Every year when the weather worsens and the temperature plummets to just above freezing, we ale enthusiasts make a pilgrimage towards Ponds forge for the Steel City Beer and Cider festival, this year making its 39th appearance.
It’s a strange experience to say the least, witnessing the transformation from a sports hall usually filled with people fit and of fine fettle, to an alluring ale haven of liquid solace.
My night began with Chantry Brewery’s delicious dark drop “Diamond Black”, a 4.5% stout recommended by Chantry’s loquacious leader, Sean Page. This delectable dram set the theme for the night, as many a stout and porter was downed from here on. Next was a glass of the 4.3% Oat Stout by the Brew Company. Having always been a fan of their Anvil Porter, I know this team can really deliver in all that is dark. Full bodied and full of flavour, their voluptuous stout did not disappoint.
The next tipple to satisfy my senses was a pint of the provocative “Black Jesus” by Great Heck brewery. This monster of a beer is packed full of hops and dark malt and at 6.5%, delivers this unique flavour with thunderous thwack.
Moving my way meticulously around the bar, my next measure was the marvellous Black Rat Porter. Although I must say this Porter is not a scratch on Rat Brewery’s sublime stout; “Ratsputin”, it’s slight sweetness gave the beer what the French call a certain…I don’t know what. As a college of mine so eloquently put it; "Reyt nice, that".
Next up was a Vanilla Stout. This seemed to divide the team into two halves; those who thought it was a superb sup, and those who like me, thought the vanilla actually took something away from the wonderfully smooth dark beer. However, whatever the belief, it didn’t stop me drinking a pints worth.
With a quick fuel stop of pasty and chocolate, a successful go on the tombola and a quick conversation with the Abbeydale team about what was hot and what was not, a few of us were selected to take part in the beer tasting. As the tasting was blind, I simply can’t comment about which beers were good or not. But I can say some were fantastic.
Sat around the table with an eclectic mix of ale fans: some landlords, managers, brewers, camra members, it was interesting to hear everyone talk about their journey to the love of real ale. We were also so immersed in conversation, we nearly missed the results of the festival.
The Brew Company’s “Crazy horse IPA” won champion beer of the festival, with Sheffield Brewery’s "Sheffield Porter" coming in 2nd. Joint third came "Farmers Blonde" by Bradfield brewery, tied with our very own "Black Mass". It was a great result. In the short time I’ve been working at Abbeydale, the brewery has expanded time and time again. I must say as not only a worker, but a genuine fan of Abbeydale beers, that it is results like this that prove, to me at least, that with expansion we have not sacrificed quality!