Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog: 2019

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Long it to London: Cask 2019

According to the rather sweary youth on our train, we gather that to "long it" is to spend a period of time travelling to somewhere a fair distance away. For him, this meant travelling to the legendary brewing town of Burton (we reckon not for the beer), which was somewhat fitting for us, who were headed to London for a day of drinking at Cask 2019 - a festival now in it's second year dedicated to serving and celebrating beer from cask only.


We LOVE this as a concept. Cask has so frequently at modern beer festivals been considered as almost an afterthought, seen as a "cheaper" product not worth the hassle of set up and regarded as outdated (we know we're oversimplifying things here, but we want to talk festival not beer politics), all things which organisers Affinity Brew Co aimed to overturn. And we reckon that for, the most part, they massively succeeded.

We all know that cask is being lauded as making a bit of a comeback at the moment (although personally we're not sure it ever really went anywhere in the first place), with breweries such as Cloudwater and Buxton adding it back into their roster after a few years of absence, and the queues outside festival venue TESTBED1 in Bermondsey certainly proved that enthusiasm for cask is truly alive and well.


The venue itself was an odd one - we're of the understanding that Cask was the first large event to be held there (but please do correct us if we're wrong in this). It was an interesting space, described unhelpfully on their Twitter account as "a place for testing", an ex-dairy warehouse in a railway arch. A bit on the damp side, with limited seating and even less in the way of natural light (hence lack of photos!), with the one bar located right at the end of a long and narrow archway, it didn't scream beer festival... but the atmosphere more than made it for it. We had a fantastic afternoon of both catching up with old friends and putting names to twitter handles. The festival staff were faultless throughout, with speedy and friendly service at the bar and security doing a sterling job of stopping people forming a ridiculous single file queue which snaked around the building.

The majority of beers we drank on the day were good, with a few being exceptional... we're looking at you, Brussels Beer Project "Black Swan" - a 9.9% Blackberry Baltic Porter which was in absolute top nick. The Little Earth Project "Stupid Sexy Suffolk" (6.5%) was tasting absolutely incredible as well: flinging flavour to the face, balanced, fruity and acetic with just the right level of astringency in the finish. The Partizan Lager was a very pleasant surprise, and we were smacking our lips at the first cask in existence of Fyne Ales "Deathbed", a 9.5% dark Scotch Ale which we collectively described as liquid Soreen.


However, although it was clear that the casks had been well cared for, there were a few beers that could have done with a little more condition, and we'd love to see some Angrams coming out to play. We did also find ourselves commenting on occasion that some of the beers on offer were clearly better suited to being cold and fizzy. Don't get us wrong, the variety was excellent, and it was obvious that the breweries involved had largely endeavoured to send something exciting and genre-defying, which is great, but we were definitely drawn to the pintable, more straightforward brews that work so well in cask (well done Boxcar for sending a 3.4% Dark Mild - it was exactly what it purported to be and one of our beers of the day).

Overall, we had a great day... as much to do with the company we were in as well as the beer, but hey, in the words of the great Garrett Oliver, "beer is people" and Cask 2019 certainly brought that to life for us. It's about time cask beer had a turn in the spotlight and kudos to Affinity for allowing it to shine. Well worth the trip down to the big smoke, and a festival that's firmly on our beer calendar.


Cheers!

Thursday, 7 February 2019

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Prince of Wales, Sheffield

The Prince of Wales, on Ecclesall Road South, Sheffield, re-opened to the public last weekend following a stunning refurbishment and overhaul of its food and drink offerings. We were invited down to sample the new menu and check our the slick and sophisticated interior a few days prior to the full opening. Here's a few words on our experience and photos that will definitely make you hungry...


Upon arrival we were quickly ushered to the bar where Laura swooned over the gin infusion station (and of course promptly ordered a gin). It's like pick and mix for grown ups - once you've got your beverage in hand, you are free to select your own garnish... and there were an abundance of things to choose from, from the standard lemons, limes and mint leaves, to exotic lychees, kiwi slices and goji berries. A BRILLIANT idea on a calm night filled with polite media and blogger types, how this will pan out on a busy weekend is yet to be discovered, but hey, we had fun. Worth noting that the bar staff were confident in suggesting recommendations, too, which was a definite bonus.


Kirkstall Brewery Virtuous IPA was the only "craft" keg beer on offer at the time of our visit, although there was a cask line ready to be used (and a cask of Abbeydale Moonshine waiting in the cellar). So despite it not being a beer focused venue, it was really nice to see that there was at least a local and an independent offering.

A selection of canapes was brought over whilst we imbibed, which were all delicious and the first indication that we'd perhaps underestimated the menu we were to be treated to, having expected a more "pub grub" offering. The words "gastro pub" and "elevated" are terms I'm not hugely keen on but it's fair to say that the food the Prince of Wales has gone for is certainly more of a style you'd expect in a fine dining restaurant. Highlights were the delicately spiced and fragrant lamb koftas served with coconut tzatziki, and crispy chilli beef with little pickled onions.


Following our nibble platter we were ushered into the dining area for our main meal. The space is large but still manages to retain a cosy feel and I liked that our table had a view of the kitchen pass - our only criticism being that the "mood lighting" made it a tad tricky to properly see what we were eating and meant we had to turn the flash on our phones as a makeshift torch to get decent photos. Ah, blogger life.

Our starter was a great big dollop of cheese - an unctuous, creamy baked camembert, to be precise, served with (slightly oily, but yummy) dough sticks and sharp cranberry dip. You can't really go wrong with cheese and this was a total oozy, messy treat.


The main menu offered up a selection of the usual suspects, pizzas, steaks, and burgers, all of which were presented with a little more refinement than the standard pub output. For example, in the case of the Wagyu beef burger (already an upgrade on the standard house burger) half a lobster can be added to the side for those inclined to such things.

We eventually selected the chorizo, crab and king prawn linguini, and the roasted pork belly with scallops. Both dishes were beautifully cooked and the scallops were incredible - wonderfully buttery, with a slight bite and perfectly placed within the dish. Great wine selection to go with it all, too.


Desserts were a bit more of a mixed bag - the brownie and chocolate pudding were both tasty but a little on the stodgy side, but the melting chocolate bomb was sensational in looks as well as flavour and Laura had the best Cointreau hot chocolate she reports to have EVER had, not words she uses lightly.


Being completely honest here, it's not the type of place we would usually choose to eat out - owned by one of the big pub chains, we were expecting a relatively straightforward food offering and a not-particularly-exciting drinks selection. However, we'd definitely set our expectations far too low, and were surprised in a very good way at what a brilliant evening we'd experienced. It's definitely somewhere we would go again, and both commented that it'd be a great place for our family members that like to go somewhere formal as opposed to uppity (again, not normally a vibe we go for when dining as a duo!) for a special occasion. The food and drinks are a little pricier than we'd generally spend hence a sense of occasion being necessary, but the value for money we reckon is still there.

If you'd like to know more, head to the Prince of Wales' website where you can also view all of their menus in full.

Cheers,

Laura and Jim

Disclaimer: We were provided with a meal and associated drinks free of charge in exchange for a review. However, this has not affected our opinions, which as always are completely honest and all our own.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Beer Is Our Happy Place

Why we aren't doing Dry January


To all those abstaining, reducing, limiting or quietly enjoying your alcohol intake, during this month we wish you well. We aren't writing this as an admonition, a lecture, a criticism, or as a way to undermine the decision. We appreciate your choice, and wish you well, from the sideline, or rather from a pub lounge, snug or otherwise.

Really we want to say why aren't doing Dry January, a "Dryathlon" and woe betide becoming "Dryathletes."

Just over a year ago, we went booze free for a full month. We made the decision together, around one of Jim's lowest points in his life. A stretch of emptiness and unhappiness, sleepless nights, that led into early shifts in the brewery. A period of too much whisky, which went hand in hand with bad sleep, the cycle of abuse of his body, the wearing down of mind careering to burnout, then..... Chester Bennington.

The death of a childhood icon is hard enough, but when it's self caused, after a period of self abuse despite being surrounded by his family. The situation was too close to home, and it hurt. It Hurt.

Looking back it's a turning point for that wave of unhappiness... there were still lows, but there was a maybe an exit of the quagmire, and we wondered if that could come with sobriety. We set a date, November 2017, postponed (from July) primarily due to the over full calendar of beer fests, events, birthdays and more events.

Perhaps the month would push toward clearer, happier minds. Maybe some good sleep, maybe better skin, shift some weight and have a few more quid to take towards Christmas. So, through tired and teary eyes, a kickstarter was set up, and a little hope glimmered.

The month itself was a long one, without fanfare we plodded through the days, still hoping for clarity, both of mind and skin. a lighter step, through fewer hangovers and a little weight loss? But as the month passed alcohol was replaced by cheese, and the positivity of pub companionship was replaced by boredom and restless isolation. (in no way a reflection on our friends, who were all very supportive, but a general feeling of self-inflicted inadequacy). None of the enthusiastic promises that campaigners for sobriety chime were delivered.

While we did head out occasionally, the lack of appealing choice that wasn't a saccharine pint of fizz was pretty much non existent. For those of us (which is both of us) who like the bitterness found in beer, or the dryness in a red wine, essentially the only thing to drink was tonic. While periodically we would stumble across a good Root Beer it wasn't in our usual haunts. Laura turned to tea in abundance.

And so, after a month of abstemiousness, which came to an abrupt end with the work Christmas outing on December 1st (what could possibly go wrong? Ask the Beer O'Clock Show Crimbo Crawl lot...), we had raised a massive £1000 for CALM (a charity which works to raise awareness of and make moves to combat male suicide - please do look them up if you aren't already aware of them). A humbling amount of money and overall worth it to give up something we genuinely enjoy for the cause. But we didn't feel a sense of achievement. We weren't worthy of any sort of accolade. We just stopped drinking, and largely stopped enjoying ourselves.

What this month off did give us was a reassurance that our drinking habits aren't doing us any harm. Rather they offer us an outlet for enjoyment, for shared experiences, and job satisfaction. By the end we just really clearly appreciated what we had missed - yes, the flavour, but more importantly the pubs and people and comradeship.

We are mindful of our drinking choices - always have been, but even more so following the month off. Whilst we do drink alcohol most days, often this will be one carefully selected bottle or can of beer which we'll share and enjoy. Quality over quantity is a much used mantra but it's something we like to apply to our lifestyles, not only in terms of alcohol but also in the food that we eat and the clothes that we wear. We support local businesses, we buy ethically sourced products wherever we can.

The pub is an institution, a community asset, and across the nation we are in danger of losing our locals and we will use them all year round. We'd like to at this point direct you to a campaign which we believe shares these values - Tryanuary. In championing local beers and venues, Tryanuary supports the beer industry during a month which can be particularly difficult.

Maybe this is less about the January thing and more about our love of the pub, and of what else it can bring apart from "just" a pint. They are our happy place, and if you haven't already found yours, there is a window seat, booth or corner with a beer mat waiting for you to fill it. Go and discover yours.

Cheers,
Jim and Laura

*Written in part in the pub - Pour, to be precise. We had a lovely time.

Happy Place
PS - Jim's doing ok. While there are still some times of darkness, there is much that is light. There's no magic solution, no "off" button on the brain, but we still see the decisions described above to be part of an acceptance, a self-awareness and a realisation that it's good to be open and most of all to TALK.

If any of you read this and need a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, or a pal to have a pint with, please don't keep quiet. We're both here, and we're listening.

Pps - our fundraising page is still active, justgiving.com/mashtunandmeow if anyone would like to support the work of CALM.