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Sheffield’s Isle of Wonder: The Fat Cat and Kelham Island Tavern, Kelham Island, Sheffield

August 8, 2012 5 comments

The Kelham Island Tavern and the Fat Cat are two bastions of real ale that stand on Kelham Island, an area of Sheffield that now has a number of modern apartments but is still slightly haunted by the empty engineering works dotted around it.

The Kelham Island Tavern, dating back to 1830, has won many CAMRA awards since it re-opened in 2001, and has been CAMRA National Pub Of The Year twice, in 2008 and 2009. It was reasonably quiet on the weekday afternoon when we went in: a couple in the corner drank whilst a man with Doc Marten boots, who I think was an off-duty bailiff, discussed legal matters with the barman. A cat slept on a bar stool bathed in the afternoon sunlight.

After some helpful guidance I ordered a Pictish Brewer’s Gold, in lovely condition. The place livened up a little when three middle-aged tickers arrived and started excitedly discussing the selection. I noted that some of the beers at least seemed to be served without sparklers, but not to their detriment.

When we moved on to the Fat Cat around the corner, the atmosphere seemed a little more warm and relaxed, perhaps a bit less male, even though Kate and the bartender were the only ladies in the public bar. Surrounding the compact and ornate wooden bar itself, two groups sat on the benches and carried on a friendly conversation with each other, whilst the bar also offered baskets of pork pies and a big bottle of Sheffield’s iconic Henderson’s Relish to go with them.

The Fat Cat has a great history as well: dating back to the mid-19th century and originally called the Alma (it stands on Alma Street, named after the first battle of the Crimean War), it was a Stones pub from 1912 until 1981. In that year it was bought by Dave Wickett and Bruce Bentley and started its life as a free house.

Dave, who passed away recently, is justly regarded as one of the heroes of British beer, and he founded the Kelham Island Brewery here in 1990. As Roger Protz notes in his obituary for the Guardian, Dave was a consultant to Thornbridge during its inception, even recruiting Martin Dickie, which can be seen as a fitting passing of the torch, given the mark that Thornbridge has made on Sheffield in recent years.

I enjoyed a taster of Kelham Island White Rider, a cask wheat beer, but decided to have Pale Rider, an excellent US-hopped pale ale, CAMRA Champion Beer Of Britain in 2004, which made me fall further in love with this slightly aging pub and its informal, welcoming atmosphere.

The Fat Cat seems well-worn and comfortable, like a faded armchair that has gone slightly out of shape and is indented with the form of the sitter’s body, but is still the very best at what it does. I think that, if ever I had to try and explain the attraction of “the English pub” to a foreign visitor, I would bring them here.

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The Grand Old Twissup Of York

February 27, 2011 2 comments

In the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Ford Prefect buys four packets of peanuts from a pub just before the world is destroyed, as you need the salt and protein after going through a matter transference beam.  However Kate and I realised that a day’s drinking in York with beer bloggers and brewers from as far apart as Kent and Glasgow would require a Wetherspoons breakfast in Leeds station at the very least.

We met Dean, Leigh, Adam, Martin and Rob on the platform and headed to York, where Dean led us to the York Brewery.  Whilst we were waiting Dean cracked open his new homebrew, a superb, fruity black IPA called Devil In Disguise (following the Elvis theme after the previous “All Shook Up”).  After everyone else showed up we enjoyed some cheap drinks in the York Brewery bar, where the dark, coffee, chocolate Centurion’s Ghost and light, hoppy seasonal beer First Light seemed to go down best, and everyone started chatting.

We were treated to an entertaining and informative free tour before heading back for further discounted drinks at the bar.  After a short while we moved on to the Market Town Taverns bar Brigantes on Micklegate. A lot of people seemed to enjoy Hambletown Nightmare whilst I went for Baboon by The Brass Monkey Brewery in Sowerby Bridge.  It was a slightly peculiar pale but oddly smoky beer.

We then moved on to Pivni, the diminutive but proud father of the Sheffield and Euston Taps and, I’m informed, expectant parent of The York Tap!  A great selection included BrewDog on cask (Riptide, 5am Saint, Trashy Blonde, Edge) and 5am Saint in Keg, Camden Pale Ale and Bernard beers.

I quite liked Camden Pale Ale although it did taste somewhere between an IPA and a light pilsner.  Bernard Special Ox was a sweet, relatively high ABV pilsner.  5am Saint was great on keg, although I didn’t try the cask version and Hardknott Dave pointed out that it had a slight taste of silverskin pickled onions.  I wasn’t too excited by the cask Riptide, although it was fine.

What was interesting though was when Dave, Ann and, er, Sooty from Hardknott treated us to a sneak preview taste of two variations on Aether Blaec, one in Balvenie casks and another in those of another whisky whose name now eludes me.  They were both really nice.

After staying in  Pivni for a while, we decamped to various places for food (Kate, Dean and I got much-needed but tooth-shattering pork and crackling baps from a hogroast shop) and then came together with some others in The White Swan, a big Nicholson’s pub on Goodramgate.  I had two slightly disappointing beers: Kelham Island Pale Rider and Thornbridge Jaipur, which for some reason was far less interesting than usual.

We went on to The House Of The Trembling Madness above The Bottle on Stonegate.  It’s a favourite of mine: a hidden hunting lodge-themed bar with a good selection of imported bottled beers and meat and cheese platters secreted above an excellent off-licence.  I had an O’Dell 5 Barrel Pale Ale before we decided that it would be sensible to draw a line under the day whilst all was well and we could face the train back to Leeds with a brave face.  At this point people were headed in the direction of the Rook and Gaskill, which is a great pub, but one that we might have found diffcult to leave.

The House Of The Trembling Madness does have a clever setup where you walk out, slightly inebriated, through a shop full of great beers and of course I ended up buying three big Stone bottles: Arrogant Bastard; Cali-Belgique and Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale.  And this is on top of the bottle of Driscoll’s End that Dominic himself had very kindly given me earlier in the day after I told him how much I enjoyed it on cask.

Once again it was a great day  and it was lovely to meet loads of people whose blogs I read and a few whose beers I drink, and everyone was really nice and welcoming.  Thanks very much to Andy and Mark for organising it and to everyone else for being so friendly: see you on the next one!

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