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Previous Pint Pleasures - April 3, 2002

guinness eileen

The Cask & Cutler, 1 Henry Street, Netherthorpe, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

In 2008 the Cask & Cutler went through an ownership change when it reverted to its original name, the Wellington.

Before I begin this week's column here's a recent report from Mistah Rick, my Bay Area correspondent, on the sad state of beer in Southern California:

"On Monday while in Burbank helping my sister find some new speakers we were drawn for lunch by a sign indicating a brewery/restaurant called B.J.'s. It turns out that they don't actually brew there, but it is part of a chain with other locations (and presumably some real breweries) in Woodland Hills and Belmont Shore, among other places. There were clear indications that this just isn't (and may never be) beer country. When I ordered a Piranha Pale IPA, the young waiter found it necessary to warn me earnestly that it was very bitter. Just after he went to get our drinks I spotted a notice in the menu, separate from the beer list, saying that they strive to make true English style ales according to CAMRA guidelines and that different cask conditioned ales are presented every week. I rushed off to the bar to ask if I could change my order, but the young woman behind the bar looked completely dumbfounded when I asked what was on the hand pump. (When I gave up asking and returned to our table, I noticed the fine print saying that cask ales were not available at all locations.) Fortunately, my Piranha Ale was pretty good, although not as hoppy as most of the IPAs in the Bay Area."

Enough said. And now back to the real world -- of English pubs, that is. Located in an unlikely heavily trafficked light industrial area at the bottom of the Walkley-Crookes hill is a real ale chapel. The Cask & Cutler is a truly inspiring place for those who take their beer seriously. The first time we went looking for this place it was a bit confusing to find but well worth the search. On a busy corner beyond the Safeway, just past the Skoda dealership where Infirmary Road meets Penistone Road, the pub is a refuge from daily life. As you enter you're immediately awash with a wonderful feeling of bliss. Although there is a no smoking lounge on one side, the place to be is in the tiny public bar where most patrons congregate close to the hand pumps. The small room just off the bar is often quite cold, heated only by a spartan series of tiny radiator vents. But even though it's a bit nippy you instantly feel the overpowering warmth of the place. On our first visit here -- a Friday afternoon after a hard day on the computer -- I could honestly say that, without actually being on the Afterlife Phone Line to Kurt Cobain, I had indeed reached Nirvana.

Our first pint was from the unusually named Boggart Hole Clough Brewing Company in Moston, Manchester. Called simply Boggart Hole Clough (4.5% ABV), this heavenly pint has a distinct Fuggles hops flavour. Reminiscent of my favourite Seattle IPAs (and with an ABV to match), this is simply lovely and yummy and absolutely satisfying in every way. On our second visit we had pints of King's Ransom (4.5% ABV, Glentworth Brewery, Doncaster, South Yorkshire), which is pale gold in colour with a bland first impression which quickly finishes with a nice nutty bitterness. On our third visit we tried the Port Mahon Cherry Red (4.6% ABV, Port Mahon Brewery, Cask & Cutler, Sheffield, S Yorkshire). With a dark redwood colour it imparts a hint of cherryness -- but is it the fruit or the wood? The bartender described it as "very dry", and he's right: I would compare it to a perfectly fresh, crisp Bing cherry without the sweetness. And at only £1.74 a pint it's a typical Yorkshire value; you can't get an interesting 4.6% pint for this price down south.

On our most recent visit 19-year-old Rory, a former real ale drinker who has for some tragic reason recently resorted to lager, had a pint of Rising Sun (5% ABV, Salopian Brewing Co Ltd, Shrewsbury, Shropshire) and found it very pleasant. It has a nice medium taste with a slightly bitter finish. The two of us die-hard hand pumpers had pints of Outlaw (4.5% ABV, Townes Brewery, Chesterfield, Derbyshire). Andrew instantly said "Spanish Onions." (He was referring to the taste, not to a salsified Booker T. and the MGs hit.) I could understand the onion reference -- but it's the nice aspect of onions, like sweet, gentle onions grilled so slowly they turn softly brown and caramelly, reminding me of a wonderful onion pizza I swooned over years ago in a cafe in Nice. But don't worry -- there's no trace of onion breath from this pint. To me it tastes undergroundish, like the pleasant historical smell of an underground cellar. Perhaps I enjoy historical building smells a bit too much -- but I've always been an olfactorily creative sort of person, so to me this conjures up a film festival of beautifully-shot classic documentaries of a life more simple and earthbound. Yes, I can see the family gathered around the big oak table board, piles of fresh crusty bread appearing out of nowhere as the goose roasts in the oven...with young Etienne home from the war and Eve having just received a scholarship to the Sorbonne, while we watch as Veronique and Anatole fall in love before our very eyes, and then Uncle Jacques gets out his concertina...okay, okay, maybe I'm being a bit too creative. But this is a creativity-inspiring beer! So taste it and create your own award-winning film, and we'll see who wins an award.

Along with the real ales currently on I counted 43 beers listed on the "Coming Soon" board from a wide range of breweries such as Wentworth, Tigertops, Wye Valley, Oldershaw, Fisherrow, Beowulf, Barnsley, Durham, Phoenix, Elgoods, Lees, Swale, Anglo Dutch, Cottage, Oakham, Hart, Crown, and Arundel. There was also a list of 40 bottled Belgian beers plus 5 Belgian Christmas ales. And the pile of local CAMRA magazines happened to include a copy of the Dover-Folkestone Channel Draught, so word obviously gets around.

One aspect of the Cask & Cutler which pleases me immeasurably is the fact that there's a pub cat. In this dog-crazy country I can never seem to get enough "cat" in my daily life. This cat is the perfect pub companion: friendly without being insistent, calm but playful, and graceful enough not to knock over pints as he glides around the bar. On our last visit he was contently batting a discarded packet of Drum around the floor, keeping the chocolate Labrador amused as a group of regulars sat in the corner admiring their huge, um...knives? Ah, well, you never know what strange interests real ale aficionados are going to acquire. At least they weren't Samurai swords and nobody in the group was naked, so I didn't't think there would be any trouble. Ah, now they're going for another pint, securing their weapons as they study the list of beers, deciding which real ale experience to add to their collection. I suppose once a collector always a collector...

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(Last updated 18 May 2019)