Pub visits this week 3
Locations Dronfield, Sheffield, Birmingham
There are times when we all wish we could be another person. As a fan of Grimsby Town there are many times when I wish I could just support another football club. Most of the time this is simply because they’re rubbish. But there’s far more to supporting a club than the simple matter of its results. So I often wish I supported Sheffield instead of Grimsby Town. Not because they’re a better team – they’re three divisions lower – but because I could go to the Coach & Horses (featured here) for a pint before the match.
Sometimes I do anyway. The beer at the Coach & Horses – the pub attached to Sheffield’s home ground, which is actually a mile or two away in Dronfield – is supplied by the nearby Thornbridge brewery. It’s so good that I often go and watch Sheffield instead of Grimsby Town just so I can go to their games and drink some of it.
On Wednesday this week, I have the best of both worlds (‘best’ being a word that really needs to carry inverted commas in the context of Grimsby Town Football Club). Town have a friendly away against Sheffield. It’s great. Because I’ve been here before, I know about the gate at the back of the stand which opens mid-way through the match so you can get back in to the pub for another quick pint at half time. There are at least 200 more Town fans here, and I beat them all to the bar.
My perennially rubbish team shows some alarming signs of being a bit less rubbish as they ease to a 2-0 win in a crescendo of rain. As we file back into the Coach (pictured below) at full time there are two quandaries to grapple with. Who looks the best of the new players – could Artus turn out to be an even better signing than Pearson? And the Chiron pale ale is in such similarly tip-top form that I’m daring to wonder whether it’s an even better pint than the Jaipur.
Another treat for the tastebuds arrives on Friday evening. But it’s a bit of a strange night at Sheffield’s Rutland Arms (featured here). Roll through the doors at this point of a typical week and already it’ll be densely populated with graphic designers, photography students, web developers and a bloke with a big nose who looks like Noddy Holder. Everyone will be out from work and stretching out their feet under the table in anticipation of a long night here.
This Friday it’s different. It’s still busy but somehow a little sparser, like a football crowd starting to thin during stoppage time. There’s an air of the temporary about it all: folk are coming and going instead of taking up a table on a six-month lease. The reason, as far as I understand it, is the Tramlines festival starting up a few minutes’ walk away.
Well, at least we can get a seat when Dan and I pitch up after band practice. And we can drink some Grey Ghost IPA. If it’s not the best beer I’ve tasted this year – and it may very well be – then it’s at least the best named, because the spectral quality of its title extends to its tantalising taste.
The initial kick of its 5.9% abv is substantial enough: it’s a beer that lets you know it’s there. But then it’s not quite clear where the taste ends. Around the edges it somehow shimmers hauntingly away, melting into buttery intangibility. If the cleanly and sharply defined taste of other pale ales is like a light switching on and off, the gradual flavour of Grey Ghost is like the sun rising and setting.
On Saturday my band begins the tour we’re doing to link in with our first single. We’re starting in Birmingham, at the Victoria (pictured above), just two minutes’ walk from the living hell that is New Street station.
We arrive at the Vic, take all our gear upstairs, come back down and sit down around a table for a pint. We sip contentedly at Mad Goose, a delightful, zingy pale ale which is a million miles from the vile Brew XI and the sewerage scent of badly kept draught Bass which used to dominate pubs for most of the time I lived down this way. We’re playing an indiepop gig, too, of course, and those never used to happen here either. So I reflect happily for a moment on how far Birmingham has come since those dark days.
Then a lad with Paul Weller hair and sideburns stands up with his mates and they all start chanting a Stone Roses song, and it sounds absolutely bastard awful, and I think, well, actually, in other ways Birmingham hasn’t changed a bit in two entire decades.