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Previous Pint Pleasures - June 6th, 2001

guinness eileen

The Fat Cat, 23 Alma Street, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Recently a friend and I visited Sheffield, the burgeoning Yorkshire city built -- like Seattle and Rome -- on seven hills. We'd been told by a friend's father that we shouldn't miss a visit to the Fat Cat. Even though we were in Yorkshire for only two days, with only a few hours to spend in Sheffield, I vehemently insisted we find this pub. This was a bit of a challenge for newcomers, since the pub is nestled into a quiet street in an industrial area called Kelham Island. And it is actually an island, formed by a mill race along the River Don.

The Fat Cat dates from the 1850s and was originally called the Alma. In 1981 it was sold by Bass to private owners who introduced a range of cask ales new to the area, including many from microbreweries, not to mention traditional scrumpy and unusual bottled beers. At the same time the jukebox and game machines were removed in order to make the place amenable to conversation. In 1990 the Kelham Island Brewery -- a full mash pure beer brewery and currently Sheffield's largest -- was built at the back of the pub, moving into roomier headquarters on the same site in 1999. And in its first year of business the Fat Cat won the CAMRA Pub of the Year award, and again in 1992.

All this may sound interesting and possibly intriguing; but when you walk through the front door that's when you realize you've come to a very special pub. The small square-shaped bar features no less than 10 handpumps (with 3,222 different beers having been sold as of this moment); and along with the enormous variety of real ales there's a traditional cider, a perry, a Belgian ale, and a Belgian gin available. Two of the handpumps are dedicated to brews from Kelham Island.

The beer isn't the only appeal. On the Friday lunchtime of our visit the pub was full of workmen of all ages in hardhats and Wellies, not to mention a handful of business types as well as casual visitors like ourselves. The walls are decorated with old beer ads and diagrams of steam engines, and there's a nice old railway station clock on the arch above the bar which invites you to step up and book your single to Pleasure.

We chose two destinations for our journey. The first one was Kelham Island Bitter (3.8% ABV, Kelham Island Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). Wow! This pint is quite different but very nicely bitter, and reminiscent of herbed vegetables. No, wait -- leeks, yes, that's it! A leeky beer...sounds strange, but it's quite lovely. Our second stop was Kimberly Best Bitter (3.8% ABV, Hardy & Hansons PLC, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire). This is simply a smooth, drinkable bitter which slides down easily. Ah, but what a shame we didn't have a chance to try all the others. All those lovely, tasty railway stations...oh, wanderlust!

Our lunch was excellent as well. The Fat Cat has won awards for its vegetarian food, and rightly so. I had a very nice Cheddar and Cauliflower Pie, covered with a wonderfully crunchy topping reminiscent of the Bisquick biscuits my mother used to make. This was accompanied by a nicely creative salad, some tangy coleslaw, and good thick homemade country bread. My companion's Beef Casserole was good, too -- and each of our meals was only £2.75!

Oh yes, the Fat Cat has also won an award for Good Value Pub of the Year, not to mention Best Urban Pub. In fact, this rotund feline's CV is simply bulging with accolades and commendations. If you're passing through Sheffield you have to visit the Fat Cat. You simply have no choice in this matter.

Fat Cat Updates
(Last updated 26 March)