Every brewery in Nottingham

A straightforward challenge for this rambling: drink a beer from each brewery based in the Nottingham city boundary at a pub close to that brewery.

I'd been saving this for the summer, but with a trip to Nottingham needed - to buy my nearest and dearest an Easter egg from Hotel Chocolat - I threw caution to the wind and set off on my quest. By my reckoning, I needed to score beers from Nottingham (natch!), Castle Rock, Magpie, Alcazar, Mallard and Fellows Morton & Clayton. So, with sturdy shoes and an Easy Rider bus & tram ticket, I set off to city of my birth to start the ramble, er, rambling.

An early arrival into Nottingham was greeted by foul weather. Like a dummy, I didn't seek shelter in a nearby Spoons but instead started the hack southwards in driving rain. I haven't been down this side of town for a few years, so walking past Meadow Lane, the City Ground and Trent Bridge brough back all kinds of bittersweet sporting memories.

Over the river and through the backstreets of West Bridgford brought me to the first pub of the day, the Stratford Haven
This is a bonus Castle Rock pub for me - I'll be drinking thier beers at the Vat & Fiddle later - but I've always wanted to visit. An interesting pub, this; extended into a former courtyard, high backed benches, assorted tables, short stools, carpet and floorboards, bottles in rafters, prints on walls, artificial plants wide ranging menu, no music, Harvest Pale, Sherrif's Tipple and several others. Quiet - no students this week , the forty-something newspaper readers were out in force.

The weather was still blowy, but only a short walk past Trent Bridge (with the new stands looking rather funky) and back over the bridge to The Globe.
Here's where the ramble starts in earnest. Just over the canal from Meadow Lane and the Magpie brewery, the Globe is the closest outlet for Magpie beers. But - disaster! No Magpie! Time to decide how to tackle the rest of the day. With the weather still filthy, I decided to scrap the original ramble and instead just roll around a few pubs, trying to pick up Nottingham-based beers as I went. Fortunatly the Globe had a beer from Nottingham on, so half a Legend was knocked off and a trip out to Radford saved for a sunnier day.

Bucketing rain made it a short sprint over to the nearest bus stop. Back into the city centre, past the Castle Rock brewery (back here later) and onto the tram. To maximise my chances of Notts beers, I thought I'd jump off a couple of stops earlier than intended and visit the Lion Inn.
The city does a great job of promoting real ale pubs close to the tram route with the Beer By Tram promotion and CAMRA logo / pub name on the tram maps.
Into the Lion and it was busy, busy, busy. A fair few diners, drinkers following Nottingham CAMRA's Stout and Porter Trail and plenty of punters here for the jazz band. But none of their usual Mallard beer here - perhaps I'm feted to not find locale today? Though the Thornbridge St Petersburg Stout was tempting, I stumped up for some lush Roosters Yorkshire Pale Ale.

I could have stopped longer - a good range of beers and some easy jazz seems a pleasant way to while away a late lunchtime. But, got to keep moving. From the shadow of the old Shipstones brewery, it was a hop, wobble and skip to the tram and a few minutes wait before the two-stop trip to Basford and the Alcazar brewery tap, the Fox and Crown.
And it was all quiet here, strangely so. I pulled up a barstool and looked over a fair array of Alcazar beers, plumping for Alcazar Stout which was a little on the creamy side and borderline bland. Should have had something IPA-ish, Alcazar make some fantastic stronger beers.

Back to the tram, then, for the journey back to the city centre and the Vat & Fiddle. A minute from the railway station (if you run), the Vat is a great pub to pop into whilst waiting for a train. If only they'd install a screen to let you know how late you're train's running...

Busy enough in here for a late Sunday afternoon, it's often a bustling pub and always has excellent beers. It also stinks since the smoking ban, so hopefully the next time I go back will be on a warmer day when they've ben able to wedge the doors open and air the place. The brewery tap for Castle Rock, I'd usually order a pint of Harvest Pale without even looking at the other beers on offer. But, having secured a smashing pint of HP earlier in the day, I was easily tempted by their 'wildlife' themed special, Mr Toad which was everything in a stout that the Alcazar one wasn't; creamy with a lactic edge, some redeeming bitterness with roasty licks.

Next stop is a half-brewpub. Fellows Morton & Clayton, the oldest brewpub in the city, has a malt extract brewing operation upstairs (actually next door to the gents...)

A half of their Matthew Clayton Original Strong was dispatched quickly - odd name for a golden ale, though I did hear a rumour that it's only called that because the brewer found a box of old pumpclips and decided to recycle the Clayton one rather than design something new!

It's a comfy pub, a one-time warehouse on the canal with a smart bar area, a lower level room full of soft sofas and widescreen TVs dripping off every wall. What made watching Robbie Keane score a sublime goal even better was being able to score another Nottingham beer here - Mallard's Duck 'n Dive. I've often found a Mallard beer here - usually their wonderful, light Duckling - and so I enjoyed a full pint of it.

Time is pressing and I could fit in visits to two pubs before catching a late bus home. The Salutation is a pub I know of old, twenty years or so ago it was one of my pre-gig drinking dens before a night out at Rock City. The music is still the same but the beer seems to have got better and better. And there was plenty of yummy stuff on offer, but no Magpie. So, being ruthless, I snuck out the back door and legged it up to the last pub I could fit in today.

The Roebuck is a Wetherspoons with plenty of nooks for hiding away with a pint. It's even got a rooftop smoking garden! But it didn't have the one thing I wanted - Magpie beer. So, I settled for Milestone's Somers, a wheaty fruity thing that was fun but would have been more fun on a baking hot day in a beer garden. After a pint of MAGPIE!!!

It would have been good to nail all the beers from Nottingham, but at least the thrill of the chase was fun. Roll on summertime; if I can get gen that Magpie's on somewhere, I'll score it first and spend the rest of the day revisiting these pubs again.


Fest of fun: Leicester

Time for my first 'major' festival of the year, one where I'm more than happy to put in several appearances. Leicester festival has a reputation for fresh local brews and beers from new breweries nationwide.

It's held in the Charotar Patidar Samaj, a sizeable venue close to the bus station and a shortish wobble from the trains. One of the reasons why I love it is the straightforward setup here. One room with the booze (a LocAle bar, rest of the beers set out A-Z, Everards, cider and bottle bars). One room with *plenty* of seating round tables, a cob+pork pie stall, a trough to wash your glasses out and a kitchen that prepares a fair curry.

I visited twice this year:

Wednesday night: even though Network Rail tried their damnedest to stop me, I still made it over to Leicester for the opening night. And it was busy enough - another reason why I like it here is that the people who want to stand and drink can do so by the bar, those who want to sit down and have a chat/read he paper are equally well catered for.

Judging for the Harry Cragg beer of the festival was well underway (but I never did find out the results). A Lane's pork pie and a Stilton cob (excellent cheese from Webster’s at Saxelbye) were the perfect accompaniment to these beers:

Grainstore Osprey - started farty, turned into a solid golden ale.
Church End Tekute Zlato- flat lager with real body and a spit of sweetness
Caythorpe Dark Gem - WOW! This is a fantastic mild! Full of ash and roastiness and yummy stuff.
Full Mash Sence-less - Hmmm. Rather nondescript
Leadmill New Jersey - Jaipur's older, uglier brother. Flat, harsh.
Potbelly Beijing Black - still a good beer, but Dark Gem was better.
Thornbridge Hall Gildas - Sheer quality. Off copper body, frothy scant head, spicy nose. Like through walking through jasmine fields on a warm afternoon.
Brewdog Paradox Cask 006 Caol Ila - It's Brewdog. It's Paradox. It's been aged in a cask of my favourite whisky. Is it any good? It's fecking superb.

Thursday: up for a full day sesh with my old ratebeer.com mucker Mark and those Brunnie regulars John and Brian.

The latter are festival stalwarts, regaling me today with tales of their recent jaunts. Mark is a keen ratebeerian and beer blogger whom I'm always happy to share a beer with. Literally, in this case: today I scooped with only a little reluctance and 'doubled up' with Mark (the sharing of beers so you get to drink twice as many for the same volume consumed).

That led me into something I've not done too often in the recent past, try a number of beers from new breweries. Some weren't too impressive (Irving's Invincible springs to mind), most were solid and average (such as Larkrise and Cropredy Bridge, the two beers from Northamptonshire newcomers Cherwell Valley). But some were real standouts: Golden Bud from yet another Derbyshire brewer, Brampton, was an itchy, oily hopped lipsmacker. And from the newest newcomers, Bees of Queniborough, a superb stout called Wobble -as smooth as a black cat rubbing against your ankles. We even found time to fire up the laptop an add some reviews onto ratebeer.com

Now, all scoopers reluctant or otherwise have a list of beers they want to knock off at a fest. Mine usually was lots of old faves that I don't see in the Derby pubs, Mark's was chock full of new breweries. Once the new brewers wares had been exhausted, I turned to buying odd bod beers that I wanted to gauge Mark's reaction to. These included the Church End Czech lager from yesterday, a new wheat beer from Everards called Hazy Daze and one of my favourite English fruity beers, Milestone Raspberry Wheat beer. He seemed quite keen on them - which is reassuring for me, as some of the old-school drinkers I know tend to turn their noses up at the very mention of 'lager' or 'fruit'. Brian and John, incidentally were happily quaffing all manner of cask lagers - and they're both over retirement age!

Plenty of time was found during the day for food; a tray of samosas was chomped through early on, the veggie curry was welcomed later, with pork pies all round as a mid-session snack as you can see here - and thanks to Brian for his chipolata-finger QVC pointy action in this photo.

Now, it wouldn't be fit and proper for Mark and I to attend a fest and not try a cider or perry or both. We sampled Eve's Wilding Cider - I found it a tad gluey to begin with but eventually warming into tarter stuff. Mark was more impressed - given that it was a Northants cider, I'm not too sure if local bias was in action there...

Lots of other good beers along the way as well today, Morton Jelly Roll (which I enjoyed immensely on a recent trip to Nottingham), Grindleton Ribble Bitter (superbly balanced session bitter) and Fugelstou Sledgehammer Stout were perhaps the best of the rest of the bunch.

Having blagged a lift back to the middle of bog nowhere - I mean, home - Mark departed reluctantly early as I was getting stuck into the perry. Well, actually it was pyder; Oliver's seemingly running out of something along the way and so blending cider and perry together. It's still good tasting - Oliver's don't do crap - but a strangely unsettling aroma and taste.

John and Brian beat the retreat a little later on leaving me last man standing. Time then for another glass of Brewdog Paradox and an entertaining chat with a CAMRA man (Ron Rideout?) who regaled me with tales of dole cheats in Bangkok and what not to eat out of a packet when in Tallin.

Having then bought a stilton cob and a pork pie for the journey home, I reluctantly made my way back to the station, via Out Of The Vaults and an excellent pint of Beowulf Fin's Hall Porter.

So, an all round top-notch festival. Beer of the fest has to be Brewdog Paradox Caol Ila, though Brampton Golden Bud pushed it close. And special mention of Bees Wobble, one of the finest new-brewery beers I've been lucky enough to try.

Leicester festival gets it right; an excellent beer selection, good quality and conditioned beers, well laid-out venue, decent and fair priced food and a good atmosphere for both tickers and vertical drinkers alike. I always like to track down Andy Sales (festival beer co-ordinator) to say thanks - it's richly deserved.


Ramblings: Oxford

So, I say... Oxford. And you think of.... dreaming spires, Inspector Morse, Tolkien, ruddy tourists and the blue hue cast by the gown around town. But did you think of beer?

Probably not (and this is a beer blog! Sheesh! You just can't get the readers nowadays).

To be honest, it wasn't my first choice for a Midlands pub crawl. Truth be told, it wasn't even in my top tweleve choices of rambles on the beer. But it was the chosen venue for the second Midlands ratebeer.com crawl and with over a dozen members set to meet up there, it was too good to miss out on.

Now, I've travelled cattle class on this Cross Country line before and had no intention if doing so again. So, it was hoi polloi class for me and a dozen or so maiden aunts and far-too-well-off football fans. Shame, then, that to claim the complimentary beverages you had to claw your way to the other end of the train across sprawling students and feral families. Having marginally avoided kneeing a few toddlers in the head, it's then another let-down to be given not a crusty bacon roll but a 'snack-pack' which had some strange, squidgy stuff in it that smelt a bit like a Belgian beer. I think they call it "fruit"; I tried it once and didn't like it. At least they also gave you a Kit-Kat to dunk in your hot chocolate.

A pleasant journey, then. Having met up with our Glen, our esteemed leader for the day, and some of his mates we set off for the short stroll to the first pub of the day. Arriving there at 1130 gave us half an hours advantage on the rest of the mob who were due around 12.... shame then that the St Aldates Tavern wasn't open. So - Glen put Plan B into action, a walk across the city to the Three Goat Heads. Delightfully art deco on the outside and possibly on the inside to... but as this was shut as well, I'll never know.

Plan C then - hang around outside the Aldates 'til opening time. By now, a few more Ratebeerians had joined the hubble - Hughie, Chris O and Mark (complete with baguette in gob. Though, as he was bringing me Westvleteren, I'll be nice to him just this once.). As we watched what seemed to be every bus in Oxford try to force their way down the street, Gazza's arrival was heralded by scooping acolytes scattering hop flowers before his feet.

Eventually the door latch was slipped, havoc cried and the Aldates invaded. This is a non-nonsense single-room pub, utilitarian furniture, pump clips on the ceiling, rugby shirts on the walls and some juicy looking White Horse beers on the bar. As I tucked into a pint of White Horse Bitter, the rest of the gang began to pile in - Ian "Kippers" Harrison, Merton BF's Fin, Steve and Casey looking unnervingly like father and son. And that veritable rating combo (but a crap hand at Scrabble), Mes & Sim and Ang.

This was a bubbly little place, felt like a community pub beached in the city, with some excellent White Horse beers (their aforementioned Bitter and Giant were in great nick). A surreptitious slurp of Hair of the Dog's Adam, courtesy of Hughie, was greatly appreciated (by far the best- and almost only- dark beer of the day). Just a hint of surly landlord on glass collection, a service level incomparable to the indifference yet to be encountered...

No rest for the beer crawler - the next stop was but a bus-defying dash across the street and down an alley to the Bear. Glen was saying we wouldn't all get in; my stomach alone took up the room normally occupied by four diners. And it was those sausage eaters, with their tables and chairs, that took up precious room that could have been better served by cramming in a dozen vertical drinkers. So, with Old Hooky Bitter bought, we repaired to the 'beer garden' - a stupendously euphemistic term for a line of picnic tables next to the bins. Which didn't stop a steady line of tourists taking photos - though probably not of the bins. Unless they're on ratebin.com. And how *sad* would that be... the Hooky was fine, would have been disappointing not to have any during the day. Every county needs a solid, local-brewed bitter - just that I much preferred the cleaner taste of the White Horse one.

Glen then seemed hell-bent on finding even narrower alleyways to lose us down - I half expected to round a corner and hear "They lured him here to bugger him senseless, Lewis!". But, as Endeavour inevitably found, there was a pub at the end of the alley. And not just *a* pub - the hallowed Turf Tavern.
I forgot to take a photo here, so here's one purloined from t'internet.

A ramble of rooms, a sizable beer garden (one with plants and roofs and everything), a tiny bar and Oxford's representative in the Surliest Put-Upon Barman competition. Though, to be fair, if I was trying to serve fifteen punters in a pub that's bristling with students and tourists, I'd have been reaching for the machete rather than pleading with people to keep his hatch area clear. Little pleader.

Loads of room outside though, highlighting the peccadilloes of prime ministers and presidents during their time at the Turf. The beer was educational as well; I tried another White Horse beer brewed for the pub, Turf Tavern Summer Ale, which was a clean and refreshing drop.

Sitting outside, to be honest, was like drinking in the outdoor section of B&Q, with more decking than Charlie Dimmock can swing her things at. Inside was fairly cool, quaint in a 'Greene King Survivor' way, with some individuality not totally snuffed out by the suits from East Angular. I should have spent more time inside musing around; I may have enjoyed the pub more.

From here, then, on to the White Horse. Sadly, not a brewery tap but an engaging single room pub just down the way from the Bodleian. It reminded me of some old market town boozers that I know, stepping down from the street into a bare-boarded bar with a hub-bub of conversation. Having taken a few minutes to scare off the locals, we commandeered half the pub and drank White Horse Wayland Smithy. Apart from Ang, that is, who had Hoegaarden and Lemsip. Allegedly.

Time for nosebag and Glen had recommended the next pub as a suitable scoffing point. Far From The Madding Crowd was a Ronseal pub - does exactly what it says on the sign. Away from the main drag, busy but not crammed with be-scarfed loons and camera-addled visitors. Swift table-arranging allowed us to set up dining for twelve with King Gazza promoted to the sofa. I swapped Derby tales with Fin, whose Dad is lucky enough to live within staggering distance of the Old Oak in Horsley Woodhouse, the brewery bar for Leadmill and Bottle Brook.

Unlike very other pub today, the 'Madding' has little history, being a new build to fill in the gap between extended modern shops. As such, it was an opportunity to do something different- instead, it's all rather bland and boxy. Even more disappointing was the long wait for sausages that , when they finally decided to put in an appearance, had seemingly been warmed by the light from an energy-saving bulb rather than cooked in an oven. As least the beer range was diverse (although few dark beers today - surprising for the time of year) and with a new Abbeydale beer for me to try (Ephiphany) I was happy to mull over a pint. I just got the feleing that here wasa chance wasted - I wouldn't have wanted a 'ye olde' facsimile (no pint when the city is throbbing with the real thing) but it felt a little like an Ikea showroom. With tuck scoffed, Hughie bade us all farewell at this point - hope I'll catch up with him sometime for a Peak District ramble.

No rest for the scooping crawler, regardless of reluctancy. Two uber-historic pubs to knock off yet, starting with the Eagle and Child. Or Bird & Baby, or Fowl & Foetus. Anywhichway, it's an attractive place, tiny front rooms leading off a long bar, beyond which is a dining area and a fairy-light-encrusted corridor where I and a few others pitched up. The Cains Dragon Heart had just been drunk dry by the ratebeerians who weren't outside taking photos, so I settled for a more than adequate Adnams Broadside (only problem with it being that is I'm used to having a steak and mushroom pie at the same time, pie and Broadside being my staple meal at one of my locals, the Carpenters Arms in Dale Abbey). This was a pub I'd like to spend more time in, have a bite to eat and a chat with the staff. Was it the sort of place where you could imagine Tolkien and Lewis nattering away... "There's been a murder, Lewis.... it's Haldir!". Well, er, no, but it's still an atmospheric place.

Time to head over the road - well, over the unfeasibly wide urban motorway with a car park in the middle - for the pub the Inklings defected to, the Lamb and Flag. And let me get my one piece of negative criticism out of way now; the barman seemed to resent customers with every strand of his DNA, never knowing (or caring) who was next to be served but instead just shouting 'NEXT!!' whilst looking at the drink he was pouring. Never smiled, no manners... no wonder pub staff in this city get a bad rep.

But, what a pub - solid beers from Skinners and Palmers (the latter rebadging Gold providing the pub's house beer, Lamn & Flag Gold). Room to swing a cat if you fancied it, plenty of nooks for tables and chatter, room at the bar for surly service. And to sit there on a stool with a beer and chew the fat about whatever you wish - which I did with Warren Monteiro, playwright, journalist and beer drinker extrodinaire. We shared our views on Oxford's beer scene, I evangelicised about Reluctant Scooping and Warren gave me the lowdown on beers NYC style. And he helped date my Westys! Certainly a pub I'll return to.

Mark then made his way back to deepest darkest Northamptonshire - and I bet he'd written up his blog entry for the day by the time the bus got him home...

That's all the pubs I'd planned on visiting today, but with an hour and half to go I decided to be dragged along to another pub, the Gardeners Arms. This was a wee way away to the north of the city (should have been more attentive of this at the time). On the upside, I noticed a fish 'n chip van on the way and immediately began to dream of a fried supper on the way back to the station.

The Gardeners was a locals pub at the end of a row of houses (natch). A few warm and friendly rooms, Marstons beers and (apparently) a great reputation for vegetarian food. I sampled the Brains St Peters - OK stuff, underwhelming but beery enough. Cue the great 'stout versus porter' debate round the table: I personally don't think there's a spit of difference between them, but a reasoned and loquacious discussion on the style(s). Suddenly mindful of the time, I thought of heading back to the station. How long would that take? Glen thought it would be twenty minutes - Fin was convinced it woud be thirty. I had thirty five minutes but it ended up being a hard paced walk, foresaking fish and chips on the way.

An on-time train and a quiet carriage awaiting made for a blissful journey home. Even if I'd been tempted, the Westys stayed unmolested by virtue of me falling asleep on the approach to Banbury and not stirring again until I entered the nether regions of Staffordshire. Too tired even for a nightcap at the Brunswick on the way home.

All in all, a fun day; some above average beers, especially impressed by the White Horse brews. Some pubs I'd like to revisit and linger longer in (Lamb & Flag, Turf Tavern). And always good to meet up with ratebeer bods who are never backward at coming forward and telling people why stout is porter. Like, duh!