Friday, February 24, 2017

New and Improved?

Following the exploits in the West Country a couple of weeks ago, this week's task took place considerably closer to home as I decided it was high time to investigate some of the newer venues to have sprung up in Nottingham city centre in recent years and months. The face of the centre has changed significantly since I first moved here 10 and a half years ago and lots of new places have taken root, some under new names and some as new places sporting old names. Whilst this trip did not cover all of the new venues that have recently emerged, a further trip will cover the majority of those that I left out on this occasion.
My trip began following a shift at work which meant I could head straight into town and get started on the day's quest. My first destination will likely upset the purists but that did not deter me starting the afternoon at the Junkyard.
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Situated on Bridlesmith Walk between Bridlesmith Gate and Fletcher Gate, Junkyard is a café bar that opened in 2014 after a full refurbishment from what used to be Walk Café into what is now a 140 capacity venue. The bar is a sister venue to the speakeasy cocktail bar Boilermaker in Hockley. The layout of the bar combines the feel of a North California bar and eatery with a specialist craft beer shop. There are no handpulls present as the bar specialises in craft beer from the UK, US and Europe, spread across 15 pumps suspended on the wall of the back bar, with prices shown for 2/3 of a pint. I'm certainly spoiled for choice for my first beer of the day. Available on the day of my visit are Williams Bros Lager, Wylam Northern Monk, Black Iris Pioneer, Tiny Rebel Club Tropicana, Magpie Twisted, Magic Rock Hypnotist, Almasty Pacific, Reubens Crikey, Atom Northern Alchemy, Fierce Beer Day Shift, Fierce Beer Fuego Feroz, Two Beers Grey Skies, Totally Brewed Grandpapa Jangles, Salopian Polygraph and Buxton Rednik. It took me a little while to decide on where to begin but I was finally swayed by Fierce Beer Day Shift (5%). Fierce Beer are a craft brewery based in Aberdeenshire and Day Shift is a light and easy drinking American pale ale that contains a large number of hops including dry hops added later in the brew. The hoppy flavours complement citrus and pine notes and it is certainly very easy drinking! As much as craft beer is controversial in the eyes of many in CAMRA and elsewhere, when it is done well it is very good indeed.

The day had started well and my next location was barely any distance away at all as it lies adjacent to Junkyard, in the neighbouring building. Owned and operated by the same people, and crewed by the same staff, Junkyard's newest sibling is The Herbert Kilpin.

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Opened in June of last year in what was formerly the Rhinegold Restaurant, the Herbert Kilpin has breathed new life into a building that was derelict for over 20 years. The pub is named after the Mansfield Road born pioneer who founded AC Milan football club whilst working in an Italian textiles factory. This is reflected in some of the inner décor and in photographs on beermats inside. The bar occupies most of the length of the left hand wall and there is a door to the rear courtyard that is shared with Junkyard. The bar features, amongst an ever-changing craft beer range, 5 handpulls, all offering ales from local breweries. The biggest presence is Black Iris who offer their Stab in the Dark, Red Rooster and Kilpin Pale Ale (brewed exclusively for the pub), alongside Navigation Hibiscus Red and Magpie Jay. I opted for the Red Rooster (5%), an American red IPA with a heavy malty taste and an unexpected smoky edge that finishes the whole thing smoothly. This is only my 2nd visit to the Herbert Kilpin and it's very enjoyable indeed with the contrasts and similarities with Junkyard making it a very unique place with an interesting feel that benefits from its sensitivity to and respect for local history.

My next stop meant a short walk towards the Lace Market area of the city as I headed to a place that, last time it featured in this blog, it was still based at The Navigation on Wilford Street but now has its own dedicated premises. I speak, of course, of Annie's Burger Shack.

Image result for annie's burger shack nottingham

Despite the name, the 'shack' is now located in a large, open plan and airy building in the Lace Market Conservation Area. The building is Grade II listed and started life as a warehouse and factory, designed by T.C. Hine from 1850-1860 with later additions in 1862 by S.R. Stevenson for the Midland Lace Company. The building is 4 storey with the restaurant area on the ground floor and a downstairs bar, the 'Ocean State Tavern', situated in the basement and named after the state of Rhode Island from whence Annie originates. I've raved before about the food here but this time I was here for the beer. The restaurant area has a U shaped bar with 2 banks of 5 handpulls that dispenses a range of changing ales from local microbreweries and further afield. The upstairs décor is a mix of wooden floorboards and exposed brickwork. Dried hops hang above the windows whilst one wall is adorned with vintage American sporting equipment. The Ocean State Tavern, which opens at 5pm in the week and at 12 noon at weekends, has bare brickwork, industrial piping and wood to form a rustic décor. Booth seating accompanies standard bar seating. 9 of the 10 handpulls are in use when I visit and, with the downstairs bar closed, I opted to sit at the bar for a pint. My options were Wild Weather Big Muddy, Amber Ales Chocolate Orange, Road Crew Motorhead, Fallen Just the Ticket, Marble Brewery Bitter, Wild Beer Co. Bibble, Totally Brewed 4 Hopmen of the Apocalypse, Saltaire Hazelnut Coffee Porter and Oakham Scarlet Macaw. After a moment to peruse my options, I decided on the Bibble from Bristol based Wild Beer Co. At 4.2%, this is an unfined beer brewed with Vienna malt and oats to give a very malty mouthfeel. Mosaic hops give a tropical fruit flavour and Amarillo hops are added at the end of the boil to give an extra orangey kick. A moreish bitterness is complimented by tropical fruit tastes. And the name? To 'bibble' is a Somerset term meaning to drink regularly. CAMRA discount is offered to members and the pub now features in the Good Beer Guide, and deservedly so! Given the age and history of the building in which Annie's resides, it's perhaps not too surprising that strange events have been reported within these walls. Annie took the decision late last year to release CCTV footage showing some very odd things indeed. A pint of beer is seen to move half the length of a bar on its own over the course of several minutes. Furniture moves violently and considerable distances when the pub is quiet, including one instance when a stool was physically dragged or pushed a distance of approximately 8 feet. Strange noises, footsteps and voices have been heard and staff are uneasy staying in the building when the pub is closed. Clearly Nottingham's lace workers are restless!

I could easily have stayed here all day but it was time to venture onwards. My trip now took me back towards the centre and onto Parliament Street where my next location sits on the corner of South Sherwood Street. Formerly a late night haven for clubbers, I was now at The Hop Merchant.
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Formerly a traditional street corner pub, the building's most well known recent incarnation was as the Turf Tavern, a name that a pub on the site has had since Victorian times. It briefly became almost like a small nightclub but this version of the pub quickly fell through. The Turf Tavern was the go to place at weekends when clubs closed as it was open from 10pm-4am and full of a whole cross section of interesting locals. Situated opposite the Theatre Royal, it was formerly a Shipstone's house until it was acquired in 1996 by Greenall's and renamed the Samuel Morley after a Victorian benefactor to the city whose statue stood nearby until 1927. Unfortunately, Morley was a well known temperance campaigner and locals protested the name change and it quickly reverted back to being the Turf Tavern. In 1855, the publican was G. Moore. On 9th February last year, the pub was nominated by CAMRA as an Asset of Community Value but the application was rejected. The building in its current appearance was built in 1923 to the designs of WB Starr & Hall. Now a pub specialising in real ale with more conventional opening hours, the interior has been renovated sympathetically with notable additions being a television and a feature wall made up of the tops of sawn down beer kegs. The upstairs has been renovated into a room in which live performances are regularly held and the whole aesthetic of the place has been tastefully updated. The bar, which sits against the back wall, now holds 3 handpulls, having previously had none in its previous forms. Whereas the beers on offer would normally be from different breweries, I have arrived during a week long tap takeover and so the taps are host to beers from the recently revived Home Ales, namely Maid Marian, Robin Hood and Little John. Being unfamiliar with any of these beers, I decided to try the Little John (4.8%), a well balanced, mahogany beer with Cascade and Magnum hops providing a powerful taste and a strong depth of flavour. Despite the rejection of CAMRA ACV request, the pub seems to have gone in a significant upwards direction and it's always nice to see a pub reopen as an improved version of the same as opposed to closing for good. The Hop Merchant is a great addition to this area of the city centre.

The next few locations on the itinerary for the day were in very close proximity, with the next 2 roughly opposite The Hop Merchant and next door to each other. First up, a place that I have a professional connection with, Copper City.
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Refurbished in 2015 to a high standard, Copper City occupies a building that was formerly Reflex nightclub and is the third addition to a chain which operates as an offshoot of Great Northern Inns. This café bar format has found much success in both West Bridgford and Mapperley and is proving very popular in the centre as well, particularly amongst theatre goers. Inside, the layout is split level with the bar on the ground floor, seating throughout and down a small flight of steps and an upstairs mezzanine area used for dining. The bar is very well stocked with an excellent range of cocktails on offer, a range of craft beers and 2 handpulls, 1 of which is permanently in use, offering Navigation New Dawn Pale. This is my choice for my next beer and it's in very good condition as it should be. Being friendly with the staff here and loving the atmosphere of the venue, I hung around here for a while, taking a seat at the bar and having a chat. It's nice to work for a company that makes you feel happy to go into any of the other venues whenever you can and that's exactly how I feel here. As tempting as it would be to stay for another, I have yet more pubs to visit. Luckily, the next one is just next door.

The longer standing of the 2 venues on this corner is the Three Crowns.
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Originally built in 1928 as the Three Crowns on the site of an earlier pub of the same name, this later became Tavern in the Town before becoming Edward's Bar in 1997 and then Flares nightclub in 2010. Now owned by Mitchells and Butlers, the pub was refurbished and reopened under its original name in June 2014 as a modern pub, selling up to 6 real ales. The ground floor is divided into several booths with sport on TV prominent. The toilets are upstairs with further seating beyond, which is opened at busy times. The aforementioned 6 handpulls offer an interesting variety, on the day of my trip, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Leeds Pale, Doom Bar, Vocation Bread & Butter, Everard's Sly Fox and Greene King IPA. Intrigued by the name, I went for the Sly Fox (4%), a pale, golden ale with a touch of ginger providing a real bite. The 3 hops used in the brew result in a zesty, spicy ale with an inviting honey aroma. I've been in the Three Crowns many a time although my visits have declined in regularity, not for any obvious reason, although I know longer know any of the staff there, which always helps. I still enjoy coming in here for a beer. The range is always interesting and the prices are very reasonable. The food isn't bad here either!

Moving on from the Three Crowns, I continued down Parliament Street and took a left into Hurts Yard, a long narrow alleyway between Parliament Street and Angel Row. I was now about to visit the first of 2 micropubs on today's trip and the oldest of the 2. This was the Barrel Drop.
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Opened in 2014, this single roomed micro pub on 2 levels was formerly a fish shop before being converted to its current form. The U shape of the building offers the feel of 2 distinct areas and there is minimal décor, mostly in the form of framed classic beermats. Some parts of the premises date to the 1800s and the cellar extends all the way to Angel Row and is believed to be part of Nottingham's cave system. All of the ales here are served directly from casks behind the bar and there are 5 on offer whilst I'm there, namely Mallinson's Tartan Black, Beartown Polar Eclipse, Beartown Pale Zesty Bear, True North Pale and Thirst Class Penny Red. My choice here was the Polar Eclipse (4.8%), a dark, oaky, black stout with soft aromas of treacle and burnt toffee which gives way to a taste of full of complex flavours of coffee, molasses and roasted barley. It's darker than I would necessarily have gone for but I don't mind a good stout on occasion and this was a good choice. Sitting in the Barrel Drop is a bit like sitting in somebody's lounge which is apt given that there a small group playing Trivial Pursuit on the table in front of me. It's hard not to eavesdrop. I love a good quiz!

From the Barrel Drop, I continued my journey down Hurts Yard, emerging onto Angel Row and making my way to Friar Lane where my next stop sits on a corner opposite a cat café. Formerly a short lived tapas bar, I was now at the Ned Ludd.
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Now a craft beer bar after previous spells as a recruitment office and then a tapas place, the Ned Ludd was acquired by Nottingham Brewery in June 2015 after previously being part of the Great Northern Inns portfolio. Named after the fictional face behind the Luddite movement, which saw workers smashing up newly developed looms in protest at jobs being taken away from humans, the bar is spread out over 2 floors with upstairs reserved for private functions and downstairs a cosy drinking and dining area. The bar is served by several fonts and 4 handpulls which, at the time of my visit, feature Nottingham Legend, Nottingham EPA, Thornbridge Jaipur and Thornbridge Seaforth. It's been a while since I had any Nottingham beers and I went for the Legend which was in excellent condition. For some reason, I've been in the Ned Ludd less than a handful of times which is something I need to rectify as it's very nice inside and the beer is delicious.

I had 3 more pubs to visit and the next one is located on Maid Marian Way, meaning another short walk to a place that has risen from the ashes of another failed venue. What once was Chambers karaoke bar is now the Bear & Lace.
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Billed primarily as a champagne bar, the Bear & Lace opened under the present name in July 2015, following a full refurbishment. It is now a smart and comfortable modern bar and restaurant with a bar down one side and smart seating throughout. The bar includes 4 handpulls, 3 of which were in use whilst I was there, providing a choice of Castle Rock Harvest Pale, Shipstone's Original and Shipstone's Paddington. Taking a table opposite the bar, I enjoyed my pint of Harvest Pale, which was delicious and very well kept. A quick perusal of the food menu suggests that a return trip for food may be required as it all sounds excellent.

The penultimate stop of this tour of town was the 2nd micropub of the day, located on Derby Road. Operated by Derby based Scribblers Ales, this is Room with a Brew.
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What was previously a shop is now a long, narrow micropub with a bar at the rear and seating between the door and the bar. The pub has just celebrated its one year anniversary and seems to be going from strength to strength. The bar features 8 handpulls, half of which, unsurprisingly, feature beers from Scribblers themselves in the shape of Rubecca, Beerfest at Tiffany's, Masher in the Rye and Beyond Reasonable Stout, alongside 4 guest beers namely Bude Porthbud, Grafton Priors Well, Leatherbritches Mad Ruby and Littleover Apex. I decided that I would try some of Scribbler's own so I went for the Masher in the Rye. This is a golden Amercian-style craft ale made with a dash of rye malt and delicate, subtle aromas from Mt. Hood and Styrian hops, all at a drinkable 4.8%. This is a nice little place in a good location with a few other pubs nearby, which allows the long walk uphill to be rewarded by a good pint.

Another walk uphill brought me to my last stop for the day. Located amongst the cluster of pubs at Canning Circus, my day came to a close at The Falcon Inn.

Image result for the falcon nottingham

Originally built as a pub in 1853, The Falcon was formerly a Shipstone's and Greenall's house which had open air Gents toilets. By 1864, it was a fully licenced establishment under victualler J. Hickling. Alterations were made by WB Starr and Hall in 1919 for J. Shipstone and Sons. Having changed hands numerous times throughout the years, it was fully reopened in October 2013 and occupies a prominent position in the centre of Canning Circus. It consists of 2 small rooms with a function room/restaurant area upstairs with meals served on Sundays only. The bar features 8 handpulls serving local beers, always including one dark beer and a real cider. The choice at the time of my visit is spread across 6 of the 8 handpulls and includes Nottingham Sooty Stout, Oakham Citra, Abbeydale Lion Tamer, Totally Brewed Guardian of the Forest, Pheasantry Best Bitter and Lilley's Mango Cider. I was instantly drawn to the Citra which is a big favourite of mine and it was very well kept indeed. This is my first visit to The Falcon and I'll definitely be coming back. It's a great way to end what has been a very productive day.

So, what have I learned? It turns out that the new establishments have added a lot to the Nottingham drinking scene. There is more choice in a large variety of different venues of different shapes and sizes with lots of different atmospheres and done in lots of different ways. The thing, overwhelmingly, that they have in common is their commitment to good beer and good service. Nottingham was already a great place to drink but now that is even more true and, with lots more venues that will form the basis for a future trip, it looks as if that will continue to be the case for many many years to come. Let's hope so. It's another reason to justify drinking in this fantastic city.