Things start to get lively by the second pub.
A couple of drinkers are debating the relative merits of Wednesday and United; another is demanding to know more about his stout; and a third, visiting Sheffield for the weekend, is confiding in The Diary: “I like the totty up north”. His friend, a Hallam Uni lecturer, looks on mildly disapprovingly.
The only time there’s quiet is when an expert begins to tell our 11-strong group about the beer we’re sampling.
Welcome, reader, to Sheffield’s Real Ale Trails.
These bi-monthly tours of the city’s best boozers and breweries have been running for one year this weekend. Set up by three city entrepreneurs, the trails seek to build on the Sheffield’s reputation as a real ale capital by whisking locals and visitors alike to such treasures as The Blake (Walkley), The New Barrack Tavern (Hillsborough) and The Sheffield Brewery (Neepsend). Brewers explain techniques; landlords meet and greet.
It’s educational of course – all you could want to know about Sheffield beer is here. But it also offers that searing sense of bonhomie one only experiences when strangers are brought together over good ale and pie and peas.
“People really get into it,” says Maire McCarthy, the former Sheffield City Hall manager who is one of the founders along with freelance journalist Austin Macauley and IT expert Kristy Muffett. “Even those who start out the tour quiet tend to come out of their shell within an hour.”
Today The Diary is finding that out. Our tour takes in three city centre pubs – The Rutland Arms in Brown Street, The Three Tuns in Silver Street Head and The Old Queen’s Head in Pond Hill – as well as a food stop at The Harlequin in Nursery Street. Other trails take in the suburbs by bus.
“The three of us had been talking about setting up our own business,” explains Austin. “It became apparent there could be a real market for something like this. The reputation of the beer here is huge – not only in Sheffield but across the country too.”
On today’s tour we have chaps from Worcestershire (visiting friends) and West Yorkshire.
“We get a lot of stag parties from all over too,” says Kristy. “But it’s funny – they always start their inquiry by saying, ‘It’s a stag do but we’re not rowdy’. That’s good because this isn’t a ‘downing beer’ thing. It’s about appreciating the drinks.
“We had one inquiry from a hen do too, although that never came off.”
Now, as Christmas nears, the trio are hoping for a busy festive period. If today’s happy customers are anything to go by, they’ll be all right.
“It’s a great idea,” says Jonathan Little, the Bromsgrove lad with that admiring eye. “Sheffield has this incredible asset – it makes sense to exploit that.”
Peter Griffith, of Broomhill, concurs: “You might never think of exploring other parts of the city, this is a great way to do it.”
Open and bespoke trails available. £35 per person. www.realaletrails.co.uk