So is this the best city in the UK in which to drink beer? I’m talking about Sheffield, naturally, which several years ago was declared the top of the ringing, singing tree of UK beer (much to the wry smiles of those who live in, say, Norwich, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Edinburgh, London and Liverpool no doubt).
There is certainly a swarm of good pubs in Sheffield, an eternal fountain of great beer and, even though the architecture is a bit of a mixture of postwar all-sorts, it is also a comfortable and friendly city in which to drink beer. So that’s one question over and done with, even if the answer is a bit black-and-white.
It is also a city of ghosts that drift through its streets. There are closed pubs with the names of long gone breweries such as Stone’s picked out on the facades; across the road from the Wellington (owned by Neepsend), there is a memorial to the Don Brewery, which once stood on this spot and sent its beers across the road.
At the White Lion, on London Road, a surviving multi-coloured window has the name of Windsor Ales picked out in white, lounging above a green-tiled lower wall. Time has passed, the brewery has gone, but let us not dwell on the past, this is the now.
Beer exhilarates the city of Sheffield, the breweries in and around the city inject new life into its bloodstream, all of which I was reminded of on a recent visit last month, as a guest of the Indie Beer Feast, an event organised by the indomitable Jules Gray of the Hop Hideout bottle shop.
This is a bounteous event, which for the second year running was held in the historic surroundings of the Abbeydale Picture House, the kind of classic cinema that our parents and grandparents used to attend, perhaps courted in or just watched the latest James Bond or Carry On.
As for the Beer Feast, beers from the likes of Abbeydale, Neptune, Turning Point, Orbit, Cloudwater, Affinity, St Mars of the Desert and Wild Card could be sampled and a small team of us judged a selection of beer.
I also walked along a canal for a quick visit to St Mars of the Desert and look forward to seeing how they grow (they used to be Pretty Things in the USA if you didn’t know). There was also plenty of time to visit some of the pubs that make a sure claim for Sheffield’s call for greatness.
Old favourites such as the Bath Hotel and the Fat Cat still attract and intrigue me, but this time I also asked for recommendations, which is how I found myself in the Broadfield Ale House, around about 6pm on a Saturday evening. As soon as I entered, I was embraced by the life of a busy pub, amid a hubbub of voices, the warm aroma of food in the air and the firm stand of a golden glass of Pilsner from pub owners True North Brewery.
Here was a pub as I imagined it to be at the weekend, lively and lusty, families, friends, football fans (Bramall Lane isn’t that far away), dogs, Saturday night before the reward of Sunday morning, the vitality of our public houses.
And in that moment, as the coolness of the Pilsner passed my lips, Sheffield was Britain’s best beer city, though as I write, the memory still fresh, I tell myself that part of the joy of beer and pubs is that I look forward to continuing that search for the best.