Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Bridge that's not too far

Today, as the weather is finally deciding to stay Spring-like, I thought I'd venture down to an area of Nottingham that I've been past many times, either during my commute to uni many moons ago or on the way to my previous job. The Trent Bridge area has many pubs that I've rarely, if ever, visited and today seemed like a good day to rectify that. This, in theory,  seemed like a very good idea and, despite the title of this blog, the distance is further than it seems, so much so that I had to stop at Burger King when I was 2/3 of the way so I could refuel. To put this in context, I did make the trek on foot. The Trent Bridge area is easily accessible by public transport and use of car and bike but driving myself there makes me more conscious of the amount of alcohol that I can safely consume.
Anyway, moving swiftly on, my first destination was the Trent Navigation situated just round the corner from the home of Notts County and on the bank of the neighbouring canal. This pub dates from the Victorian period and originally provided refreshment for canal workers and their horses that pulled the canal boats. This is the brewery tap of Navigation Brewery which is situated behind the pub. The pub itself is very nice, with a red brick exterior and inside a long, wooden bar with lots of high tables immediately opposite and plush seating further round. There's even a feature wall decorated purely with stamps. The bar is very well stocked with a total of 12 hand pulls, 10 of which are regularly in use with a nice mix of real ale and real cider. Whilst the cider is from a variety of breweries, the ale tends to be from the neighbouring brewery. This is by no means a bad thing as the beer they produce is excellent. Amongst the offerings on show are Traditional, IPA, Stout and Hercules from their special edition constellation range. This is the beer I eventually opt for and it's worth the wait; golden in colour with a smooth but slightly bitter taste and with a strength of 5% but surprisingly drinkable, which is just what I need after my long walk. This is definitely a place I intend to visit again, as their food menu sounds fabulous, although it's advisable to give it a wide berth on match days as the fans of Nottingham's two football teams tend to pack it out.
After a much earned half an hour of sitting down, my next destination was intended to be The Embankment, on the opposite side of London Road. This mock-Tudor building is devloping a reputation as a live music venue and advertises 2 guest ales on the doors at the front, although I was disappointed to find that it wasn't open at the time of my visit despite it being well past midday. This was made more annoying by the fact that I passed it on my journey home and found it open. I intend to visit again though, just to see what the fuss is about. Not to be deterred, I hastily moved on to my next stop. Situated, as the name applies, on the South side of Nottingham's iconic Trent Bridge, The Southbank Bar is much respected for its status as both a live music venue and a sports bar, sitting as it does, a stone's throw from the City Ground, on the very bank of the River Trent. This bar regularly holds Q&A nights with legends from the bygone years of Nottingham Forest, with the next event scheduled for October. The bar has undergone a very successful refurbishment not too long ago and I was initially surprised by how expansive the interior is, having never visited the location before. It boasts a large, almost open plan layout with a series of booths down the right hand side of the room, each with an HD television built into the wall above. The bar is U-shaped with a wide choice for those who like their lager. The bar also includes 4 hand pulls, 3 of which are in use, with Navigation Pale, Navigation Traditional and Caledonian Deuchars IPA. I opted for the Navigation Pale, which was excellent. At 3.8%, it is very pale, rather hoppy but very tasty indeed. This pub is one of several owned by the company that also own the Trent Navigation, including Cross Keys and The Approach back in the city centre and it's a sign of the quality of their beers that are gaining a considerable positive reputation.
My final stop, at least today, is another of Nottingham's famous pubs; The Trent Bridge Inn, named after and situated on part of, the world famous cricket ground. Previously owned by Mitchells and Butler, and known as both The Three Horseshoes and The Crown in the 19th century, the pub is now part of Wetherspoons, who bought it for a substantial sum of money a few years ago and have given it a very successful makeover. CAMRA were so impressed that the Nottingham Branch have voted the TBI (as it is locally known) as its pub of the year for 2013. Ale-wise, Wetherspoons have been doing excellent work with their dedication to promote and sell real ale, both during their beer festivals and overall. I have visited the TBI once in the past but this was during its previous incarnation as part of M&B and I can only say that it has changed for the better. The bar is central to the ground floor, in a rough 3-sided U shape with 12 hand pulls, containing a variety of interesting concotions. The seating areas are located at various points around the room and the walls are decorated with images of cricketing nostalgia and some fairly impressive memorabilia. Unusally for a Wetherspoons, the female bar staff are on the aesthetically-pleasing side, which makes a nice change from some of their other premises. After a few minutes of mulling time, (the pub is fairly busy as I'm visiting at lunchtime), I eventually decided on a pint of Spring Gold from Elgood's Brewery in Wisbech. This is another 3.8% brew, golden to behold with a noticebale hoppy aroma and a distinct fruity taste that I identify as peach. It certainly served as a pleasant end to an enjoyable afternoon.
The age of these venues varies and there are no ghost stories that I am aware of, although Trent Bridge itself is known for a number of strange occurrences. This is not the place for these stories as this blog is solely devoted to pubs and beers unless I decide otherwise. Next week, I'm in Hampshire visiting the family and, all being well, I hope to be making a trip to the county town of Winchester to see what sort of ale scene they have in such a place. Failing that, we shall see where this journey takes us next!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Trip to a festival!

I'm a big fan of beer festivals so when I found out that one of my favourite pubs in Nottingham was hosting one over the weekend, there was no way that I wasn't going to go. Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem is world famous both for its location and its history. The site on which it stands has been associated with the brewing industry since Roman times and the pub itself is built into the sandstone rock on which Nottingham Castle stands and many of the caves have been incorporated into the structure of the building.The Trip, whilst not the city's oldest pub (that honour belongs to The Bell in the Marlet Square), is purported to be the city's oldest inn, built in 1189. The site is believed to have been used to brew beer for the castle residences since the time of the Norman Conquest, using water from the River Leen, which lies in close proximity. It takes its name from when it acted as a stopping off point for soldiers heading off to the crusades. The interior of the building is a labyrinth of winding walkways, alcoves, nooks and crannies, with a number of historical artefacts adorning the walls and foreign bank notes stuck behind the bar.
I've been to the Trip many times and I never fail to be captured by its unique atmosphere. The beer has always been notable and the pub is now run by Greene King so its portfolio has been improved upon again of late. Having some like-minded friends with a passion for ale and pubs in general, we rounded a few up and headed down for a relaxing Saturday evening. The beer festival was being held in the courtyard between the main part of the pub and the toilet block, in an area used as a contained drinking and smoking area. A stillage area had been set up containing a myriad of beers from many local breweries with a handy list on the makeshift bar to help with my choice. I was slightly overwhelmed and unsure of where to begin but the staff were very helpful and the gentleman serving me was happy to recommend something to wet my whistle and get the process underway. I began with Cromwell's Gold, from Milestone Brewery, golden in colour, 4.3% and a nice balance of sweet hops and bitter malt. The festival was obviously going well. The missus was a tad annoyed that the real cider on offer had temporarily sold out but thankfully there were enough appley offerings on the normal bar to keep her relatively happy. My next choice was the brilliantly named Stalin's Punch, a golden offering from the good folk at Holden's. My choice was perfectly timed as it was the last pint left in the barrel. This didn't affect the quality though, as it was a very drinkable, smooth tasting concoction with a soft tinge of hops and a distinct fruity quality. It weighed in at a very suitable 4.5% which is fine with me! My friend Matt was having lots of fun extolling the virtues of Chocolate & Vanilla Stout from Titanic Brewery and we all had a sip of his pint, with an interesting range of reactions, I, for one, thought it was quite good! My final choice for the evening was from Burton Bridge Brewery, in the form of By George!, their special edition St. George's Day ale. This was a nice copper colour and came with a subtle malty taste and a soft finish. It was very tasty indeed and provided a nice end to our time at the festival. By this stage, the evening was getting on and whilst the day had been lovely with spring sunshine and not a cloud in the sky, the temperature had started to drop markedly so we made a group decision to venture elsewhere. I very much hope that the Trip holds a similar event in future as it was a very enjoyable evening for all involved, the beer and service was excellent and the pub is an wonderful venue.
The Trip is not just renowned for its history and its beer. Its ghostly stories are part and parcel of Nottingham folklore. One of its most famous stories is that of the 'Cursed Galleon'. This is an 18 inch long model of a galleon, dust and cobweb covered, situated in a glass case above the bar in one of the upstairs rooms. The legend associated with it is that anyone who ever touches it will die. A local medium who believe the tale handled the galleon and narrowly survived a serious car accident. The galleon is now not moved or touched by anyone and is permanently confined to its case. In the same upstairs room, near an old fireplace, is a chair that is alleged to induce pregnancy in any female that sits on it. Jade was unimpressed when I suggested that she try it.........
The pub has been investigated by a number of paranormal investigation groups, who all picked up some quite significant phenomena. UK Paranormal recorded the sounds of moving furniture, glasses moving in the bar and a female scream from a room in the cellar that is now bricked-up. They also encountered the apparition of a blonde gentleman in coarse woollen garments of long ago who appeared suddenly behind one of their team members at 4am. Another apparition they witnessed was independently verified by another investigation team. Whilst in the inner courtyard, they noticed a movement in the window of the Rock Lounge above before observing a dark figure with no discernable features moving quikcly across the room. A previous landlady also witnessed the figure whilst mopping the floor one morning. The figure made its way from the Rock Lounge, through the main bar and through the locked front door into the street. The figure has been seen once more, exiting the private quarters near the kitchens and disappearing down the stairs to the main bar.
The scents of lavender and rose water mysteriously come and go, glasses fly off shelves and, oddly, the sound of breaking glass is often heard with no explanation. The cellar is the scene of many sightings. The dark figure of a man has been seen and heard storming around, the sound of which causes many people to go upstairs rather quickly. A ladyin a crinoline dress has also been seen entering the cellar and disappearing. The gas taps to the beer lines are known to be suddenly turned off when no-one has been in the area and a party of five tourists taking part in a cellar tour reported seeing two 17th century figures walk into a wall. The snug at the front of the main building is known as the 'Haunted Snug'. A plaque on the wall in the area goes into more detail about the eerie whispers, knockings and voices heard here. Drinks are also unaccountably knocked over with witnesses claiming no obvious human interference. Two separate witnesses have reported time slips at the site, one inside and another outside the property. A man, sitting in the small alcove opposite the main bar on a dark and rainy mid-winter night, suddenly saw himself looking out on a bright summer day with the nearby buildings replaced by fields and a river. He heard the sound of a horse approaching and a young, scruffily-dressed man ran into view and hid behind a large kiln-like structure that was beside him before the vision vanished. The second incident, from outside the building, occurred when a mental looking towards the college buildings across the road saw them vanish to be replaced by rolling fields. This lasted for a second before things returned to normal.
It's impossible not to be struck by the history of this impressive inn and I would heartily suggest that anyone who is even remotely interested in good beer, impressive architecture and local history, goes down and checks it out!!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Royal Salute!

Now that I'm unemployed, I need even less of an excuse to visit some of Nottingham's finer drinking establishments. I hadn't initially planned on going to the pub today but following a visit to a local recruitment agency, it would've been rude of me not to drop into a couple of the city's older premises that happened to be situated at the end of the same street on which my appointment was located.

On the corner of Castle Gate and St. Nicholas Street sits the Royal Children, one of the oldest licenced premises in the city. The peculiar name dates from at least 1688, when the daughter of King James II and her children were entertained at the pub and made friends and playmates of the landlord's children. The pub has a very classic feel, both inside and outside. The interior contains a traditional almost U-shaped bar and several seperate seating areas around a single room. The building was rebuilt in 1933-34, sticking closely to the original design and layout. A curious relic is framed behind the bar, specifically the shoulder blade of a whale. This is the former sign for the building and dates from a time when whale oil was first being introduced in place of candles for interior lighting. The Royal Children is believed to be one of the first inns to use whale oil lighting and this is commemorated by the whale bone sign, which is believed to be the only one of its kind in existence, symbolising the time when the Innkeeper also doubled as an oil vendor. The pub itself has retained much of its charm and there are several old newspaper cuttings and photos in strategic locations throughout the interior. The only disappointment is in the range of beer. Of the 10 available hand pulls, 6 were in use but these were poorly supplied with 2 pumps each dedicated to Castle Rock Harvest Pale, Wells Bombardier and Courage Directors. I opted for a pint of Directors which I am quite partial too. This a traditional coloured best bitter with a distinct taste of roast malt and a noticeably bitter quality. Despite the limited range, the quality of the pint cannot be disputed.

My next location lies on the adjacent corner and is actually joined to the Royal Children. One of Nottingham's most well-known and legendary premises, this is Ye Olde Salutation Inn, known locally as The Sal. The building dates from at least 1240, during which period it was a leather tannery, with a ground floor workshop and the tanner's accomodation upstairs. 200 years later, it is thought to have been a private residence. The pub's name is associated with the sign out front, which shows a handshake. This is believed to be a representation of the Archangel Gabriel saluting the Virgin Mary and is a 1660 replacement for a sign that was taken down in 1649 when Cromwell's Puritan regime demanded a name change. For this 11 year period, the pub was known as 'The Soldier and Citizen' before a welcome name change to its current moniker. A network of tunnels and caves exists beneath the building and these are available to visit on a regular basis. The caves are believed to date from as early as the 9th century and there is evidence to suggest that they were once inhabited by Saxons. The Sal is renowned as a venue for rock music and carries out very popular rock karaoke nights every week. It's also gaining a reputation for real ale. On my visit, 8 hand pumps were present on the downstairs bar, 4 of which were dedicated to real cider. The other 4 contained a decent variety of beers, with 2 from Springhead and Nottingham Brewery's very popular Legend. I decided on the offering from the 4th pump. Guaranteed Sunshine is a delicious brew, pale in colour and very hoppy but surprisingly drinkable and with an ABV of 4.3%. It certainly went down easily enough although I'm not sure which brewery produces it as there were no obvious indicators on the badge. The pub is certainly worth a visit for its medieval character alone.

Whilst the Royal Children is devoid of ghostly happenings, The Sal is well-known for its hauntings and is believed to be one of the most haunted pubs in Nottingham. It's a sign of the pub's reputation that the Nottingham Ghost Walk begins outside and ends in the caves beneath the building and there are a couple of plaques within the pub that talk about some of its ghostly inhabitants. I went on the Ghost Walk myself during my first week in Nottingham and it was very atmospheric, made more so by the incoherent drunk in the neighhbouring churchyard. The pub certainly has a distinctive atmosphere and its plethora of ghosts are relatively well-known. One of the more common sightings is that of a little girl, aged around 4 or 5 years of age. Nicknamed 'Rosie', she is believed to have been run down by a carriage outside the building and has been sighted in the caves and in other areas of the pub. A man in medieval clothing is occasionally sighted in one of the back bedrooms, although it is unknown whether this is a distinct entity from that of a depressed landlord who poisoned himself or whether both apparitions are one and the same. There was a spate of poltergeist activity at the pub in the 1990s, with one memorable incident occurring when the landlord at the time had a set of keys mysteriously vanish, only for them to reappear swinging from their usual hook behind the bar after a couple of hours of fruitless searching. Another apparition is that of a highwayman who allegedly drowned in a water-filled pit whilst hiding from the authorities in the cave system back in 1730. He has been spotted near the spot where he died, sitting down before leaping to his feet, mouthing silently and then firing a pair of silent pistols at an unseen assailant before vanishing. This is assumed to be a classic replay apparition, where a spirit replays a set of actions from its life without interacting with witnesses and no change in behaviour.
I would thoroughly recommend a visit to this most haunted of public houses. The beer itself is a reason worthy of returning for.
On Saturday, I'll be venturing down to another of Nottingham's very well-known pubs as I partake in a beer festival at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem.    

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A couple of 'House calls....

I was unsure where to visit for my first proper blog but after a bit of pondering I hit upon an idea to visit a couple of pubs that are in fairly close proximity, both to my house and to each other, and that they should have something in common and a fair amount of character. With that in mind, I decided that a wander down Canal Street was in order and that my chosen pubs would be The Newshouse and The Canalhouse, chosen largely for their similar names, their interesting appearance and layout and the fact that they are both operated by Castle Rock Brewery. All together, this gave me a perfect excuse to enjoy the spring sunshine that has finally decided to make an appearance, so off I went.

My first stop, The Newshouse, is so called because of it's proximity to the BBC Nottingham building on the nearby traffic island and is one of Castle Rock's better looking properties. Its blue-tiled exterior is complimented nicely by the classic pub look inside with furnishings of wood and brass, a general squarish layout and amongst the old newspaper front pages framed on the walls, a billiards table. I've played billiards once and it didn't seem like a game I could be bad at. I was quickly proven wrong. The building in its current form was built in 1950 but there has been a licenced premises on the site for at least a century before that and the pub has retained this character whilst keeping itself up to date. I had to have 2 attempts at ordering a beer here, largely due to a phone call I received as I went to the bar the first time. The pub was very quiet, it being a Tuesday afternoon, so I took the call outside and returned afterwards. 10 handpulls were on show, divided between both sides of the bar which is split into separate rooms. 3 Castle Rock ales were available as well as a couple of guests. In the end I decided on a pint of Full Mash Brewery's Red Dog, a copper coloured 3.8% brew with a smooth taste of sweet malt and a soft hop finish. It was surprisingly drinkable but I was forced to limit myself to one pint as I had to drive later. The pub is obviously popular with the personalities of BBC Nottingham as there are framed and signed photos of various presenters adorning the walls. I was slightly disappointed that Kylie Pentelow didn't make an appearance.......

Further down Canal Street, within the Waterfront complex, sits The Canalhouse, a very popular place and another of Castle Rock's unique buildings. This was also the venue for the 2013 Champion Beer of Nottinghamshire competition, deservedly won by Blue Monkey's Ape Ale. The building is an old warehouse, dating from the 18th century, originally used for storage but more or less demolished by a gunpowder explosion in 1819. It was significantly rebuilt in the late 19th century, eventually becoming a museum, the two lower floors of which now serve as the bar and resaturant. Interestingly, and perhaps uniquely, part of the canal actually runs into the building, complete with a couple of narrow boats, drifting freely on the current. There is a bridge over the canal that allows access to the bar and it's 6 hand pumps, 4 of which displayed Castle Rock ales (as you'd expect), including Harvest Pale, Preservation and Yellow Archangel which is a special edition from their Natural Selection range. I opted for a guest beer; Isle of Purbeck's Solar Power at 4.3%. This is a golden beer with an initial kick of hops that gives way to a decidedly smooth finish. Very tasty indeed!

Disappointingly, as far as I have been able to determine, neither of these places has any ghost stories or at least any that are public knowledge. I'll be attempting to find out some more details just in case though. All in all, my first excursion was a fun one, albeit fairly relaxed and devoid of any real drama or ghostly tales. As a jumping off point to get me into the swing of things though, it certainly helped me get things moving.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Brief Introduction.......


Welcome to my blog! If the title itself wasn't a giveaway, this is a blog all about beer! But before we get started, I thought it made sense to give you an idea of why I'm doing this. As a lover of real ale, I've been thinking for a while about getting out there and visiting a few local pubs on my days off to see what the locAle scene has to offer and I've finally got round to it. It is a bit more complicated than that though. My aim is to visit the drinking establishments of Nottingham and its surroundings and occasionally further afield, and give my opinions on the pubs and bars in the area and the real ale that they sell. So far, so predictable I guess. I'm more than aware that this has been done before but I'm hoping to add a bit more fun and intrigue to it in my own way.

Anyone who knows me will know that I have more than a passing interest in the paranormal. I'm talking ghosts, spirits and things that go bump in the night. Pubs, especially those that have been around for akong while, are often a hub of strange encounters and these are the things that interest. As I'm visiting the pubs of this fine city, as well as sharing my thoughts on the in-house products, I'll be in search of a scary tale or 2 and relaying them here. Many of the more well-known and historic places in the city and its outskirts have ghost stories associated with them so these will get a mention, including some places well renowned in the local community for their hauntings. In addition to this, I'll be asking around in some quieter places for any stories that perhaps, for whatever reason, haven't been made public knowledge or don't get spoken about. Obviously, lots of people don't believe in ghosts but I hope those of you that do will enjoy hearing some local stories. I should point out that I know lots of the more notorious ghost stories assocaited with particular premises and I can't guarantee that each pub will have a tale to tell. In a nutshell, not all of the pubs will have ghosts but I'll still be reviewing their beer and I'll be relaying some tidbits of historical stuff about the places I go too as well so I'm hoping there'll be something for everyone.