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.
Friends Of Ham is a new bar in Leeds city centre, on New Station Street close to The Brewery Tap, Layne’s Espresso and, um, Yates’. It’s the labour of love of Claire and Anthony Kitching, who decided to move north from London and open a craft beer bar-come-deli in West Yorkshire.
The slightly enigmatic name relates not to the comrades of the biblical Ham, the son of Noah who was disowned and cursed for seeing his drunken father sprawled in the nip. Rather (if I recall correctly) it’s a pun on a Spanish tapas bar called something like “Amigos Del Jamon”.
The bar itself is over two levels and is remarkable. A small shopfront ground floor has legs of ham hanging from hooks above the bar. The basement, whilst cosy, must be twice the size and contains sofas, long tables, a porcine gallery and a shuffleboard table. The decor is eclectic, welcoming, quirky and thoughtful.
Whilst the bar is full of little touches that signal a unique attention to detail, the selection of food and drink shows similar care and a particular attitude. Those of us who have been following Friends Of Ham’s progress on Twitter and Facebook know that there has been a dedication to finding the best products from the best suppliers that has involved a number of gruelling tasting sessions and advice from experienced Leodensians such as staff member Tyler Kiley (formerly of Mr Foleys) and Neil Walker of Eating Isn’t Cheating (who has posted about the bar here).
Cask beers on the preview night included Red Willow Smokeless and Quantum Bitter and the keg beers included Kernel Amarillo IPA, Magic Rock Clown Juice (a delicious wheat IPA), Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Lakeland Lager and Delerium Red (a Kriek). The back bar had a box of Ampleforth cider and the fridges contain a great range of interesting beers, from Orval to Redchurch East India Pale Ale. Interestingly the licence application included their decision not to stock spirits at all.
The food appears be good, simple and tapas style, will include a range of excellent meats, cheeses and, most excitingly for me, Scotch eggs from the Handmade Scotch Egg Company, including their amazing black pudding version, “Black Watch”. Bascially, exactly what you’d like to eat whilst enjoying an Orval, an Ampleforth cider or a glass of red wine.
Friends Of Ham is a bar and an idea that deserves to find a devoted following. It will be enjoyed by beer geeks, wine buffs and foodies. It is also a welcoming and stylish space that should appeal to a wider demographic that enjoys socialising in a relaxed atmosphere but finds little of interest in the microwaved meals, worn carpets and skidmarks of many traditional pubs.
[UPDATE – Friends Of Ham is open as of 10 July 2012 and will be building up to offering the full food menu. Currently it’s selling a range of meats and cheeses.]
A few weeks ago Tandleman left a comment which said, inter alia, “…remember beer is a social drink to be enjoyed with friends. It should accompany entertainment, not be, in most cases at least, the actual entertainment itself.”
This is, of course, correct. However, drinking alone is when the beer gets to be the main attraction: the meat rather than the stock. When you go to the cinema, you sit in the dark and turn your mobile phone off in order to give the film your full attention. Whilst some films can be enjoyed at home whilst flipping through a magazine or browsing the internet, a truly great film deserves to be watched with no significant distractions, only complimentary sensations: popcorn, a fizzy drink, a loving hand to squeeze through the shocks.
However, drinking alone in a relatively quiet pub serves a greater purpose than simply appreciating a beer in high definition; it can be good for your mental health. It’s not that I hate conversation. Other people can be wonderful, if you’re in the mood for them. However, there are moments when a man needs to spend some time with himself to cleanse the mind of the wearying, frustrating, anxious trivia of real life. To defragment.
My perfect combination is sitting anonymously at a corner table in a half-full pub with a low hubbub of conversation going on all around, with a great beer and a good newspaper crossword (Telegraph cryptic or Observer Everyman, for my handicap). One can sip the beer, stare into nothingness and think about the aroma and taste, solving its mysteries, alternating with working out cryptic clues and anagrams in your quiet battle with the setter.
If I were Icelandic, I might drive to the middle of nowhere and stare across a glacier, finding perspective in the emotionless stoicism of geology as the Earth slowly rips itself apart underfoot. If I were a fisherman, I might pack my rod and stand in a river with only birdsong and trickling water to listen to, lost in the motions of casting and the passing current.
But here, in the rude, grubby, sweaty, selfish, frustrated city, at least I know that there is always a pub, a crossword and a pint.
Caught in a “round” system, drinkers can either find unwanted pints of beer stacking up in front of them like a firing squad, or sit around resentfully staring at their empty glass as the one whose turn it is next nurses their beer. The former always used to happen between a group of us at a rural pub in County Antrim called The Wayside, so that the unstarted pints stacked in front of the slower drinkers at the end of the evening were described as a “Wayside Pile-up”.
The rules of the round can be more complicated and applied more restrictively than a newcomer might think. “Rules are rules”, say people with no imagination. Sometimes exceptions and “sitting out” may not be permitted: you may not refuse my generosity nor deny me yours.
There was a particularly strict attitude in certain pubs in my homeland, where I was once told a story of a visiting Englishman who didn’t automatically get a full round, but instead would ask each of his colleagues if they fancied another one. Quiet offence was initially taken, but he was not to blame – as it was explained to me by the self-appointed pub anthropologist – that was just what English people did.
The Edwardian equivalent of the Wayside Pile-up was regarded as nothing less than a threat to national efficiency and, therefore, wartime security. Rounds were banned by “No-Treating” provisions made under the Defence Of The Realm Act in 1915 and revoked on 4 June 1919 (“and it is generally expected that this date will be made an annual, public holiday in Scotland” – Punch). Lloyd George attributed an initial reduction in drunkenness convictions to the effect of the Order.
There’s a great example of the application of the No-Treating Order in a 1916 newspaper article here, where a sailor buying a round of drinks and the Cardiff landlord he bought it from were both prosecuted. The landlord’s silk raised an interesting argument in his defence:
Mr Lewis Thomas K.C., for the landlord, said that the real reason for the order was to hit the person treating, and the person who was treated. Supposing, said counsel, he and his friend, Mr. Whitely (appearing with him), before going into a hotel formed a joint-stock company and contributed 6d. each, and he went in and paid for two bottles of Bass. (Laughter.) If then his friend drank one there would be no offence.
The Lord Chief Justice: You don’t say really that, when going in to take refreshments, you form a joint-stock company in which you each contribute half of what is going to be spent?
Mr Thomas: It depends on the confidence you have in each other.
The Glasgow Herald reported in March 1944 on calls from the Moderator of the Church of Scotland for a No-Treating Order to be brought in during World War 2:
Many attempts, he said, had been made to get the Government to pass such an order, but so far without result. He for one thought it was too soon yet to give up the battle – and he believed it was also in the mind of the Church he represented – to bring further pressure to bear on the Government in this matter. There was no doubt that inebriation, immorality, and the incidence of venereal disease were very closely related to each other, and that it was difficult to deal with those problems separately.
The last point reveals what appears to be behind many for the calls to ban “treating” in 1944: a desire to prevent men buying women drinks in an attempt to arouse their affections, rather than simply to prevent groups of workers “getting a round in”. The same point was raised by Viscountess Astor in the House of Commons in the same month:
Does not the right hon. Gentleman consider that something ought to be done to relieve the anxiety of people who are deeply worried about the treating of young girls in public houses? Would not a no-treating order help in this very important matter?
As far as I’m aware, the “round” currently escapes any blame in the ongoing debate about alcohol and public health, as the arguments are generally restricted to pricing, duty, measures, ABV and age. Perhaps it is because pubs are now thought of as a preferable, supervised drinking environment.
Or perhaps it is acknowledged that the system is one of those long-standing British traditions born of an obsession with rules and fair play, along with cricket, grammatical pedantry, writing outraged letters to broadsheet newspapers and queuing. Furthermore, the general ability of men to buy women drinks doesn’t just spread VD, but rather is pretty much essential for the British to procreate at all.
Like a fasting, beatific saint from the early middle ages, I have seen wonderful things. Colours not previously experienced anywhere in my mundane, cruel, mud-sodden, stinking, warty, short, pox-curtailed real life. I have seen gods, angels, demons and castles in the sky: nothing else compares.
More specifically, I’ve caught myself in the middle of a lot of mediocre beer experiences recently, possibly due to increased expectations after 18 months of beer blogging. Pints of slightly earthy brown water no longer satisfy. I find myself trapped in market towns where the pubs only offer endless pumps of perfectly-kept, virtually identical cask boredom.
I used to settle for Guinness. More recently I won’t even tolerate that. I reluctantly opt for the least worst pilsner before quickly moving on to whisky. I’ve even turned to wine in the desperate search for flavour in a flavourless climate. (It’s alright, I’ve discovered).
Recently I ranted a little on Twitter late on a Friday night (tellingly) about how people could possibly have given two shits about cask beer before some genius thought to put New World hops in it. That’s an unfair exaggeration and a slur on many excellent traditional (and yes, even subtle) English beers, but it reflects my increasing view that the majority of cask beers don’t merit my enthusiasm or loyalty. Nor do the majority of keg beers, or the majority of bottled beers.
I seem to have turned myself into a snob. Now there is interesting beer and there is uninteresting beer. Thankfully there’s still a hell of a lot of the former, thanks to hardworking, thoughtful, innovative brewers. These people deserve my money and support.
But as for the rest, I’m no longer prepared to settle for boring cask beer just because it’s cask beer, whether it was brewed in a shed or an aircraft hanger. Nor will I settle for any dull beer, just because it happens to qualify as beer and I’m a “beer drinker”.
Alternatively, perhaps I just need a holiday.
Back in the mists of time, when everyone was on the previous version of the iPhone and the world was on tenterhooks waiting for Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott’s version of Robin Hood, there was a deli-come-grocery on the cobbled Dock Street in Leeds called Simpson’s. Simpson’s was quite expensive, but the young professionals of Brewery Wharf and Clarence Dock liked the fresh bread and the impressive selection of bottled ales, including Ilkley and Saltaire beers.
Simpsons closed, possibly due to competition from a cheap but souless Tesco Express that had recently opened, and there was due wailing and gnashing of teeth about the death of independent shops and quite a lot of discussions about whether it could be re-opened as a social enterprise. Of course no-one really knew what a “social enterprise” was, but that nice polite Mr Cameron seemed to be in favour of them, and anyone who didn’t really like the word “social” was in favour of “enterprise” and vice versa, so it seemed like a reasonably admirable idea at the time without really gripping anyone.
Ultimately, in November 2010, Dock Street Market opened on the site of Simpson’s, run by “a group of independent local food traders“. I think the line-up may have changed over time, but at the moment there seems to be a deli counter, a bakery and a bar. The bar currently sells cakes and Prohibition-chic “teapot cocktails”, which Kate enjoyed.
The fact that I was most interested in the selection of beer will not come as a surprise, but the selection itself might. As well as cask Black Sheep (it’s still Yorkshire after all, even if it is young, hip, waterfront Yorkshire) there was also Anchor Steam, BrewDog Punk IPA and Ilkley MJ Fortis on keg. The bottle selection was even more impressive, including Brooklyn Lager, BrewDog 5am Saint, Chimay Red, Orval and Anchor Old Foghorn.
I had a Goose Island Matilda, an Orvalalike which was initially surprisingly bretty, but later pleasingly so, followed by a De Struise Pannepot 2010, a darkly delicious but drinkable 10% spiced Belgian strong ale which really needs that bit of cake to soak it up.
As well as the beer selection, I was impressed by the relaxed atmosphere of Dock Street Market, which leaves it somewhere between a cafe, a bar and a common room; seemingly a successful third place. Its neighbours, the Leeds Brewery pub Pin and Mitchell and Butler’s Adelphi are another matter: Pin, whilst similarly having an impressive imported selection thanks to James Clay, can seem sadly quiet and has stripped down its food menu. The Adelphi, whilst being one of Leeds’ best food pubs and having a great historic interior, has had quite an unimpressive cask selection the last two times I’ve been in.
Dock Street Market, for seeming to have come together at random and for its Cath Kidston-esque bunting and cake stands, has nonetheless ended up being perhaps the best place for a beer in the area. They’re even planning a ticketed Anchor tap takeover/food and beer-matching dinner with Ben from James Clay on 6 June 2012, a US craft beer festival on 4 July 2012 and a BrewDog tap takeover on 1 August 2012, each of which is as good a reason as any to pay your first visit, if you haven’t already.
The one place I regret not being able to devote more time to in Copenhagen is Ørsted Ølbar. It’s a really nice basement bar (for some reason almost all the bars seem to be lower than street level) opposite a park and a short walk from Nørreport Station.
We visited it mid-afternoon at the end of a long walk, when it was quiet and the light shining on the distressed wood of the tables inside was beautiful. The barman was happy to have a chat about the extensive range of keg beers on offer and offered to let me try a couple before buying.
I had thought that Ørsted Ølbar had some cask beer, but what appeared to be traditional handpumps were in fact keg fonts. There’s a bit of an “English” pub feel to the bar, although this isn’t overdone.
The bar has a number of “Ørsted” beers, although they’re all brewed by different Danish microbreweries. Ørsted Bitter Bitch was a pleasant, sharply bitter IPA brewed (according to Ratebeer) by Det Lille Bryggeri. To Øl Sleep Over Coffee IIPA was very bitter with an upfront coffee taste: two forms of bitterness, really.
Finally the barman recommended a bottle of Mikkeller 10 from the cellar. This was a superb IPA in a beautiful bottle made with 10 hop varieties: Warrior, Simcoe, Centennial, Cascade, Chinook, Amarillo, Nelson Sauvin, Nugget, Tomahawk and East Kent Goldings. The fresh tropical aroma had a bit of lime to it, and the rainbow of hops in the taste somehow achieved a great balance to a properly bitter beer.
If I go back to Copenhagen, which I really hope to, I’ll make a point to leave time to visit Ørsted Ølbar. If you’re going, I recommend you do the same.