Monday 27th January 2014
This was an amazing day exploring a few of Sheffield's pubs. It was only 14.15 and this was the fourth brewery tap Linda and I had visited since arriving in the city around 11.30, and there was still one more to go! Of course, the Fat Cat is the home of the well-known Kelham Island Brewery but a lot has happened during the 30+ years since the pub was bought from Bass-Worthington, the parent company of Stones Brewery, in 1981.
Back then the idea was to operate the pub as a free house offering beers that were not normally seen in Sheffield. It was the brainchild of Dave Wickett, who with the assistance of Bruce Bentley bought the pub. The pub did well and improvements that included the installation of central heating were made in 1987.
Well that's the beginning of the modern era, but let's go back to the origins of the pub. It is believed to have been built in the 1830s. It is first mentioned as a pub in a leasehold document dating from 1852 when it was known as the Kelham Tavern. Something I find a little strange is that Alma Street was not constructed until 1855. So the pub must have been approached over open land, although there were some houses adjacent to it in a street referred to as Cotton Mill Walk.
By 1859 the pub had become known as the Alma Hotel. It was purchased by the William Stones brewery (Sheffield) in 1912 and extended in 1914. Thereafter it had four letting rooms.
This was confirmed when Stones applied for and were granted planning permission in 1952 for a further extension that would have doubled the rooms to eight, but it was never taken up.
It's not known when it ceased being a hotel but when the new owners took over they found the four rooms were still lockable and had door numbers affixed.
In 1989 Dave Wickett bought out Bruce Bentley. A momentous achievement in September 1990 was the establishment of the Kelham Island Brewery in the pub's beer garden. It was a 10 barrel plant obtained from the defunct Oxford Brewery.
By 1999 it had to be superseded by a much larger 50 barrel plant, a fivefold increase in capacity, simply because of the demand for their beers. This was located in a new building and the old brewery then became the Visitor Centre.
Unbelievably, in 2008 the size of the plant was doubled and the brewery can now brew 100 bbls (brewer's barrels) at a time. This equates to 400 firkins per brew at maximum capacity. It is a truly amazingly high amount. Their beers can now be found all over the country. Dave Wickett died from cancer in 2012 and was succeeded by son Edward who is now head of the company.
The pub is a very handsome building built of red brick that was listed as Grade II in 2000. I particularly like the outside curved corner where the main sign is displayed; it seems so perfectly in tune with its surroundings. The tall chimney pots are very distinctive. Going in to the pub you find the largest room to the left; this is served from a hatch in the corridor that leads to the back of the pub.
Enter the door to the right and you find yourself in the bar room which is L-shaped. It is quite narrow by the door and widens around the corner of the bar. At the end we found a nice open coal fire.
Outside a door at the back you meet the corridor at the rear of the pub where there are stairs to the upper floor, where you will see a cat walking up, or is it?
At the back of the bar room is a trompe d'oeil, a phrase I never thought I would ever use in a BeerVisits article. This is a "trick on the eye" or an optical illusion. It is a wall painting that depicts a book case with a preening cat sitting on top, with a pint of beer standing next to it. The one going up the stairs is similarly not real. I noticed that theses felines didn't look very fat.
As can be expected the beer range is superb with a few from the home side and a large selection of guest beers. From Kelham Island there were: Best Bitter (3.8%) and Pale Rider (5.2%). They also brewed Coffee Inn (4.2%).
There was an eclectic choice of guest beers comprising the following: Little Valley (Hebdon Bridge, West Yorks) Moor Ale (5.5%); H. B. Clark (Wakefield, West Yorks) Tucker Sno-cat (5.5%); Great Newsome (Winestead, East Yorks) Winter Warmth (4.6%); Bays (Paignton, Devon) 2014 (3.9%); Holsworthy Ales (Holsworthy, Devon) Old Market Monk (6.1%); Beowulf (Brownhills, West Midlands) Winter Ale (5.8%) and finally Naylor's (Cross Hills, West Yorkshire) On Target (3.7%).
Also on the hand pumps were Snail's Bank (Malvern, Herefordshire) Tumbledown Ginger Cider (4.0%) and Lilley's (Bath, Somerset) Apples and Pears Cider (5.2%).
Although we didn't eat here we were impressed by the menu as there was a good selection of meals, both traditional and also continental and vegetarian choices, all at under £5.00 (at the time of visiting). See below for food service times. In fact there are no good reasons why you shouldn't visit the Fat Cat if you are in Sheffield.
The Fat Cat, 23 Alma Street, Sheffield S3 8SA. Tel: 0114 249 4801
Open: Sunday-Thursday 12.00-23.00; Friday-Saturday 12.00-24.00
From the Shalesmoor tram stop, negotiate the roundabout to the opposite side.
Walk down Dun Street or Dun Fields and turn right at the bottom into Green Lane.
This morphs into Alma Street and the pub is on the left side with the brewery just beyond. It should take around ten minutes.
The Shalesmoor tram stop is served by two routes. The Blue route runs from Halfway to Malin Bridge via the main railway station and the city centre. The Yellow route runs from Meadowhall Interchange station to Middlewood via the city centre. Normally each line operates every ten minutes, giving a tram every five minutes from the city centre.
There are also several bus routes that stop here.