Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Beeston Beer Bonanza

I found myself solo again this week for the first of 2 planned trips out in the space of 3 days. My first area for investigation was the Nottingham suburb of Beeston, somewhere I'd never fully explored but which I knew was something of a haven for decent ale pubs. Beeston is a former village, lying 5.5 miles southwest of Nottingham city centre which grew to town proportions thanks to mid-twentieth century suburban development. It is geographically continuous with the former villages of Chilwell, Wollaton and Lenton Abbey and is separated from neighbouring Bramcote by Beeston Fields Golf Course, with the eastern edge of the town made up of the border between Broxtowe and the City of Nottingham. The main area of the town, including the main shopping area lies north of the railway line with the mixed housing and industrial area of Beeston Rylands to the south. The earliest recorded name given to the area is Bestune derived from Bes = rye grass and tune = farmstead settlement. The description of local pasture is still preserved in the name of Beeston Rylands. An alternative derivation comes from Bedestun = the farm of Bede. In the late nineteenth century, there was a genteel convention that the name of Beeston was derived from that of 'bee'. This would have been consistent with the notion of the town as a 'hive of industry'. Although this derivation is known to be dubious, a bee was adopted as the emblem of the town council, appears on the coat of arms of the town and can be seen decorating various properties and objects, such as rubbish bins, on the High Road. Beehives are also carved into the brick of the town hall exterior and there is a sculpture on the high street of a man sitting next to a  bee hive, commonly known as 'Bee-man', 'the man of Beeston', 'the Beekeeper' and 'The Bee-King'.
Beeston grew from its village status in the nineteenth century with its development as a silk weaving centre. The first silk mill was burned down (along with Nottingham Castle) in the Reform Bill riots of 1831. With the decline of the silk industry, many of the former mills moved to light industrial uses in the early twentieth century. Equipment produced by the Beeston Boiler Company is still to be found all around the British Empire. In 1901, the National Telephone Co. established a factory there for making telephone materials. This subsequently burned down in 1903 and was rebuilt and extended. The Boots campus contains some Grade I and II modernist buildings designed by engineer Owen Williams, although these are very difficult to see from any public highway. Between 1880 and the turn of the century, Thomas Humber and his partners made bicycles and eventually motorcycles at a factory at the junction of what is now Queens Road and Humber Road. At its height it employed 2000, although this came to an abrupt end in 1907 when the operation moved to Coventry. Motor manufacture returned to Beeston fro a short time in 1987 when Middlebridge Company set up a small factory on Lilac Grove and produced 77 scimitar cars. The company went into liquidation in 1990. Beeston Maltings operated until the late 20th century. The building stood opposite the Victoria Hotel on Dovecote Lane but were sadly demolished in September 2012 to make way for housing.
To get to Beeston to begin exploring, I took the slightly unusual step of getting the train, a trip which takes roughly 5 minutes, costs considerably less than the bus and gets me closer to my first desired location. But first, a cautionary tale and a little bit of a rant. Upon arriving at Beeston train station, I did the conscientious thing and through my used ticket into one of the waste bins on the platform as my journey around the town made it easier to get the bus home so I had only purchased a one way ticket. As I made my way to the exit that would take me to a footbridge over the railway line and towards the town centre, I was stopped by a member of station staff, who asked me if I had just travelled. When I said that I had just got off the train from Nottingham, she asked to see my ticket. Obviously, I was then forced to tell her that I had disposed of said item and she directed me to another member of staff, very official-looking, who was barring my route of exit towards the steps out of the station. When I repeated what had occurred, she told me that I needed to retrieve my ticket, which led to the embarrassment of me having to walk back to the other end of the platform and rummage through the rubbish bin to locate my ticket, all the while feeling like a criminal. When I found it, unfolded it and presented it too her, she smarmily told me too 'keep hold of it next time'. What, keep hold of a one way ticket, that I won't be using again and which expires by the end of the day? Really? Jog on love! Get a proper profession you bloody ticket Nazi jobsworth!
Rant over. This small, but nonetheless rather irritating, mishap aside, I finally made my way out of the station and headed to my first destination, the aforementioned Victoria Hotel on Dovecote Lane.
The Victoria is a very traditional, Victorian railway hotel situated adjacent to the east-bound platform of the nearby railway station. The character of the building has certainly been retained with signage on the frosted glass windows, old wooden doors between the rooms and framed adverts for beers and breweries decorating the walls of both the small and large bars either side of the entrance. The large, rectangular bar has an extensive spirit selection and the ale choice is impressive with 11 ales and 4 real ciders and perries on display. Ale-wise the choices are wide and varied with offerings from Castle Rock (Harvest Pale and Black Gold), Everards (Tiger), Kelham Island (Best Bitter), Welbeck Abbey (Henrietta), Caythorpe (Cocker Beck Bitter), Oldershaw (Heavenly Blonde), Batemans (Golden Swallow), Shepherd Neame (Goldings), Holdens (Golden Glow) and By The Horns (Lambeth Walk). My mind was blown by the quantity on show but I managed to keep my composure long enough to order a pint of Golden Swallow (4.0%).This is golden in colour with top notes of fruit and hoppy underneath, a smooth, dry taste and hints of citrus zest. It's a very good start to the day and certainly more than makes up for my experience at the train station. I took a seat facing one of the well-decorated walls, drinking in the nostalgia of the place and already feeling like Beeston was a good choice. The atmosphere is very relaxed and the pub also provides CAMRA discount of 20p off a pint every Sunday-Thursday.
It was hard to tear myself away from the Victoria but needs must and so I headed back the way I had come but this time headed straight on, through the labyrinth of tram-related roadworks, into the town centre to High Road, where my next destination, The Hop Pole, sat amidst the trappings of modernity.
Dating back to at least 1870, the Hop Pole has an unspoilt feel both inside and out, with exposed beams and 2 fireplaces amongst a traditional wooden interior with feature wallpaper. The pub has amassed a significant reputation amongst ale drinkers and this is due largely to the hard work of licensee Karen, a multi award winner amongst licensees in the area, and her dedication to providing excellent real ale from nearby and further afield. I arrive just after opening time and approach the central pentagonal bar with its 8 ales, Old Rosie and Weston's Traditional Scrumpy. The choice of ales is certainly varied with Harvest Pale and Doom Bar amongst some less well-known including Kelham Island Easy Rider, Reality Hop Pole Bitter (brewed especially for Karen by local Reality Brewery), Robinson's Dizzy's Dark Side, Adnams Broadside and J.W.Lees Moondance. Feeling adventurous and in the mood for something darker I went for Dizzy's Dark Side (4%). This is a captivating dark oak colour with a clean, crisp hop aroma and flavours of toffee and caramel. I was the only customer this early in the day and took a stool at the bar admiring the interior of the relatively small pub and periodically chatting to one of the barmaids. This pub does CAMRA discount too, also Sunday-Thursday and this knocks 15p off a beverage.
I was thoroughly enjoying my trip to Beeston on what had turned out to be another nice, late summer afternoon, before I even reached my next location. The Crown Inn markets itself as a 'cask ale emporium' and it certainly doesn't disappoint!
I can find nothing negative to say about this place, as will soon become clear. Formerly run by Hardy's and Hanson's, in 2009 the pub was transformed into a traditional old-fashioned ale house, with 14 ales, 8 ciders and perries, continental draught beers, Cornish fruit wines, an entire bar dedicated to whisky, no fruit machines or pool tables and an interior divided into small rooms and snugs by traditional wooden alcoves and frosted glass. They are also dog friendly so there is a danger of this becoming my new favourite place in the world ever! It also has the distinction of being East Midlands CAMRA pub of the year in both 2010 and 2011. The ale choice is certainly fabulous with the previous claim of 14 certainly stacking up with a wide variety of choices from a number of breweries. Available for the connoisseur are beer from Ashbourne's Leatherbritches (Cad, Bounder and Scoundrel), Everards (Sunchaser and Tiger), Nottingham (Rock Bitter), Milestone (Loxley Ale), Maypole (Gate Hopper), Navigation (Apus and Scutum), Harwich Town (Redoubt Stout), Fullers (London Pride) and Oakham (JHB). The 8 ciders and perries are impressive in their range as well. I was that overwhelmed by the sheer majesty of the place that I needed time to make my choice. I finally settled on a pint of Scoundrel from Leatherbritches Brewery in Ashbourne. At 4.1%, this is dark ruby in colour with a malty aroma and flavours of coffee and roasted malt. The badge also features Oliver Reed as Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist which is a plus if you like this sort of thing. If you've never been to Beeston in your life and you like real ale, I suggest you get out to the Crown as soon as possible because you won't be disappointed. And, if you've been out to Beeston to drink ale and never visited, then you really don't have an excuse. It's wonderful! It even has an additional outside bar which is in use from 6pm on Fridays and Saturdays and, throughout the summer, every weekend has featured 10 different beers from a different area of the UK taking pride of place on the beer. These people know what they're doing and they're doing it very well indeed.
I really didn't want to leave The Crown but, in the name of research, I was duty bound to do so. Heading further into the town centre, my next stop was the local branch of Wetherspoons, The Last Post.
This was formerly Beeston's main post office, built in the mid 1930s. The post office, formerly in the High Road, occupied a new building in the square early this century. In 1934, the post office was rebuilt at the junction of Chilwell Road and Foster Avenue and is now this Wetherspoons pub. More recently, in 1995, the new Nottingham District Sorting Office was built on Padge Road, with the post office itself being adjacent to the pub. The interior is much what you'd expect from a Wetherspoons with an abundance of seating and several slightly raised areas to break the whole thing up a bit. The chandeliers were interesting and reminded me a little bit of the spaceship from Close Encounters but in a more modernist kind of way. Anyway, I've spoken before of my appreciation for the effort Wetherspoons go too to look after their ale and break away from their branding and this place was no exception. 15 hand pumps occupied the bar providing a variety of tasty tipples, including Springhead Maid Marian, Adnams Broadside, Nottingham Brewery EPA and Rock Bitter, Abbot Ale, Ruddles, Jennings Sneck Lifter, Hobgoblin, Milestone Old Oak and American Pale Ale and Shepherd Neame Bishop's Finger (which I've rarely seen on draught). I still have some Wetherspoons vouchers, courtesy of my CAMRA membership so I wanted to use a couple of them up in here. My first choice here was Old Oak (4.1%). This was another dark beer, which has somehow become a theme in the past couple of pubs, with a dark red colour, a creamy head, malty aroma and an oaky malt flavour complimented by a smooth finish. Before deciding on my 2nd pint, I contemplated getting food but decided that money was better spent on ale and so went for another Milestone beer, this time American Pale Ale (4.6%). This was more or less what it suggested on the label: pale and hoppy with a fruity aroma and a flavour of citrus and lemon. Delicious enough and it gave me the kick I needed to try and find my next, and penultimate, stop.
After getting slightly confused as to my bearings, due largely to the fact that I'd been drinking and the logistics of using Google Maps on a phone and walking at the same time, I finally found what I'd been looking for: The Malt Shovel.
Whilst, both inside and outside, this appears to be a standard city centre pub, it has appeared in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide on more than one occasion, so in theory I was on to a winner. The layout is fairly standard with the bar to the left of the room, lots of wooden seating and some plush furniture. It also includes 5 hand pulls, containing Wadworth 6X, Nottingham Brewery Rock Bitter and Rock Mild and King Erik (one of their special editions, brewed for the Pub People Co., who own this and Nottingham's Bunkers Hill amongst others) as well as Kelham Island Easy Rider. I plumped for King Erik at 5.2%, copper in colour, malty in the nose, refreshingly bitter on the taste buds and cheaper than usual due to a handy CAMRA discount of around 20p (I can't remember the exact figure).
It took me a bit of time to drink this pint and I was pondering the wisdom of my decision not to have food, when I finally pushed myself on to the final destination, a pub with the added advantage of a nearby bus stop to aid my journey home. The Greyhound is a pub with a strong background in live music and good beer.
Behind, the creamy walls is a large, expansive interior with a central bar wrapped around the main room and booths and small tables around the edge. The pub was resurrected in 2006 following a period which had left it very rundown and the efforts of the team at the pub have certainly paid off. There are 6 hand pulls on the bar and although 1 is out of use, the other 5 all have something to offer with Bombardier, Hobgoblin, Harvest Pale, Doom Bar and (my eventual choice) Jennings Skinny Dog. At 4.0%, it is golden in colour with a bitter aroma and a malty taste with a strong, earthy aftertaste. I spent some time in this pub, consuming my last pint, pondering the success of the day as a whole and, unwisely, putting the last of my change in the ItBox meaning that I had to get more cash out to afford the bus home. Beeston certainly ticked all of the boxes and I can honestly say that not one of the pubs is somewhere I wouldn't visit again, especially the standout venues like The Victoria Hotel, The Hope Pole and, in particular, The Crown, all of which are doing things as they should be done and their efforts are certainly very much appreciated. Beeston has a lot to offer the drinker of proper beer and I would thoroughly endorse anyone planning to make a visit out this way. You won't be disappointed, I can promise you that!  


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cruising the Canal

This week, Matt and I were reunited as drinking compadres and decided on an earlier start than normal so we could explore a few of the pubs that span both sides of Nottingham's canal, in particular the area between the train station and Wilford Street bridge. The canal stretches 23.6 kilometres from Langley Mill in Derbyshire to the River Trent on the other side of Beeston. The canal originally opened in 1796 although most of it was closed in 1937. The southern section is now part of the River Trent Navigation and the northern section is a local nature reserve. Following my completion of a literary test that I had to complete as part of my imminent teacher training program, Matt and I had agreed to meet around 11am (opening time) at our first destination. Although not actually situated on the canal itself, our first stop is close enough geographically to feature in this segment and is a pub certainly worth finding any excuse to visit. We began our day at the Castle Rock brewery tap, the Vat and Fiddle.
Located adjacent to the Castle Rock brewery, which sits behind the pub, the Vat and Fiddle is a 1930s rebuild of a Victorian local that was known as The Grove for most of its life, before a series of failed rebrandings led to its eventual closing by its owners. Resurrected as a real ale house, the Tom Hoskins in 1992, it was subsequently rechristened the Vat and Fiddle by new owners Castle Rock in 1997 and gained a reputation as a proper drinkers pub. It is dubbed as the brewery tap for the brewery itself. It had been a while since we'd both visited this place so it was pleasant to see that the level of excellence we remembered was still present. The old, Victorian interior has a rectangular central bar, wooden furniture and fabric sofas and a bar billiards table, a rare site in Nottingham, although one also resides at The Newhouse on Canal Street, another Castle Rock pub not too far away. The bar has lots of ales, spread across 12 hand pumps, but also has a vast variety of whiskies available behind the bar. The overall atmosphere is very relaxed and exactly what you'd hope for and expect to find in a classic drinking establishment. Ale-wise, the majority of what's on offer is Castle Rock as you'd imagine, although Colchester Brewery's Lemon Drizzle is available as a guest. The house beers on offer are Preservation, Elsie Mo, Screech Owl, Harvest Pale, Richard Beckinsale, Honey Bee, Sheriff's Tipple, Black Gold and Trailing Snapdragon. Very much spoilt for choice, it took a little time for us to decide but in the end we went for the two offerings from the Natural Selections range. I went for a pint of Trailing Snapdragon (4.2%), whilst Matt went for the Honey Bee.
The Snapdragon was excellent, a very fruity wheat beer, golden in colour and with a zesty aroma and citrus taste. The pints went down so well, and it was still not yet lunchtime, that we felt that a second was in order to give us a broader idea of the range of beers available. Second time around, Matt went for the very lemony guest beer from Colchester Brewery. I went for a brew from another of the brewery's special ranges, the Nottinghamian Celebration Ales, dedicated to famous Nottingham residents. On this occasion, it was Richard Beckinsale, brewed in memory of the much-loved actor who starred in Porridge and Rising Damp and also fathered Underworld and Van Helsing star Kate. This ale was also 4.2% and was bronze in colour, with a slightly bitter aroma, a malty taste and a smooth finish. We could easily have stayed in the Vat and Fiddle all day but that wouldn't have been very productive so we finally decided that we should probably move on to some more places in our chosen area of study for the week. We'll definitely be going back more often though! The Vat has been through a lot in its relatively short life, not too mention the fairly recent loss of the much-loved pub cat Kipper, and is one of Nottingham's most well-known pubs, together with the associated brewery. The brewery has the rare distinction of allegedly being haunted. In 2011, a member of staff spotted a male figure walking across the cold storage area, although the unknown man could not be found upon further investigation. Over the years, several staff have reported seeing things from the corner of their eye that they cannot explain. With this anecdote aside, as long as the beer continues to be as consistently good as it is, a little ghostly interference can only be a good thing!
Our next location is considerably closer to the canal and is actually on Canal Street. Renowned for good food and a consistently changing wide range of ale, Fellows, Morton and Clayton is much-loved.
This wonderful Victorian pub is named after the local company that used to manufacture canal boats for use on the nearby waterways and further afield. The brick exterior leads into an interior consisting of exposed brickwork and traditional wooden features, including lots of seating, arranged over 2 or 3 staggered levels. There is a disused brewery upstairs that harks back to the day when the pub used to provide its own beverages in conjunction with guests. There are a couple of dart boards in the carpeted lower area and the pub also boasts a small but decent outside area that contains a few picnic tables. There are 10 hand pumps available for the hardy drinker, with a variety of different concoctions on show including Westons 1st Quality Cider, Sharp's Doom Bar, Lincoln Green Tuck and Marion, Thwaites' Wainwright, Black Sheep Bitter, Tim Taylor Landlord, St. Austell Proper Job and Castle Rock Harvest Pale. For those of you that don't know, Matt is from the West Country so there was no way we were not going to have the Proper Job, especially because it meant that Matt could order it in his regional accent, to the general bemusement of the bar staff. The beer was not bemusing though. At 4.5%, it was very hoppy and pale with a fruity aroma and a heady, citrus taste. We took a seat out in the beer garden, as the weather was brightening up from an initial overcast look and the sun was very warming. This pub is popular with football fans and it's easy to see why. As well as being on the walking route from the City Centre to both the City Ground and Meadow Lane, the atmosphere is very welcoming and provides a pleasant drinking and dining experience for all.
The third spot on our canal-based journey was literally the other side of the fence from where we were sitting and was the 2nd Castle Rock pub on the itinerary. I've visited the Canalhouse a number of times before, including for my very first proper blog entry, and no trip to the canal is complete without a chance to delve into its range of ales.
There was lots to choose from again on this occasion, including the requisite quantity from Castle Rock, and Matt and I both opted for a guest ale on this occasion. Matt plumped for another Colchester Brewery beer, in this instance Red Diesel, whilst I was immediately drawn to a beer from one of my favourite breweries, Abbeydale, and their Philosophy (4.9%). This was another example of the quality on offer from this Yorkshire based brewery, copper in colour, very malty in taste and with a soft, smooth, creamy head. As we sat by the canal with our pints, Matt's friend Luke joined us, fresh from a week-long stint as holding manager for the nearby Waterfront, which would have been good for a visit had it not been closed. With another member to our party, our next plan was to nip over to the other side of the canal and visit the local Wetherspoons, The Company Inn.
 The pub takes its name from the Trent Navigation Company which built this former warehouse on the north bank of the canal. It is one of three units on the ground floor of what was formerly the Waterways warehouse. Internally, the pub is of the standard 'Spoons layout with a large amount of seating and a long, single bar at the back of the room. Incidentally, the toilets are disconcerting due to the presence of a large mirror inside the door which is surprisingly easy to walk into, especially more than once. On the bar are 10 hand pumps with a mixture of normal Wetherspoons ales and a number of guests. Available at the time of our visit are Hobgoblin, Abbot Ale, Ruddles Best, Ruddles Reserve, Medieval Brewery Broad Sword, Bombardier, Nottingham Brewery Foundry Mild and Centurion MD, and Navigation Apus and Traditional. Drawn largely by the name, Matt and I went for Broad Sword and weren't disappointed. It was another that tipped the scales at 4.9% and was golden in colour, incredibly fruity and certainly very drinkable. This pub also provided the spelling mistake of the day with a sports advertising board advising us that Nottingham Forest would be playing 'Watord' on Sky Sports this weekend.
At this point, we had already decided where our journey would end and Matt then hit on a better idea and suggested that, as we were nearby, it couldn't hurt to visit Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, which is only across the road. I love the Trip so I immediately thought this was genius. The Trip was busy, with both locals and tourists but we didn't mind as it meant that we could sit outside in the shadow of the castle. We ended up enjoying an exceptionally well-kept pint of Olde Trip here, after attmepts to order both Robin Hood and Rock Mild were met with new that both had run out. I felt bad for the lone barmaid as she seemed to be completely by herself, dealing with a busy bar, but did so with a smile the whole time and did not seem too flustered or stressed, which is very difficult to manage under those conditions, trust me!
Following the Trip, our final destination loomed and you can't get much closer physically to the canal than The Navigation. It would have been a travesty not to make a return visit here as we were in the vicinity, especially as it gave us another opportunity to try one of Annie's awesome burgers! The ale selection was interesting and varied and I opted for a pint of Independence (4.1%) from Shipyard Brewery. This proved to be a wise choice as it was brimming with flavours being very hoppy, with hints of both malt and citrus. It was certainly very tasty. Jade arrived whilst we were perusing the menus and we relocated to the outside seating area which sits right on the very edge of the canal. I opted for the Mushroom Swiss burger which contained a large quantity of delicious mushrooms and slatherings of Swiss cheese. It was very tasty indeed and I was pleasantly surprised that one of my friends is now working in the kitchen here too. Whilst eating our burgers and discussing our successful day exploring the canal, we began discussing canal boats and locks. The Navigation has a lock right next to it and it was interesting watching boats progress through them down the canal. It was at this point that logic and common sense seemed to desert me as I couldn't grasp the concept as to why, when water runs through a lock to allow a boat to pass, the water level on one side stayed at the same level, whilst the other increased. This led to a heated, frustrating but, in hindsight, thoroughly hilarious, attempt by Matt and Jade to make me understand that the secret was in the speed at which the lock was opened and that the overall water volume was unaffected. Eventually, my brain stopped being silly and allowed me to understand what was happening. It makes complete sense now that the water that flows through a lock is immediately replenished by water flowing downstream from the source, allowing the water that drains through to run away once the gate is closed. We even got to open and close the lock for a passing boat which was fun bur, I must admit, didn't really help at the time. Once I stopped thinking of a canal as a closed system though, I finally got my head around it. I think..........
And on that watery and physics-based bombshell, it became apparent that perhaps we should go home. The day had, once again, been both interesting and thoroughly enjoyable and I even learned something about the sorcery of travelling by canal boat. The venues around the canal are varied, diverse and certainly interesting from an historical viewpoint as well as aesthetically. The summer that we've just had has no doubt contributed considerably to their popularity and there really is nothing quite like a quiet, well-earned pint by a canal on a sunny afternoon. Next week, as I have a week off prior to the start of my teacher training, I plan to make 2 pub trips to a couple of interesting areas in the Nottingham area. I shall say no more for now so keep an eye for future posts! I'm off to read about magical water gates..........

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Visit to the Villages

This week I found myself in the unusual position of being solo, with Matt being otherwise engaged. My plan for this trip regardless was to visit a few of the border villages of Nottinghamshire, specifically Trowell, Cossall and Awsworth, to see what they had to offer with regards to an ale scene. This wold require hopping on and off of buses with the aid of an all-day ticket and significantly exercising my legs. Thankfully the day I had chosen promised to be a fine and dry one so off I ventured, wondering what the day had ahead. I made my way to Victoria Bus Station and got on the Rainbow 2, knowing that for £5, a Zig-Zag ticket would allow me to travel across Trent Barton land all day completely unlimited. I have to confess that I cheated slightly with my first location, as it is technically in Wollaton but got accidentally missed out when I carried out my tour of that particular area a few months back. As it was on the way to where I was headed, I thought the time was right for a visit. Situated on Trowell Road, next to a Co-op store and petrol station is Middleton's.

Named after the well-known local family that built, owned and lived in Wollaton Hall, Middleton's is a gastro pub/restaurant combo with a paved car park and outdoor decking/smoking area to the front and an interior that is split in two by the styles of seating. One side is more bar-like with high tables and benches whilst the other, which I took to be the restaurant area consisted of leather booths and plush seating. The pub has a strong reputation locally for putting on live music and also contains two pool tables and a dart board. The large, rectangular central bar is well-stocked for both spirits and lager and also includes 7 hand pumps split around the length. Of these, 4 are being used when I visit and they feature an interesting variety of brews, in this case Old Speckled Hen, Lion from Hook Norton Brewery and the Iron Maiden brewed Trooper, created by the band in conjunction with Robinson's Brewery. Mann's Chestnut Mild is also available on a smooth flow pump. Although it was only just past lunchtime, I was intrigued by Trooper and opted for a pint to open the day's proceedings. At 4.8%, it is a golden bronze in colour with a tight, creamy head, a slight hoppy aroma and a taste of malt with soft fruit undertones. It was certainly an excellent pint to start this excursion with and the pub was worth a visit for its pleasant atmosphere. Finishing my pint in time to make the next bus, I crossed back over the road to the handy bus stop and continued my trip to the village of Trowell, between Wollaton and Ilkeston. Located on the border of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, Trowell is believed to be Saxon in origin, with four manors, a church and a population of 50 people by 1066. Coal was extracted nearby from the 13th century until 1928. The A609 is the main road through the village and the M1 and A6007 from Stapleford also pass nearby, with most of the village lying between the River Derwent and the Erewash Canal. The nearby Broxtowe Nature Reserve contains an original lock keeper's cottage and a Grade II listed bridge built in 1794-96. The only pub in the village is The Festival Inn, which was my next stop of the afternoon.
The pub is now operated by Spirit Pub Co. and includes a brick exterior and a stylish, old-fashioned interior with floral carpets and sofa cushions as well as a pair of stained glass skylights. The pub is divided into a lounge/bar and a pool room separated by a partition wall. The main bar contains lots of low, wooden tables and a small raised area that includes an antique fireplace. The lighting is soft and minimalist and there are many traditional features. The bar sits in the corner of the room and serves both areas of the pub. There are 3 hand pulls on the bar and, although only one of these is in use, the other 2 are in the process of being cleaned. The remaining pump contains Bombardier and this is in very good condition and lives up to the pub's Cask Marque accreditation standard. I spent the time here enjoying both my pint and the pleasing aesthetics of the pub whilst watching some of Australia's 2nd innings in the 4th Test. Shortly after this, it was back onto the bus again, this time getting off in Ilkeston and walking down Awsworth Road towards the hamlet of Cossall, which lies between Trowell and Ilkeston with Awsworth just down the road. Cossall is located approximately 1 mile east of Ilkeston and, according to the 2001 census, has a population of around 620. To the of the hamlet is a large hill or slag heap, produced from tons of waste extracted from the local coal mines. I'd been through Cossall a few times in the past but, on this occasion, discovered it was at least twice as big as I realised with some large houses along a main street, looking considerably newer than the more picturesque Church Lane area nearby. My destination was intended to be The Gardeners Inn, a Greene King pub and the only one in the hamlet proper. After a significant walk in the increasing heat, I finally reached it with hopes of quenching my thirst only to see a sight that strikes fear into the heart of any hardened pub-goer: a sign declaring Closed Until Further Notice! With no clear explanation and no sign of anyone nearby, I decided that the best plan was to head to my next destination, which meant crossing the village boundary into neighbouring Awsworth.
Awsworth lies roughly between Ilkeston and Kimberley and has been a civil parish since 1894. The most notable landmark of the area is the parish church of St. Peter, which consists of a remaining chancel of a brick church from of 1746 and a nave which was rebuilt in 1902-03 in the Gothic style. I had heard good things and had high hopes about the next stop on the tour. Situated on Main Street, next to a small industrial estate and car mechanics, is The Gate Inn.
This 3 storey brick building is distinguished to be awarded the title of Locale Pub of the year, an award it should have just received at the time of writing! It's certainly deserved. The pub was struggling around 3 years ago, until it was successfully taken over by the current landlords and they have never looked back since. The pub is roughly square in layout with the bar at the centre, and very traditional in its internal appearance, with lots of olde worlde features and traditional photos of the local area. The bar has 7 hand pumps, all from local breweries. On offer at the time of my visit are Oakham Ales Oaple; Burton Bridge XL Bitter; Full Mash Nevermore; Nutbrook More; Blue Monkey BG Sips; Belvoir Brewery Whippling and Dancing Duck Ay Up. After a few slightly overwhlemed seconds of decision making, I eventually went for the Nevermore from Full Mash. This is a very dark mild with a strength of 4.6%, an aroma of biscuit and roasted malt with a chocolaty flavour and a smooth, creamy finish. Following my disappointment at The Gardeners Inn being closed, I felt that it would be rude not to have a second pint! This time around, I ordered the Whippling (3.6%). This golden ale had a fruity aroma, nicely balanced with a citrusy taste and a zesty finish. As sad as I was to leave The Gate, it was time to move on. I had one last destination on my list and then I had to attempt to find the right bus stop to get me back to Nottingham. I would heartily and completely recommend The Gate to anyone with a passion for real ale from local breweries as this is one pub that is quietly and brilliantly going about its business and they thoroughly deserve their award. Congratulations to them!
Further down Main Street and tucked away off the beaten track and down a country lane next to a major road sits the Hog's Head Hotel.
This former coaching inn underwent a substantial refurb in the early 70s but still retains its old features and traditional interiors including exposed beams, traditional brickwork and a real hogshead barrel built into part of the bar. The seating is traditional and one side of the bar includes a large  number of tankards and jugs hanging from hooks on the ceiling. The internal appearance is one of considerable age but also has a unique beauty about and a number of modern aspects that don't detract from the overall effect. There are 3 hand pumps and also Hardy's Dark and Hardy's Cool on smooth flow taps. Only one of the ale pumps is available but this features Old Speckled Hen exactly as it should be. As I sat and enjoyed my pint and let the minutes wander, I took the opportunity to peruse the food menu and it sounds excellent and certainly a place worth revisiting for food alone. I spent longer here than I initially intended, such was the relaxed atmosphere of the place. When I eventually made my way out, I had a wander towards where I thought the bus stops for home where, somewhere in the vicinity of the nearby IKEA island. After a brief period of losing my bearings in a labyrinthine and mildly ominous housing estate and some confusion as to which side of the roundabout I'd come out on, I finally climbed onto the Rainbow 1 and headed home via a circuitous route through Kimberley and Nuthall. Despite the fact that I completed this trip by myself and that one of the intended stops was closed for whatever reason, I can honestly say that I found the day educational, with the ale on offer being both what I expected as well as pleasantly surprising. The Gate was definitely the highlight and I would urge everyone to get down there if they can. After refuelling with Burger King on the way, I arrived home tired, tipsy and satisfied after what I feel was a thoroughly productive day. As much as I'm not always visiting places that have a good reputation for ale or even in general, there is something about the mystery of the journey that is just as fun.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Welcome Trek

After the past couple of weeks ended up being quite heavy and included a high number of pubs and volume of alcohol, we decided to make this week considerably more relaxed and a tad more leisurely, and visit some pubs that are a fair distance outside the city centre and required a decent amount of walking to travel between. Once again, I was fresh from 2 hours sleep after the end of my current shift pattern at work. So, with my eyes slightly hazy and the sky slightly cloudy, I headed off into town to meet Matt at the bus stop to begin the day's adventure. We decided that our cheapest option was to get an all-day ticket on an NCT bus for £3.40, making it easier to get to our first destination and home from our last stop of the day, without having to shell out too much of our drinking money on travel fare. Our first stop on the day's protracted ale trip was The Crown.

Situated on Raleigh Island, near the boundary of Wollaton, The Crown has been a local landmark for many years and is now owned by the Pub People Co. The exterior is a soft pebble dash with cream colouring and the interior is large and expansive with a large, wooden central bar. There is lots of seating consisting largely of booths and high, round tables. One corner includes a pool table and a dart board. On the bar, there are 5 hand pulls, only 2 of which are currently available. One of the 3 not in use is usually a cider and the ale choices are limited to Harvest Pale and Doom Bar. We decided immediately upon Harvest Pale and it was perfectly kept in every way. The pub offers 15p discount to CAMRA members with a valid membership card although, when I produced mine, the bar maid was unsure whether she was allowed to accept it, as it was her first day. She made no attempt to ask any other staff or management for advice though, which somewhat put a downer on the moment. The jukebox was playing through artists alphabetically which meant that our trip had a background soundtrack of ABBA songs which eventually segued into AC/DC.
Following our first pints of the day, we had a brief chat about how to get to our next stop of the day, before deciding that it was quicker to walk straight down Western Boulevard and turn right at the QMC roundabout before walking down the A52. After a 20-25 minute stroll, we arrived at Toby Carvery.
 Located on yet another roundabout between Wollaton and Beeston, Toby Carvery sits against the backdrop of Wollaton Hall which is roughly behind the pub. Obviously, the Toby Carvery chain is associated with very reasonably priced carvery meals but, on this occasion, we wanted to see what ale they had to offer to accompany the food. The outside of the building is in the traditional red and black design associated with the brand and this particular one also has a Travelodge connected to it, which makes it a perfect location for people looking for cheap accommodation on the outskirts of the city. Inside, the layout is very stylish with exposed decorative brickwork and ornamental features as well as a large amount of seating areas with small changes in elevation to break up the ground floor. There wasn't an enormous to choose from with regards to ale as only 2 of the 3 available hand pumps were in use, and both featured Young's Bitter (3.7%), although Tetley's was also available on smoothflow. The Young's Bitter was very tasty. Golden in colour with a malty taste and a biscuity undertone, it was certainly very refreshing after our walk. I decided that it would be rude not to eat whilst here but, as Matt had already eaten, I didn't feel like stretching to a full carvery dinner so opted instead for a full feast carvery sandwich. Served in soft white bread, this was essentially slices of all 4 carvery meats all together, served with roast potatoes, a large salad and, for a reason that I never determined, a slice of lemon. It was very delicious and very cheap, and washed down with another half of Young's, definitely dealt with my hunger pangs and gave me a much needed nutritional push to the next pub.
Next on our list was a pub that stands on the A52, just down the road from the carvery but on the opposite side of the road. Recently redecorated and rebranded, The Nurseryman was our next location.
Branded under the Eating Inn gastro-pub chain, this is a traditional family oriented venue with emphasis on good food and drink. Behind the whitewashed exterior, the L shaped bar sits in the centre of the room, which contains plush seating and is decorated with local historical photos. There are 8 hand pulls on the bar, 4 of which are currently available offering Greene King IPA, Old Speckled Hen and Abbot Ale. The pub also features occasional guest ales, with the most recent being Blue Monkey Marmoset. The Abbot Ale is my chosen tipple here and it's very well-kept and well-presented in a branded glass. The bar also features Aspall cider on draught. This certainly pleased Matt who went for a pint of it and we pulled up a pew on one of the low, square tables between 2 of the TV screens, which are both showing opposing news channels, Sky News and BBC News respectively. The pub is rather busy but it is a Friday afternoon and this doesn't lessen the relaxed family-friendly atmosphere, which certainly makes us feel at home. The pub name is unusual and although I've been unable to find out any of the history regarding its name, the pub sign shows a man hoeing a field. This would suggest that a nursery man is a name for a worker of a field or garden.
We had one more location left on this journey and it was a fair walk away, back across the A52 and further down the road, situated on yet another roundabout, this one on the boundary of Stapleford and Bramcote.
The Sherwin Arms is a community-driven food-based pub marketed under the Flaming Grill brand, with a strong emphasis on steaks and burgers but with healthier options too. The orange and black exterior leads into the relaxed interior with its fabric seating and wooden tables around a U-shaped bar. There is a moderately sized outdoor seating area consisting of a number of picnic tables. There is lots of advertising within detailing the large number of food offers and meal deals that take place throughout the week and the walls are decorated with yet more photos from the local area. There are a number of TVs throughout and these are presenting coverage of the first day of the 4th Ashes test. There are 4 hand pumps available, 1 of which is out of use, but the others showcase Old Rosie, Harvest Pale and Bombardier. Having spotted Bombardier too late, we went for Harvest Pale again and this was excellent. The pub has Cask Marque accreditation and the beer is a great testament to this. The cricket was less enjoyable as Australia seemed to be making short work of the England batting order. Regardless of this, the day up to this stage had been worth the journey, even if the ale choices were fairly limited. With our trip now at an end, we put our bus tickets to good use and made the journey back into town, even though this took 2 buses.
The ale trip itself was not too bad. The pubs were interesting and different and, despite the lack of ale choice, the overall quality was good. It's not always about the number of different beers or breweries on show at these places but the quality of ale should speak for itself. It doesn't matter whether you have the same beer in many different pubs. If the beer is in decent shape, there can't really be room for complaint. The pubs we visited on this trip are very much community places, supplying hospitality to regulars and locals and, no doubt due to their location on major transport and commuting routes, people passing through on their daily routine. All in all, community pubs, especially those on the outskirts, are doing their bit to promote ale and keep the quality as it should be for all who fancy a swift one.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ale Against the Clock

I hadn't planned on the most recent to Nottingham's ale venues to involve too much more effort than walking from place to place and lifting a pint glass too and from my mouth to sample the various delights on offer. As it turned out, it became a mission of timing without lessening the enjoyment. The plan was simple: to journey in a rough L shape from the edge of the city centre into the Lace Market, sampling a myriad of ale emporiums along the way. Jade had arranged for us to go and view a car in the evening, to replace our French and battered one, and informed me that she would pick me up from town around 5pm. With Matt and I not arranging to meet until 1pm, we'd been given a 4 hour window in which to visit just over half a dozen pubs and live to tell the tale, made more difficult for me because I was attempting this after a 12 hour overtime night shift and roughly 2 1/2 hours sleep. But, with the mission at stake, the race was on.
We began this particular tour at the Lord Roberts on Broad Street, right on the edge of the closest thing Nottingham has to a gay district.
This pub is traditional inside and out with hints to its presumably Victorian heritage to be found throughout. The building is relatively narrow roughly J shaped in layout with soft furnishings, bar stools and wooden seating around a curved bar that occupies the rear of the room. There are two entrances and at least one old fireplace and the walls are strewn with a large number of old theatre advertising posters and flyers from stage shows. The pub is named after Field Marshal The Earl Roberts, one of the British Army's most famed officers who, after a relatively low key childhood, rose through the ranks to become, amongst other things, Governor of Natal, Commander-in-Chief of British forces in South Africa and Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India before dying of pneumonia in France in 1914, after being made Field Marshal in 1895. To this day, he remains one of only 3 non-Royals (the others being Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher) who lie in state in Westminster Hall before being given a state funeral. Amidst the historical there is, as there should be, ale. 4 hand pulls are on offer, one of which is out of use but the others display Old Speckled Hen, Landlord and Tetley's Gold. It is this latter choice that Matt and I decide upon to start the day. With a strength of 4.1%, it is golden, smooth and hoppy with a decidedly creamy finish and allows us to soak up the atmosphere of another of Nottingham's historic pubs whilst we discuss whether or not my tiredness will help or hinder my ability to drink.
We managed to get out first pints out of the way by 1.20pm, which was a pleasant surprise, and so we wasted no time in heading to our next destination, which handily is right next door. I was shocked that Matt had never been here before this trip so it was a very timely visit indeed to what is becoming a Nottingham institution the (in)famous and legendary Brew Dog.
Situated in a 100 year old former warehouse, Brew Dog is the brainchild of 2 lads from Scotland who had enough of boring lagers and started creating their own unique (and usually very strong) craft beers. The overall layout is relatively simple. The bar is brick in construction with a metal top and the tables are metal framed with wooden tops. Board games and a Playstation 2 console are available for customers and the pub is also dog friendly. There is no standard branding of any kind with the beers being served from Brew Dog pumps with 2 handles to each one, totalling 16 options in total. Of these, half are guest beers mostly from the States (Left Hand Milk Stout; Rogue Hazelnut Brown; Siga Brewing Nefarious 10 Pin Porter; Great Divide Titan IPA and Rogue Amber Ale), with the rest being Brew Dog's own creations (5am Saint; Punk IPA; IPA Is Dead Amarillo; Libertine Black Ale; Hardcore IPA and Cocoa Psycho). Also on offer are 2 of their famous and incredibly strong brews, only available for purchase in shot-sized measures (Watt Dickie and Tactical Nuclear Penguin). The strength on Brew Dog beers is renowned for being considerably higher than most standard ales and so some of them are only available in half or third measures depending upon percentage. With this mind, and wanting to give Matt a good taster of what was on offer, I went for a half of the 6.7% IPA Is Dead Amarillo and Matt went for a half of Cocoa Psycho at a whopping 10%. The Amarillo was certainly not what I expected and I admit I would've been struck for a description had the barmaid not provided her own. The beer is brimming with orangey flavours so much so that it really does taste like 'being hit in the face with a Christmas tree covered in oranges'. I couldn't recommend it more!
Having successfully introduced Matt to a place that I suspect he'll be returning too more often, our next stop also happened to be next door and a slightly unconventional choice for the ale drinker. I'm talking about Broadway Cinema.
For those of you not aware of Broadway, it is an independent cinema that showcases foreign and independent whilst doubling as a café/bar for those not filmically inclined. The bar is situated along one side of the room and features an excellent selection of healthy food and continental beers as well as a few more standard beverages. There are also 4 hand pulls in attendance. One of these includes Wyld Wood organic cider whilst the others feature beers from the excellent Nottingham Brewery. The choices are Broadway Reel Ale, Dreadnought and Rock Bitter. Reel Ale has been brewed especially for the cinema by the brewery and I decided that this certainly warranted a try. It turned out to be a good choice, 4.3% and golden in colour, malty with bitter undertones and a smooth, slightly creamy head. Broadway boasts a fairly decent outside area of patio style furniture so we headed out into the sunshine to enjoy our beers and make the most of the weather. By the time we left here, it was around 2.20, which meant we'd managed 3 pints in less than an hour and a half. So far so good but still a lot of ground to cover so we wandered off down Broad Street and continued into Stoney Street, directly in line with where we'd already visited, to reach our next port of call.
Renowned as one of Nottingham's few remaining great 'alternative' pubs and with an excellent reputation for regular live music, our next stop was The Old Angel.
The Old Angel Inn is one of Nottingham's oldest pubs and has been a number of different things throughout its life. Since the 17th century, the pub has been a brothel, a hotel and the scene of the murders of both a prostitute and a policeman. From a musical perspective, the Angel has been an important stepping stone in the careers of some rather well known acts, including Oasis, Kasabian and Arctic Monkeys. The interior retains a considerable amount of its traditional character with a brick and wood interior and a central bar. The pub is lucky to have survived a fire in the old kitchen area many years ago when the fryers were accidentally left on overnight, so it is a real pleasure to see that business is still thriving. On the bar are 4 hand pulls, one of which is out of use but the other 3 are a good mix of local beers, in this case Magpie Hoppily, Blue Monkey BG Sips and Medieval Crusader. I decided to opt for the Crusader as it wasn't one that I'd tried in the past and the Angel is now the official Medieval Brewery tap. The atmosphere is made even more pleasant by the presence of our friend Danny behind the bar and the fact that we made friends with a beagle in the beer garden. As for the beer, Crusader tips the scales at 4.4% and is a golden, wheat beer with lots of fruity and a characteristic apple taste which is very unusual but makes for a delicious beverage. It's been a while since I visited the Angel and I'd forgotten how much I liked it. The age of the building certainly adds to the character and I'm of the opinion that classic, traditional pubs should be given every opportunity to survive and prosper. History is soaked into the boards of the pub and rears its head every so often in the form of a ghostly little girl who has regularly been heard singing in the pub after closing and has even been known to tamper with the fruit machines.
By this stage, we were more than halfway through our trip and the next stage took us into the historic Lace Market area, formerly the seat of a thriving industrial trade but now home to many of the city's finest agricultural delights and a few good boozers too! We first made our way to the Kean's Head, another pub in the impressive portfolio of Castle Rock.
The Kean's Head itself was originally located on Park Drive in Lenton and traded from 1832 to 1963. The current pub on St. Mary's Gate was originally a different building further down the street and changed names towards the end of the last century when it became the Duke of Albany. The pub has been sited at number 46 for at least 15 years. The pub is believed to be named after the Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean (1789-1833). He was believed to be the greatest actor of his time and was commanded by George III to recite at Windsor. He appeared in many of Shakespeare's plays and even became chief of the Huron Indians after visiting and working in Quebec. Kean's last performance was in Covent Garden on 25th March 1833, prior to which his health had deteriorated and his marriage had broken down. He died just 2 months later on 15th May but his name lives in amongst Nottingham's pubs. Inside, the pub is very Castle Rock with a small amount of low tables and chairs, wooden beams on the ceiling which are plastered with pump clips and a bar at the back of room boasting an impressive selection of beers and whiskies. There are 7 hand pumps on the bar, although one is not in use. The others contain a variety of interesting choices including Castle Rock Screech Owl, Harvest Pale and Preservation, Ossett Treacle Stout, Fuller's ESB and Sandford Orchards Devon Mist cloudy cider. I opted for the Preservation and it was perfectly kept and tasting excellent.
With an hour left after leaving here, and 2 pubs left to go, it seemed like we on to complete our mission. Next up was a pub not too far away, just around the corner and opposite the Galleries of Justice. The pub in question is the Cock & Hoop.
The Cock & Hoop is roughly in the centre of the Lace Market and an upmarket venue with a hotel attached to it. The old stone exterior gives way to a more modern looking interior with a small traditional bar and plush armchairs and benches, surrounded by walls plastered in yet more pump clips as well as a few old photos of the local area, a very old map of Europe and North Africa and a few bits of memorabilia. On the bar are 5 hand pulls, 4 of which are being used to provide Dancing Duck 22, Cottage Brewing Goldrush, Daleside Pride of England and the Iron Maiden inspired Trooper. The Goldrush (4.4%) was my choice on this occasion and it was golden, very fruity and crammed with flavours of peach and lemon. During our visit, we became aware that a couple of rather attractive women kept leaving and re-entering, carrying pairs of shoes and regularly wearing different outfits. It wasn't until we left that we realised that a modelling shoot was taking place in the road outside the pub. We were too busy trying to work out how old the wall map was and listening to entertaining Wurzels cover versions.
Eventually, we decided that we should probably head to our last stop as we had just over 30 minutes of allotted time remaining. Again though, we didn't have far too go as our last location on our tour was Cross Keys on Byard Lane.
 It is known that a tavern called the Cross Keys has stood on this site for at least 200 years, perhaps even longer. Investigations are currently being carried out that appear to date the building to around 1490 or even before this when it may have acted as the brewery and alehouse for the 12th Century St. Peter's Church. The first recorded mention of the pub is in 1799 when one John Levers is named as a resident nearby. The pub is also mentioned in 'A Guide to Old Nottingham' written in 1917 by Harry Gill. The current building is thought to be mid/late Victorian and this is supported by the architecture and décor. The pub is now thankfully back to its old self after a period when it was painted bright yellow and known as 'CKs' back when style bars suddenly became all the rage.
The Cross Keys is known for excellent food and drink and I can certainly vouch for the quality of both. The bar is central with 8 hand pulls, mostly from Navigation Brewery, which owns the pub, and regular guests. The offerings today are Marston's Pedigree, Black Sheep Bitter, Hobgoblin, Black Sheep Golden Sheep and 3 from Navigation (Cricketers Village Cup Gold, Traditional and Classic IPA). There is a lot of seating in the pub, including a smaller area on a slightly lower level down a small flight of stairs. There is also a restaurant upstairs with a fine of choice of traditional and more upmarket food. I went for the Cricketers Ale, which was very good, pale and hoppy with a fruity tinge and an overall smooth finish. The choice of this ale was particularly poignant as The Ashes was on at the time and we settled down to watch Australia doing their best to over haul an England lead. About 15 minutes (or half a pint in) Jade phoned to say she was on her way and I managed to make a valiant attempt to finish as much as I could before my inevitable departure. I didn't quite manage it all in time but Matt enjoyed what was left and I'd enjoyed the day as a whole, largely because I'd managed to stay awake for long enough to fully appreciate the range of pubs we visited. And, if you thought having a few pints was a good idea before going to view a car, you'd be sadly mistaken. Thankfully, Jade was sober and the car was OK. Just as well, as we've now bought it. Ale-wise, this particular excursion gave us an insight into a few other places and how they do things as well as giving us a much simpler route to follow with the venues in question being much closer together and allowing for considerably less walking time. For me, I'm impressed that I can drink 7 pints in 4 hours and still be ok in the evening, whether or not I'm viewing a Skoda Fabia. It was very much a victory for beer over time on this particular occasion!