nd birthday. Sheffield’s beer and pubs have changed massively since I graduated from the university in 2004, although the seeds of that were already evident in Dave Wickett’s Fat Cat pub and Kelham Island Brewery, of which more in a later post.
The Rutland Arms is a pub I had never visited or had even heard of when I was a student in Sheffield. Now it seems like a traditional pub but with a studenty/indie feel, a good jukebox and an exciting range of beers, including some from the relatively new, and related, Blue Bee Brewery.
It’s not far from the station (walk up from the station and take the first left after the Showroom Cinema) so made for a good first stop off the train It was a quiet Thursday afternoon, but that meant we almost got the bar to ourselves to stick some Pulp and Richard Hawley on the jukebox for some Sheffield indie nostalgia to set the scene for our break.
I enjoyed a classy fish finger sandwich and chips whilst Kate had a nice halloumi salad. It being IPA Day, I really enjoyed Dark Star Revelation, perhaps the cask IPA of the moment, and appreciated a dry-hopped version of Blue Bee Tangled Up IPA.
We left the Rutland Arms happier than when we had arrived off the train: relaxed and in the mood to enjoy more of Sheffield. It’s definitely on the list for our next visit, maybe for the quiz night.
It’s been a bit hard squeezing in time to be beer geeky recently, as I’ve been training to walk the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge for the Alzheimer’s Society. However we did manage to make a trip to the Hawkshead Summer Beer Festival last weekend, as it was conveniently positioned next to the outdoors.
After a long walk through the Lyth Valley on a sunny Saturday afternoon, we showered, napped and headed out to Staveley Mill Yard and the Hawkshead Brewery. No dedicated beer geek would be seen dead at a beer festival on a Saturday night: all the good beers have gone and the place is full of people drinking to have fun, rather than carefully rating the beers in four categories and posting the results online, as the brewer intended. No, for the beer geek it is best to get to the festival on the first day, or even to wangle an entry to the trade session, so you’re only drinking with the judges and professionals, when you can impart your helpful advice and learned critiques of their beers to the brewers directly.
This particular Saturday night at a beer festival was full of people having fun: local businesses had food stalls out, a band was competently playing songs from the DFS adverts. Loads of drinkers – yummy alt mummies, mountain bikers, suspicious teenagers, orange girls caked in makeup, fell runners, middle-aged men in aged brewery polo shirts – were outside in the decidedly un-Cumbrian weather, but they also packed the new Beer Hall, the older River Bar and queued for the loos.
We got a seat in the River Bar and noticed, as could be expected, that the beer selection was dwindling by the third evening, and the pump clips were turning their faces away by the minute. I had a feeling that the conservative Cumbrian palate might have shunned the hoppiest beers in favour of the easy drinking bitters. However this didn’t seem to have been the case. In fact, they were guzzling down 6-7% New World hopped IPAs like no-one’s business.
However the beer list was so good (and with such a focus on hoppy pales) that even the leftovers were brilliant: Hawkshead’s own spiky USPA and NZPA were just what the doctor ordered, and Dark Star Renaissance did well in a similar weight-range. Presumably only because Hawkshead has good stocks of its own beers, Windermere Pale was still on the bar outside, one of the few session beers left standing, and one of the best.
The one beer that seemed unfairly overlooked, to the point that it was the only one on the River Bar by the end of the night, was Moor Old Freddy Walker. It made sense that this 7.3% rich, dark, fruity vintage ale was left moping around the bar at the end of the warm evening when all the other beers had been paired off. However it made for easy pickings for the predatory beer geek, and paid off in spades.
Hawkshead was a great, inclusive, friendly beer festival on a Saturday night. I’m sure it would probably be very enjoyable on a Thursday afternoon too.
At 11.17am on Saturday 15 June 1996, a 3,300lb bomb in a Ford Cargo lorry exploded on Corporation Street in Manchester, injuring 212 people. The bombing was part of a renewed Provisional IRA campaign to cause massive economic damage on the mainland, which had been kicked off four months previously with the truck bomb at Canary Wharf in London that ended the 1994 ceasefire. This spasm of violence (likely prompted by a stalemate in peace negotiations and a power struggle within the PIRA) was fortunately short-lived, and the Good Friday Agreement was signed less than two years later.
The vicinity of the bomb site at the Corporation Street side of the Arndale Centre has, in the last 15 years, been regenerated into the posh end of Manchester shopping. In fact I was in Manchester a few weeks ago looking in Harvey Nichols and Selfridges (both post-1996 additions) for a wedding suit. More of a one-off expense for me; but this is just the place to spend your money as a well-paid footballer, or more likely a footballer’s wife or girlfriend (of whom there would seem to be a very much larger number than footballers).
Having picked suits with my brother, and with him having spotted a Manchester City keeper buying designer clothes (I’d never heard of him), we decided to get a drink. On this wet day (it seems to rain an awful lot in Manchester), I didn’t want to go to the Northern Quarter or up the Rochdale Road, and The Good Beer Guide app on my iPhone had mainly identified a number of uninspiring-sounding Wetherspoons pubs in the area. However it also mentioned the following interesting possibility.
Micro Bar is in the Arndale Food Market, at the other end of the shopping centre from the regenerated bling of Manchester Exchange. It’s currently owned by Boggart Brewery of Newton Heath (birthplace of at least one empire) and is, as the name suggests, a tiny bar and beer shop surrounded by the other food outlets, including both prepared food and a excellent-looking fishmongers and butchers. This small stall/bar has apparently been going for some time under the control of Paradise Brewery (no, me neither) although Oh Good Ale and Tandleman’s reports suggest that it has improved massively under Boggart.
The selection on the five or so hand-pumps was varied and we tried Dark Star Saison (very pleasant and an interesting style to try on cask) and Pictish Brewer’s Gold. The bottled selection was also good; obviously not as comprehensive as much larger shops such as Beer Ritz in Leeds or The Bottle in York, it did have a solid variety of American craft beers (Brooklyn, Flying Dog, Goose Island, Sierra Nevada, Anchor) and Belgians, as well a very interesting range from smaller English breweries. These included some I’d never seen in bottles before, including Kirby Lonsdale. Usefully these also had little brown paper luggage tags with descriptions.
Anthony Bourdain, in his most recent book Medium Raw, suggests that well-made street food is the way of the future in the West. Arndale Food Market doesn’t quite have the feel of Borough Market in London or the rather wonderful Mercado San Miguel in Madrid, and despite the football cash Manchester, like most of the North, probably still leans more towards Greggs’ pasties than freshly-made tapas.
However, it’s still a good start, and Micro Bar makes me wish Kirkgate Markets in Leeds had somewhere similar, to drink a good beer whilst either considering your shopping list for that night’s dinner party, or simply munching on a steak bake.
Bradford, for me, is an unknown quantity, an undiscovered country. Despite living in Leeds for 7 years I’ve only been to the centre of Bradford a handful of times. I know it has some good curry houses, a Media Museum and an IMAX cinema, however I’ve never felt the need to go to Bradford for a drink, in the way that I might get the train to Huddersfield specifically to visit the Grove.
However there’s now a very good reason to visit Bradford: The Sparrow Bier Cafe. Started by Les Hall and Mark Husak, it officially opens tomorrow, but a little bird invited a few of us for a preview last night.
The bar is on North Parade, close to Forster Square station but also walkable from Bradford Interchange (map). From the outside it looks minimal and sophisticated, with an elegant dark green frontage and a dapper little sparrow logo (called “Hercule”). It’s actually a bit bigger inside than it looks, with a second seating area in the basement.
The ground floor was yet to be completely finished, with the floors still needing to be laid. However you can see that it’s a classy looking place, with the kind of calm colour scheme and unifying design that the Port Street Beer House in Manchester has, and promising a selection of art similar to North Bar in Leeds. There’s a good selection of music (I remember Love and Nick Drake) which adds to the atmosphere but doesn’t impede conversation.
The selection of beer is very good, including a wide range of American, Belgian, German and other bottles, some of which are regulars and others guests. It’s also very cheap for what you get. For example, a bottle of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is £4.15 and Silly Saison is £2.20. By way of comparison, they would cost at least £3.50 and £5.85 in equivalent cafe bars in Leeds. The train fare was starting to look like an investment.
There are six keg lines and four handpulls. The kegs included two Meantime beers and three Bernard beers, including the really nice, bitterly noble hoppy Unfiltered. The cask on this occasion included Thornbridge Jaipur, Ikley Stout Mary, Dark Star Original and Saltaire South Island Pale. Again these were all very reasonably priced and you can look forward to seeing some exciting new UK craft beers on keg and cask in the future.
Beyond the excellent and reasonable beer menu there’s also a good selection of food: sandwiches, pork pies and olives amongst others. It’s probably sensible to have something to eat because you’ll find yourself not wanting to leave until you’ve tried quite a lot of beers, some of which will probably be of considerable strength.
It was good to spend a few hours drinking and chatting with Rob from Hopzine, Fletch from RealAleReviews, Neil from Eating Isn’t Cheating, Keith Wildman from Sabotage Times, Martin Bell and Ian Garrett. As is evident from Rob and Neil’s posts, we were all pretty taken with the place and didn’t have a bad word to say about it.
I wish Mark and Les all the best with The Sparrow. You can see that they’ve put a lot of effort, thought and love into the place and it deserves to succeed. You owe yourself a visit.