A Thornbridge trio in Steel City
So nowadays I try to hit up a couple of choicer establishments rather than whore myself around the ticking circuit. With a new Thornbridge pub just opened up in town, I came up with a cunning plan; go drink in other Thornbridge pubs as well as the new one. Frankly, that's the kind of genius move that makes Albert Einstein look like a straw-haired buffoon.
Early doors, Sheffield Tap. Possibly my favourite early doors drinking establishment. Every cask beer pulled through and sat in a glass by its handpull. Later, a whiff of Brasso as the staff polish up the fittings. The occasional splurgle of the coffee machine. A bar slowly coming to life. Time to read the paper and savour the first pint of the day; Thornbridge Seaforth. If Jaipur is vaguely metropolitan in flavour and outlook, Seaforth is a hairy-arsed sailor. Uncompromising, bluff, bold. You can almost taste the home-made tattoos.
Then, a bus. Just over the road from the Tap is the Interchange - it's like a bus station, only without the casual threat of random violence. The first bay you come to has a Walkley-bound service that drops you off seven minutes later at the top of Commonside. From where, it's only seconds to The Hallamshire House. Such trips are the stuff of topers' dreams.
I'm the first punter through the doors. The floors are drying out from a good mopping, painters are touching up the borders and plumbers fiddle with, well, whatever plumbers are paid to fiddle with. Thornbridge have spent a six-figure sum on the refurb and it shows. Two small rooms at the front are chock-full of gilted picture frames, ornate fireplaces and copper-topped tables. Past the corridor bar, a larger room at the rear has a more contemporary feel; etched windows, bright stained glass with pumpclip echoes in them.
And then there's one of the most extraordinary rooms I've ever seen in a pub. Conker-coloured leather benches. Large windows break up deep stained wall panelling. Bold wallpaper segues to zebra-print. On a lamp. That lights a full-sized snooker table. Honest. Look:
A steady stream of inquisitive customers kept coming in for a nosearound. An old regular grumbled about the place "moving upmarket" when he found there was no longer any Gold Label. He could have tried a bottle of Chimay White, though: the fridges hold a small but perfectly formed selection of classy Belgians and a full set of Thornbridge bottles. Jaipur is amongst the usual suspects on cask, the likes of Chiron is on keykeg. Both were in cracking form. There's no food, but plans for pork pies are in the offing.
Out to the west of the city this time, up another of Sheffield's seven hills. The Greystones has a totally different vibe to the Hallamshire; roomy, airy, slightly chilled, an attitude on the right side of cool. It's become a much-fancied venue in a short space of time with an eclectic mix of local artists and international stars. I've yet to come here for a gig - I must get a ticket for Wilko Johnson - but I'm often here for the beer. Thornbridge are showcased magnificently here in cask, keg and bottle.
Chiron may just be the best keg beer in the UK at the moment, a carbonic bite honing the hop edge of Chinook and Cascade. Not too sure about Browne, a brown ale (d'oh!) hopped with the new high-alpha Australian hop, Stella. I like a brown ale to be somewhat more robust. And then there was Alchemy XVI. Another in their experimental beers series. A dry-hopped barley wine. 9.4%. Bitter orange and boozy warmth. Outstanding.
Three very different places to go drinking. Each has its own identity, serves its own community. But one thing is constant - excellent Thornbridge beer. The next time you're in Steel City, why not get out to the 'burbs? There's plenty of beer out there to reward your effort.