Monday, 7 August 2017

Pub 139 - The Harlequin

By Andy

Real Madrid vs Barcelona; Republicans vs Democrats; Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier – when two heavyweights collide, the world is captivated.

Today was such an occasion: for the first time in history, Sheffield Pubquest would be meeting Sheffield Ale Pubs.

Such was the clamour for ringside seats that we were tempted to keep the venue a secret, lest it be overrun by rival hooligans, proudly declaring their support for one blog over the other.

In the end we relented, and revealed the exact date, venue and time to both sets of Twitter followers. Fortunately for The Harlequin, the resulting mad rush to town must have caused major gridlock on the roads, as we arrived to find just one man in the pub, sat patiently in the corner with a notepad in front of him.

Having arrived slightly late, we kept our comrade waiting a few minutes longer by deliberating over our drink – a tough decision between something we would enjoy (a run-of-the-mill pale ale), or something which sounded rank but we would never encounter again (ginger and chilli cider). Predictably, we ignored all of our instincts and went for the latter.

Pete was a fantastic, affable guy – I was a bit worried beforehand that it would feel like an awkward first date, but after a few sips of our cider (which just tasted like apples to be honest) we were chatting away about beer, pubs, and how Rob is pathetic at darts and he didn't deserve to beat me at the Big Tree but it's OK because I've accepted defeat and it doesn't even bother me anymore but look Rob, there's a dartboard, over there in the corner, do you want a rematch? Oh right yeah, that's not why we came.

Pete's first question was how Pubquest started, so I told him the heart-warming tale of how I began trying to visit every pub in Lancaster with my friend Josh (while students at Lancaster University), but, like a foetus who murders his twin in the womb, I relocated the entire thing to Sheffield upon graduation, brutally axing Josh for local lad Rob.

Cue stunned silence from Pete. I think he was expecting a happier story. I gulped some cider to fill the void. With each and every sip it began to taste more like a three-day-old Chinese takeaway.

Pete found his rhythm again, channelling his inner Michael Parkinson.

So when did you first begin drinking ale?”

I let Rob answer this one. He told the story of our teenage trips to the Hollin Bush, where the landlord had a different ale on every week (which was quite a big deal in those days). And how when we revisited several years later for Pubquest, there was a new landlord, just two beers to choose from, and an incredibly racist customer. Why do all our stories have such sombre endings?

Agreeing to save a few of the tougher questions for the next venue, Pete enquired as to how we rated The Harlequin. Like many before him, he was making the classic error of assuming we agonise over our rankings. Luckily, I used to work near The Harlequin, so I had visited many times on my lunchbreak after work, enabling me to review the pub a bit more thoroughly.

Pros:
  • An incredible (bordering on ridiculous!) selection of ciders – there were 14 to choose from during our visit, and The Harlequin was duly awarded CAMRA Sheffield's cider pub of the year for 2016 & 2017
  • a dartboard (a dying breed in modern pubs)
  • a relatively unknown beer garden

Cons:
  • I don't like cider so it's all a bit wasted on me
  • I'm not very good at darts
  • It's never sunny in Sheffield

A few things for the landlord to work on there then.

Another plus: on certain weekday lunchtimes, the pub offers a £3 meal deal, which it proudly proclaims is “better than Tesco”. The deal gets you a sandwich, some crisps and a soft drink, and I am reliably informed by my friend (the one who used to visit on his lunchbreak) that you can upgrade to a pint for a bit more cash.

With Pete suitably impressed by my review, I downed the last few sips of my cider – by this point my mouth was on fire and it felt like I had been munching on raw ginger. What a thoroughly unpleasant drink.
A courtesy email we sent to Twitter to inform them of the
spike in activity they were bound to see. As the day went off
without incident, we can only assume they heeded our advice.

Pub: The Harlequin
(108 Nursery Street, S3 8GG)
Rating: 8.5/10
Brewery: Orchard Pig
(West Bradley, Somerset)

Visit Pete's Sheffield Ale Pubs blog here.
See his write-up of our meeting
here.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Pub 138 - The Ship Inn

By Rob

As shocking as this might be to hear, Pubquest wasn’t the only game in town. Our brief relationship with Twitter had enlightened us to the fact that, elsewhere in Sheffield, other intrepid alcoholics were blogging about their experiences.

Were they inspired by Pubquest? Were they hoping to emulate our success?  Were we solely responsible for this sudden trend in beer blogging?

I wouldn’t like to speculate.

One such blogger, who ran the Sheffield Ale Pubs website, had been looking to partner with some fellow adventurers for a joint session. Happy to collaborate, we arranged to meet up and tour a few of the Kelham Island pubs that we’d yet to visit.

Before that, however, Andy and I intended to meet up and have a pint at the Ship Inn.

This pub, over 200 years old and originally built for Tomlinson’s Anchor Brewery, proved to be a visual delight. The Edwardian building, with its fantastic coloured tiles and corner location, was impossible to miss. Unsurprisingly, the pub had lately picked up a national prize for its recent refurbishment.

The impressive adornment continued on the inside, as we stepped into a well decorated, trendy pub with the smell of incense hanging in the air. The place was pretty much empty, which was no doubt due to the fact that we’d arrived only shortly after lunch.

At the bar, we eyed the range of ales on offer. The selection was good; just as you’d expect from a pub on the Kelham Island scene.

We ordered two pints of Sunbeam, from Banks’s Brewery, and took our seats. The pint was not dissimilar to many other golden ales we’d previously enjoyed, with a slight bitterness and gentle citrus tones. In the summer heat, it went down nicely.

As we made our way through the beer, we looked ahead to our meeting with Mr Sheffield Ale Pubs (not his real name, surprisingly). Apparently, he’d prepared a series of questions for us and would be conducting an interview for his own online blog.

Naturally, we were a little nervous. The only interviews I had any real experience of were job interviews, and I didn’t much like those. Aside from that, I’d attended two interviews for the role of school prefect; one in Year 6 and one in Year 11. The first had been an unmitigated disaster, due to my poor record of behaviour, while the latter proved to be a success, due to the absence of any other candidates.

We decided to try and prepare for the upcoming inquisition. If we could figure out what questions we were likely to face, then we could attempt to plan our answers in advance. After all, as two people who knew nothing about pubs or beer, it was especially important that we took extra care not to come across like two people who knew nothing about pubs or beer. Our credibility was at stake.

The next five minutes consisted, more or less, of ridiculous speculation. We anxiously entertained the notion that he might probe us about our decision to award Barry’s ten stars. Or maybe, we pondered aloud, he would present us with CCTV footage from some of our more drunken evenings, confronting us with proof that we had, in our inebriation, miscounted terribly and visited only a fraction of the pubs that we believed we’d been to.

Eventually, Andy was struck with the ingenious idea of looking at this fellow’s blog, in order to see what questions he’d asked his previous interviewees. As it turned out, far from being grilled about our lurid experiences at a Jamaican pub on London Road, we were much more likely to be asked; 'what do you think to ale in a can?'

We were both profoundly relieved. The impending Newsnight interrogation, with a fiery-eyed Jeremy Paxman, had just turned into a Q&A session on the One Show sofa with Matt Baker. The snarling face of Andrew Neil had been replaced with whoever the fuck was currently on Loose Women. Nobody was going to ask about our failure to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. Instead, we'd be pressed to reveal our favourite type of biscuit. It was going to be a walk in the park.

Or so we thought.

Finishing off the last few dregs of the Sunbeam, we deposited the empty glasses on the bar and headed towards our first taste of Pubquest fame.

Pub: The Ship Inn (312 Shalesmoor, S3 8UL)
Rating: 9/10
Pint: Sunbeam
Brewery: Banks’s Brewery (Wolverhampton, WV1 4EL)

Monday, 12 June 2017

Pub 137 – The Belfry

By Andy

They're all the same!” he exclaimed. “We'll be bankrupt before you know it!”

The journey to Beighton is a long one to begin with, but it seems eternal when subjected to half-baked political ramblings.

This country's not what it used to be!”

As it was election day, we had been assigned a taxi driver who loudly espoused his political beliefs, before admitting he hadn't actually voted.

But if I had...”

***

Completing our quintet of polling station pubs was The Belfry at Beighton. After being spoken at for the entire journey, we were relieved to catch sight of the pub's giant bell, which sits beside the entrance.

The pub is down a slight grass embankment, but its impressive structure enables it to be seen from the road. Once inside it's a more standard affair, refusing to deviate from the chain pub formula.

The polling booths were hidden away in a corner, but the voters were drying up by this time anyway, replaced by hungry families and evening drinkers.

Waiting for us was our friend Danny, who had completed a mammoth election day undertaking of his own – residing in Leicester these days but spending his week off in Sheffield, he had driven to Leicester (and back) solely to put his X in the box.

While Rob and I had thoroughly enjoyed our day touring pubs in Sheffield, Danny was less appreciative of the scenery on offer on the M1. Still, it's the sort of story which reaffirms your faith in democracy.

The Belfry's cask selection was limited, so we cast our eyes to the bottled beers instead. We went for Over Easy, a session ale from Greene King's Craft Academy project, which puts the company's apprentices in charge of creating the beers.

As the 10pm voting cut-off approached, it suddenly dawned on us that there was no point drinking our way through Election Day, unless we were also going to drink our way through Election Night. It further dawned on us that there was no point staying up with David Dimbleby and co without first seeing the 10pm exit poll, as that is pretty much all they discuss until 2.30am.

Handily, Danny had just bought a new sports car, and he revelled in the opportunity to put it through its paces. With 616bhp and two enthusiastic passengers, we flew through the streets of Sheffield (abiding at all times to the relevant speed limits).

We made it home for 9:59pm, and stayed up drinking until 7am. By this time the pundits had been embarrassed, Paul Nuttall had resigned, and Canterbury had turned their backs on the Conservatives for the first time since 1837.

But more importantly, Pubquest had proved once again to have its finger on the pulse, having accurately predicted Nick Clegg's demise from the back room of the Cobden View.

It's always been the same: if you want to get a true sense of what the nation's thinking, go and sit in the corner of a pub.

Pub: The Belfry (Eckington Road, S20 1EQ)
Rating: 6/10
Pint: Over Easy
Brewery: Greene King Brewery (Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk)

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Pub 136 - The Everest Inn

By Rob

Continuing our attempt to visit every pub /polling station on election day, we headed to the Everest in Handsworth. The penultimate stop on our list, it wasn't too far from the White Rose and we arrived in good time.

Slap bang in the middle of a housing estate, the pub looked pretty drab and dreary from the outside. It wasn't much better on the inside, either. There was a slightly shabby taproom to the left of the main doors, which hosted a few local punters, some worn furniture, and two newly arrived Pubquestarians.

Andy, putting on a brave face
The drinks selection on the bar was every bit as lamentable as it was predictable, being extremely modest in scope. We scanned the pumps and, to our dismay, found that we'd already drank one of each. With no other options available to us, we went for Kopparberg Mixed Fruit. Of course, one bottle doesn't quite add up to a pint, and so we ended up taking three of the bastards back to the table.

Sat there, sipping our sugary syrup, we'd already written off this visit as a bad job. As anticipated, the cider was unpleasant and in possession of no redeeming features. However, just as we were about to down our drinks in a desperate bid to leave, my eyes spied something.

Something green.

Something table-like.

Was this a mirage? Like the oceans of water that appear to dying men in the desert?

Rushing into the next room, we found a three quarter-size snooker table. I ran my hand along the baize. This was no mirage.

I was losing heavily in the Pubquest pool competition, to the point where I was starting to fear that I'd never claw it back. Andy was miles ahead, and he was better than me.

But snooker was a different story. As things stood, we were neck and neck, and unlike at pool, Andy didn't have his vastly superior skills to fall back on.

The coin went into the box, the cues were lifted, the chalk administered.

The game began with a poor break from me. The reds split apart and the white didn't make it back past the baulk line. If I'd been playing against a pro, it would've been game over.

But me and Andy weren't quite at that level.

What followed was a typically scrappy frame of small breaks and big fouls. Our enthusiasm for the game far outstripping our ability to play it.

Eventually the match reached its end. I potted pink then black and, with those shots, took the lead in the Pubquest snooker competition.

The quality of play wasn't quite at the level seen in the Crucible. Of course, the venue wasn't quite at the same level either. It's very rare that you see spectators at the Crucible staggering around the table, offering 'helpful' tips to the players while spilling JD and coke all over the floor.

Overall, it was a pretty shabby pub with an unimpressive range of beers, but the surprisingly well kept snooker room salvaged it for us.

The Everest Snooker Score: Andy 0-1 Rob

Pub: The Everest Inn (44 Ballifield Drive, Handsworth, S13 9HS)
Rating: 5/10
Pint: Kopparberg Mixed Fruit
Brewery: Kopparberg (Bergslagen, Sweden)

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Pub 135 - The White Rose

By Rob

For perhaps the first time in Pubquest's history, we were running ahead of schedule. We only had three more pubs to tick off before 10pm and, unbelievably, it was only 3pm. We'd grabbed a bite to eat at the Rising Sun and, feeling energised, were ready to press on.

Of course, the good times couldn't last. Just as we were basking in our own organisational brilliance, an email popped up on my phone and derailed the whole event.

It transpired that I had stupidly, stupidly forgotten about a meeting that I needed to attend with my PhD supervisor (for those of you with proper jobs, this was basically the equivalent of an appraisal with your boss). There was no way I could skip this one.

We quickly worked out a plan. Andy would go visit his grandmother, who lived nearby. While he was accruing 'good grandson' points, I'd power through the meeting and then we'd meet back at the next pub: The White Rose.

The whole thing should take about an hour, tops.

Frantically chewing gum in the hope of disguising my boozy breath, I said farewell and we went our separate ways.

Naturally, everything took longer than anticipated. Instead of taking me to the Jessop West building at the university, the taxi driver tried to drop me off at the Jessop Wing of the hospital. I finally managed to convince him that this was not the correct destination and, after receiving assurance that I neither wanted nor needed to be in hospital, he eventually agreed to drive me to the proper place.

Once there, it quickly transpired that the brief catch-up session was actually a comprehensive performance review. My maddeningly efficient supervisor was incredibly thorough and wanted to engage in a wide-ranging discussion about my work, wholly ignorant of the fact that we were eating into prime Pubquest hours.

Meanwhile, Andy's quick cup of tea with his grandmother wasn't going to plan either, as he'd been dragged off to the supermarket and put to work carrying the shopping bags.

Ninety minutes in, restlessly tapping my feet on the floor, I started to consider ways to bring the meeting to a close. Say I had another appointment? Fake illness? Soil myself? Tell the truth and explain that I had three pubs to visit before 10pm?

Across town, Andy was weighing up similar options. Stick his grandmother in the trolley and do a mad Supermarket-Sweep dash through the aisles? Throw the shopping bags on the floor and storm out? Pretend he'd found a suspicious package and escape in the ensuing evacuation?

Finally, over two hours later, we were both released back into the wild. The White Rose was further away than we'd realised and, by the time we both arrived and bought our drinks, it was just after 6pm.

The pub wasn't anything to write about (says the bloke doing precisely that). Yet another budget eatery, much like the Sherwood, it offered the usual grub in the usual surroundings. That being said, there was a pool table and the place was perfectly clean, modern and airy. It wasn't unpleasant; it simply lacked character.

The beer choice wasn't great either, presenting us with the same frustrating situation we'd faced in a lot of chain eateries: real ale taps off duty and only standard fare on offer. Thankfully, in this case, one of the available lagers was Hop House 13, which we'd managed to save until now. We were both big fans of the pint, with its sweet taste and refreshing crispness.

Having traveled all the way to this pub at not inconsiderable expense, I wanted to clap eyes on the polling station before we left. We scoured the rooms but couldn't see any ballot boxes, volunteers or any of the other telltale signs. We looked behind the bar, in the toilets, under the pool table.

Nothing.

I glared silently at Andy, who'd been responsible for compiling the list of pubs/polling stations. 

Draining the last of the Hop House, we got up from our seats and headed outside. While waiting for yet another taxi, we went to sit down on a bench.

It was then that we saw it.

Around the side of the pub, in their car park, stood the little polling station.

Pub: The White Rose, (17 Handsworth Rd, S9 4AA)
Rating: 5.5/10
Pint: Hop House 13
Brewery: Guinness Brewery, (St James' Gate, Dublin)

Friday, 9 June 2017

Pub 134 – The Rising Sun

By Andy


There is, a pub, in Sheffield,
They call The Rising Sun,
And it's poured a pint for many a parched boy,
And God, I know, I'm one.

My instinct was approval:
Friendly and well-run,
My memory was of fun and jokes,
Down in The Rising Sun.

Now the only thing that Pubquest needs,
Is a pint on polling day,
So we were pretty satisfied,
With Longhorn IPA.

Oh mother, tell your children,
Not to do what we have done,
Don't spend your lives touring all the pubs,
Just go to The Rising Sun.

Well I got one foot in the exit,
The other foot on Abbey Lane,
I'm going back to our list of pubs,
To wear that ball and chain.

Well, there is a pub in Sheffield,
They call The Rising Sun,
And it's been a hit with many a parched boy,
And God, I know, I'm one.

Pub: The Rising Sun (665 Abbey Lane, S11 9ND)
Rating: 7.5/10
Brewery: Purity Brewing Company (Great Alne, Warwickshire)

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Pub 133 - The Cobden View

By Rob

On 18 April 2017, the Prime Minister surprised the nation by calling an early general election. As polling day (8 June) approached, the British people braced themselves for the third major nationwide vote in just over two years. Meanwhile, political pundits, pollsters, politicians, parties, press officers and Pubquest all made plans in preparation for the big day.

'Wait a minute', you're probably thinking. 'Did he just say Pubquest?'

That's right, I did.

You see, while Pubquest is ostensibly a politically neutral enterprise, we had big plans in store for election day, which we'd concocted about a year earlier. These plans fitted into our usual pattern of trying desperately to find new and inventive ways to visit pubs. Naturally, we hadn't expected to get an opportunity to put them into practice before 2020. 

That was until Theresa May's unexpected announcement changed everything.

Despite the rather impromptu nature of the whole ordeal, we were ready. As the words 'general election' were still hanging in the air outside Downing Street, Andy was busy requesting annual leave for the big day. Meanwhile, my carefree and languorous lifestyle required nothing more of me than to make a mental note to wake up, if at all possible, before 1pm on the day in question.

As for the plans, they would go as follows:

·        There are a handful of pubs in Sheffield that, when election day comes around, also serve as polling stations

·        We would visit each of these pubs

·        We would drink a pint in them

Once this intricate and multifaceted outline of the day's events had been carefully drawn up, we turned our attention to logistics. After extensive research, we'd discovered that there were five pubs that would be serving as polling stations, none of which were particularly close to the others. We also knew that we wanted to get all of these pubs ticked off before the polls closed at 10pm, which meant that we couldn't afford to embark on the sort of inordinately long perambulations that we might otherwise have enjoyed. Therefore, we realised that the only way forward was to get a taxi between each venue.

Secure in the knowledge that we'd be spending about as much on this election as the average Tory Party donor, we pressed on.

As the big day rolled around, Andy and I met at the first pub on the list: The Cobden View.

A pleasant, stone built little building in the heart of Crookes, the Cobden View looked like the perfect place to begin. Outside, numerous signs confirmed that our conclusions were correct and that this was, indeed, a polling station. 

As it was 1:30pm on a Thursday, the barman justifiably assumed that we had come in to vote and, as such, immediately pointed us in the direction of the room that had been temporarily transformed into a polling station. We assured him that we'd already performed our civic duty and that we were, in fact, looking for refreshments.

Minutes later we found ourselves sat in a small, rather quirkily decorated room with two pints of Daily Bread and a pool table for company. The pint proved to be a lovely hoppy ale from Abbeydale Brewery, who can always be relied upon for quality. Looking around the pub, we were fairly impressed; the seventeen-thousand different hats hanging on the wall was a novelty. Overall, the pub had a cosy, friendly atmosphere and a reasonable selection of beers.

It was at this time that we began to work on our very own Pubquest exit poll for the 2017 election.

The UK General Election 2017 Pubquest Exit Poll:

Like its famous, televised cousin, which is commissioned by the BBC, ITV and Sky, the Pubquest exit poll worked on the basis of analysing the voting intentions of those people who had just cast their ballots at select polling stations. Also like the televised exit poll, ours would then use the information collected to construct a prediction of what the actual result would be.

Unlike the televised exit poll, however, we were conducting a more focused, micro-level study. For instance, where the wider exit poll took results from hundreds of different constituencies across the UK, we took ours from one (Sheffield Hallam). Additionally, while the broadcasters' exit poll was assembled by a team of data analysts and election experts, ours was constructed by myself and Andy, while drinking beer. Finally, it's worth noting one last crucial methodological difference, which is that the broadcasters' exit poll involved actually asking people who they had voted for, whereas ours rested heavily on me and Andy watching people walk into the polling station and then guessing, based entirely on their appearance, who they might have voted for.

Now, having read the above, you're probably thinking that our exit poll was not scientifically sound. You're also probably thinking that any predictions made on the basis of such an exit poll must be wholly unreliable and, frankly, wrong.

Not so.

As we sipped our pints and played some pool (winning one game each), we watched as an unending line of youthful faces spilled through the door, polling cards in hands. I don't think we saw a single voter over the age of thirty in the entire time we were there. All of them were young, and most were clearly students. It didn't take a genius to surmise that very few of the Sheffield student cohort would be turning out to vote for the local Tory candidate or, indeed, for the local Liberal Democrat - who just so happened to be former party leader and deputy prime minster Nick Clegg.

Our prediction thus went as follows: despite what the bookies were saying, the constituency of Sheffield Hallam would swing from the Lib Dems to Labour, thus removing one of the most high profile MPs of the modern era from parliament and turning Sheffield into an all-Labour stronghold.

The result?

Well, as I'm writing this several days after the event took place, I can confirm that the Pubquest exit poll was 100% spot on, as Nick Clegg lost his seat to Labour. This level of accuracy is notably higher than that of the broadcasters' exit poll, which got the overall picture broadly right, but didn't judge the numbers exactly. Furthermore, the broadcasters' exit poll usually comes with a margin of error that stands at roughly 20 seats, while the prediction put forward by the Pubquest poll was operating within a margin of error that was 19 seats fewer!

So maybe we should ask ourselves: do the BBC, ITV and Sky need to rethink their methods? Does polling expert and social media heartthrob Professor John Curtice need to spend less time in his office and more in his local boozer? Is sipping real ale and making guesses about people's voting intentions based purely on their age and appearance an efficient way to predict election results?

No, don't be stupid.

Cobden View Pool Score: Andy 1-1 Rob

Pub: The Cobden View (40 Cobden View RoadCrookesS10 1HQ)
Rating: 7/10
Pint: Daily Bread
Brewery: Abbeydale Brewery (SheffieldS8 0YX)