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Previous Pint Pleasures - March 6, 2002

guinness eileen

The Hillsborough Hotel, 54-58 Langsett Road, Hillsborough, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

I can't believe Sheffield. I can't believe what an amazing city this is for a real ale lover. I can't believe the vast quantity of good pubs of all styles and designs and for all sorts of people. Although known for its former steelworks, Sheffield is a pub lover's goldmine.

Yes, I've suddenly found myself relocated to the North. Although I'll continue to explore Kent pubs on a regular basis I will be writing a lot more about the pubs in Sheffield, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, and Manchester, and hopefully far beyond. But right now I'm having trouble venturing any further than the Western edge of Sheffield because the number of pubs "just around the corner" seems endless. There are so many pubs to check out in the city of Sheffield alone, not to mention beyond the city limits. It's a massive job -- but somebody's got to do it.

So I'll start this huge project with a unique pub which is a real ale lover's delight: the Hillsborough Hotel. Located in the light-industrial area of Langsett Road at the bottom of Walkley Hill, between Hillsborough and Shalesmoor and close to the Supertram, this rather plain-looking stone 2-star hotel features not only accommodation but a rather unusual pub hidden on the ground floor. Formerly called the Wellington, as the sign above the door still declares, the newly-refurbished pub has an open, modern hardwood-floor look and feel; in fact it reminds me of a Northern California brewpub. There are several little rooms, a couple of them non-smoking, with a large sunlit room in the back where one can sit and enjoy a spectacular view of the Mecca Bingo Parlour just down the hill. On summer evenings there is plenty of seating outside on the deck. The food is reportedly quite good as well, and Sunday nights feature live acoustic music -- although impromptu entertainment such as beer-tray acrobatics is occasionally provided by the resident cats.

As you first enter the pub the bar on the right is a sight to behold: 8 handpumps feature interesting local brews -- including a couple selections from the pub's own onsite brewery -- and around 6 other real ales are available directly from the cask. There is also a list of 10 bottled beers including, along with several Belgian ales, an old San Francisco favourite of mine, Anchor Liberty Ale.

But who would want to drink out of a bottle when you can sample rare brews from a handpump or directly out of the cask? The landlord seems quite eager to serve half pints so you can taste a larger selection of the beers. A number of the imbibers standing around the bar -- the bearded ones who looked like hardcore CAMRA members -- were indeed drinking halves. But since the task of actually tasting everything they have on at any given time would still result in the consumption of 7 pints, we decided to make it easy on ourselves and settle for full pints of only one or two selections.

On our first visit we tried one of the onsite brewery's selections, Loxley Gold (4.5% ABV, Crown Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). This was a nice pint served at an absolutely perfect temperature. We sat at a table and chatted with two gentlemen who'd just returned from the Rotherham Beer Festival where they'd sampled a wide range of Yorkshire beers -- one of them obviously having sampled quite a bit more than the other.

Our next visit was on a bright, sunny afternoon -- as pea-sized hail pelted down creating a spectacular rainbow across Langsett Road. As we entered the pub and gazed longingly at the long list of beers the barman said helpfully, "And what type of flavour do you like?" I replied, "Well, usually we like something in the 4% range, and nice and bitter..." Immediately we were presented with three tasters. The Crown Brewery Pale Ale (3.8% ABV) was quite pleasant and tasty for a weak pale ale. The Silver King (4.1% ABV, Ossett Brewing Company, Ossett, West Yorkshire) was quite yummy, a simple bitter with a distinct silver lining.

But we unequivocally opted for pints of Staveleyan (4.7% ABV, Townes Brewery, Chesterfield, Derbyshire). This is an absolutely wonderful beer, an excellent beer! "X-L-N-T", I found myself pronouncing succinctly -- and I definitely was not referring to the Southern California tamale manufacturer. Staveleyan has a great flavour with almost a copperish bitter edge. We were sent into ecstasy, pure unblemished ECSTASY -- and I'm referring to the drug-free kind. (So listen up, kids -- the beer's plenty!) Is this why everybody in the pub seems to be talking about beer? What are all those tasting notebooks and diaries that keep materialising out of coat pockets and dufflebags? That man over there looks like he's about 60, and he's jotting his notes into a weathered, beer-stained tome! "Beer, glorious beer..." Should I jump up and sing? Dance? Can I still tapdance to "Singin' In The Hail"? "Hail, glorious hail..." I'M DELIRIOUS! And no, I'm not drunk yet...simply delighted, elated, blissful, and having a wonderful time. What a wonderful world; Louis Armstrong would heartily agree. Yow! HOOOO-GRAAAAA!!! Who's making those high-pitched yipping noises? Oh my god -- my companion is turning simian! Was Will Self right after all?

There are only two problems with the Hillsborough Hotel. One is that it's open only in the late afternoons and evenings Thursday through Sunday. The other is that from where I live it's a most pleasant walk down the hill to the pub -- but it's quite a long steep uphill climb back home, which limits the number of pints one can try on any one visit. But I suppose this is a good thing...

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(Last updated 26 November 2017)