Members' bottle share: Head of Steam, Sheffield

Meeting our Sheffield members for some great beers


The Head of Steam, 103-107 Norfolk St, Sheffield S1 2JE

This month we’re in Sheffield to share a few special beers with our loyal members, and the local Head of Steam has kindly agreed to put us up for the evening (our table is sectioned off with velvet rope, no less).

For those not in the know, Head of Steam pubs are owned by Camerons Brewery in Hartlepool and can be found in 15 locations across the north of England. We’ve been to a few now and the staff are always knowledgeable and enthusiastic (ie, massive geeks) and the beer selection always impeccable. This evening, we’re being looked after by barman Kieran, whose knowledge of his beers is truly impressive, and whose keenness to put together the best possible tasting line-up for us is heart-warming. We’re in good hands.

First up we have a couple of the house beers from Tooth & Claw brewery, ably introduced by Kieran, kicking off with its Nelson very pale ale. Brewed with a tonne of Nelson Sauvin hops, the light body and fruity aroma is very wine-like; an impression that carries through to the crisp and quenching first sip. As with all the Tooth & Claw beers, the name of the brewer who devised the recipe features prominently on the front of the can, which is a cute touch.

“I love how they’ve used the hops. I know Brewdog use a lot of Nelson Sauvin, but this is much more subtle than that,” says Rebecca Heminway.

“It’s very light and fruity. It’s got quite a strong nose but feels lighter than that when you taste it,” adds Steven Delvin.

Next up is the Brut IPA. A few of us around the table have tried this style before and expectations are, to say the least, mixed, with several of our guests fearing an ultra-dry, two-dimensional slap of bitter hops. Tooth & Claw’s take on this notoriously tricky and fashionable style is less extreme that though, and builds layers of flavour to balance out the lack of sugar; there’s still some biscuit malt there, as well as fruity and floral hop character.

Rebecca says: “I like the fact that it’s not just dry – there’s other things going on from the hops, so it’s not two-dimensional.”

Susan Pearce isn’t entirely convinced though: “I’m not sure what I think of this. It’s a little bit too dry. It feels weird. It’s kind of got that, the smell is a bit overpowering for me. It’s like drinking a really dry wine – it’s not what I was expecting from a beer.

There’s a brief hiatus in the tasting, as three big stone-baked pizzas arrive at our table, including a vegan hoisin duck number. I know, but trust me it was genuinely great.

Introduced by Kieran in his characteristically dispassionate style and “banging and fantastic” our third beer of the night is Northern Monk’s Patron’s project 13.04, Omega Vortex. This big-bodied DIPA, brewed in collaboration with Other Half and Equilibrium, cranks up the dank all the way, with a complex hop bill involving Simcoe, Chinook, Mosaic and Citra. The result is tropical fruit, spice and pine resin.

“This is the best thing I’ve tasted for a while,” says Michael Bamford, a little breathlessly.

Meanwhile Susan has discovered the can label pulls back to reveal the full story of the beer and the people behind it. “Who knew you could come to the pub, have a beer and read all about it. What a great idea!” Thanks Susan; that would make a good magazine, eh?

Kieran and I have thrown in a bit of a curve ball next, in the form on Timmerman’s Oude Kreik, a blend of young and old Lambics re-fermented on beautiful ripe cherries. It’s dry and reasonably complex, with layers of sourness delivering lacto tartness, a dash of acetic vinegar and a little funk on the side.

As expected, this one splits the table, and really only Rebecca and her husband Tom (currently planning an epic Belgian beer tour) are fans. Most of it ends up in the bucket.

We move into slightly safer territory for our penultimate brew: Fierce Beer’s excellent Blackcurrant Tart, a super-clean kettle sour with fragrant British blackcurrant and just enough sweetness for balance. Despite being the second sour in a row, it’s a big hit.

“This is absolutely my favourite so far,” says Susan. “To be honest I’m not really a big beer drinker, but I love this – it’s more like wine.” I crack open the spare can and top her up.

“It’s so well balanced,” agrees Rebecca. “The sourness is so clean and goes really will with the sharpness of the blackcurrants.”

“I’m not sure I would have ordered this if I saw it in the fridge, but I’m really enjoying it,” says Steve. “I was worried it would just taste like boozy Ribena, but it doesn’t at all.

Our closer for the evening is Thornbridge’s sumptuous barrel aged imperial stout, Necessary Evil; clocking in at a hefty 13%, there’s really nowhere left to go. The hit of strength and intense flavour proved too much for some, though those of us who enjoyed it were more than happy to accept donations.

“You can definitely taste the bourbon barrel, but there’s dark fruit in there too, like you’d get with a barleywine,” says Michael. “Chocolate and coffee too. This is the kind of beer you’d want to sip slowly over a couple of hours and then fall asleep.”

Sleep can wait for later though. Even though the tasting is over, everyone’s still having fun and swapping recommendations. Out of curiosity, we introduce Susan to Delirium Tremens Red Cherry, which she loves. Then we move on to more stout and whisky. I’m not sure what time we leave, but everyone’s got my personal email address and a standing order to call me if they’re ever in Edinburgh. Good times.

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