Sunday, August 23, 2015

Touching Basford

Hot on the heels of my recent trip to Ilkeston, I had an extra day off in the same week of which to make the most. To that end, I decided to travel to somewhere slightly closer to home and investigate what the real ale scene had to offer in the Basford area of Nottingham.

Basford is a suburb in northern Nottingham. Basford parish was absorbed into Nottingham in 1877. It gave its name to the Basford Rural District which existed from 1894 to 1974.
There is both an ‘Old Basford’ and a ‘New Basford’ although New Basford is mainly Victorian. Basford lies close to the River Leen, a tributary of the River Trent. Basford is located on the main route of the Nottingham Express Transit, which connects it to Nottingham City Centre to the south and Hucknall and Bulwell to the north.
The place name comes either from Old English "the ford near the home of Bassa" (Bassa's ford) or French le bas ford, 'the lower ford'.

Close to Basford Register Office is the site of a former workhouse, this was used for Basford and the neighbouring parishes. The workhouse later became a maternity hospital and then a psychiatric hospital. The hospital is due to be demolished.
Near Vernon Park there used to be a complex of high rise flats which consisted of horizontal and vertical blocks connected together by ariel concrete walkways. These were demolished in 1983.
Basford has a good range of shops in the area. It is a large area. Home to Vernon Park, Basford also has football teams who play in the area, and is home to the Bulwell and Basford Rotary Club.
For many years one of the largest industries in Basford was the manufacturing of soap. A soap factory was established in Basford in the 1890s by Gerard Bros. In 1955 Gerard Bros. was acquired by Cussons Sons & Co., manufacturer of Cussons Imperial Leather soap. In 2005 the factory was closed and production was moved to Thailand.
Basford was well served by railways with no less than three stations bearing its name in one form or another. Basford Vernon was the first to be built, on the Midland Railway's Nottingham to Mansfield Line. The next built was Basford North on the Great Northern Railway, which was originally called Dob Park from the land it was built on, then later Basford & Bulwell. Lastly came New Basford on the Great Central Main Line. Basford North and New Basford closed along with the lines on which they were situated. Basford Vernon closed in 1964 but the line on which it stood remained open for freight and was subsequently reopened to passengers as the Robin Hood Line; the station did not reopen but is now the site of Basford tram stop on the Nottingham Express Transit.
Basford also had over the years three breweries, though probably only the main one, Shipstones, will be familiar. The other two were Basford Brewery (taken over via Shipstones) and the redundant Prince of Wales Brewery in Old Basford which closed over 90 years ago. However, its buildings remain pretty much as built in the form of Murphy's Chemical Works on Alpine Street.

I was mildly apprehensive prior to embarking on this particular venture, as Basford has something of a dodgy reputation. However, having lived in Nottingham on and off for nearly 10 years, I know which areas to avoid so I wasn't unduly worried. The weather was overcast but still warm with rain and stormy weather threatening but I was filled with excitement at what I might discover.

My first stop is a place that sits just on the edge of Basford proper, somewhere that I've somehow managed to leave out of previous blog entries. Situated on a junction between Hucknall Road and Mansfield Road, not far from Forest Fields, is The Grosvenor.

Image result for the grosvenor pub nottingham

The pub is characterised by its glazed signage and gold lettering and is currently operated by John Barras. The pub also has an unnerving tendency to severe flooding in times of particularly heavy weather as its location has positioned it in what is essentially a small basin at the crest of a hill. Inside, the bar is central with seating areas on all 4 sides. The seating is a mixture of wooden tables and upholstered benches. The bar is stocked with 9 handpulls, 8 of which are in use at the time of my visit. The majority of these are doubled up, with 2 each of Greene King IPA, Doom Bar and Abbot Ale. Also available are Well's Bombardier Burning Gold and Old Rosie cider. I opted for a pint of the Burning Gold (4.1%), a sister beer to the original Bombardier, inspired by the words to William Blake's 'Jerusalem', which is a refreshing golden beer which is almost like a lager in texture, but not in an unpleasant way. It's a good way to start the day and I took a seat on a high table right near the door as I looked up the quickest route to the next location using the not so trusty Google Maps.

The pint was smooth and went down quickly and so I decided it was time to venture forth to my next location. This was another day in which a lot of walking was involved, something to which I thankfully have no aversion. In order to reach my next spot, I had to take a long walk down Nottingham Road, the aforementioned main route from Basford to the city centre. After approximately 25 minutes or so of walking, during which I passed several pubs that it was certainly a good idea to avoid, I finally reached the next spot on my itinerary. Almost opposite a local social club is The Willow Tree Inn.
Image result for the willow tree inn nottingham

Owned and operated by Stadium Leisure, who also own the social club opposite, this is a bar and restaurant that specialises in steak. The interior is laid out like a restaurant with a public dining area to the front and a private restaurant area to the rear. The bar is slightly to left as you enter. The interior is decorated with fairy lights on a surprising number of surfaces and red tablecloths adorn every table. The atmosphere is a friendly, welcoming one and it is clear that many of the customers are regulars. The bar has 2 handpulls, only one of which is in use and this is proffering Caledonian Deuchars IPA, which is very well kept. I sat on a small sofa that looks out into the main bar area and pondered my surroundings. It's clear that the pub is set up as more of a restaurant business but this appears to be sufficient for the local community and the mere fact they have real ale available is good enough for me!

Next up was a hidden gem of a pub that I'd heard a lot about but never had a chance to visit. This involved a bit more walking but this time it was only about 10-15 minutes away. Situated on Mosley Street in Basford proper, is The Lion Inn.

Image result for the lion inn nottingham

Located in the shadows of the old Shipstone's Brewery, The Lion Inn is a proper ale house with all the charm and ambience that you would expect. They certainly know what they're doing here as the pub has featured in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide for 10 years in a row. Inside is a mass of rustic charm, from the traditional beams and memorabilia that cover the walls and ceiling to the huge (now, sadly unused) well that occupies the centre of the floor and acts as a sauce station for food. The central bar is U-shaped and opposite the toilets. There is an expansive outdoor seating area and the pub is a stone's throw from the Shipstone Street tram stop so there really is no excuse not to visit. The aforementioned bar is stocked with 11 handpulls, 10 of which are in use on my trip offering a mouth-watering range of beers. 10 real ciders and perries are also available. It took me a while to decide where to begin as I was faced with the following choices: Dukeries Farmer's Branch; Black Iris Bleeding Heart; Camerons Gold Bullion; Shiny 4 Wood; Tim Taylor Landlord; Phesantry Dark Ale; Totally Brewed Slap in the Face; Castle Rock Screech Owl; Castle Rock Harvest Pale and Bass. I eventually decided on 4 Wood (4.5%) from Derby's Shiny Brewery. This is a golden, coppery coloured beer with a good bitter and fruit balance. There is a nice, citrusy hop aroma with a smooth, dry aftertaste. I sat down near the bar, enjoying not just the beer but also the music from the jukebox (Fleetwood Mac in all their glory) and the pub as a whole. So good a time was I having that it would have been rude not to have a second pint. For my next beverage, I went for Bleeding Heart (4.5%) from the now Nottingham-based Black Iris brewery. This is a ruby red ale, brewed in the style of an IPA with Harpoon hops. This began life as a collaboration with Wetherspoon's as part of their craft brewers showcase. This was delicious with a strong, malty backbone and a syrupy finish. I would have loved to have stayed all day and sampled all of their beers but, sadly, time was getting on and I had yet another pub to get too.

Retracing my steps slightly, I reached my last destination, which sits on a corner of Mosley Street and Radford Road. This another pub in the local area that is known for its good beer: The Horse and Groom.
Image result for the horse and groom basford

This is another traditional ale pub, formerly owned by Shipstone's that prides itself on bringing in a variety of beers from breweries around the country. The interior is very traditional and decorated with old photographs of the local area. The pub is at the back of the main room and off to the right with a seating area in front and another on the other side of the central entrance passageway. 6 of the 7 handpulls are in use when I'm there, offering a choice of Harvest Pale, Belvoir Beaver, Moorhouse Black Cat and a trio from Whim Ales, Earl Grey, Hartington IPA and Flower Power. After a moment's deliberation, I opted for the Flower Power (5.3%) from Buxton based Whim Ales. This is a pale ale with an initial warmth that is followed by developing intense citrus flavours. It is medium to full bodied with complex hop character, a dry finish and a very hoppy aroma.

As I perched at the bar and thoroughly enjoyed my last pint for this trip, I reflected upon how the day had gone. Overall, it had started slowly but as the day had gone on and the pubs had improved, it became clear that a lot can be said for the quality of the beer in this area. Basford is looked upon disapprovingly by some but, if the quality of its beer and its pubs can be used as a benchmark, that opinion looks set to change rapidly. It's always good to see pubs like The Horse and Groom, and especially The Lion, thriving in areas like this. Basford has intrigued and pleased me when I wasn't necessarily expecting it. That's credit where it is clearly due.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Investigating Ilkeston

This week, I decided to leave the Nottinghamshire suburbs behind and venture once again into neighbouring Derbyshire. My destination on this occasion was a place that I know relatively well having lived there for a year a few years ago and visited the place previously. My recent visit was inspired by recent positive developments with regards to the ale scene, in an area, that was fairly well equipped before. The subject of this once-over: Ilkeston.

Ilkeston is a town within the Borough of Erewash, in Derbyshire, England. It lies on the River Erewash, from which the local borough takes its name. Its population at the 2001 census was 37,550. Its major industries were traditionally coal mining, iron working and lace making / textiles, but these have all but disappeared in the last few decades.
The town is close to both Derby and Nottingham and is near to the M1 motorway. Although Ilkeston lies within Derbyshire, it is closer to Nottingham than it is to Derby. The eastern boundary of Ilkeston is only two miles from Nottingham's western edge. Ilkeston is considered by the Office for National Statistics to be part of the Nottingham Urban Area.

Ilkeston was probably founded in the 6th century AD, and gets its name from its supposed founder, Elch or Elcha, who was an Anglian chieftain ("Elka's Tun" = Elka's Town). The town appears as Tilchestune in the Domesday Book when it was owned principally by Gilbert de Ghent. Gilbert also controlled nearby Shipley, West Hallam and Stanton by Dale. Ilkeston was created a borough by Queen Victoria in 1887.
Ilkeston is one of several places where the distinctive dialect of East Midlands English is extensively spoken. Ilkeston is referred to as 'Ilson' in this dialect. One might greet a friend with "Eh up, me duck!" or "Ah do?".
The American Adventure, a large theme park which closed in 2007, was located on the outskirts of Ilkeston on the former Woodside Colliery adjoining Shipley Country Park.

One of the biggest and most important local employers was the Stanton Ironworks, later known as Stanton and Staveley - the continuation of a long-standing tradition of iron working in this area. There has been evidence of iron working and quarrying in the area since Roman times, and the industry began blossoming into a huge industrial concern in the 1780s. By the mid-19th century there were several blast furnaces and the production rose from around 500 tons of pig iron per month to 7,000 at the end of the century. Steel pipe manufacturing began at Stanton after World War I and later concrete pipes were produced, Stanton being the first in the UK to develop the 'spun pipe' process.
In the mid-19th century the works produced 20,000 tons of iron castings per year, 2.5 millions by 1905. Up to 12,500 people were employed during the period when the works were part of British Steel Corporation, of which 7,000 worked at the Stanton works. During its long existence the works produced huge quantities of a variety of products, including pig iron, tunnel castings, (used in projects such as the London Underground), pipes and street furniture as well as bitumen, roadstone, chemicals and munition casings. It is likely that if you live in the UK, you are not far away from a S&S manhole cover or lamp post. The works gradually declined, the business being run from 1985 by the French Saint-Gobain Group. The last casting was an emotional event in 2007. The huge Stanton site has been partially given over to business park and the rest of the site is earmarked for redevelopment which is subject to local opposition.

Ilkeston Market Place is the site of a Charter fair. The fair celebrated its 760th anniversary in 2012, the Charter being granted by King Henry III in 1252. This makes the fair older than Nottingham's famous Goose Fair and it is one of the largest street fairs in the Country, indeed in Europe.
The present fair developed from two separate fairs, as another 'agricultural hiring fair' or 'Statutes Fair' was traditionally held on Wakes week in October as well as the original Charter Fair which was held on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (15 August). The two fairs were combined in 1888 and the one Charter Fair has been held in October ever since.
Since 1931 the fair has been officially opened by the Mayor - first of Ilkeston and since 1974 of Erewash - on the Fair Thursday at noon with the Town Clerk or latterly the Council's Solicitor reading the Charter from the steps of the Town Hall.

Ilkeston has not had a railway station since 1967, despite its substantial population and the fact that the Midland Main Line (formerly part of the Midland Railway, later the LMS) skirts the eastern edge of the town. Due to recent rail reopenings in similarly-sized towns it is now, by some definitions, the largest town in Britain with no station. Ilkeston once had three stations. Ilkeston Junction station, also known as "Ilkeston Junction & Cossall" was on the former Midland Railway and later LMS Erewash Valley Main Line: this station closed in January 1967. A short branch led from this station to Ilkeston Town station, at the north end of Bath Street, which closed to passengers in June 1947.
Ilkeston's third station was Ilkeston North, on the former Great Northern Railway (later LNER) line from Nottingham to Derby Friargate station, closed in September 1964. A major feature of this line was Bennerley Viaduct, a 1,452-foot (443 m) long, 61-foot (19 m) high, wrought iron structure which still crosses the Erewash valley just to the north east of Ilkeston. Once threatened with demolition, it is now a Grade 2 listed building, though the removal of the embankments at either end have left it an oddly isolated free-standing structure surrounded by fields.
The nearest currently operating station is Langley Mill. Following a long-running local campaign, in March 2013 Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced that Ilkeston was one of three sites 'most likely' to get a new station as part of the 'New Stations Fund', costing £5 million and sited close to the old Ilkeston Junction station. On the 15 May 2013 it was announced this new station would be built. It will have two platforms, which can take six trains per hour with up to six passenger cars and will include waiting shelters. A 150 space car park, cycle storage, bus stop, drop off point and taxi rank will also be on the site. The station will be unmanned with automated ticket machines and was originally scheduled to open by the end of 2014. Due to the discovery of great crested newts and flood prevention work means the opening has been delayed by four months, and will not open until 2015.

From early in the 19th century the existence of natural mineral waters was noted here and exploited. A local businessman Thomas Potter built, in 1831, the famous Ilkeston Bath at the bottom of Town Street attached to the Rutland Hotel. For over 60 years the baths helped tourism to the town at a time when spa towns like Bath and Harrogate enjoyed popularity. 'If you're doubled in pain and thin as a lath, Come at once then and try, the famed Ilkeston Bath,' was a well known advertising slogan. A mixture of a general decline in the popularity of spa bathing and, reportable, contamination of the waters from mining activities led to the eventual closure of the baths just before 1900. The baths and the adjacent Rutland Hotel, which also enjoyed a revenue from tourism, no longer exist though they are remembered in the name of 'Bath Street'.

On a warm and slightly unsettled Monday, I made my way, via the seemingly obligatory 2 bus journeys, to Ilkeston to delve into what the real ale scene may hold. My first destination lies just over both the town and county boundaries, at the bottom of the main road that leads uphill into the town centre. Located in a picturesque spot on the bank of the Erewash Canal, is The Gallows Inn.

Image result for gallows inn ilkeston

As the name probably makes clear, the pub is located on the site of where a gallows reputedly stood in the 17th Century. The pub underwent a brief spell as the Horse & Jockey before reverting to its original title. The pub has recently been sold at auction but this is not in danger of affecting its continued business as a licenced premises. The main entrance is at the side of the building, facing the canal and the associated lock. Inside, the pub is large and roughly U-shaped, comprising of a single room with the bar at the centre. On the day of my visit, 2 of the 3 handpulls are in use, offering a choice of North Star Helmsman and North Star Pathfinder. Real cider is also available from bag in boxes behind the bar. I opted for a pint of Helmsman (4.2%) to start off the day's activities. This is a pale ale with a full malt flavour and a delicate hop balance with a satisfying fruit finish. I took a seat to one end of a long bench facing the bar and enjoyed my fortifying beverage as I took a look around the pub. The Gallows is also relatively well known locally as a live music venue and it can be hoped that this will also continue under the new ownership.

Feeling considerably more awake after my first pint of the day, I was also optimistic about what the rest of the day had to offer. To get to the next location, I had to jump back onto a bus to convey me to the market place area of the town; a short journey that only took me a few minutes. Due to the later early week opening hours of a couple of the pubs on the itinerary, my designed route was a circuitous one but one which would allow to explore the majority of the pubs in the town. The next stop was a few feet from the bus stop, at the renowned, and Good Beer Guide listed, Spanish Bar.
  Image result for spanish bar ilkeston

This is a two roomed, café-style pub on one of the main high streets in the town. The main room has comfy leather seats and the bar with a second room that includes similar seats and a number of TVs. The pub is currently in the final stages of a tasteful redecoration project. A glance at the bar makes it immediately clear that this place deserves its regular entries in the Good Beer Guide and it was also voted Erewash Valley Summer pub of the year 2013. The bar runs horizontally along the left side of the main room and features 7 handpulls, 5 of which are in use on my visit. Available for my delectation are Jenning's Cumberland Ale, Whim Ales Hartington IPA, Quartz Heart, Blue Monkey Junior Ape and Thornbridge Kipling. As I am a huge fan of Blue Monkey, it didn't take me long to make a choice. Junior Ape (4.4%) is a well-balanced pale ale with clean, hoppy flavours. It's certainly easy drinking and very tasty, helped by the pleasant, relaxed atmosphere in which I'm drinking it. Spanish Bar deserves to keep its status as a GBG regular if this is what the drinker can expect.

My next location was further down the street, at a place that hadn't existed when I had last been in the area: The Brewery Tap.
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This is the oldest of two micropubs in the town, and acts as the brewery tap for nearby Muirhouse Brewery. The building has seen many uses, having previously been part of a building society and a florists before its most recent incarnation as a smoothie bar. It was converted into its current status approximately a year and a half ago. The shop frontage opens into a living type layout with a bar off centre into one corner. The bar features 6 handpulls, 5 of which are in use. There are also a list of beers that are coming soon pinned up above the bar. The handpulls offer a variety of brews including Muirhouse's own Ilkeston Pale Ale, Nethergate Stour Valley Gold, Slieve Bloom Flanagan's Irish Stout, Lilley's Strawberry Cider and another cider called Pig Swill. In the cellar to come later are Nethergate Essex Border, Nethergate Growler and Blonde, Citra and Voodoo Mild, all courtesy of Great Heck Brewery. On this occasion, I opted for Stour Valley Gold (4.2%), a light, fruity beer with apricot flavours that is surprisingly refreshing. I took my time drinking this beer, largely to avoid peaking too soon when I was very aware that I still had a few other venues to visit.

From a new place to a place with a new face next. Situated almost opposite the Brewery Tap is Hogarth's.
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Now marketed as a gin palace (a reputation it deserves once you see the bar), the building that is now Hogarth's was originally the town post office before being converted to a pub under the name The Old Posthouse. It was then renamed The Charter in honour of Ilkeston's town charter, granted by Henry III in 1252, before being recreated in its current guise. The pub is named after 18th Century satirical artist William Hogarth and the pub is decorated with recreations of some of his illustrations. The general layout of the pub sees it divided into small sections with the use of pillars and booths. The bar runs down the right hand wall opposite the main entrance. I was pleased to see 6 handpulls, all occupied, despite the prevalence of gin of offer. The choices on offer are Jenning's Sneck Lifter and Cocker Hoop, Courage Directors, Joseph Holt Two Hoots, McEwan's IPA and Navigation New Dawn Pale (hooray!). As tempted as I was by New Dawn Pale, working in the brewery tap for this particular brewery means I'm exposed to it a lot. Instead I went for the Two Hoots, which I've had before in bottled form. This is a light, crisp and refreshing ale with a hint of citrus that is beautifully balanced. It's always interesting to try a cask version of a beer that is normally bottled and, in this case, it's an excellent transition.

Ideally, I would next like to have visited Ilkeston's 2nd and newest micropub, the Burnt Pig Ale 'Ouse, but this is closed Monday-Wednesday so will have to wait for another visit in the future. Instead, I made my way across the nearby market place to my next destination, the local Wetherspoon's, The Observatory.
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The name of this glass-fronted building recalls John Flamsteed, whose family lived at Little Hallam and at Denby. In 1675, Flamsteed was appointed the first Astronomer Royal at the Greenwich Observatory. Refreshingly, the pub was formerly a supermarket, built on the site of the Ilkeston Liberal Club. Officially opened in 1888, the Liberal Club was a well-known local landmark until it was demolished in the late 1960s. As well as being supermarket-turned-pub as opposed to, the sadly more common, vice versa, the pub also has downstairs toilets and an upstairs beer garden. The bar is well stocked with 11 handpulls, 10 of which are in use. These feature doubled up Abbot Ale, Ruddles and Doom Bar, Oakham Citra, Navigation Atlas, Wadworth 6X and Session IPA from Central brewery in the States, part of the world brewer collaborative series. I was immediately swayed by the presence of Citra as it comes from one of my favourite breweries. It was in excellent condition.

There was a bit of a walk to my next couple of locations but sometimes it's worth it to make the effort. First up, I had to walk out of the town centre to the central ring road and up Heanor Road which heads (rather obviously) towards nearby Heanor. Situated at the top of the hill, on the right hand side of the road as you leave the centre, sits Rutland Cottage.
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This is a freehold premises with a large beer garden and original internal features including exposed beams and a partially mock-Tudor frontage. The bar is central and U-shaped and features Marston's Pedigree as its house bitter. 4 other handpulls also sit on the bar, offering a wide range of local beers. At the time of my visit, I have a choice between Blue Monkey Guerilla, Magpie Angry Bird, Falstaff A Fist Full of Hops and Thornbridge Jaipur. I decided that Angry Bird was the beer for me. At 4.2%, this is a ruby red ale with a malt character that gives way to a rich hoppy palate of Phoenix, Bramling and Archer hops. The beer was brewed with Lillian Greenwood MP and councillor Alex Ball with 2p from every pint going to the Ear Foundation. Rutland Cottage does a lot to support local real ale, as evidenced by the array of pump clips adorning the walls and ceiling. This kind of commitment is always good to see, especially in places where it is not necessarily expected.

I retraced my steps somewhat for my penultimate stop. Heading back down the road and across the roundabout, I eventually turned right and walked past a small retail park with my next destination in sight, the award winning Dewdrop Inn.
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Built in 1884, this is a traditional corner pub. Internally, it has a 3 roomed format with an entrance lobby. There is a bar and a lounge on either side of the serving area and a separate snug. The pub has won 8 CAMRA pub of the year awards, from the Erewash Valley branch, since 1997, including in 2013 and 2015. The 4 handpulls on offer during my trip featured Dancing Duck Nice Weather, Acorn Barnsley Gold, Ascot Penguin Porter and Blue Monkey Marmoset. I instantly decided on Nice Weather (4.1%) from Derby's Dancing Duck brewery. This is a copper coloured, fruity summer ale packed full of flavour. Blackberry, strawberry and floral rose notes in perfect balance with just the right amount of malt character. During my time drinking this enjoyable beer, I got into a conversation about football with one of the regulars. He was very friendly and the chat was welcome, helping to cement the friendly feeling of the place as a whole. I spent longer here than I intended, largely due to the football talk but soon it was time to move on to my final stop.

For my last visit of the day, I needed to make my way back across the market place and back to the central street opposite Spanish Bar. Situated conveniently close to the bus stop is The Poacher.
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This former Shipstone's house has a 4pm opening time Monday-Wednesday, hence my decision to arrive here later. There is a modern public bar with a lounge to the left side and another at the rear. The 5 handpulls feature doubled up Doom Bar and Castle Rock Harvest Pale as well as Thatcher's Heritage cider. The pub also offers CAMRA discount. Harvest Pale was my choice this time and it was very well kept.

Sadly, my time in Ilkeston had come to an end but it had been a good one. This town has certainly done a lot in recent years to increase and improve its reputation for real ale and in that respect it is definitely mission accomplished. The pubs here openly and actively promote real ale with an impressive attitude that puts a lot of nearby areas to shame. This definitely won't be my last trip to Ilkeston within these pages. Not only do these locations need monitoring to fully appreciate the efforts they go too and the quantity and quality of beer on offer but there are other premises, including the Burnt Pig Ale 'Ouse that warrant a return trip. Well done Ilkeston. I'm impressed!