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Brass Monkey, 185 Middlewood Road, Hillsborough, Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Brewery of Saint Mars of the Desert, 90 Stevenson Road, Attercliffe, Sheffield
In the past year, regardless of all the almost laughably depressing and disgusting things that have been happening in the UK, so many exciting things have been happening in Sheffield, specifically related to pubs and breweries. As a result the city’s status as a major beer capital keeps gaining momentum. This, of course, makes us cask-ale-and-craft-beer-drinking Sheffielders very pleased indeed, and I feel as if my list of potential new Pint Pleasures columns just keeps growing.
First of all, the list of micropubs in the city seems to be expanding exponentially, and soon every neighbourhood will have at least one micropub of its own. Having opened in late 2018, the Brass Monkey is located up on Middlewood Road opposite Hillsborough Park and is easily accessible by walking from Hillsborough Corner, taking a bus or the Supertram, or driving, as there seems to be easy parking on the street. The pub is small, of course, consisting of one room with three little tall tables at the front and three little lower tables on the side, and one more little table just around the corner of the bar.
There are three handpumps which include one offering from the nearby Loxley Brewery. There are also a few craft beer taps, lots of gins, and a fridge with cans and bottles. On our first visit we had a taste of the Yankee (4.3% ABV, Rooster Brewery, Harrogate, North Yorkshire) which I used to enjoy several years back with my late friend Trevor. But that was flavours and flavours ago, so it seemed a bit disappointing to me this time. We ended up going for pints of Wisewood One (4.0% ABV, Loxley Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire), which is a fully bitter coppery gold IPA. While we sipped our pints we chatted with the landlady about the huge selection of gins as we perused the abundantly interesting and eclectic gin menu. When I asked how one could possibly decide, she suggested a few of the better non-flavoured ones -- in other words, with no violets or oranges or rhubarb added.
The end table became free, so we took a seat. Behind us stretching the length of the side wall is a mural, created by local artist Paul Stavely, of monkeys sitting at a long table playing poker, variously dressed in motorcycle gear and porkpie hats and hippy clothes, with cannabis and skulls and crossbows and flags as fashion. In other words, your typical crowd of monkeys. On the table in the mural is a spliff being smoked as well as a Big Mac and a container of KFC. (I later learned from a friend that each monkey represented one of the shareholders of the pub.)
For my second visit, also on a Sunday afternoon, I walked down here with my friend Mike on a very pleasant but absolutely freezing day. The place was packed this time, so we stood at one of the side tables, as there wasn't enough room available to actually squeeze into the chairs, even for skinny moi. This time Mike went for a pint of Wisewood Four (4.8% ABV, Loxley Brewing, Loxley, South Yorkshire), which was hoppy but sweet. I went for the Yakima Gold (4.2% ABV, Crouch Valley, Chelmsford, Essex) which was a bit calm in taste but a nice safe ABV.
My latest visit, again on a Sunday, was with Andrew, and we both had pints of Restoration (4.2% ABV, Abbeydale Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). The micropub was surprisingly not rammed like it was on the previous Sunday visit. There was easily a table free for us, and there were even some vegetarian nibbles laid out on the bar. Our pints of Restoration were quite appropriate for my very mild hangover and our suddenly very deepened depressed states. This was yet another interesting flavour, with a fuzzy bitter with a slightly sweet-edged finish and the same suggestion of wood or bark surrounded by nontypical wildflowers.
After three visits I can say that, as opposed to some micropubs, the Brass Monkey really feels like a proper neighbourhood boozer, which is surprising considering the premises were previously a craft shop called Child’s Play. The pub is easy to find, located directly across from the Hillsborough Walled Garden, which started life in 1779 as an allotment for provisions for residents of Hillsborough Hall but is now open to the public.
Surprisingly enough another micropub, called the Northern Monkey, is due to open closer to town in Hillsborough proper. Considering Sheffield already has a Blind Monkey pub, and the city is home to the band Arctic Monkeys, shouldn’t we start calling Sheffield the City of Monkeys? Or perhaps we could combine three things it’s famous for and call it the City of Steel Beer Monkeys.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the city, a new craft brewery opened last winter, so of course we had to go investigate. It was a Saturday afternoon four days after the brewery’s grand opening when Andrew, Victoria, and I jumped on the 52 bus eastbound from Crookes. Out in Attercliffe we got off and walked up Stevenson Road through a rather barren industrial area. After five minutes we came to the small courtyard of the Brewery of Saint Mars of the Desert. At the rear of the court was a bright red door that led into what appeared to be a warehouse. Inside we found a fairly small taproom with a pleasing atmosphere, with walls painted a blue that complemented the red door. It was quite chilly, even with the wood-burning stove on the side wall. On the wall behind the bar is a painted banner(?) which reads "The Brewery of SMOD: Finer than the average fester". (Apparently the word fester comes from the same roots as brew, but I have to admit the three of us were a bit confused.)
The owners of the brewery, Dann Paquette and Martha Holley, greeted us from behind the bar. The two of them gained years of brewing experience with their own American company, the Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project located in Massachusetts. Dann, a fellow American beer lover who is originally from Connecticut, met Martha, a Sheffield local, while at university in Boston. They spent a year travelling around the UK searching for a good place to start a brewery before they decided on Sheffield. The brewery is named after Saint-Mars-du-Désert, a village in northwest France, where the couple nearly settled before they thought better of it and headed to the UK.
On the day of our visit there were two craft beers on offer: Cito (40% ABV), brewed with Savinjski and Saaz hops as well as malt produced nearby, and the stronger Lupe, (5.5% ABV), brewed with Mandarina Bavaria hops and which Martha described as being a bit fruity. We all went for pints of Cito and took our drinks to the end of one of the long tables while Dann put some old jazz records on a turntable. Our pints were quite pleasant and refreshing, with the carbonation naturally produced in the primary fermentation and held in solution through a process called spunding. In Latin the word cito means “to summon or set in motion”, so it was an appropriate name for a starting brew.
About halfway down our pints Dann offered to give the three of us along with the scattering of other visitors a tour of the ten-hectolitre brewery located across the yard from the taproom. There we were shown the brewing tanks and equipment as well as the bottling line. At the time of our visit they already had some bottles of their brews in a few shops, including the Walkley Beer Company, with plans to expand to more shops. Because there are already so many good cask ales in Sheffield, Dann said that along with producing a wide range of both light and dark beers they’d like to concentrate on producing some more interesting naturally-carbonated beers such as sours and some experimental creations -- although, as Dann stressed, not ridiculous beers like doughnut beers, or perhaps some of those neon-coloured opaque milkshake creations (a couple of which I’ve had the pleasure and/or misfortune to taste). I look forward to seeing (or preferably tasting) some future saintly Martian creations.
One last note: the plan for the taproom is to encourage cash-free transactions for security reasons, so be sure to bring your debit or credit card. (I forgot to ask if Venusian or Jovian means of payment would be acceptable as well.)