- CLOSED SHOP, COMMONSIDE: On the 4th of July pubs in England were allowed to open again if they wanted to, and/or if they were able to bring in all of the restrictions required. So instead of venturing out on the 4th (being an American I have a natural fear of public places on the 4th of July), we decided to try one on the 5th. Our choice was the Closed Shop, which seemed pretty safe. We had planned to sit in the garden, but with the high winds that turned quite threatening as the day went on, we sat inside. It was only 2:00 on Sunday, so the place wasn’t busy at all, and we sat in our favourite window seat. We had pints of Magnum PA (5.0% ABV, Stancill Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire), which was a very bitter strong IPA brewed, naturally, with Magnum hops. Normally I won’t drink something this strong when I’m out in a pub and have to work my legs into a walking rhythm, but I decided it was worth a risk. There was something a bit unusual about the general flavour, and sadly both of us found it a bit tiring by the time we got to the end of our pints. I guess Magnum hops aren’t really to our taste. I will have to remember that in the future.
As we sipped our pints we chatted with the landlady and one of the bar staff. Saturday had gone okay until later at night, when some of the older regulars kept having to be reminded about the new rules: wait at your table to be served, keep at least a metre from others, don’t sit at the bar, don’t bring empty glasses up to the bar, etc. It’s really not too difficult to follow these rules, and we’re only at the very beginning of re-openings, so things will gradually change in the future. For now, let’s just all be happy to do what we need to do to enjoy a freshly-poured pint of cask or craft.
A week later we returned to the Closed Shop to have a couple of pints in the garden with our friend Mike. It was a rare pleasantly warm day, and we were sitting at the table in the middle of the garden, with the other tables properly spaced around the sides. The staff were very attentive as to clearing off the tables of glasses and other things, and as they had just started to offer bar snacks the food business was going well. We all had pints of Kelly Pale (4.2% ABV, Stancill Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire) which was quite nicely hoppily bitter in a distinct New Zealand way, but also very pleasantly drinkable. How wonderful to sit in a beer garden on a pleasant day drinking an easily pleasant pint. It’s been so long...So we had another round of Kelly as we chatted with landlady Sophie about how the pub has been progressing, her dealing with the riffraff who want to flaunt the sensible rules and regulations, and we also met Pippa the now-Instagram-famous pug.
After a workday for me, Andrew thankfully picked me up and we stopped here for a quick pint. I was excited to finally see a new lower-ABV pale ale on the handpump. So we both got pints of Savannah (4.3% ABV, Stancill), which is finally a satisfyingly hoppy reasonable-ABV brew! It was definitely the best pint we’ve had since they reopened from lockdown. Again we took our pints out to the garden, found a table over in the corner, nicely distanced from the two tables emitting that horridly grating rapid-fire vocal fry. The balmy shade was very pleasant, I was happy to be done with work for the day, and the beer was very enjoyable.
- WELLINGTON, NETHERTHORPE: This is another of our favourite pubs that has reopened after the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown. The first time Andrew and I stopped in was on a very nice balmy Sunday afternoon when we sat in the sparsely-populated garden and slowly sipped our pints of Saltaire Cascade (4.8% ABV, Saltaire Brewing Company, Shipley, West Yorkshire). This is a surprisingly good beer. There were five other people enjoying the garden on the nice balmy Sunday afternoon. The pub is doing all the tracing and distancing measures very well, from the QR code posted on the front door (which I scanned to log in my details for contact tracing) to the protective shield over the bar, as well as the masks and/or face shields the staff wear when they walk around retrieving empty glasses and cleaning tables. The usual CAMRA tourists who crowd the pub aren’t there these days, so as it’s only local walk-ins they aren’t having much in the way of crowds. We felt quite safe there, and it was nice being back.
On a quiet weekday we stopped in again, sat in the nearly empty garden again, and had pints of Janus (5.1% ABV, Neepsend Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire), a stronger beer than we usually have, brewed with Citra and Mosaic hops.
And then we returned a week later, this time on a Sunday afternoon again, and the inside of the pub was busier, although still properly distanced. And the garden was, again, very quiet, with one man sitting alone at one table and three gentlemen at another, as well as a couple sitting around the corner by the exit gate. So once again we were well away from any other customers. This time we were having pints of Gumshan (4.4% ABV, Neepsend). This is another hazy brew, as they all seem to be these days. The combination of El Dorado, Mosaic, and Summit hops was a bit odd, as I was hoping to taste more of the unique but subtle El Dorado (a hint of sweaty armpits always comes to my mind). But we both felt it was a bit overpowered by the darker headbanging tones of the Mosaic. Still, it was pleasant enough for one pint. At one point I was visited by a friendly bee who was attracted to my red shirt, but it finally decided I wasn’t a tasty flower and flew away in search of brighter, headier pastures. As it’s summertime, I’m confident it will succeed in its quest.
Another time we met here with our friend Mike. It was a pleasant balmy day, not too hot, just nice. We sat in the garden and I didn’t fancy any of the four cask ales, so I went for a key-keg pint of Ceres (4.8% ABV, Atom Brews, Hull, East Yorkshire). Mike and I had socially distanced-walked down from Walkley, and we had discovered a short ginnel and tiny park that neither of us knew existed. As Mike is a postman and I am a former leaflet distributor, this excited both of us more than it probably would anybody else. So we chatted about our discovery as I sipped my pleasantly cold and bubbly beer that had a nice hoppy taste. It wasn’t the hop monster I would have liked, but it was pleasant enough. When Andrew arrived he ordered the same as Mike, a pint of Ghostship (5.0% ABV, Adnams Ales, Southwald, Suffolk), and I joined them with this on our second round. Again this wasn’t super hoppy but it was an easy-drinking pale ale, a bit strong for me, as I started to really feel the alcohol. But I suppose that was probably because it was the third round...
On our next visit I started with a taste of Esus (4.7% ABV, Neepsend Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire), which was nice but not terribly interesting. So Andrew and I went for risky pints of Azeban (5.0% ABV, Neepsend), a New England pale ale. After a few sips Andrew confidently announced that this is “a mighty beer!” And that is quite accurate. What more can I add? Before we left I had a curious little taste of the Coal Aston Porter (4.7% ABV, Drone Valley Brewery, Unstone, Derbyshire), but it’s too sweet and chocolatey for me.
On our most recent visit, after an afternoon at work during a very stressful few days, I met Andrew and Mike here for a Friday evening break. All of us went for pints of Mt Hood (4.5% ABV, Great Heck Brewing Company, Goole, South Yorkshire). This is a very pleasantly hoppy pale ale. But as I recall, I’ve not often been disappointed with this brewery’s offerings, so my expectations were definitely honoured.
- SHAKESPEARES, KELHAM ISLAND: This was another re-opened pub we visited, after trying the Gardeners Rest on a Saturday afternoon and finding it was filled to social-distancing capacity. On entering I signed in and we were seated at a table close to the garden door, as the garden itself was full. This time the QR code on the table that I scanned brought up the pub’s current beer menu, so we both decided on pints of Land of the Long White Cloud (3.7% ABV, Blue Bee Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). As the title refers to the original name of New Zealand, Aotearoa, the hops used are Dr Rudi (named after the “father of New Zealand hops”), Waimea, and Motueka. As expected with anything from Blue Bee, it was very hoppily enjoyable. After a time we were able to move outside to a garden table, well-distanced from the young couple occupying one side. We ended up chatting with them about Bristol pubs and museums, Sheffield pubs and beer, and of course politics. It was nice chatting with total strangers while sipping a pint -- sort of like in the olden days of pubs, eg. before March 20 of this year.
We returned to Shakespeares a couple of weeks later with our friend Mike, on a Friday evening after work. We all ended up with pints of Deception (4.1% ABV, Abbeydale Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). Although it’s not as amazing as the original Deception was, it’s still a pretty nice and easy-to-drink pint. The day was a bit mizzly but we stood in the smoking shelter outside and chatted briefly with some older cask ale drinkers who had just come from a Wetherspoons pub. Poor souls...
- HALLAMSHIRE, COMMONSIDE: Andrew and I met here for a pint on one of Sheffield’s two hot days of this year. It wasn’t nearly as hot as the hot day a week earlier, but it definitely felt a bit steamy. When I arrived Andrew was already at the pub, having been herded over to a table by a nervous barman who wanted him to quickly order and pay for our pints, even before I’d arrived to see what they had to offer that day. When I got there the barman was trying to push a cask ale on us that I had previously found extremely boring, so Andrew read out more choices from the list he had been handed. I said the Green Mountain (4.3% ABV, Thornbridge Brewing Company, Bakewell, Derbyshire) was good, because I’d previously bought it as takeaway pints, so we both ordered that.
We went downstairs out into the garden and sat at a small table beyond the covered area. Andrew, getting a very strong grapefruit taste o his first sip, didn’t like the Green Mountain, as he doesn’t like grapefruit in a beer. So I felt a little bad for suggesting it, as I like a grapefruit character and have found it to be a nice drinkable beer. When I realised it was key-keg instead of cask I first regretted not ordering a cask -- but considering how hot it was, this was probably a good idea on a day when you almost need your beer to be as cold as it can potentially be. The staff were all wearing masks and face shields and sanitising the tables constantly, so it felt like a very sterile atmosphere in the garden, and a bit too sterile inside the pub.
As we sipped our beers I told Andrew about a local report I’d read that a young woman had been chased down the main street near us at 11pm by a man wearing a balaclava. When I suggested the possibility that it was just a man in a Covid facemask who was trying to get home in a hurry, we branched off to wishing that the creators of the brilliant short-lived TV series “Monkey Dust” would bring back a Covid-19 version of the show, with masked males walking quietly and innocently down streets at night and being called “Balaclava Thugs”.
BOTTLED/CANNED BEER UPDATE:
- Interstellar Getaway (4.0% ABV, Alphabet Brewing Company, Manchester): A coupe of months ago I took a couple of beers with me to a friend’s back garden in Lower Walkley. Three of us sat on the patio -- socially distanced, of course -- and all amazed by the fact that we used to see each other regularly and actually hadn’t seen each other in three dimensions for over three months. As I was rabbiting wildly on, having obviously been starved for natural physical conversation with full three-dimensional visuals, I happily ploughed through this single-hopped interstellar journey through Galaxy hops, along with a Lallemand New England East Coast Ale yeast strain. After an afternoon of threatening thunder and lightning, the hot steamy pollen-rich day had mellowed out into a pleasantly sunny day with blue sky and friendly clouds, just like the kinds Bob Ross might paint. This was a smooth and easy journey with a happy landing into my next can.
- Galaxy Pale (4.6% ABV, Triple Point Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire): Brewed with Galaxy, Ekuanot, Rakau, and Simcoe hops, and then dry-hopped with more Galaxy, this beer was described as "a Czech astronaut launched into the stratosphere". It was indeed a very nice space-walk immediately after my interstellar journey, with a whopping hoppy tickle swimming merrily through my mouth.
- Juice Springsteen (4.5% ABV, Alphabet Brewing Company, Manchester): On the can of this brew it says “Juicing In The Dark” and ”Born To Juice”. I had just spent a couple of hours in the attic cleaning my collection of old 45 records that I’d accumulated in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a mixture of old hits from the 1960s (for my party tapes and my original band’s encore songs) and independent releases from Los Angeles and Paris bands of the early 1980s (including my own band). The records had been stored in a box in our wet cellar, high up on a concrete table that unfortunately had some sort of water leak from the adjacent wall. The records turned out to be in good shape once I cleaned them, but some of the irreplaceable covers have been wrecked (Suburban Lawns, Prairie Fire, early Go-Gos, and Les Teen-Kats). Anyway, there happened to be one Springsteen record, there, also with the cover damaged, so I thought this tropical IPA would be an appropriate reward. It was pleasant but not very hoppy, so the can was actually more colourful than the beer itself.
- India Pale Ale (5.5% ABV, Wild Card Brewery, Walthamstow, Greater London): This features Mosaic, Simcoe, and Citra hops. I don’t really like it. It feels a bit like muddy silt in the mouth, and although it’s like all the other modern craft beers -- naturally hazy, with wheat and oats -- it doesn’t grab me. It means well, though, so perhaps it’s just that I expect something more zizzly, zingy, and stimulating. On the plus side the can is really attractive, with a proud bird with a blue head sporting a Mohican on a green background. And I’m happy to see that the artist, Valero Doval, has been given credit on the can. Nice work! Reading about the brewery’s other beers, I think I’d try another offering from Wild Card, because some of the beers look promising. And I’m an optimist.
- American IPA (5.2% ABV, Devils Backbone Brewing Company, Lexington, Virginia): The can announces the “mountains of Virginia, stags and hoppy citrusy IPAs”. The mountains mentioned are the Blue Ridge Mountains, although it says this particular bottle was bottled in the UK. I found in this brew a very fruity character in an orange sort of way, with plenty of bitter hops. Not surprising, as the hops used are Admiral, Goldings, Cascade, Centennial, and Columbus, to which orange, marmalade, and biscuit have been added. The beer, which comes in a bottle instead of a can, is surprisingly deep golden.
- Ripper (5.7% ABV, Stone Brewing Company, Escondido, California): This is described as a San Diego Pale Ale. The 12-ounce can promises a “rippin’ swell of juicy hops”, and with one sip I’m suddenly projected back in Northern San Diego County, back when none of this Covid-19 shite existed, or else far into the future when Covid-19 is only a nightmarish memory with which to horrify the kiddies. This is a truly rippin’ very tropical beer. The impressive hops list includes Cascade, Galaxy, Hallertauer Blanc, Hüll Melon, and Mandarina Bavaria hops from the US West Coast, Australia, and Germany. Wow. It is truly a ripper. Hang ten!
- More Or Less Evil (5.0% ABV, Evil Twin Brewery, Brooklyn, New York): This is a very hazy and hoppy brew, perfect for yet another Zoom call with our friend Mike. I must admit it didn’t taste very evil to me, although it was extremely hazy, so perhaps it was hiding something in the glass. I followed it with a can of Stone IPA which is always good.
- Shangri-La (4.2% ABV, Arbor Ales, Bristol): This is a session IPA that comes in a one-pint can. With Citra, Columbus, Ekuanot, and Mosaic hops, it is surprisingly satisfying, like a good ol’ traditional hop-choppy ale. It’s unfiltered, but it’s not nearly as cloudy as some of the recent vegan beers I’ve had that look alarmingly like pear nectar. This is quite lovely, which is good because there’s plenty more in the can for me to pour into my glass. I do really like Arbor beers, ever since the first one I ever tasted, which was a gorgeous cask ale at the Sheffield Tap several years ago. Someday I’d really like to go to Bristol and check out the beer scene, as well as the art and history and Banksy aspects.
- Futureproof (6.2% ABV, Brewdog Ltd, Fraserburg, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, collaboration with Modern Times Beer, San Diego, California): This West Coast IPA features Ahtanum, Citra, and Simcoe hops, as well as Munich, Pale, and Wheat malts. With characters of mango, citrus, lychee, pint, and toasted malt promised on the can, this is pretty damn good. I sipped it at the end of yet another survived day, where nothing bad happened and there were no horrible depression dips -- in other words, just the usual, ordinary, toleration of this dystopian reality and devolution of the normally sociable human race. So this beer was quite a pleasant reward. I completely understand the connotation of the name.
- Piñata (4.5% ABV, North Brewing Company, Leeds, West Yorkshire): I bought this beer was because the front of the can says “PNTA”, which is a company I knew well from Seattle, as my ex-husband and another good friend worked there, and I even designed their first website and used to go in to do occasional scanning and editing work. But on this can of beer, as the N has a tilde over it, it’s actually PÑTA. Still, the thought of piñatas reminds me of the Christmas parties with cousins we used to have when I was a girl, eating Mexican food and smashing the piñata, years before my cousins and I all discovered more rewarding things in life and the festive season than little wrapped candies hidden inside papier-mâché donkeys and chickens. Inside this non-papier-mache-but-festively-green-and-yellow can is a very hazy beer imparting guava-rich zoopy tropicality. It’s quite a nice brew.
- Brockell IPA (5.6% ABV, Canopy Beer Company, London): The can announces "Brewers of Craft Beer and Humble Glories, Juicy, Tropical, Crushable, Eccentric". Brewed with Citra and Cascade hops, this is very bitter but quite tropical, I must say, with a distinct guava or loquat cromph. The day was yet another cloudy day threatening rain, as it looked like the entire Yorkshire summer was going to turn out, and my shoes were still drying out from getting caught in a massive long-lasting downpour the previous day in the woods with absolutely nowhere to go for shelter. (Yes, this is what typical Sheffield July days are now, I guess. How I dream of being able to visit California as I do every September, but it’s obviously not happening this year.) Along with all the promises, the can is decorated with a colourful creature with a dinosaur tail and legs, beaver arms, and an elephant head. Yep, I think that’s a very appropriate description of this beer.
- Hoppiness (6.5% ABV, Moor Beer Company, Bristol): Another hazy and fruity beer, this comes in yet another can that describes the beer as naturally carbonated or “can-conditioned”. So what exactly does this mean? I had just returned from a short walk through Bole Hill, on a cloudy and cold (but thankfully not rainy) day, with shoes that had finally dried out after getting completely soaked three days earlier. As I stepped into a house Andrew had just lit a stick of Rainforest incense, which was a perfect smell to follow a rain-fresh woods walk. And My Moor Beer can was black and green and covered with hops flowers, further suggesting nature’s subtle aromas to please those souls like me who have a super-acute sense of smell Yes, I needed this mood change, for however long it was going to last.
- Hopsmash Grapefruit IPA (7.4% ABV, Abbeydale Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, in collaboration with Kuhnhenn Brewing Company, Warren, Michigan): With Citra, Centennial, and Amarillo hops added throughout the brewing process, this beer also features lots of grapefruit. Grapefruit itself has given me a terrible stomach for years, but fortunately the brewing process tends to denature everything bad about it. This is quite majestically great and reminds me a bit of Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin’ IPA. Hang ten, the sun has finally come out!
- Rocketman (6.0% ABV, Arbor Ales, Bristol): This is yet another pint-sized can from this great brewery. Full of Mosaic and Citra hops, this beer is really very nice. After a week of thick clouds obscuring any possibility of those of us in Sheffield seeing Comet 2020 F3, or NEOWISE, which has been making appearances in the skies for the past two weeks -- and after a pleasant but short afternoon walk, where for some strange reason I kept walking past small groups of young women who were all drawing up plans -- I was looking forward to popping this beer open. This was my plan, with no blueprint or CAD design initially required. Yeah. This is a good beer. It’s very drinkable, satisfies the hops craving, and I’ve slightly chilled it, so it’s actually quite heavenly. I will definitely buy this again.
- White IPA (5.2% ABV, Big Hugs Brewery, London): Brewed with Citra and wheat, and quite cloudy, this can was given to me by my friend Mike who received it as a birthday gift. It’s...naah...I’m not impressed. Andrew thinks it tastes medicinal, and I just find it a huge disappointment. In fact, I actually poured it down the sink because I really felt I needed a proper IPA with a hops kick. Sorry, Big Hugs. I mean, I do like the fact that you call yourself a “hobo brewery”, and I would try a pint of your beer if I ever run into it. But this just isn’t for me.
- Alcis (4.2% ABV, Neepsend Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire): This is a session IPA with Citra and Mosaic. I was struck by the pretty can, yellow blending into orange as a backdrop for strong modern black print. But when I seated myself in the back garden and poured some into a glass, I was a bit put off by the colour. It was quite amber and very hazy. I mean, I’m used to the pale hazy ales that tend to look like pear nectar. But this looked a bit like a swamp, or some body of water I wouldn’t want to be swimming in, even with goggles. But it tasted nice and refreshing and tropically hoppy. I suppose, having had a few black IPAs as well as a green beer and a purple beer, that I can just close my eyes to fully enjoy it. After all, the afternoon had turned out to offer the most perfect temperature and feeling I have experienced in a long time, and as I sipped my beer (without looking at it) I laughed at a massive pigeon who was thrashing around in the top branches of a tree that was too small for the bird. And I was fascinated by the spider who was resting in between paving stones by the wall, also absolutely massive both in legspan and body and head mass. I know this would put off arachnophobes, but I found it absolutely fascinating. What a pleasantly slightly surreal afternoon it had turned out to be.
- Inhaler Hoppy IPA (4.5% ABV, Magic Rock Brewing Company, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire): Yeah! It had been a really down day, with massive, massive, massive stress coming from several different directions. In addition I had awakened that morning with a pain in my right heel that hurt very badly when I put weight on it. As someone who’s physically fit and has always had wonderfully healthy feet, this was really disturbing to me, and as it rained all day nonstop I decided not to go out for my religiously daily walk. So after wasting the day staring dejectedly into space, this beer was the good hoppy blast that I needed. Yeah! Hit me one more time! Hit me with your hoppy stick! I will definitely buy this inhalation of new life again.
- Floribunda (6.0% ABV, Brewery of St Mars of the Desert, Sheffield, South Yorkshire): Now, this tastes just like an American superhoppy IPA! Billed as a New England IPA with Galaxy hops, it’s definitely American, from that first aroma that blasts into your nostrils through that first hoppy sip. This isn’t surprising, seeing as how 50% of the brewery ownership is American, and the other 50% is married to the first and has both resided and brewed beer in New England. I love Galaxy hops anyway, and this is a wonderful American and intensely Galactical experience. Thank you, guys, for cheering me up on this depressing few days of maximum stress. This beer makes me happy, especially because as an American I’m not allowed to travel to the US this year. Unless I’m willing to wear a sweat-and-miasma-producing mask continually for at least 14 hours, of course, and then quarantine myself for 2 weeks over there and then for another 2 weeks over here, while holding down my job. No, I’m sorry, no way, I will simply have to wait, however long it’s going to take. In the meantime I will have to settle for seeking out distinctly American beers like this one. So once again, Thank ya Jayzus! Or I should say Thank Ya, Saint Mars! I have been to the Desert and I have seen the Oasis! (No, not the band...)
- Pondera West Coast IPA (6.7% ABV, Thornbridge Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, in collaboration with Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Paso Robles, California): It was a completely dead and deserted Saturday and I wanted and needed a strong beer, so I decided to try this one. The pretty blue can features a rampant lion facing a rampant bear, with their dukes up. (I’m assuming the lion stands for England and the bear for California.) The hops are listed as Idaho 7, Mosaic, Cashmere, El Dorado, and Simcoe, and the resulting character as Mango, Grapefruit, Tropical Fruit, Pine, and Chicken Wings. Huh? Oh sorry, that must be the food pairing suggestion. As soon as I popped open the can I realised that this is a really lusciously good beer. It is truly yummy! Even Andrew agreed instantly with me as I insisted he taste it. And happily I bought the can just down the road at a very local shop, so I can run back and buy some more. This is really a lovely brew, absolutely lovely. I suppose it’s those characters, the triad of tropical, grapefruit, and pine, that can turn out so perfect, and the melding of such an interesting collection of hops. I can’t say it enough, but this is absolutely lovely. I can’t really detect any chicken, though...