Tuesday, March 04, 2014

A dry run in the valley of beer

The 1st Group
Apologies for the shock headline, but please don't worry. I haven't gone on some belated dryathlon or given up beer for Lent. There was a valid reason why I went on a group crawl around Kelham Island while drinking nothing stronger than lemonade (ABV content unknown).
Star Inn regular and keen photographer Steve Goodwill kindly invited me to join The 1st Group's trip to Sheffield on Saturday. But there was only one snag, I had various previous driving commitments which meant I couldn't drink alcohol in what is arguably Britain's beer capital.
So I tagged along to various real ale icons (with car in tow) to find out more about the club.
I was told the informal club evolved after a birthday celebration for Huddersfield based brewer Tara Mallinson some three years ago.
The premise was that club members - who are mostly drawn from The Star at Folly Hall - would meet on the first weekend of the month to try and take in some unfamiliar pubs.
Previous outings have been to The Dog and Partridge in Sowood during a particularly windswept winter's day high above Outlane.
But I understand the club's activities had stalled a bit recently until Steve Goodwill kick-started them again with a trip that no one could resist: the greatest (pub) hits of Sheffield.
So it was that a hardy bunch of beer tourists braved the long train journey from Huddersfield to The Steel City.
The brewing kit at Sheffield Tap
Their first stop was The Sheffield Tap which could accommodate the 20 or so members.
But I joined them trip at the second destination, The Wellington (aka Bottom Wellie), near the tram stop at Shalesmoor.
On the bar were a selection of Little Ale Cart beers, regular Millstone ale Baby Git and some lemonade.
I was soon brought up to speed about the club, which has roughly 30 members aged from about 20-years-old upwards.
After that introduction a second surge of 1st clubbers appeared and we filled the side room, the one with all the old Salamander pump clips on the back wall.
We were busy talking about all things beer when suddenly a Tupperware container of home-made onion bhajis appeared.
These had been made by a club member who kindly shared her culinary creations with us. As a beer-mad foodie I knew this was the club for me and I took out life membership on the spot.
After a few drinks it was time for a food pit stop. But because Sheffield Wednesday were at home we decided against the Hillsborough Hotel and headed instead for The Harlequin on Nursery Street.
Our route took us through the heart of Kelham Island where 'Tim the younger' pointed out arguably the finest sight in beer.
He stopped us at the junction of Alma Street and Russell Street, to admire the view. 
To our left was The Fat Cat (my favourite Sheffield pub) straight on was The Kelham Island Tavern and Shakespeares.
But we temporarily ignored those fine establishments for The Brew Company's brewery tap.
At The Harlequin they had three of their own ales on, including Crazy Horse on keg. This 5.1% IPA won Sheffield CAMRA's champion beer of Sheffield at their festival back in October. On cask the pub also had Hop Monster, 4.5%, and Simcoe, 3.8%.
Other offerings included two from Great Heck, which were Amish Mash, 4.7% and Porter, 4.5%. There were also single beers from Glentworth and Dr Morton's, plus two from Milton.   
Here the group fuelled up with burgers, cuts of meat and half-pints of chunky chips. After dinner there was a friendly disagreement over where to go next, The Fat Cat or The Shakey. It was what Sherlock Holmes might have called a three-pint problem had he been a cask addict.
Shakespeares on Gibraltar Street, Sheffield
I followed The Shakey splinter group but this proved to be my downfall. For here, lurking at the end of the bar was an 8% Russian devil. Five Town's and North Riding's Mad Monk imperial stout is a particular favourite of mine. So when you are on the lemonades it is simply not fair to see such a beer in a top drinking destination like The Shakey.
So I lost the stare out with the Rasputin pump clip and had to make a hasty exit as you can only stand so much temptation without caving in.
All I can say is that I am looking forward to properly joining the 1st Group on their next outing, which looks like being a tour of the lesser known inner ring road pubs of Huddersfield.  
Finally, many thanks to Steve Goodwill for the invite and the photographs.  

You can read Tim's post on the inaugural 1st Group visit here:
http://www.aswiftone.com/2011/02/dog-partridge-sowood.html

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