I grew up to the shrill of the steam whistle and the unmistakable chuff-chuffing as mighty engines took the strain a mere 30 or so feet from my bedroom. As a child I could open my window and look down on the throbbing black beasts directly below me. I breathed in the steam, I watched the sparks fly and vicariously I drove these trains. I knew the engine drivers and they knew me, at least by waving. I lived in a station house, directly above the down line. Railways are in my blood. I come from a railway family. As a result, railway stations, journeys and refreshment rooms are always exciting to me.
So, it was with eager anticipation we met with our CAMRA crowd to visit Sheffield and of course, the Sheffield Tap. Now Sheffield itself, approached from the north at least, is an oddity. From Manchester Piccadilly the train wends through the third main line in the UK, the Central Mainline. The scenery through South Cheshire, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire is spectacular with towering hills on each side and sheep grazing peacefully. This is rugged hill farming territory and it covers most of the 40 odd miles to Sheffield, which suddenly and unexpected appears from nowhere. A big city just shouts "Boo" and is there.
Sheffield Station has had a modern makeover like many and looks fantastic. It may not have steam, but you still get the same thrill of being in a big station, a focal point, a place where people travel with hope and one with a bonus. That bonus is the Sheffield Tap, directly on Platform 1a. We poured in as one and found places to sit while looking round. It has been described before in various places and possibly to my mind a little inaccurately. I'd thought it would be small, but even without the second room, it isn't. The layout is thoughtful and it has that most welcoming of things, a long bar. Thornbridge beers dominate and that's fine with me. The parade of pumpclips revealed rather a lot I hadn't heard of, never mind tried. I tried a couple of the guests which were both good, but hardly memorable, but really I was teasing myself. Thornbridge is rightly the start of this show. Chiron was the beer, a beautiful balance of malt and hops, with citrussy tangerine, peach and juicy malt. Another great beer from a great brewer. Of course Kipling and Jaipur had to be sampled too and pulled through a tight sparkler and in perfect nick, this was a dangerous situation. So many great beers in great form. Perfect. It really was a pleasure to see so many Thornbridge beers all at once.
So is it good? An unequivocal "yes". The staff are attentive and chatty, the place buzzes and has the excitement of the transitory mixed with the permanent. In addition to the many handpumps (I didn't count them) there is a great bottle selection (though with the cask and foreign draft selection including the wonderful Bernard range, why would you bother?) And its on a station, so what's not to like?
Finally is it a pub or a bar? Not that it matters in the end, but it is a pub. Most certainly.
We got there around 12.20. Needless to say, Tyson was already there with his acolytes. Another tradition.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, CAMRA Chairman and (local) activist, beer author, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010 and 2011. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
This blog mentions specifics; pubs and beer, good and bad. The opinions will be forthright, but you can always disagree, just don't be offended. Comments from those mentioned are particularly welcome and a right of reply is hereby offered.
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