Monday, July 29, 2013

Derby Day

On a very fine and very warm Friday afternoon, Matt and I embarked upon a visit to Nottingham's closest and deadliest neighbour, the city of Derby, on a quest to explore the delights of the many ale pubs that exist in the area in and around the city centre. There is evidence of habitation in the area dating back to at least the Anglo-Saxon period, with the Romans having a camp called 'Derventio' in the region of what is now Chester Green. The name Derventio is believed to be the origin of the present day name of the city although there are a number of other theories, including that the name stems from that of the river Derwent (meaning 'oak') which runs through the city or the Anglo-Saxon 'Djura-by' or Deoraby meaning 'village or enclosure of deer'. Archaeology of the area indicates that Vikings and Saxons may have co-existed in the area, occupying two areas of land surrounded by water. The city is rich in history. It was garrisoned by Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War with these forces helping to defend nearby Nottingham and also being involved in the siege of Lichfield and the Battle of Hopton Heath amongst a number of other important skirmishes. In 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie set up camp in Derby on his march to claim the English crown during the Jacobite rebellion. Arriving at The George Inn on Irongate, where the Duke of Devonshire was headquartered, he demanded billets for all of his 9000 troops. He held a council of war at Exeter House in Exeter Street, where he was ultimately overruled in his quest by his fellow officers when it became clear he had received misleading information about an army coming to meet him south of Derby and he eventually abandoned his invasion at Swarkestone Bridge, just a few miles south.
Derby was one of the centres of the Industrial Revolution and, in 1717, was the site of Britain's first water powered silk mill, which was followed by the cotton mills of both Richard Arkwright and Jedediah Strutt.
Other pioneers and famous people associated with Derby include the painter Joseph Wright, clockmaker and philosopher John Whitehurst and Erasmus Darwin, doctor, scientist, philosopher and grandfather of Charles. The beginning of the 19th century saw Derby emerge as a manufacturing centre and the North Midland Railway set up its headquarters in the area in 1840, and eventually became the Midland Railway following a merger with other railway firms. Rolls Royce also opened a car and aircraft factory in 1907, strengthening the city's industrial links. All Saints Church was dedicated as a cathedral in 1927, eventually being officially designated as a city in 1977 as part of the 25th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's ascension to the throne. The city is also world famous for stories of hauntings and is commonly claimed (along with York) to be one of the most haunted places in the world.
Against the backdrop of the city's chequered history, we hopped on the Red Arrow from Victoria Shopping Centre, arriving in Derby just after midday. Our first stop was almost opposite the city's bus station, in the form of the watering hole called The Noah's Ark.
 

The frontage is traditional Tudor in appearance with an olde worlde interior of lots of benches around the walls and lots of small tables, all arranged a central, roughly pentagonal bar. The walls are covered in Derby County memorabilia and the bar is very well stocked with a quaint ceiling mounted spirit rack above the centre of the bar. The overall atmosphere is friendly and the pub is full of plenty of locals, sitting quietly or propping up the bar. The pub is believed to have once been the site of an unregistered mint that specialised in forging counterfeit coins. Thankfully, the current business is considerably more savoury. The bar includes 3 hand pumps, one of which is not being used, with the others including Abbot Ale and Bombardier. We both opted for a pint of the latter which was very well kept, and retreated to one of the long, low benches to soak up the ambience of our surroundings. The Noah's Ark is one of Derby's many properties, including a fair quantity of public houses, to have a ghost story or 2 associated with it. There have been reports of a figure of a girl being seen, who appears to be watching out for someone and the figure of infamous former local Noah Bullock, who ran the old illegal mint, is frequently reported, its appearance reported to bring either good or bad luck to the observer depending upon who you talk too.
Moving on from this relaxed local, we took a brisk walk to our next stop, the first of 2 in a row owned by the Wetherspoon's chain.
 
 
The Standing Order inhabits a large, Georgian-looking building on Iron Gate. The building was formerly a tavern but was most recently a bank before reopening as its current incarnation. The inside is certainly reminiscent of its previous life being absolutely enormous and rather imposing, made up of ornate furnishings and decorative touches on the high ceiling above the standard Spoons seating layout. The large, rectangular bar is central to the room and boasts an impressive 24 hand pumps, half of which display the standard fare for the Spoons franchise (Ruddles, Spitfire, Pedigree, Abbot Ale and Courage Directors). The other 12 pumps feature a number of guests from Wychwood (Hobgoblin), Milestone (Fletcher's Ale; Cromwell Bitter and Grand Slam) and North Star respectively. I went for a pint of the Cromwell Bitter (4.0%), a dark ruby concoction with tastes of chocolate malt, a smooth, bitter flavour and a slightly smoky aroma, all very unusual for its low percentage.
Following our enjoyable beverages, we ventured next door to the next Spoons venue, The Thomas Leaper, branded as part of the Lloyds No. 1 Bar range.

 This significantly smaller venue started life as a Georgian town house which was most likely erected around 1740 and stands on the site of the family residence of Thomas Leaper, after whom it is named. The house, like the building next door, eventually became a bank, before the shop front was added in the early 1900s, finally becoming a licenced premises in the late 1990s. Inside, the layout is similar to a lot of other pubs of the same chain, with a long bar along one wall and lots of seating. The bar includes 10 hand pumps which features a strong variety of ales including the usual Abbot Ale, Ruddles and Pedigree as well as Oakham Bishop's Farewell; Derventio Cleopatra; Marston's Old Empire; Falstaff Brewery The Good, The Bad and The Drunk; Titanic Stout and Sharp's Citrus. The Cleopatra (5.0%) interested me and it turned out to be a good choice, golden and smooth with intense flavours of mango and peach. This was our designated food stop for the day so we took a few minutes deciding on some much needed food and stayed for an extended period of time letting it go down nicely with our beers.
Our next location was a little bit further out than we'd ventured so far and we did get slightly lost during our initial attempts to find it. Eventually though, thanks largely to the wonder of smart phones, we ended up where we wanted to be and it was well worth it.
 Situated on the point where Peel Street and Langley Street meet, The New Zealand Arms is somewhere I would thoroughly recommend for all lovers of ale. Now run by Ross, who was formerly assistant manager at The Ropewalk in Nottingham, the pub specialises in beers from Dancing Duck brewery and occasionally includes some guests as well as a couple of draught ciders. Inside, the layout is minimalist but comfortable with leather seating, low tables and bar stools along a curved bar that occupies part of the rear wall. There are 13 hand pulls on show, 9 of which are in use at the time of our visit, mostly Dancing Duck beers (Gold, dcuk, Nice Weather, Dark Drake, 22 and Ay Up) but also featuring Nottingham Legend, Great Oatley Gobble and Raw Best Bitter. Feeling that it would be rude not to partake in the local speciality, we both went for Dancing Duck beverages, with Matt choosing 22 whilst I opted for dcuk. At 4.3%, this was a very pale and very hoppy ale which was very very tasty, although there was some slight confusion when we spent the first couple of sips drinking each other's pints. With our taste for ale firmly on and our afternoon becoming more enjoyable by the pub, we propped ourselves up on bar stools at the bar and got to know the very friendly and polite barmaid Katie, who informed us about the pub and seemed genuinely interested in what we were up too, even offering to share this particular blog with the regulars if I email it over to the pub! Watch this space! This helped make the New Zealand Arms very friendly and thoroughly excellent and we certainly hope to return on a regular basis despite the distance. Ross and staff should certainly be commended for this, and highly too! Whether Katie, or any of the current staff are aware of it or not, the New Zealand Arms has something of a haunting reputation. A former staff member reported a chair moving approximately a foot of its own accord in the stage area that is used for live performances. The sensation of being watched or studied by someone unseen has also been reported in the past and both phenomena are believed to be linked to the untimely demise of a former landlord who died of a heart attack whilst seated in the stage area after ejecting some undesirables from the premises.
Our next lay back along the route we had already travelled, in yet another pub famed for its live music. Situated on King Street, facing the main road, is The Flower Pot.

This is the home and brewery tap of the Black Iris brewery and also boasts a strong reputation for providing exciting offerings from near and far. It's brick exterior and traditionally laid out interior give way to an extensive smoking area of large picnic tables, each with their own parasol which is much needed as the day moves on and the temperature rises. On the bar, 8 hand pulls are available, providing an interesting array of brews. There is a cider, in this case Picker's Passion from Sandford Orchards (chosen and much loved by Matt) and 5 ales with 2 of the pumps out of service. The ale choices are Ossett Winning Streak; Ilkley Mary Jane; XT 8; Organic Fool's Gold and Welbeck Abbey Cavendish. I was also delighted to see that a mini beer festival was in progress, featuring a selection of brews from the brewery itself. This is where my taste buds eventually led me and I settled for a pint of Abseil IPA (4.2%), pale and citrusy with a fruity aroma and bitter finish. We took advantage of the decent weather and located ourselves in the beer garden where our conversation began to plough its usual meandering territories, in this case Matt's recent trip to Cornwall with Jess, home brewing and work. Jade phoned at around this point and she was pleasantly surprised that I was still coherent after 5 pints and with more pubs still to come! Sounds about right!
The next 2 stops on our magical mystery tour were the only ones that, perhaps ironically, didn't hold any mystery for me as I'd visited them both in the past, albeit briefly. Situated in the Cathedral Quarter and, mercifully by this stage, close together these were 2 of the premises that I had most been looking forward to heading back too. We began the 2nd half of this trip at the Old Silk Mill.

Located on Full Street, very close to the famous Derby landmark of the same name, The Old Silk Mill is currently facing a struggle to stay open due to falling trade, although the current landlords are doing all they can to reverse this change in fortunes. This is the quintessential traditional ale pub with something of a decent reputation for live entertainment too and the layout supports this, with seating situated largely around the edge of the room and a small bar opposite the entrance. On my previous visit, there was also a separate stillage bar in one corner of the room but this, sadly, was either only temporary or has been a casualty of the pub's reported decline. The bar itself is well stocked with 10 hand pulls, 2 of which include a cider and perry. 2 of the ale pumps are not in use but the others include Thronbridge Jaipur; Sharp's Doom Bar; 1872 Porter; Castle Rock Harvest Pale and also a stout. With the weather being too hot for anything as heavy as a porter or stout, I went for the Harvest Pale, which was excellent and proves how good this pub is and why it deserves to be doing well. Anyone that knows anything about the history of Derby will no doubt be aware of the many tales associated with the old silk mill nearby, including the story of the young boy, thrown to his death from the tower, whose cries are still regularly heard. Its namesake pub allegedly has things going bump in it too with occasional sightings of a phantom cavalier in the cellar area.
Moving back towards the Cathedral Quarter, our next location is right on the nearby corner and is renowned as Derby's oldest (and perhaps most haunted) pub.

Ye Olde Dolphin Inn takes it's name from the English translation of the word 'Dauphin', the name given to the heir to the old French throne and is a fairly common pub name in some older premises. The exact date of its construction is unknown but the layout uneven foundations suggest a possible medieval origin or even earlier. The interior retains the majority of the original features including original doorways and exposed oak beams. There is a large beer garden to the rear, which is in the process of being prepared for a live music performance at the time we visit. The bar is central to the property and is accessible through 2 doorways off of the slightly sloping central corridor. There are 7 hand pulls and again the variety on show is unusual (Abbot Ale; Grafters Wobble Gob; Doom Bar; Golden Sheep; Bass; Landlord; Deuchars and Nottingham Robin Hood). I went for the Wobble Gob from Grafters of Lincolnshire. At 4.9%, this is copper in colour, malty and bitter with undertones of hops. Once again, we decide to lean nonchalantly in the beer garden and marvel at the sheer volume of pump clips displayed upon the walls and beams around us. I also took an interest in the signs advertising the local ghost walk which starts from the pub every week and, with the number of stories about this place, you can see why. The most infamous and downright terrifying tale is that of a young doctor who illegally acquired the body of a young woman from two body snatchers and had it delivered to the cellar under what is now the lounge area, in the dead of night. In those days, this part of the building was part of a boarding house. As the doctor was beginning to dissect the poor woman and remove her entrails, she suddenly awoke, having been accidentally buried alive. Confused and dying, the woman leaped up and began running around the cellar, dragging her entrails behind her until she collapsed and died from shock and blood loss. The young doctor had to be placed in a lunatic asylum to the effects of this unfortunate incident and the screams of the young woman are still heard from the cellar area, along with substantial poltergeist activity. Other apparitions reported include a man in Highland regalia seen running down a corridor with a sword, carrying a young woman piggyback style. He is believed to be a Jacobite soldier who was billeted at the inn. A lady in a blue dress is also commonly witnessed. Nobody knows her identity but she is believed to have had an affair with highwayman Dick Turpin. The ghost of a small girl has also been seen sitting on the stairs that lead to the restaurant area.
Our next destination was a lot less spooky but no less brilliant. We had another longer walk ahead of us but it was worth to visit the Little Chester Ale House.

Derby's first and only micropub is situated in an old shop in the Chester Green area of the city, a well-presented residential district. Although small inside, the layout is very nice, with a few small tables arranged in front of the counter/bar on which sit 4 hand pumps. On offer are Nutbrook More; Wentwell Derby Pale Ale; Double Top Brewery IPA and, my personal favourite for best beer name ever, Wentwell Justice for Gingers. At the risk of offending Jade later, I opted (4.0%), which was expectedly pale but pleasantly sweet and hoppy with a distinct fruity tinge. Due largely to the amount of alcohol in or respective blood streams, conversation became more sombre at this point as I began to reminisce about my much-missed nan and Matt brought up similar stories of his own. I'm glad we made the effort out to this corner of Derby to find this pub as it was totally worth it. The Chester Green area is not devoid of ghostly activity either with many a resident reporting the sights and sounds of what appear to be Roman soldiers marching through the area, most likely stemming from the period when a Roman camp was located here. There were no soldiers, Roman or otherwise, present during our time there though.
By this stage, we both hot, quite drunk and rather tired but we still had one more pub to visit before the slog back to the bus station. Our final stop on this whirlwind tour took us back towards the city centre again as we made our way towards The Exeter Arms on Exeter Street.

This is another traditional pub with an old, traditional looking interior and an extensive smoking area. With is being a Friday evening when we arrive, there are a few people in the pub and it takes a little bit of time to reach the bar but it is worth the wait. There are 7 hand pulls present, 3 of which include beers from Dancing Duck brewery (Ay Up, 22 and Dark Drake). Other beers available are Pedigree, Wentworth Imperial Ale and Raw Edge Pale Ale. Jack Ratt strawberry cider is also available. Energy flagging by this stage, I went for a pint of Edge Pale Ale from Chesterfield's Raw Brewery. This is 5.0% pale and smooth with a hoppy finish and a fine hint of the underlying malt. Sadly, with my head starting to rebel, I couldn't quite finish the whole thing and took that as a sign that it was time to make my way home. Leaving Matt in the company of one of his friends who lives and works in Derby, I made my wobbly way back over the Derwent to the bus station which, thankfully, wasn't too far away. On the journey back down the A52 I had a chance to reflect upon the absolute success of this particular excursion. As much as my Nottingham friends will hate me, Derby is certainly a place worth visiting for the quality and range of its ale pubs, its friendly atmosphere, its spooky stories and its vast and rich history. There are certainly many more places available to visit in the city and I will definitely be making a concerted effort to make my way through them.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Parliament-ary Privilege

With the summer heat well and truly settling in for the long haul, it made sense to attempt an exploration of some places that are relatively close to each other in terms of distance, both to save our legs and to lessen the possibility of alcohol-enhanced heat stroke. The location for this week's merry jaunt, was the area in and around Parliament Street, the main thoroughfare through the City Centre. Parliament Street is a more modern name for an area that was known as 'The Back Side' at least as early as 1576 and its layout of a long central strip with narrower footpaths running off of it is common with many of the streets in the area. The change of name came about around 1770 when a local eccentric named Rouse, who harboured ambitions of becoming an MP, put up several signs saying 'Parliament Street' in order to emphasize his dreams. Somehow, the name stuck and has done ever since. Parliament Street is also unusual for its considerable width, due to the fact that a town wall built by Henry II ran down it from almost end to end. The rough location and dimensions of this wall are relatively well known as traces of the foundations and lower courses have occasionally been found, most notably in 1900. A wide ditch once existed on the outer side of this wall with a lane to facilitate the movement of defenders on the inside. The use of this wall had ceased by the Tudor period but the exact date of its demolition are unknown. Following the loss of the wall, the Chapel Bar area of Parliament Street became very narrow and a number of inns sprang up. These were eventually demolished to make way for street improvements which led to the widening of the area again and the general dimensions of the area remained more or less unchanged from that point on, with the street eventually becoming wide enough for 2 vehicles to pass each other in 1902. The most striking building on Parliament Street is the Theatre Royal which was built in 1875 on the site of what was once an old sand field, a few houses and a small inn. A maypole and a well were once located at the junction with Clumber Street.
Pub-wise, there are a few in the immediate vicinity and we decided that the easiest way to explore these was to start at one end of the street and work our way down to the other end, stopping at specific spots along the way. Matt and I began our journey at the Maid Marian Way end of the street and our first destination was The Gatehouse, on the spot where Parliament Street meets Tollhouse Hill.
 
Recently refurbished in a rather pleasant shade of green and named after a structure that most likely allowed passage through the old town wall back in the day, The Gatehouse is a bar/restaurant with an open plan interior and lots of tables. Outside there is a seating area consisting of wooden and tables and chairs, all enclosed within a rectangular barrier. There is an extensive and very nice sounding food menu on a large blackboard inside. The bar is angular and includes 3 hand pulls, offering London Pride and Harvest Pale with the third not in use. Matt opted for London Pride and I went for the Harvest Pale, which was very tasty but a tad warmer than it should've been. We decided to take advantage of the outdoor seating as it was a beautiful day and sitting inside seemed like a crime!
Our next port of call was located on Angel Row, still technically in the area despite not being in Parliament Street proper. The place I'm referring too is The Dragon.
 
For some reason, I spent months thinking this was a Chinese restaurant before I actually went inside for the first time last year. I think it was the name that confused me but I digress. The traditional looking exterior gives way to an interior decorated with low tables and long benches, arranged over a number of distinct levels divided by small staircases. The bar is small and located at the top of the 2nd level, next to the stairs that lead to the beer garden and toilets. The 3 hand pumps on offer include Harvest Pale and 2 offerings from Adnams, in this case Southwold Bitter and Broadside. I opted for the Southwold, which is coppery and smooth and in perfect condition. The outdoor seating/smoking area here is of particular interest as it includes sofa-shaped benches carved from stone and tables made of slate that are fastened to the brickwork. When we take a seat in the glorious sunshine, the background soundtrack is that of Bring Me The Horizon, an unusual choice and not necessarily that welcome.......
Following time to enjoy our pints and discuss the music on offer, we headed back to Parliament Street for our next stop, The Stage.
 
 
So called because of it's proximity to the Theatre Royal, just over the nearby tram tracks, The Stage is another of Nottingham's buildings to benefit from 2 separate entrances, with the main one on Parliament Street and a second one on Wollaton Street. It is also arranged over a number of different levels with parts of it in a vaulted brick area and the toilets located downstairs in the cave system. There is lots of seating with the bar being elevated above the entrance up a small set of stairs. The bar contains 4 hand pumps, 2 each of Harvest Pale and Timothy Taylor Landlord. As we discuss the length of Matt's hair with the bar staff and another customer, we order a pint each of Landlord which is served in glass tankards complete with handles and is in excellent condition! Retreating to a curved sofa in the downstairs brick area, discussion turns to what names we could give a group of British Avengers-type superheroes.
I was very excited about our next destination, although it was another that was slightly off of Parliament Street, instead located on the junction of South Sherwood Street and Forman Street. Langtry's is renowned for good food and drink and that was where we now headed, safe in the knowledge that this would be very promising as Langtry's has just been given an award for excellence from Nottingham CAMRA.
 
Langtry's takes its name from that of Victorian singer and actress Lily Langtry who performed at the nearby theatre. The interior is olde worlde with lots of original wooden beams, plaster backing and decorative prints of Victorian stage stars. The bar is central and U-shaped, containing 7 hand pumps for ale and a number of ciders. The ale choice is extensive with Flowers IPA and Original, Spitfire, Hobgoblin, Shot in the Dark, Little Bewdy and Ringwood 49er. There are also many ciders on offer, including Mega-Blond Dry and Farmhouse Perry. Being a big fan of Ringwood Brewery, which is close to my hometown of Portsmouth, I opted immediately for the 49er. At 4.9%, this beer is copper in colour, smooth and hoppy with soft, malt flavours. It's very very tasty indeed!
As tempting as it was to shoehorn a 2nd pint in here, we still had a couple of destinations in mind so, after finishing our pints, we ventured further down Forman Street to Nottingham's branch of Slug & Lettuce.
 
As far as I know, Slug and Lettuce is one of the brands that is now incorporated into Stonegate but don't let that stop you visiting as it isn't that bad. This glass fronted building contains lots of stylish leather seating and wooden tables with a curved bar to the right hand side, containing 3 hand pulls. Of these, 1 is out of use and the others offer Greene King IPA and Idle Chef from Idle Brewery. Avoiding IPA like the plague, we went instead for the Idle Chef (4.0%), which was ruby coloured and very malty with a delicious creamy head. Despite the heat, the lack of food eaten and the amount of alcohol consumed, we were still coping quite well by this stage, which was a pleasant relief. Although not strictly associated with any of the pubs on our visit, allow me to share a brief anecdote connected with Forman Street. In an unidentified, perhaps now demolished, building there were reports of ghostly activity, largely in the form of large rhythmic banging noises from an upstairs room. This activity has been put down to the presence of the spirit of a judge who died from heart failure whilst having sex with a prostitute in the area. The banging sounds have been widely attributed to his last passionate moments before the end.
I was in two minds about the last place we had set our minds on to visit, having heard mixed things and being slightly put off by Jade who'd visited it before. Despite this, the reviews I'd read had sounded promising and the pub in question appears to have recently obtained Cask Marque accreditation. Located opposite Victoria Centre, next to Wilkinson's is our final stop on this week's trip: The Dog and Partridge.

The pub in its current form lies on the site of the old Dog and Partridge brewery and is popular with locals and members of the gay scene. At the time of our visit, the pub is full with a considerable number of older customers, presumably waiting for the start of the weekly karaoke at 4pm. The pub is very traditional both inside and outside, with a circular bar at the centre and a separate bar area and two seating areas fanned out around it. Whilst the ale choice is not extensive, the quality cannot be questioned. The 2 hand pulls available are offering Bombardier and Hobgoblin. I went for the later and it was excellent, perfectly kept and very tasty. We used our time here to take a breather and reflect upon our day. All in all, no pub on this trip can be viewed as a disappointment. They all provide ale in various forms and the quality of this is top notch. Whilst some pubs may benefit from a wider choice of ales, as long as they continue to care about the quality of what they offer, they will continue to attract satisfied clientele, which is certainly important given their central location and high foot traffic. Parliament Street and its tributaries are more well known for the quality of their shopping establishments, but I think the area is certainly worthy of note for the quality and uniqueness of its drinking dens. Check them out for yourselves if you don't believe me!







Friday, July 12, 2013

A Survey of Sneinton

This week I set my sights on the Nottingham suburb of Sneinton with the aim of further investigating the delights of its hostelries. Once again, Matt was my right hand man and what followed was an interesting afternoon that took in everything from good pubs, surprises and, more unusually, cricket. But first, the historical part............
The original district of Sneinton was built around the brickworks, founded in the 19th century at the eastern end of Sneinton Dale, which is the main road running through the area. Most of the existing terraced houses date from the 19th and 20th centuries but the brickworks has long since been demolished to make way for modern housing. In 1801, Sneinton was a small village roughly a mile from Nottingham town centre, standing on a high ridge overlooking the valley of the River Trent and with a population of only 588. This had grown to 8440 within the next 50 years and as is continued to increase, it was officially incorporated into the borough of Nottingham. During World War II, Sneinton was the target for air raids with the industrial units on Meadow Lane suffering direct hits. The name 'Sneinton' may have originated from 'Notintone', a street in the area, and a link to the Norman name Nottington for the area away from the city centre. From the mid-20th century onwards, there was a large influx of immigrants to the area, mostly from the West Indies, India and Pakistan, Bangladesh, Poland and Africa and this multi-cultural flavour remains to this day.
Currently, the area is best recognised for the windmill that stands on Sneinton Hill and incorporates Green's Windmill and Science Centre. Nearby, there used to stand the now-demolished Nottinghamshire County Lunatic Asylum, later a  boarding school known as King Edwards' and now the location of King Edward Park. The school was run by famous headmaster Albert Tanner and his wife Mary and was the scene of many deaths of children in industrial accidents. The school itself stood for 117 years before it was eventually demolished. Famous residents of Sneinton include the infamous murderer Arnold Booth (who also worked at King Edwards'), Salvation Army founder William Booth and bareknuckle boxing champion Bendigo.
Our first stop on our latest investigative adventure was The Moot located on Carlton Road.
 
This unusual looking building was formerly a chapel as evidenced by the unusual layout, and it was once upon a time the brewery tap for Medieval Beers until this relocated to The Old Angel. Inside, there is a small row of booths on the left hand side with a pool table and some small wooden tables opposite. There is a small staircase in one corner that presumably leads to living accommodation and the bar is small and situated in the far left hand corner. The bar includes 4 hand pumps, none of which are being used at the time we visit so, not wanting to be rude, we settled for a pint each of Theakston's Mild, available on smooth flow. Too late, I realised that there was a small selection of bottled ales available, in this case Harvest Pale, Thwaites' Wainwright and Badger Golden Champion. Taking our pints and retreating to a booth near the door, we discussed the absence of ale, which is made all the more curious by the presence of a large number of pump clips across the walls and staircase and a list of breweries written in chalk pen along one of the ceiling lintels. After much chatter, we decided that perhaps this is one of those venues that prioritises ale during busier periods so as to make sure that it gets sold. We'd certainly heard good things about it prior to our arrival and they advertise real ale on the boards at the front so this seems like a likely explanation given the evidence. The Theakston's Mild was in good condition too so that, at least, made up for it slightly.
For next stop, we intended to visit the Queen Adelaide on Windmill Lane back in what I call 'proper Sneinton'. However, the proverbial spanner ended up in the mechanism when we got there and found it closed despite it being far past opening hour. We even tried a return attempt a bit later in the vain hope that we'd got our timings wrong but, sadly, we were disappointed. Not to be deterred though, we moved on to another of Sneinton's pubs that I'd heard promising things about, the Lord Nelson.
 
The building that now houses the Lord Nelson is approximately 500 years old and has previously been some cottages and a coaching inn called 'Hornbuckles'. This is a rare breed of venue in an aesthetic sense, resembling a country pub in the middle of a city suburb, with its traditional brasses, original beams and low ceilings. The pub is divided into individual snug-like rooms with the bar a small, square, slightly raised structure more or less in the centre. The ales on offer are fairly standard. The pub is owned by what appears to be a combination of Greene King and the Pub People Co., so Greene King IPA is (un)welcome by its presence. Also available are Olde Trip and 2 from Nottingham Brewery (EPA and Supreme Bitter). I opted for the EPA, whereas Matt went for the stronger Supreme Bitter. The EPA was in good condition and we headed out to the beer garden, which happens to be the only one in the nearby area. At this juncture, conversation turned to Matt's trip out to see the band Clutch the night before. This was made even more interesting by the pub employee haphazardly trying to erect a large gazebo behind us. It was tempting to offer to help but it was more entertain to watch him try to figure out which way up the support posts were supposed to go.
Moving on, we next headed to a place we'd both visited before and instantly liked, despite Jade not being overly keen until she'd seen the inside. Heading back towards the city centre, we made our way to the King William IV, a street corner pub on the junction of Manvers Street.
 
Despite the slightly suspicious looking exterior, there is an awful lot to like about this traditional Victorian pub. The bars on the windows are more to do with the area the pub is in than the clientele and the wall on one side proudly proclaims micro-ales from near and far. Inside, it's as if someone has turned their living room into a bar. There is a lot of wooden seating, and the walls are decorated with Victorian scenes, artwork and pieces of breweriana. The bar is central around four wooden pillars and rectangular in shape with 9 hand pulls on show, one of which has Old Rosie. Ale-wise there really is a fantastic choice with Newby Wyke Banquo; 2 from Derbyshire's Whim Ales (Hartington IPA and Snow White); Ossett Blonde; Rat Brewery White Rat; Abbeydale Moonshine and 2 from Oakham (Bishop's Farewell and JHB). I was instantly drawn to the Moonshine as it is one of my favourite ales. Pale, 4.3%, and very hoppy with a nice fruit tang and undertones of citrus and a smooth and tasty finish. Eagerly clutching my pint, I followed round to the seating at the other side of the bar, which is positioned in front of a large TV showing Day One of The Ashes. Whilst somehow managing to get Matt into cricket, we engaged a few of the regulars and the barman in conversation. This is the kind of pub where you can easily have a nice comfortable chat with people without feeling out of place. Following our disappointment at the closure of Queen Adelaide, we compensated with a second pint here. Second time around, I opted for Hartington IPA from Whim Ales. This is a micro-brewery based just outside the Derbyshire village of Hartington with a rearing stag as the mascot for its pump clips. This was a good choice for a follow-up. At 4.5%, this is another that is pale and hoppy with a nice fruity aroma and strong flavours of citrus. Cricket conversation was in full flow by this point and both myself and Matt were very surprised by how much he got into it!
After watching Jonathon Trott more or less dismiss himself, we decided that another pub was in order. Admittedly, the final 2 on this trip aren't technically in Sneinton but they're close enough geographically that I felt that it was worth including them. First up was Bunkers Hill, which is technically in Hockley but has a strong reputation for live music and good ale and decent discounts during ice hockey matches as the Ice Arena is right next door.
 
Bunkers Hill is a 3 storey building with lots of high tables and chairs and a small outside smoking area. The live music is usually hosted in an open brick room upstairs and I've seen a couple of bands here, one of whom was Jade's brothers band Three Thirds Below (shameless plug but check them out). The bar is C shaped and located at the back of the room, There are 6 hand pulls, 1 of which is out of use, and 5 of which contain a mixture of ales and cider. The cider is Cheddar Valley from Somerset and the ales are Pedigree; Nottingham Brewery Sir Blondeville and Foundry Mild and Cottage Brewing Advantage. There is also Thornbridge Jaipur on a smooth flow tap and American-style wheat beer Blue Moon. First up, I went for Advantage. This was a good choice. At 4.4%, this was golden and bitter with hints of hops and a rather sweet flavour. Matt went for the Blue Moon, which was served with a slice of orange and was rather tasty, although more his thing than mine. The cricket was still on and we ended up staying for longer than planned, having 2 more pints each, both of mine being Sir Blondeville which, as always, was perfectly kept. As England started making their way through the Australian batting order, we made our final stop of the day. On Lower Parliament Street, the other side of the arena from Bunkers Hill, sits a rather non-descript looking 2 storey building known as The Castle.

 
 I've been intrigued about this place for a while, mostly with regard to how awful it might be. However, upon seeing that it advertised real ale on its signage, I then turned my attention to deciphering it's unusual opening hours. This was a bit of a stab in the dark on my part but, with our timing coinciding with its opening, it ended up being a pleasant surprise. I couldn't find out an awful lot about the place other than what they say about themselves but they're open from 5-close Mon-Wed, with additional opening periods between 12.30-3 the rest of the week. Their food is standard pub stuff but they also advertise Sunday lunch. Inside, there is lots of seating, mostly low tables and chairs, as well as a pool table and a surprisingly cute Chihuahua which I'm fairly sure was also in Bunkers Hill (with its owners on both occasions obviously). The bar is off to the side of the main room and is roughly horseshoe-shaped. The bar tender is a very nice, very sweet older lady with a slight limp and the ale selection consists of Landlord or Doom Bar. One of the 4 pumps is not in use but the 3rd includes Rosie's Pig cider. We opt for Doom Bar which ominously runs out as the second pint is being topped up and head out the back to a conservatory like area which opens out into a beer garden that is actually rather nice. This is another place that, like The Moot, probably holds out for busier periods as I imagine it gets a fair bit of evening trade from arena crowds and the like. Sadly, the Doom Bar is very vinegary, indicative of the barrel having gone but that doesn't mean that it isn't worth a return visit. These are the kinds of community pubs that deserve continued support from their regulars in order to ensure their continued survival. With that, and the decision to leave our sub-standard pints, we venture out to be picked up be Jade and head to a friend's BBQ well and truly full of ale and knowledge, and happy with our experience which, against the obvious assumptions, has shown that pubs in and around Sneinton have more to offer than first glance would indicate.
     

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Food (and ale) for thought

Good food and good beer usually go hand in hand and, with this connection firmly in mind, my objective this week was to investigate places in Nottingham that are associated with excellent grub but also have a reputation for providing some decent ale. I had a few places already in mind and I'd previously visited them all at least once so, once again, I knew more or less what I was letting myself in for on my travels. Accompanied once again by my partner in crime Matt, I headed into town, with my first destination being The Orange Tree, on the corner of Shakespeare Street and North Sherwood Street.


This black and white brick building was a place I visited regularly as a student and it's renowned for a decent cocktail selection, good food and some unbelievably attractive bar staff. I arrived slightly earlier than planned, about 5-10 minutes before the pub was actually open but, as it wasn't a bad day and I still had to wait for Matt, I didn't mind too much. Inside, the d├ęcor is stylish and modern with lots of seating, ranging from wooden tables and chairs to low sofas in the rear area, and a number of decorative arty prints adorning the walls. There is also a fairly decent beer garden to the rear for those who prefer to enjoy their beverages outside. The bar is roughly central and J-shaped with a decent selection of draught lagers and ciders. There are also 4 hand pumps, 1 of which is Traditional Scrumpy, with the other 3 being ales, in this case Greene King IPA, Castle Rock Harvest Pale and Greene King London Glory. With Matt now present, we both opted for a pint of London Glory (4%). This is a Greene King special edition, ruby in colour, rich and fruity with hints of roasted malt. Retiring to one of the sofa areas, I had a peruse of the menu which consists of a mixture of light bites, sandwiches and burgers but also more exotic items like tacos and hot dogs. I can also personally vouch for the quality of their Sunday dinners. Obviously, we knew we wouldn't be eating in every pub that we visited, but the general idea was to investigate the food available in each venue in hopes of proving that there are places that take pride in the quality of both their food and drink. The Orange Tree certainly passes muster in that respect, although I did leave feeling that the timing of our visit was a tad redundant as they are in the process of launching a new menu in the very near future.
Not to be put off by this, we headed on too our next location, which was further into the city centre. Situated amongst the row of premises behind the Council House, the Major Oak has entrances on both Pelham Street and Victoria Street.
 
Formerly part of the Hog's Head chain of businesses, the Major Oak is now operated by Stonegate Pub Company and named after a famous centuries old tree in Sherwood Forest with links to the legend of Robin Hood. The frontage is black and gold and the pub is very food driven but also does a good line in decent beer. The 2 entrances are on slightly different levels with the Pelham Street entrance being slightly elevated above the other due to the layout of the streets around it. There is a large amount of seating, mostly round tables and plush chairs but also an outdoor seating area in Pelham Street. There are a large number of TV screens, all on this occasion showing cricket coverage and the bar runs along the length of the wall and contains 9 hand pumps, 6 of which are in use with a mixture of interesting brews including Old Speckled Hen, Hop Original from Amber Ales (one of whose beers regularly features), Amber Ale from the Harbour Brewing Company, Acorn Brewery Blonde and Amarillo from Frome's Milk Street Brewery, along with one hand pump for real cider. Matt opted for the Amarillo whereas I tried my luck with Blonde from Barnsley's Acorn Brewery. At 4.0%, this was obviously blonde, very fruity and hoppy with a touch of citrus flavours. The food is very reasonably priced with a number of decent money-saving deals, including 2 meals for £7.45 and a burger and a drink deal for £6.45. The meals themselves are standard pub fare but are prepared to a very high quality.
We expected a lot from our next destination, The Bell Inn in the Market Place, officially the oldest pub in Nottingham and now part of the Greene King portfolio.
 
The Bell Inn sits on the site of land that was previously granted to Carmelite friars when they arrived in Nottingham in 1276. They established a friary on what is now Friar Lane and The Bell Inn, which was founded as a licenced premises in 1437, is located on the site of what would have been the refectory for this friary. The cellars of the pub are a combination of natural sandstone and hand carved caves that date from at least the 12th century. A bonded warehouse is hidden beneath a wooden hatch in the cellar, evidence of the old method of wine sales. The interior is very traditional with olde worlde leanings, with original beams and doorways still in evidence. The furniture is in keeping with the overall appearance being largely solid wood. The property extends over 2 floors with the main bar area and a couple of snug and lounge bars on the ground floor and the Belfry restaurant upstairs. The food here is excellent and sensibly priced with a good choice between light snacks and larger meals. My particular favourites are the beef and Abbot Ale pie and their excellent Sunday lunches. The main bar is a loose J shape and includes 11 hand pulls, all of which are well stocked. The usual Greene King offerings are present: IPA, Olde Trip, Old Speckled Hen, Abbot Ale and Greene King Mild. There are also a number of ales from Nottingham Brewery, namely EPA, Robin Hood and Trooper, a special edition brew for Armed Forces Day. Titanic Cap. Smith is also available but me and Matt opt for another Nottingham Brewery concoction: William Clarke Anniversary Ale. Named after a former landlord of The Bell, it has been specially brewed to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the founding of Trent Bridge cricket ground, which the eponymous gentleman was also responsible for. It's 4.6% and dark straw in colour, easy drinking with a smooth taste, fruity finish and an all around flavour of a nice hop and malt mix. As per usual with out ale trips, the conversation goes in some unusual directions at The Bell, with topics touched upon including Salvador Dali and the career of Black Sabbath.
As well as it's reputation as a place of great food and drink, The Bell also has a number of ghostly tales associated with it, which is hardly surprising given the age of the building. Amongst the phenomena reported is the apparition of a man named Robert who is seen walking through the restaurant. Two men have been seen sitting at a table before disappearing. One of the ladies toilets, located in the caves, is said to be haunted by a female phantom and there have been a number of reports of a jester-like figure seen standing outside the main entrance.
Although not as old, or as haunted, as The Bell, our next destination is still one of Nottingham's best known venues for food and drink and has a continued tradition of live music throughout it's history. Located just round the corner from The Bell, on St. James' Street, sits the former music hall now known as the Malt Cross.
 
The Malt Cross has still largely retained the appearance of an old music hall, with the bar downstairs against the wall and a mostly open plan layout to the seating arrangements. Upstairs is mostly a U-shaped internal balcony/mezzanine that looks out onto the floor below but also incorporates a number of cosy seating areas. Originally opened in 2003, the Malt Cross is also a Christian Charity which helps to raise money by donating all of its profits to local causes. Drinks-wise, the Malt Cross is known for a wide selection of European beers and includes 6 hand pumps. 1 of these is a traditional perry and there are 5 ales on offer. One is their own ale, Music Hall, specially created for the Malt Cross by Brewster's. They also have Harvest Pale, Blue Monkey's 99 Red Baboons, Adnams Fat Sprat Amber Ale and Mystery Tor from Glastonbury brewery. I chose a pint of the Mystery Tor (4.2%) which was golden with a hop flavour, smooth finish and notable citrus kick. Matt decided on the Fat Sprat, which he agreed was excellent!
Our next, and last, trip of the day was the place we'd decided earlier in the day would be our food stop for the afternoon. Situated on Wilford Street, near the offices of Nottingham Evening Post and on the very edge of the canal, sits The Navigation Inn, home of the now legendary Annie's Burger Shack.
 
With a working canal lock more or less in the beer garden, this 3 storey building is a haven for live music, real ale and amazing food. The pub layout is fairly traditional with lots of wooden furniture providing seating, the bar on the right hand side of the entrance and a small stage in one of the corners. There are 12 hand pulls present and it's nice to see them all being utilised. The ales are from a variety of sources with the majority from Jennings (Sneck Lifter, Mild, High Spy, Cocker Hoop and Tom Fool) but also beers from Mansfield (Cask Bitter), Wychwood (Hobgoblin), Brakspear (Oxford Gold), Marston's (Morrell's Varsity, Pedigree and EPA) and Single Hop (Amarillo). After making our drinks choices (I opted for Tom Fool (4.0%), golden and malty with aromas of roast malt and a flavour of hops and crystal malt), we sat down and hungrily cast our eyes over the menu. For those of you who haven't yet experienced Annie's (where have you been?), this is what you need to know. The Navigation's sole food provider is Annie's Burger Shack, an in-house gourmet burger restaurant run by Rhode Island native and Nottingham resident Anmarie Spaziano. The burgers are all her own inventions, although competitions are regularly held for people to invent their own to add to the menu and come in a variety of unusual flavours and styles. All the burgers can be vegetarian or vegan as per choice (although why would you not want the meat?) and come with a choice of sides between wedges, curly fries and shoestring fries. All the burgers are reasonably priced and there is now a collector card for those who want to try them all. After a couple of minutes of debate, I eventually decided upon the Hawaiian Burger, a normal beef burger with salad but with the additions of a piece of gammon, a grilled pineapple ring and melted Swiss cheese. I chose this with a side of spicy potato wedges. It was everything I expected and more. Having visited Annie's a few times in the past, I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. The beef was tender and perfectly cooked, the gammon was rich and the Swiss cheese added a soft and subtle edge to the flavours of the spicy wedges. Just as we were finishing our burgers, Jade joined us in desperate need of a pint. Under the circumstances, it would've been rude not to have another so this time I selected Amarillo from Single Hop brewery. This 4% beer is named after the American hop variety used to make it and is very citrusy and flowery but with a refreshing yet clean bitterness.
And with that, our quest to find good ale and food pubs was drawn to close. In all honesty, I think it was a rousing success and proves that pubs can do everything right if they're prepared to donate the time and effort to making it work. All the pubs we visited on this occasion are worth returning too for the beer and food alone and together these ingredients make for an excellent combination. Anyone who enjoys their food and knows their ale will certainly find something to suit them and they are all, especially Annie's Burger Shack at The Navigation, worth visiting on any day of the week. Good food plus good beer equals a good time had by all.