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guinness eileen

The Itchy Pig, 495 Glossop Road, Broomhill, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Years ago I used to walk to work every day through the Sheffield neighbourhood of Broomhill. But ever since I started to work in the city centre I don't make it to Broomhill very often, even though it's only a 15-minute walk from my house. I suppose in recent years I haven't had that many reasons to go there, especially as the good card shop and the Asian grocery both closed down, and everything else I can find in town. There are a handful of pubs in Broomhill that sell a good pint of cask ale, most notably the classic Nottingham House and the gastropub-centred York.

So I was quite excited when I heard that Sheffield's third micropub was about to open in Broomhill. Considering the other two are on Ecclesall Road -- which isn't exactly a hop, skip, and a jump from where I live and play -- the thought of a potentially good new pub so close to home was exciting. So I was hoping for the best.

On my first attempt to visit I arranged to meet my friend Mike after work, and I found him standing in front of the pub which had closed for a week for remodelling. Disappointed, we popped across the road to the York for what was a good pint; but the rather cold, dark, upscale restaurant feel of the place wasn't exactly what we'd been anticipating. So we decided to try it again.

It was a cold crisp evening when we met the next week, this time successfully inside the Itchy Pig. The tiny space had a bright feeling and was populated with happy cask ale fans. There were quite a few intriguing handpumps on the bar, but I immediately went for the same thing Mike had ordered: a pint of Surreal Ale (4.1% ABV, Abbeydale Brewing, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). This wonderfully named beer with the cool pump label has a definite hops taste but not really much of a hoppy character. Mike suggested that the hops might emerge if one were to drink this beer with a nice salad. I pointed out that a vinegar-based salad dressing might not be advisable. This prompted a debate on what food would be an ideal partner to this beer, and we mutually came up with sweet potato fries served with sour cream. I think that would definitely complement the surrealism.

For my second pint I had a taste of First Light (4.4% ABV, The Brew Foundation, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). Brewed with Citra hops it was nice, but it wasn't blow-away enough for me to risk imbibing the higher ABV. So I went for another surreal pint and Mike had a pint of Baby Black Mass Espresso Stout (4.8% ABV, Abbeydale) Brewing, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). I was surprised how very good it this stout it. It's not treacly, which is the way stout should be, and it has a wonderful injection of decent espresso to the taste palette.

At that point Mike's friend Dave joined us; and Dave and I proceeded to bore Mike with our discussion about the technicalities of using two-part epoxy resin. Our discussion stemmed from the fact that the bar features 2p coins encased under resin, and the tables have beer mats embedded beneath resin, which made me really want to make my own resin-topped furniture embedding my vast collection of tiny toys and curios.

A few months later on a Sunday afternoon I stopped in for a quick half of Golden Arrow (3.9% ABV, Double Top Brewery, Worksop, Nottinghamshire). The label described it as pale and zingy and the guy leaning on the bar who was drinking it said “Yes, it’s zingy!.” "So what makes it zingy?" I asked. "The hops," said the barman. And that was enough to convince me. A twangy beer, it's rather orange in colour and definitely zingy. And the twang made me think of the old Washburn guitar I learned how to play on as a child, along with my brother and uncle and cousins, that was reportedly carried across America in a covered wagon by a great grandmother or something. As many musical instruments that managed to survive through the 1960s, it eventually ended up covered in plastic daisies. Reminiscing about this family heirloom gave me something to mull over as I supped my twangy and quite yumsy beer.

I was impressed by how lively the pub was for a Sunday afternoon at 3:45. After two really pleasant visits I get a good friendly feeling for the place, and I will definitely come back here on a regular basis.

PUB UPDATES:

  • PRINCESS ROYAL, SHEFFIELD:Late last year, on an impulse, we popped into this pub for a quick half of Poppy (3.6%, Charles Welles, Bedford, Bedfordshire). This amber beer, obviously dedicated to war veterans, was pleasant enough. I would describe it as nutty and sparky like a little squirrel.

  • CLOSED SHOP, SHEFFIELD: On a recent stop in after work I had a pint of the quirkily named Pail (4.0% ABV, Shiny Brewery, Derby, Derbyshire). Brewed with Comet and Summer hops, this was another quite nice pint with its own personal hops character.

    On another visit three of us had pints of Generation X (4.2% ABV, Exit 33 Brewing, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). The clip said "best drunk without adult supervision", so I considered ourselves to be safe. This is a most interesting beer, with bitter hops but a tingly tangy touch of mace or possibly tree bark. Mike thought acacia, Andrew thought mace, our friend Nick who tasted it definitely thought it was a spice. I was intrigued and attempted to analyse my tastebuds. I finally decided on some sort of tree in the mountains of California. Could it be...manzanita? So how do they get manzanita trees to grow in Sheffield?

  • THE BLAKE, SHEFFIELD: On one of my rare days off we stopped in here and I had a taste of Northern Lights (4.4% ABV, Leyden Brewery, Bury, Lancashire). This is quite a nice amber with a lot of character. I ended up going along with Andrew for slightly safer pints of US Session IPA (3.8% ABV, North Riding Brewing Company, Scarborough, North Yorkshire). Brewed with Comet, Summit, and Mosaic hops, the comet sooths out the dark mosaic chomp. It's a nice hops mixture. As we were the only people in the pub besides the extremely silent barmaid, we had the unique experience of sipping the first half of our pints in complete silence punctuated only by our hoppy comments.

  • THE FOREST, SHEFFIELD: On another of my days off we decided to make a visit to this pub, which is always a pleasure. So we ordered pints of Sonic 2 (4.2% ABV, Toolmakers Brewing, Sheffield, South Yorkshire) and sat at a table in the room to the left of the bar. In the corner is an old Wurlitzer jukebox dating from the 1970s which belongs to the brewer and offers 7 plays for 50p or one play for 10p. Was that still true? No, better yet, we were told the jukebox is free. But we couldn't figure out how to work it, as it's one of those old 45 jukeboxes where each track has a letter and a number, and on top of the display there are ten unmarked buttons and then sixteen more unmarked buttons. Did they correspond with letters and numbers? No, it just didn't add up, and the tracks go up to R.

    Meanwhile the beer was quite interesting. Brewed with German Magnum, Chinook and Cascade hops. To me it had a very slight but most pleasant taste of brass. Andrew thought it was nettle. It was definitely something bitter. It made me think of an old tin toy, or the smell of a musée méchanique, and I could suddenly hear all the clinking shifting sounds of circuses and farms and trains and Old West casinos. It made me want to build a miniature mechanical pub out of tin, coin-operated for 10p a go. Or why not…free? As Andrew went outside for a smoke and I sat contemplating my own musée méchanique the brewer, who is also one of the owners of the pub, suddenly appeared, walked over to the jukebox, opened the lid, played around a bit, and then pushed two seemingly random buttons, which caused a mechanical arm to lift a 45 into place. And voila: "Water Sunset"! The recording was delightfully just very slightly warped, proving it was real vinyl. You just can't pull that off digitally.

  • HILLSBOROUGH HOTEL, SHEFFIELD: Recently we stopped in here and had a pint of California Steam (4.2% ABV, Tollgate Brewing, Calke, Leicestershire). The pub clip stated it was brewed in the style of a West Coast lager in the heart of the National Forest, which is an interesting geographically eclectic description. It was an interesting enough brew, but it didn't really remind me of either California or lager. So we went for pints of Dennis (4.5% ABV, Mitchell's Hop House, Sheffield, South Yorkshire), which was a pleasant pale middle-of-the-road ale with moderate hops. I felt like raising my glass and cheering my late cousin Dennis Mitchell. On this Friday afternoon the pub was really buzzing and quiet busy with both regulars and the tail end of a wake, with all manner of energy from still-life to vibratory.

  • WALKLEY BEER COMPANY, SHEFFIELD: I don't know why we don't stop into this pop-up-pub-turned-micropub more often, as it's just down the road for us. I suppose it's always been the limited hours. But when I recently discovered it's now open Wednesday through Sunday, I suggested we stop in. We sat at one of the communal tables and had pints of Tempest APA (4.5% AV, Tempest Brewing Company, Kelso, Borders, Scotland). This beer is intense! Superhops! Pine! Citrus! It's a major production like you've never seen before, and it's all happening in my mouth! Dat-da-da-dahhhh! The Walkley is now open Wednesday through Sunday, with not only the three cask beers but also five craft beers on as well -- and of course, as this is also a beer shop, I couldn't leave before I bought a couple cans of interesting-sounding craft beers.

  • FAT CAT, SHEFFIELD: On another Monday of a long weekend we stopped and had pints of Azacca Single Hop (4.2% ABV, Brunswick Brewing Co, Derby, Derbyshire). Described as being light amber and brewed with crystal malt and azacca hops, it was unusual: a thick amber beer with a lot of different things going on in a very bitter beer. My pint was rather like a thick forest floor with lots of things decaying. Actually…it was pretty yucchy because Andrew's pint was much better, and obviously mine shouldn't really have been served. We ended up leaving both pints and moving on.

  • GARDENERS REST, SHEFFIELD: We high-tailed it away from our lousy pints and stopped in here for a palate-cleansing half of Hopopotamus IPA (3.8% ABV, Broughton Ales, Broughton in Furness, Borders, Scotland). And what a relief! My palate was scrubbed clean like a good soak in a roomy bathtub brimming with sensuous bubbles. There was that Scottish character in a pale hoppy beer.

BOTTLED BEER UPDATE:

  • Huck (7.4% ABV, Thornbridge Brewing Company, Bakewell, Derbyshire): One exhausting and impressively freezing day I came home from work and opened my bottle of this double IPA. Described on the bottle as having aromas of sweet tropical fruit and resinous pine, with Simcoe, Amarillo, and Mosaic hops, this is a classy beer, leaving a refined finish on the tongue like a good cognac. In fact, a good cigar would go great with this beer. Aw, heck, Huck! With a little research I couldn’t find out why it’s called Huck. Is it after Huckleberry Finn? Or after Jesus H Christ, whose middle name I used to think was Huckleberry? I suppose I’ll never know for sure.

  • Valravn Imperial Black IPA (8.8% ABV, Thornbridge Brewing Company, Bakewell, Derbyshire): On another postwork day I had a bottle of this beer. Brewed with Nelson Sauvin, Centennial, Sorachi Ace, and Ella hops and described as tasting like lemongrass and orange, I can say that those good dark punchy hops were like a warming tonic for the end of another freezing day.
  • Ancho Lime Paradise Lager (6.0% ABV, Flying Dog Brewing, Frederick, Maryland, USA): For my birthday Andrew gave me four bottles from this American craft brewery, all presented in a Have A Totes Amazeballs Birthday bag and accompanied by a sexy Jimmy the Bull card. My first taste was this lager, which is part of their Heat Series, brewed with ancho peppers and lime peel. It’s a fun beer. It’s not punch-out-wow-it’s-lime-and-chile exactly, but it’s fun. It would be great on a picnic. On second thought, with the high alcohol you might want to make that a picnic in your own back garden. There is a pink tinge to the tawny colour which makes me think of white zinfandel. Hey, I’ve had green beer and purple beer, so why not pink? This could be marketed as a Women’s Movement beer, perhaps with a pink kitty hat on the label. As I contemplated all of these things a pleasant heat was growing on my palate like a creeping rug on a cold night.