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Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Nottingham Crawl. Narrowboats, a Crow and a Trip to Jerusalem

A few years ago, I was a quite regular visitor to the East Midlands, and Nottingham in particular. I found it a vibrant, but laid back, City, which was always a drinker's Paradise. Now, after the sands of time have thinned out in the top of the glass a little, would my next visit here, around 12 years since my last, be as interesting, enjoyable and beer filled as my last expeditions ? We will soon find out. We boarded our train from Grimsby Town station, shortly before 11-20 , and soon we were away. One change ahead at Lincoln, before, eventually, being disgorged, from the comfort of our East Midlands Train service, into the bustling atmosphere of Nottingham. The first thing I noticed was the building work going on, seemingly, all around the station area. The next was The Bentinck Hotel, a place I had rested my head before, with its, then, dubious reputation, I was once told, is no longer a pub. No, it is now a Starbuck's ! Not that that was too much of a problem, we were to spend a couple of nights in The Travelodge, Nottingham Central, on Maid Marian Way.

Wednesday Afternoon.
The time was now 13-30, and we couldn't check in until 15-00 so Canal Street, just a stone's throw from the station, beckoned.

The Fellows, Morton & Clayton, Canal Street.
Situated in the old FMC Company's former offices in Canal Street. It is building steeped in history from when canals were the transport highways, and carried the lifeblood, of the country. There was a good choice real ales on the bar, and we eventually settled on a pint of Wellbeck Abbey “Portland Black”, a 4.5% Black Beer ( according to the pump clip, somewhere between a Mild and Stout) and a half of a Blonde Ale, which Jane chose . I thought the “Portland Black” a very nice Ale, with malt and chocolate coming to the fore. It was thinner than a good stout, but more than ample as a mild. The Blonde Ale was rather bitter and grapefruit driven, which wasn't quite to T'other 'Arf's taste. This is a nice, busy place, within 2 minutes of the station. Our next stop, though, was to be right next door.

The Canalhouse. Canal Street.
This Castle Rock house is a pure gem of a boozer. It offers a wide range of real ales, and ciders,
You won't find these parked in
many local pubs !
along with a range of over 240 bottled and keg craft ales. It also has two narrow boats moored in the pub ! The bar staff are really excellent too, and will chat about the beers, just to ensure you get something that suits your taste. My first drink in here was Castle Rock “Black Gold” , a wonderful Mild of 3.5%. It is a well balanced beer, with a bitter-sweet finish. There is a nice hint of vanilla and dark fruits in the background. I followed this with a Cheddar Ales “Potholer”, a Golden Ale of 4.3%, which, after an initial maltiness, was light, fruity and zesty. Jane went for an Orchard Pig “Explorer” Cider, which she enjoyed immensely. This is a must visit hostelry, a place to drink good beer and unwind.

The Cask Room (at Via Fossa) Canal Street.
Unfortunately, I think we didn't see the best of this place. The front bar, The Cask Room, was closed, so we had to use the back bar. This room, though, looks out onto a patio area, which stretches all the way down to the canal. The beer in here, I'm afraid, was not so good. It was brought from the front bar, I had a “Gangly Ghoul” , a 4.2% Bitter from Greene King, which was rather flat, lifeless and not a good pint at all, neither was the “IPA” from the same brewery, which looked slightly cloudy. Maybe it was just an off day. After this drink, we headed to our “base camp” for the next couple of days.

Wednesday Evening.
After relaxing for a couple of hours in the Travelodge, we were ready to stretch our legs, once more, sample a few beer, and catch a bite to eat.

Oaks Restaurant. Bromley Place.
This popular restaurant is easily overlooked by the drinker, but worth a visit. With plenty of natural materials adorning the place, interesting furniture, it is hard not to be tactile with the décor. There is a good selection of Craft bottles, and, although it wasn't pointed out to us when we entered, we noticed two “regulars” enjoying cask ales from a couple of partly hidden hand-pull pumps at the bar. Hey-ho ! The beers we had in here were Einstok “Toasted Porter”, and “Dead Pony Pale Ale”. Both these bottles were enjoyable, with the Pale full of fruitiness, with lime, citrus fruit and pine evident in the fore, which leads this 3.8% beer to a long very dry and bitter finish, whereas the 6% Porter was full on, with a smokiness coming through the sweet malt, before the hoppy bitterness excites the taste buds.

The Roundhouse. Royal Standard Way
The Roundhouse
Situated just over the Maid Marion Way, this building, the former Jubilee wing of the old Nottingham General Hospital, has been sympathetically restored, and is a delightful bar which oozes history. The range of real ales was quite good, six in all, and we chose 2 from the Dancing Duck Brewery, in Derby. My beer was the wonderful “Dark Drake”, an Oatmeal Stout of 4.5%, which was filled with liquorice, caramel and hints of coffee in the finish, whilst Jane opted for the “house” beer, the 4% Bitter, “Roundheart”. This was a good malty bitter, and has hints of chocolate and fruit lurking in the background.

The Crafty Crow. Friar Lane
10 hand pumps, serving guest ales, as well as those from The Magpie Brewery, who own it, and a large selection of Craft Keg, and bottles are all on offer. The selection process could take as long as the drinking, if it wasn't for the excellent staff, who listen to your likes, and dis-likes, and advise you on the best drink for you, with a taster or two along the way. We eventually went for “ A Tempting Murder”, a 5.6% Porter with pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and hints of vanilla prominent, but with a back taste of a complexity which allows it to remain interesting throughout, and the 4.2% “Best Bitter”, a well balanced beer with a nutty fruitiness, and a hint of caramel. both from the Magpie Brewery. We also sampled a half of “Lacerated Sky” a 9% IPA from Black Iris, which was, as advised, like having a pudding in a glass !

Fothergill's. Castle Road
As food was now firmly on our minds, we popped into this small, but friendly eatery, which also has a selection of cask, and craft ales. We were immediately advised that a table would not be available for 40 minutes, but the staff worked some magic, and within 15 minutes, we were seated. Our food soon arrived, and it was delicious. The beers we chose were a pint of Freedom “Indian Pale Lager”, a 5.5% beer combining the two styles of IPA and a Lager, which was fruity,zesty and very refreshing, and a half of Springhead “Roaring Meg”, the much reviewed flagship beer from this brewer, which was as good as we have tasted (and reviewed) anywhere.

The Castle. Castle Road
Last stop of the evening was this bar, the adjoining pub to Fothergill's. Pub, kitchen, movie room, cask and craft ales. One wonders how they fit it all in ! I had a pint of Shipstone's “ Bitter”, 3.8%, which I found solid and unpretentious. There was a touch of grassiness in the aroma, but caramel and malt in the main body leads to a reasonable bitterness in the finish and makes this beer a good session drink. My partner in crime decided on a soft drink for this final round.
After these, we sloped back to the hotel, just a 3 minute waddle away, and prepared for the morrow. For some, it would include shopping, for others, or me, at least, pubs and beers.

Thursday Afternoon.
I tried it, I valiantly attempted to enjoy it, but M&S, Debenham's, and the rest, just don't fill me with the same pleasure as it does T'other 'Arf. On this bombshell, I parted company with Jane, just for a wee while, and set off exploring, just after 11-30. The first pub I was looking for didn't open until 12-00, so I wandered the short way up to the other end of Canal Street, to start my quest.

The Newshouse . Canal Street.
A bit of Voodoo.
A traditional pub, just a short walk from both the station, and Broadmarsh Centre, this boozer offers a good range of cask and craft beers. It is the brewery tap for Totally Brewed Brewery, as well as carrying Guest Beers and, of course, beers from Castle Rock, the pub's owners. The décor is very much 1960's and 70's themed, with wooden floors and neon evident, even a bar billiards table, which gives it a comfortable feel. My beer in here was “Papa Jangles Voodoo Stout”, a 4.5% Stout, from Totally Brewed, which was dark, chocolatey and had a coffee back taste, with dark fruits also evident. The finish was nice and bitter, but with just a hint of sweet fruit.

The Cross Keys. Byard Lane
Between the Victoria and Broadmarsh centres, and a stone's throw from the Lace Market is this popular pub. This free-house has a good range of The Navigation Brewery beers, as well as a couple of Guest ales. I chose Navigation “Apus” in here, a 5.5% American style IPA, which was packed with tropical fruit flavours, slight spice, floral notes and big hoppy bitterness in the finish. This is a full on beer, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I enjoyed it that much that, after meeting up with T'other 'Arf, we popped back for another in here, that shopping must be hard work ! I stayed on the “Apus”, but Jane settled on an Ossett “Big Red”, a Ruby coloured beer of 4%, which has a lovely, if subtle, chocolate malt taste, reasonable bitterness, and a good touch of citrus in the finish.

Bunker's Hill. Hockley
Anyone visiting The National Ice Arena must pop in to here. It is packed with local ice hockey memorabilia, and good beers, both craft and cask. It is a touch away from the City centre, but worth the trip. I had another of those Totally Brewed Ales in here, namely “Oatally Brewed”, a 4% Golden Ale, with a nice sweetness at the start, which cedes to a long bitter finish. Great beer to quench the thirst.

BrewDog. Broad Street.
This was the first BrewDog pub that I have been in, but I have heard so much about them and, although sparsely decorated, and rather industrial in ambience, I quite liked the feel and atmosphere. The selection of keg, and bottled craft, is vast, and the bartender, a pleasant young man, was enthusiastic and well educated in the wares before us. I sampled a “collaboration” beer, BrewDog/Black Iris “Perfect Storm”, a light, very dry and hoppy ale of 4.9%, but opted for 2/3rdLibertine Black Ale”, at 7.2%. This is a big punchy beer, with roast flavours prominent, initially, but soon followed by the bittering hops. A beer to savour, not gulp.

Kean's Head, St Mary's Gate.
Head of Operations.
Another Castle Rock establishment, with guest on tap. As with all their estate, a good selection is available. It has a bar at one end of the fair sized room, and plenty of brewing memorabilia on the walls. Ilkley “Fireside Porter”, a 4.2% beer, with a hint of spice,dark fruits and liquorice, was my choice, and very nice too. I liked this pub, but would have preferred a few more customers to make an atmosphere. There again, it was now 16-30 pm, on a dark Thursday.

Pitcher & Piano, High Pavement.
I met back up with Jane in this absolutely stunning former church. With stained glass windows, and many ecclesiastical bits and bobs in situ, you can certainly reflect the error(s) of your ways in here ! The beers of choice were a pint of “BG Sips”, from the Blue Monkey Brewery, a 4% pale ale, with a sharp berry fruitiness and nice long lingering bitter finish, and a half of Jennings “Bitter”, the typically full malty beer of 3.8%.

The Salutation. Maid Marian Way.
Our last port of call, out of curiosity, was this tavern, next door to our hotel. I would best describe it as dark, friendly, slightly Gothic and a place for younger drinkers, but real ale was on, and the pint and a half of “Hobgoblin” we had was as good as I have tasted anywhere. Enough said, not a bad boozer, just a little niche, I suppose.

Thursday Evening.
After my excesses of reviewing during the afternoon, and all that heavy shopping done by T'other 'Arf, it was not surprising that our exploits to follow would be a tad more subdued than normal.

Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem. Brewhouse Yard.
Enjoying the Trip.
Is this quirky, and quaint, tavern, reputedly the oldest in England, a museum, souvenir shop, tourists trap, or traditional boozer ? Well, to be fair, all four. With caves, magic pregnancy chair, horn and hoop game, 7 great cask ales and merchandise, not to mention the local characters which frequent, and entertain the visitors. The Lord, and The Legend of the Ring are in most nights, I believe, so do try the old game of Hooking the Horn, it only took me 10 minutes to swing it on. The beers in here were quite good too, I had Greene King “Fireside Ale”, a big malty brew of 4.5%, which has plenty of dry citrus notes, very refreshing. Jane had one of her favourite ales, “Abbot Ale”. An interesting place to spend some time.

The Malt Cross. St James Street
Wandering back across Maid Marian Way, we headed for a former Variety Theatre, run by a Christian charity, and the home of an art gallery, caves, live music, oh, and the base for the Street Pastors. What a place. It has been tastefully restored, with many original features, and serves a good half dozen real ales. My pint “Charles Henry Strange IPA” a 5.5 Ale from The Navigation Brewery,( which was “Apus” re-named, but still as enjoyable) with my Half Pinter choosing the 3.9% Brewster's “Malt Cross Music Hall” a light, hoppy session beer with good bitterness throughout. Another interesting pub in this Great City.

The Approach. Friar Lane.
Just a stagger away from our previous establishment is this Navigation Brewery run Alehouse. It is modern, clean and reasonably light, and there is a good selection of the brewery's beers on, along with a couple of guests. The truth was, though, as it was empty, apart from another 3 or 4 punters, it had no heart, and this made it feel, somewhat, sterile. I think this is a place to be on a weekend, filled with people, creating an atmosphere. The beer we chose was a Navigation brew, “New Dawn Pale Ale” a 3.9% beer which was crisp, full of citrus and displayed a very dry finish.

The Bell Inn. Angel Row.
This pub was very busy, and we had had plenty to drink by this time. It is, also, the oldest pub in Nottingham., but not the country (not sure how that works with Ye Olde Trip). My memories of the beer in here are sketchy, I can remember ordering 2 halves, and paying a shellfish vendor a fiver for some cockles, for charity, but besides this, everything had become vague. I do know it was really busy, I will have to visit again, sometime

It was now time to eat, and we decided on an Indian. Wandering back towards the hotel, we made up our minds, with a bit of help from a passer-by, that Chutney, right next door to our Travelodge, was the place to be. Our starter, shared dips and chippattis, were very tasty, and the Tikka Masala and Jalfrazi Rogan, spot on, but the Peshwari Nan, oh, it was to die for. We kept cool with Kingfisher. Sorry about the tablecloth, chaps,those dips just dripped.

Friday.
Well, time to check out, do our last little bits, and head home. After a JDW breakfast in the Joseph Else (without beer, I do have limits), which overlooks the Market Place, and a visit to a couple of shops, we went our separate ways for an hour.

The Barrel Drop. Hurts Yard
Well hidden down an alleyway, Nottingham City Centre's only micro-pub is well worth discovering. The service is excellent, and I could have stood there chatting about beers all day. Although not a big pub, it has 3 distinct areas. If you visit the city, make sure you pop in. I had a great pint of Bedlam “Porter”, a smooth, dark chocolate flavoured beer, which caressed the palate on the way down. The finish of this 4.5% beer was wonderfully bitter-sweet. Great bar, great beer.

The Company Inn. Castle Wharf
Unmissable canal side building.
A very busy JDW Lloyd's No1 bar near the canal. It shares part of the former British Waterways building, and, although unmistakably a “Spoons”, it is quite well appointed. We went for the Navigation “Wise Guy” in here, a malty brew of 4%, which has, after initial sweet berry hints, cinder toffee and citrus drive it forward. The finish is slightly sweet, but increasingly dry. A very good Bitter.

The Navigation Inn. Wilford Street.
Just a stones throw from the Canal Street/Castle Wharf area, but still overlooking the canal and towpath, is The Navigation. A traditional pub, which has a “locals” feel about it, but is extremely welcoming of visitors. There are 12 hand pumps on the bar, all dispensing different beers. Music is on a times, and food is also available. Our beers in here were “Pigs Might Fly”, Jenning's 3.9% Bitter, which had a good malt and toffee taste, and a satisfying bitter finish. Jane really enjoyed this one. I went for a pint of Marston's “Pedigree”, 4.5%. It tasted as Pedigree always does, to be fair, slight sweetness, hint of citrus and a tickle of spice in the finish. A reliable pint.

The Canalhouse (Re-visited) Canal Street.
With an hour left before the train left for home, we decided to pop back into the first pub we had visited, just over 48 hours previous. It was a bit busier in here today, but the staff still as attentive and friendly. T'other 'Arf went for a steaming mug of Mulled Wine, but I chose “Midnight Owl”, a lovely complex and warming Black IPA of 5.5%, from the Castle Rock Brewery, which was a pure delight to experience. I followed this with a pint of Dark Star “Partridge” Best Bitter. This 4% Ale has a nice sweetness, a touch of plum, I would suggest, and leads to an uncomplicated bitter finish. Not spectacular, but satisfying.

And that was the trip to Nottingham. 22 different pubs visited (not including Chutney & Joseph Else) 37 different beers sampled and in excess of 33 pints imbibed between us. There are many, many more Real Ale pubbs in, and around, the City. We may have only scratched the surface on our excursion. I could now honestly answer the questions I started out with. No, It wasn't the same place I visited years ago, it had grown up a bit, matured a lot and, from being absolutely fantastic, it had, in my eyes just got even better. We are hoping to return sometime in the New Year, spend a little time in the pubs we really loved, and visit some of those pubs we had listed, but not sadly missed out on.. Thank You Nottingham, we can't wait until the next time.

Cheers and keep it “Real”