It looks as if we might end up visiting Sheffield every winter – why change a winning formula?
A couple of things were different this year, though.
First, Ray was unfortunately unwell, so this ended up being a solo trip for me.
Secondly, it turns out I can’t come to Sheffield two years in a row and ignore The Rutland Arms, even if that does break the new-pubs-only rule.
Meeting up with Martin
Martin has handily written up the first part of my weekend. (Yes, I am the mysterious “guest from Bristol”.) He suggested a few meeting spots and I went for The Old Shoe, on the grounds that it was central and promised a good range of beer.
It’s always interesting to see how a newly-opened pub can compete in a well-established drinking culture. I’d say based on a short visit that this is a great addition to the city centre.
It had two casks, three ‘real’ ciders, and a thoughtful selection of 15 kegs covering a range of different styles, both local and from far away. I got chance to drink my first Titanic Plum Porter of the season which was as good as this beer gets.
Excellent as The Old Shoe was, we chose to crawl on.
The next stop was The Church House, tucked away behind Sheffield Cathedral. It was packed with a post-shopping crowd of all ages. It felt timeless and cosy and is yet another example of the basic high standard of Sheffield pubs. I’d never heard of this place before this visit even though it would easily be a top three pub in just about any other city.
On Martin’s recommendation, I drank Farmer’s Belgian Blue by the Bradfield Brewery. It stood up well to Plum Porter, as a warming, slightly exotic winter special. I didn’t detect any Belgian character in the beer but perhaps that’s because it’s actually named after a breed of cow.
The next stop was the legendary Fagan’s which we didn’t manage to visit prior to the change of ownership. That was an oversight on our part last year – but we just couldn’t drink any more! That means I can’t offer a before and after commentary. What I can say is that the Bass was some of the best I’ve ever tasted, and the surroundings were extremely pleasant.
At this point, I was due to get a bus back to my friend’s as we had an evening session carolling in the pub. However, as the bus stop was next to The Rutland Arms, it proved impossible to resist its charms. I managed to stick to one half only by promising myself that I’d come back the next day.
No phones at the carols
The carols were at The Travellers’ Rest in Oughtibridge. It turned out to be a Sam Smith’s pub which was strictly enforcing the no-mobile-phones policy.
I’ve got a couple of observations on that policy. First, it rather supposes that you have absolutely no need to be in touch with the outside world while you’re in the pub, so screw you if you’ve left the kids with the babysitter and want to check in on them. (As did my companion.)
It also means that I have no video or photographic reminders of what was a really lovely evening of carol singing. So you’ll just have to take my word(s) for it.
It was a slightly different atmosphere to last year’s experience, possibly because it was in the evening so the crowd was less mixed. This didn’t make the singing any less accomplished or moving. And they even laid on snow for when we came out.
Oh, and the perfectly decent keg dark mild was £2.80 a pint.
A butty and some bitter
The following day I revisited The Rutland Arms, as promised, and saw off my grogginess with a hearty chip butty and the hair of the dog while I read a book in the corner.
The highlight was Bampa Best Bitter by Beak. It was a pale amber bitter with smoky toffee notes and a touch of honey about it. A modern take on a trad style that managed to taste fresh and different without disrespecting its heritage.
We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: if you like pubs, you owe it to yourself to spend a weekend in Sheffield. There really is nowhere quite like it.