Sunday, 10 September 2017

Pub 145 - The Gardener's Rest

By Rob

Andy and I – along with Andy's workmate and guest blogger Katherine - stood outside the Gardener's Rest; the final Kelham Island pub on our never-ending tour of Sheffield's ale houses. More than five years after Pubquest began, an important chapter was about to close.

In many respects, Kelham Island was the jewel in the crown of Sheffield's pub culture: the birthplace of the city's real ale movement, home to some of its greatest venues, and a shining example of post-industrial urban regeneration. Without it, Pubquest would have surely failed to grow into the earth-shattering success that it's become today.

Compared to the other Kelham Island boozers, the Gardener's Rest is a bit out of the way. Fortunately, the walk isn't too arduous and offers a good opportunity to catch sight of old industrial Sheffield, without the obscuring layers of gentrification you'd find in the busier parts of the quarter.

Like its nearby cousins, the Gardener's Rest is a handsome looking pub from the outside. Once indoors, it continues to impress with an old-fashioned, shabby chic feel (although some of the upholstery is perhaps a touch more shabby than chic). The pub is bigger than it appears from the street, with a nice extended seating area at the back, leading out into a quirky little beer garden. Not only this, but we discovered a bar billiards table inside, which was a rare treat!

The ale selection was excellent, and we each ordered a pint of Crucible Best, a perfectly pleasant traditional bitter from the Sheffield Brewing Company.

The Gardener's Rest has been a community-run pub ever since it was saved from closure by the Gardener’s Rest Community Society, who raised more than £237,000 to purchase the business after the former landlords retired. Concerned that property developers would swoop in and repurpose the pub into yet more fancy Kelham Island apartments, over 400 investors pitched in, each donating between £100 and £5,000.[1]

The pub has a strong community focus at its core, which is fantastic (just when you thought pubs couldn't get any better). The Gardener’s Rest provides amenities and opportunities for various groups throughout the city. These include an exhibition space for local artists, as well as facilities for people with mental health issues.[2]

As the Gardener’s Rest continues to thrive, we can only hope that this neat business model catches on elsewhere, saving other great spots from being closed down and converted into less interesting spaces.

I’ll take a pint of Magnet and a packet of pork scratchings over a prestige living space any day of the week.

Pub: The Gardener’s Rest (105 Neepsend Lane, S3 8AT)
Rating: 8.5/10
Pint: Crucible Best
Brewery: Sheffield Brewery (Burton Road, S3 8BT)

[1] Beer Matters, Sheffield CAMRA, Issue 481, Dec 2017/Jan 2018, p.8
[2] Ibid, p.8

Friday, 1 September 2017

Pub 144 - The Wellington [The Return]

After our previous failure at The Wellington, we returned a few weeks later to have another go. Guest-blogger Katherine picks up the story...

By Katherine

I met Andy through work and I'd heard rumblings about his world-famous Sheffield-famous pub blog. It was intimidating being in the presence of an online quasi-celebrity, so I thought it best to play it cool and didn't ask straight away for the link. After all, I'm not ordinarily an avid beer drinker, so wondered how much enjoyment I could get just from reading a blog about it (how wrong I was!)

Our mutual friend Richard (see The Bankers Draft) had an eventful night out with Andy and Rob, so I checked out the rest of the blog for myself. I was surprised by just how much action the guys find themselves in: free food, near death-experiences... and don't even get me started on Barry's! The blog transcended just beer and I really could not wait for my moment of glory... so I casually dropped some hints about how I liked writing, as well as drinking, and waited patiently. And patiently. And patiently.

Finally came the text I had been hoping for:
"If you want to be part of Pubquest history forever, we will be attending The Wellington near you in about 15 minutes. (Note: we reserve the right to make you write about it.)"

Yes! I was so excited, and willing to overlook the fact that Andy had given me just 15 minutes notice. I got ready and rushed to the pub, looking forward to a wild night of beer-related fun and games.

My first impression of The Wellington is probably best summarised by my text to Andy: "Are you inside, as this isn't the type of place I would like to be alone." My initial excitement was starting to wane: had I been invited to review the dud of Kelham Island?! The immediate area around the pub leaves a lot to be desired, but in all honesty, I relaxed once I stepped inside. It was very quiet, there were a few students playing a dice game but there were plenty of seats for the random collection of guests that the guys had collected on their way to the pub. I was served by a friendly barmaid and opted for a pint of Black Rat cider but was slightly disappointed as I walked away and noticed a sign for lemon drizzle ale, which I would have preferred!

We had our drinks, as I regaled a less than amusing anecdote about the disgusting toilet habits of the people who work in my office (I sincerely apologise to anyone sat near us that evening). And then... and then... we left! As far as debut Pubquest visits go, mine was unremarkable but pleasant and I was worried whether I'd manage to get a 10-word review from it (but I'm nothing if not creative!)

The assembled quiz team
But wait! "We're going to a pub quiz, do you want to come?" It seemed that my Pubquest journey had not yet ended...

We headed to The Closed Shop where I offered my severely limited quiz knowledge. Sadly the pub had already been reviewed, so I was not there on official business and therefore couldn't write about it! But I will tell you that it involved an embarrassing quiz performance; a silent auction where I managed to win a crate of beer for just £5.50; and a colleague falling out of a taxi. Exactly the kind of evening I was hoping for when I offered up my services as a guest reviewer!

Pub: The Wellington (1 Henry Street, S3 7EQ)
Rating: 7/10
Brewery: Neepsend Brew Company (Sheffield)

Friday, 11 August 2017

DNF - The Wellington

The final stop on our pub crawl with Pete from Sheffield Ale Pubs.

By Andy

By this stage, I was struggling.

It was our sixth pub in quick succession, and our 11am start time meant I hadn't eaten a thing since my Corn Flakes.

That's not to say it was all the fault of my poor preparation.

You see, dear reader: I suspected foul play.

In the Sheffield pub-blogging world, we were the plucky underdogs. We had been to a mere 143 pubs, while Pete had visited a mammoth 204. It was clear he didn't want anyone moving in on his patch.

He excelled at giving off the nice-guy image – striking up delightful conversations and cracking jokes along the way.

However, his true motives became clear at Shakespeares when – as it was his round – he 'kindly' purchased us a 7% beer, while opting for a 3.8% drink himself.

The technicalities of which beer we asked for are neither here nor there.

Deep down he must have known it would show us up to be pathetic little upstarts in the pub-blogging world, and yet he chose to buy it us anyway. A bit of gamesmanship there, I think. 

I had already been through my 'talkative' drunk stage at The Bar Stewards, and had now progressed to my 'sit in the corner and try not to vomit' stage. The conversation completely passed me by as I steadily rocked back and forth, desperately concentrating on anything but the sickening churn of my overworked stomach.

Rob was also drunk, but holding it together better than me (he must have had a bigger bowl of Corn Flakes). Pete, on the other hand, seemed stone-cold sober, and could probably have set a new lap-record around Monaco.

The pub seemed a pleasant, old-fashioned boozer – not the biggest but with ample corners to sit with your mates. The beer selection was decent (if a little reliant on one brewery), and the place felt like somewhere you could proudly call your local.

I'm not sure who bought it, but I ended up with a pint of Apex in front of me (by Neepsend Brewery). I didn't like it, but then again by this stage my body would have rebelled against anything.

I watched Rob and Pete speak, and tried to remember how conversations work. What do I do again? I think I'm meant to open my mouth and make sounds.

Blahf-bloo-bla,” I contributed.

At some point, my nonsensical noises must have put Pete off, as he made his excuses and left. Both him and Rob had finished their pints long ago, leaving me tightly gripping my (completely full) vessel.

Rob tried to motivate me: “If you don't drink this, we'll have to come back!” – but it was no use, the room was spinning.

For only the second time on Pubquest, we failed to finish our drinks. (Both times I was the guilty party.) The rules being as they were, we couldn't count this as a visit.

On the tram back to the train station I thought I was going to throw up – my head was pounding and the floor was swaying. I managed to fight it off, and was moderately proud of myself for not being sick all over the seats. I devoured a sandwich at the train station, and reminisced over the day – a fantastic drinking session with both an old friend and a new friend.

On the train home I was sick three times. All over the seats. I had to tweet CrossCountry Trains to apologise.

Pub: The Wellington (1 Henry Street, S3 7EQ)
Rating: DNF
Pint: DNF

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Pub 143 - The Bar Stewards

It's time for a very special collaborative blog between Pubquest & Pete over at Sheffield Ale Pubs

Andy: By this stage of the pub crawl I was a little worse for wear (after Pete had bought us a 7% pint in Shakespeares), so Pete's half of the blog will provide a fair and balanced review; while my half will be pieced together from fuzzy memories and what I have since been told by Rob (who was not quite keeping up with Pete but was faring far better than me).

By Andy & Pete

Pete: While drinking with Pubquest they asked if I would review a pub with them. I chose The Bar Stewards: a small independent pub which only opened last November. I've been a regular from the beginning when they only opened the odd weekend – back then they were much smaller with only three cask ales, but their enthusiasm was very much “we are here to stay”.

After the initial period of odd weekends they closed for a refurb, moving the bar to the other side. The new layout hits you as soon as you walk in – they now have four cask ales and a further row of six keg lines.

To the right of the bar is the 'menu' – a blackboard which states the beers in stock. The guys certainly know their stuff and on this occasion they had ales by Magic Rock, Buxton Brewery and Tiny Rebel.

Andy: Unlike Pete I had never been to The Bar Stewards before, but I had heard good things. Rob and I selected Hank Golden Ale by Tiny Rebel, an easy-going pale ale with a citrus twist. The barman had a very strong Welsh accent (I would later find out he co-owned the pub), and in my state of intoxication I decided to impress him.

I speak Welsh!” I declared, unprompted. (Although not strictly true, I had to learn rudimentary Welsh for a previous job).

The man, halfway through pouring my pint, looked up but did not respond.

I know the days of the week!” I continued. “Llun, Mawrth, Mercher, I can't remember Thursday, Gwener...”

That'll be six pounds eighty please,” announced the barman, interrupting my flow.

Don't you mean chwech pounds eighty?” I enquired, proudly. (I only knew the numbers one to ten. Eighty was far beyond my reach.)

By this point I was clearly impressing my Welsh counterpart, who paid me such compliments as “If you don't know Thursday then you don't know the days of the week,” and “Shouldn't you take that drink to your mate?”

Alas, he was right. Safe in the knowledge that I had made a new friend, I stumbled over to join Rob and Pete.

Pete: We sat at a small table surrounded by an assortment of stools. The seating area is only small but plans are in the offing to expand it. The walls are sparsely-decorated and currently painted white, but again this will change in the near future.

One of my favourite features of the pub is the vast array of glasses: when I had a Magic Rock beer it was in a Magic Rock glass, when the boys drank Tiny Rebel it was in a Tiny Rebel glass. To me this means a lot – I'm somewhat of a glass freak.

There's no food here so make sure you eat beforehand, although handily a new fish and chip shop has opened just up the road.

The owners are Charlie and Alan (from Devon and Wales respectively), two guys who are passionate about ales and very friendly as well – so do stop by to ask for beer recommendations.

The pub has just received a license to open six days a week, so if you find yourself at Shakespeares make sure to cross the road and pay this place a visit!

Andy: I really enjoyed our visit to The Bar Stewards – there was a fantastic selection of beer and I was really good mates with one of the owners. The calligraphy in the main window also caught my eye – a great way to draw in punters from the street. Inside, the walls were painted white and a bit bare, although they somehow managed to give off the illusion of slowly spinning.

Pete said the other owner's from Devon; I should ask him whether he puts the cream or jam on his scone first. He'll love that...

Pub: The Bar Stewards (163 Gibraltar Street, S3 8UA)
Rating: 7.5/10
Pint: Hank
Brewery: Tiny Rebel Brewing Company (Newport, Gwent)

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Pub 142 - Shakespeare's

By Rob

I'd never been to Shakespeare's before, but I'd heard good things.

Amongst the individuals queuing up to praise the pub was Pete, our temporary travelling companion and the man behind Sheffield Ale Pubs, who rated Shakespeare's as one of his favourite boozers of all time.

I can see why.

Stepping through the front door, I fell in love with the place almost immediately. The dark wooden interior, the cosy taproom, the quirky beer garden, and the astounding selection of ales were ticking every single Pubquest box.

Once at the bar, we made our first big mistake of the day. Eschewing the more reasonable beers, we selected two pints of Christmas Snowball - a 7% stout fortified with Advocaat - and headed for the outdoor seating.

The choice was a mistake for two reasons. Firstly, a summer's afternoon in a sunny beer garden does not represent the ideal environment in which to drink a thick, Christmas stout. Although chocolate, vanilla, coconut and Advocaat do work surprisingly well together, this isn't the case in mid-August.

Secondly, we were on the fourth pub of the day. We'd already imbibed a cider and two ales, and so far neither of us had eaten a thing. As such, the 7% stout and Advocaat mix - on top of the previous three pints - was a disaster waiting to happen.

Making it demonstrably clear that he was more of a proper human being than us, Pete ordered a light, lemon-flavoured beer with a perfectly normal amount of alcohol in it.

We sat ourselves down in a covered area of the beer garden, resting our drinks on one of the barrels provided.

"Come, gentlemen, let us drink down all unkindness," I said, holding up my glass and quoting the famous bard whose name the pub now held.

Pete then lifted his glass aloft, and said "with mirth and laughter, let old wrinkles come!"

All eyes fell on Andy, who reluctantly raised his glass from off the table.

"Cheers," he said.

As time passed, Pete resumed the interview that had been taking place throughout the day. Out came the pad of paper, and out came the questions in rapid-fire succession.

"What do you think to ale in a can?"

Easy. We didn't care. 

"Do you prefer ale from a keg, or a cask?"

Pointless. We didn't know the difference.

"Where is the best city/town for ale?"

What a question.

Pub: Shakespeare's (146-148 Gibraltar St, S3 8UA)
Rating: 9.5/10
Pint: Christmas Snowball
Brewery: Waen Brewery (No longer trading)

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Pub 141 - The Riverside

By Rob

“This next question is for you, Rob.”

A chill raced down my spine. I saw Andy look at me from the opposite bench. You can do this, said the look on his face. You're a genius. You're an intellectual powerhouse. You're everything I wish I could be.

I took heart from those unspoken words of encouragement and, gripping the wooden table until my knuckles turned white, nodded to Pete.

“To date, how many pubs have you visited during Pubquest?”

I reeled backwards in shock, almost falling from my seat. We were in the beer garden of the Riverside pub, deep into the second phase of our interview with the founder of Sheffield Ale Pubs, and Pete had just wheeled out the big guns.

“Well, that's a great question,” I said, clearly playing for time. I only had a rough idea of the number and couldn't pin down any precise figures. I thought back to every political interview I'd ever seen where the politician didn't know the data. It was time to let loose my inner Mandelson. “That depends on how you're counting the figures,” I explained.

I then launched into a discussion about how there were a number of pubs we'd visited that hadn't yet been recorded on our blog, which meant that the number Pete had jotted down on his answer pad was probably incorrect.

Andy 'Alastair Campbell' Wilson then jumped in, further muddying the waters by informing Pete that a number of pubs had been visited on multiple occasions, which made it doubly difficult to calculate a precise figure. Between myself and the party spin doctor, we did a decent job of saying a lot while simultaneously saying nothing.

Sensing that we were somewhat overcomplicating a simple, friendly question, I cut through the fog and said: “Let's call it 140 pubs”.

Silence hung over the studio/beer garden for a moment, before Pete smiled at me and said “correct!”.

I sighed with relief. The day was actually shaping up very nicely indeed. The sun was shining down on us, the Riverside's outdoor seating – right next to the river itself - was especially pleasant, and the two pints of Laima's Luck that me and Andy had ordered were going down extremely well.

We both liked the Riverside; it was hard not to. Like all of the pubs in the Kelham Island scene, it offered a good collection of real ales in a lovely setting. Admittedly, the pub is a little less impressive in winter, when the fantastic outdoor area isn't brought into play, but it's still a great venue nevertheless.

The questions kept on coming and, now having a bit more beer inside us, we found the process of answering them to be increasingly straightforward and, surprisingly, enjoyable.

We recounted how the journey had began at the Royal Standard, all the way back in 2012. We reflected on our lives since then and the ways in which we'd grown as people. We reviewed some of the highs and mulled over a few of the lows. We thought about the incredible journey we'd undertaken and the mark it had left on us; mentally, physically, spiritually.

“So, yeah,” I summarised, as the last few dregs of beer vanished from my glass. “We've spent a fortune, hammered our livers, expanded our waistlines, wasted hundreds of hours, accrued countless hangovers, and we still have about 300 pubs to go.”

Andy picked up the empty glasses and headed over to the bar. “We'd better get moving then”.

Pub: The Riverside (1 Mowbray Street, S3 8EN)
Rating: 8.5/10
Pint: Laima's Luck
Brewery: Black Iris Brewery (Shipstone, Nottingham)

Monday, 7 August 2017

Pub 140 - The Harlequin

By Andy

Real Madrid vs Barcelona; Republicans vs Democrats; Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier – when two heavyweights collide, the world is captivated.

Today was such an occasion: for the first time in history, Sheffield Pubquest would be meeting Sheffield Ale Pubs.

Such was the clamour for ringside seats that we were tempted to keep the venue a secret, lest it be overrun by rival hooligans, proudly declaring their support for one blog over the other.

In the end we relented, and revealed the exact date, venue and time to both sets of Twitter followers. Fortunately for The Harlequin, the resulting mad rush to town must have caused major gridlock on the roads, as we arrived to find just one man in the pub, sat patiently in the corner with a notepad in front of him.

Having arrived slightly late, we kept our comrade waiting a few minutes longer by deliberating over our drink – a tough decision between something we would enjoy (a run-of-the-mill pale ale), or something which sounded rank but we would never encounter again (ginger and chilli cider). Predictably, we ignored all of our instincts and went for the latter.

Pete was a fantastic, affable guy – I was a bit worried beforehand that it would feel like an awkward first date, but after a few sips of our cider (which just tasted like apples to be honest) we were chatting away about beer, pubs, and how Rob is pathetic at darts and he didn't deserve to beat me at the Big Tree but it's OK because I've accepted defeat and it doesn't even bother me anymore but look Rob, there's a dartboard, over there in the corner, do you want a rematch? Oh right yeah, that's not why we came.

Pete's first question was how Pubquest started, so I told him the heart-warming tale of how I began trying to visit every pub in Lancaster with my friend Josh (while students at Lancaster University), but, like a foetus who murders his twin in the womb, I relocated the entire thing to Sheffield upon graduation, brutally axing Josh for local lad Rob.

Cue stunned silence from Pete. I think he was expecting a happier story. I gulped some cider to fill the void. With each and every sip it began to taste more like a three-day-old Chinese takeaway.

Pete found his rhythm again, channelling his inner Michael Parkinson.

So when did you first begin drinking ale?”

I let Rob answer this one. He told the story of our teenage trips to the Hollin Bush, where the landlord had a different ale on every week (which was quite a big deal in those days). And how when we revisited several years later for Pubquest, there was a new landlord, just two beers to choose from, and an incredibly racist customer. Why do all our stories have such sombre endings?

Agreeing to save a few of the tougher questions for the next venue, Pete enquired as to how we rated The Harlequin. Like many before him, he was making the classic error of assuming we agonise over our rankings. Luckily, I used to work near The Harlequin, so I had visited many times on my lunchbreak after work, enabling me to review the pub a bit more thoroughly.

  • An incredible (bordering on ridiculous!) selection of ciders – there were 14 to choose from during our visit, and The Harlequin was duly awarded CAMRA Sheffield's cider pub of the year for 2016 & 2017
  • a dartboard (a dying breed in modern pubs)
  • a relatively unknown beer garden

  • I don't like cider so it's all a bit wasted on me
  • I'm not very good at darts
  • It's never sunny in Sheffield

A few things for the landlord to work on there then.

Another plus: on certain weekday lunchtimes, the pub offers a £3 meal deal, which it proudly proclaims is “better than Tesco”. The deal gets you a sandwich, some crisps and a soft drink, and I am reliably informed by my friend (the one who used to visit on his lunchbreak) that you can upgrade to a pint for a bit more cash.

With Pete suitably impressed by my review, I downed the last few sips of my cider – by this point my mouth was on fire and it felt like I had been munching on raw ginger. What a thoroughly unpleasant drink.
A courtesy email we sent to Twitter to inform them of the
spike in activity they were bound to see. As the day went off
without incident, we can only assume they heeded our advice.

Pub: The Harlequin
(108 Nursery Street, S3 8GG)
Rating: 8.5/10
Brewery: Orchard Pig
(West Bradley, Somerset)

Visit Pete's Sheffield Ale Pubs blog here.
See his write-up of our meeting