Category Archives: Pubs

Bringing Up The Perfect Pub Dog

This post forms part of Boak And Bailey’s Go Longer weekend. Hope you enjoy it.

Wilson takes in Hawkshead Brewery

Wilson takes in Hawkshead Brewery

In 2010, after years of deliberation, my wife and I decide to buy a dog. As far as we were concerned, It had to be from puppy, as we wanted to mold our furry friend-to-be into the perfect dog; balanced, loving, tenacious. A companion through the thick and thin, a true friend with no ulterior motives .I however, did have one other other motive that my wife probably didn’t: the perfect Pub wingman.

You see, we’d coveted the ‘pub dog’ for some time.  We’d coo over Dachshunds, Spaniels and Terriers as we enjoyed time in our counties’ fair pubs. We’d  chuckle to ourselves as  the little guys sulked under tables, or waited as patiently as only dogs can, utterly focused on getting that one stray crisp or pork scratching that their owner would drop floorwards.

When you’ve built a decent career of dog-watching  you learn the little personality traits; some pub- dogs care only for their owners; others will casually inspect everyone walking through the door before passing judgement. Some will ferret and scout about seats and tables (if you’re a landlord who doesn’t sweep under banquets and booths, the dog will find the evidence) and remain an elastic -band ball of energy. Others only want shade and a friendly bowl of water.

I’m biased, of course, but I find it odd that there are people who simply don’t want dogs in pubs. Hygiene seems to be the main culprit; horror stories abound of dogs defecating in the middle of busy saloons or howling away like Cerberus whilst their owner nonchalantly sups his or her pint. In all my years of watching – and taking  – dogs in pubs, I’ve never come across anything like this. I’d always trot out the old adage in defence anyway; look at the owner, not the dog.

Anyway, back on story. We settled for a farm-born (does that make him organic? Free Range? ) Border Terrier, a breed we’d loved since seemingly being stalked by the scruffy brown bastards in a day out in Skipton years ago. They were everywhere. At that point, we assumed every country pub came with one of them as standard. Black Sheep bar runner? Check. Glassware? Check? Horse Brass and locally-sourced menu? Check and Check. Smiley, russet-coated punk of a dog trotting about charming everyone’s pants off? Check.

Soon our home had a new, four-legged addition. Agent Wilson was active. Now to put the plan into action.

Obviously we had to wait until he was of a certain age – and house-trained  (see above point) before venturing into a pub. We met a friend in Skipton (in a twist of serendipity) who also owned a BT (as we in the Border Terrier world call them, obviously) and ventured for a walk in the sunshine before hitting the pub. And, despite our obvious nerves at the first public showing of PubDog v1, he did ok; corralled and terrified in equal measure of his companion for the day, a feisty female who was having none of his infantile mores.

Galvanised, we ventured out again, not long after. Faithfully following  our new-laid rules, we walked the hell out of him before, only to find that almost as soon as we sat and I, more tired than him at this point, lifted a sweet golden pint to his lips, he began to whine. Another dog – a whippet as lithe as Kate Bush (and, with a gunmetal-silver coat, the otherworldly beauty to match) began to join in, leading to some Doppler-effect harmonising that wouldn’t have sounded out of place at…well, a Kate Bush concert (if she did them).

We were aghast. My pint began to disappear quickly as I ‘supped up’, and Louise’s cheeks were getting redder. The pub wasn’t busy (again, the rules – they are coming, just keep reading), although the Whippet’s owner was seemingly nonplussed. Eating a fishfinger sandwich with quiet intent and poring over her papers, she was either used to it, deaf, or both. Typically English, we tried to catch her attention; ready to offer some kind of apology, but to no avail. She was lost to the print. We, on the other hand, were simply uncomfortable.

So, as was dejectedly trudged back, our proud little performer thoroughly pleased with himself, we searched for answers. what had gone wrong? Yes, he was young. Yes, it was early days. But that was awful. We’ve never been thrown out of a pub – and weren’t close that time, really – but it was just embarrassing. What to do?

From day one, we’d trained Wilson to eat treats – Pig’s Ears and the like (which he adores in much the same way I do Pork Scratchings) on ‘his mat’. It was actually only to save the carpet from being covered in dog spit and shards of Pig’s Ear, but a pleasant side effect was that he equated the mat to being happy. And fed. The two sort of go hand-in hand with dogs.

So, after a good month or so, we plucked up the courage for another raid on a pub, this time with a train ride involved, and with all the other rules being followed. Except this time we had a secret weapon; a mat. A smaller version of his regular one. Plus, a few treats.

We strode into the pub, ordered beer and food (we must have been feeling cocky, looking back), proudly unfurled the mat under the table and went about our business. After his usual inspection of the place, Wilson felt the pub was up to his standard and  – OH! My Mat! I know what to do on that – I lay on it. And if I do, I might get a treat! How Wonderful! Yeah!

Making light work of a chew, Town Street Tavern, Horsforth

Making light work of a chew, Town Street Tavern, Horsforth

Needless to say, a good hour later he was chomping on a treat, we had clean plates, second pints had been ordered. Success. Parents, you know when your son scores his first goals for the school team, or when your daughter gets the ‘Mary’ role in her first Nativity? This is my equivalent. He just went up a grade. If there was a certificate, we’d have had it presented that day, replete with paw print on the bottom.

Not only that, but we relaxed. We had fun. We drank and ate at our leisure. When the bar staff came over, they commented on the handsome looks and downright good behaviour of our little guy. Other dog owners came in, wrestled with things for a bit, then skittered off. We quietly judged them, as you do when your dog is the best in the world. The pub became the ‘third place’ that we all search for; friendly to me, accommodating to my dog – who I want to drink with by my side.

Since then, we’ve progressed. We now don’t always need the mat. We’ve been to pubs in slightly busier times with success. We’ve had bad episodes (hunting down a pub that had at least five dogs at any one time ended up being sensory overload) but, overall, we now have our pub wingman. To us, they are simply part of British Pub Life.

Oh, those rules? Ok, here are my own personal rules for Dogs in Pubs. I know, I know; it sounds a bit patronising, but here are what I found works, and make the entire experience pleasant for your dog, you and your fellow drinkers.

1. Know Your Dog

What?! I do, how dare you? Seriously, though – highly strung dog? Don’t take it in a pub at office closing time. Likes treats? Take treats. House-trained? Christ, I hope so! Not good in hot weather and you really want to go lounge in a beer garden all afternoon? Then leave the dog at home. Seriously.

download2. Where to go?

If you’re lucky enough to have a dog-friendly pub near you, then great. If you’re not sure, then call ahead, email, tweet, whatever. Don’t assume it is, purely because it’s rural or something like that. Doesn’t like being petted? Then go at quiet times. In fact, the dog’s best hour in a pub is a quiet one. Unless it’s very used to it; imagine how disconcerting a loud, full weekend pub must be to a dog.

3. Respect Others

This ranges from respecting a pub’s decision to not allow dogs (perfectly reasonable) to your fellow drinkers, to general decent behaviour. Dog whining? Take it out. They do that when they want something or aren’t happy. Drop your beer for a second and go for a walk. I know it’s warm, but if it’s sitting in the doorway, move it. Visiting other tables or people? You may think he’s being cute, they might not. Pay attention.

Finally; landlords of wonderful dog-friendly pubs up and down the country – don’t forget the bowl of water. After all, you wouldn’t forget the beer for me, would you?

More reading: If you want to look at a slice of pub life through a dogs eyes, check out Dogs in Pubs. If in Scotland, there’s Dugs in Pubs. I’ve used Doggiepubs to help shape our decisions before, too. Here’s an incredibly pro-dog (and slightly hysterical) view from the Daily Mail (apologies). Here’s a recent blog by Keith Wildman on his love of dogs in pubs on Sabotage Times.

The Organ Grinder & Canal House, Nottingham

OG NewSo; our day in Nottingham continues. Blue Monkey were another brewery whose wares we’d sampled at beer festivals and been fairly impressed with. Reminding me somewhat of the likes of Oakham, Quantum, Buxton and The Brew Co – as in producing beers at a mid-strength abv but packed with flavour – we were keen to visit The Organ Grinder, their Canning Circus home.

Expecting something akin to The Plough, we didn’t expect The Organ Grinder to be so inclusive. Yes, the bar was well-stocked with Blue Monkey’s freshest beers, but there was also an impressive range of guests on both cask and keg to tempt us. And tempt us they did; beers from Sarah Hughes, Oakham and Meantime sat proudly amongst Blue Monkey’s own bright, brash range.

Sticking strictly to plan, we dove into the beer, accompanied by a couple of very, very fine pork pies. BG Sips (4%abv) was the textbook epitome of session pale, and much like the Rock Bitter before it, was dispatched down thirsty throats (it was a 15 minute walk – uphill – from The Plough to The Organ Grinder. And it was cold. Did I mention that?) all too quickly. Marmoset – another light , zippy Pale followed, and Guerilla Stout (4.9%abv) proved a robust, sweetly smoky foil for our Pork Pies and lashings of English Mustard.

As was becoming a theme, we didn’t want to leave. Clock-watching is not a friend of the drinker seeking experience; the experience itself – be it the beer or the surroundings or both – does not materialise shackled. Stove in the hearth, fellow drinkers taking thier coats off after the first few sips of beer, deliberating over the array of pumps as the barmaid waits patiently, clean glasses in hand. The Organ Grinder was a joy to drink in, and Blue Monkey should be rightly proud of the place.

Time marched on; after the obligatory half in Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem (or as we call it, ‘cave-beers’), we headed for one of the strongholds of Castle Rock; The Canalhouse.

IMG_0103The Canalhouse got on the list purely down to the building. It’s not often you get to drink in a pub with a canal running through it – complete with boats –  and as the sun peeked out from behind the uniform grey cloud, we begun to pine for  the spring and al fresco drinking. We’re not quite there yet.

Anyway, Castle Rock are ubiquitous in Nottingham, but that’s not a bad thing. Always reliable – especially the much-decorated Harvest Pale – CR’s beers are the kind of thing you want to stumble over in their heartland.  The Canalhouse was a uniquely pleasant place to drink in. Entirely different to what I was expecting, it was fairly busy without being overbearing; decent music and plenty of laughter echoing round the brick and steel-beamed pub giving it a feel of a English beer-hall, if such a thing exists.

You see, the crux of what makes The Canalhouse work is the bar: Carlsberg and Fosters fonts sitting side by side with Real Ale from Castle Rock and beyond. Next to the burbling Jagermeister machines sit fridges chock-full of decent import bottles, from the likes of Goose Island, Freedom and The Belgian continent, to the more esoteric in Duchesse De Bourgogne. What you end up with accounts for the bustling feel; a busy pub that appeals to all drinkers without being exclusive to either. I peered about and spotted plenty of tables where bottles of wine were being shared with tall branded glasses of identikit lager and – of course – lots of Beer Drinkers.

The Organ Grinder

The Organ Grinder

The Organ Grinder pulled this trick off to a lesser extent too: Blue Monkey’s wares being offered as well as keg beer, bottles and more recognisable brands, too. What you end up with is two unashamed beer temples in the most agreeable mold; about beer without being ‘about beer’, a place with no pretense or ‘brand’, and dedication to quality without it being ‘a thing’. When you have a pub that satisfies every need, you’re onto a winner.

We were sad to go; as I said earlier, time flies and all that. A proud Yorkshireman, I have to mention the staff in all the pubs we visited in Nottingham. To a man (or woman, actually) they were super-friendly, helpful and enthusiastic. To be truthful, drinking in new places can still be a tribulation even for well-prepared drinkers like me – but a warm smile as you enter the pub and a ‘Thanks, see you again soon’ as you leave makes a world of difference.

Thanks Nottingham – you’ll be certainly seeing us again. Get the pork pies and mustard ready.

Nottingham, For Us: The Plough Inn

IMG_0118Back in 2010, my trusty drinking partner Chris and I were blown away by Nottingham Brewery’s Rock Mild at a beer festival. Earthy, rich and full of blackcurrant-juice character, it remained glowing in our memories since then. We resolved immediately to go to Nottingham and try it, plus others, from the source. One day, we muttered with steely resolve. One day.

That day took almost three years to arrive but when it did, it was worth it. A New Years’ resolution to see more of the UK’s pubs led us to our first day out in Nottingham, a place that’s always intrigued me in terms of pubs and beer. I knew it was a hotspot, but couldn’t really pin down where the city actually was. For a boy from Leeds, used to being able to hotfoot it from north to east in under an hour, cities like Nottingham (such as Manchester and Sheffield) take a while to imprint on my radar. Besides, we had an agenda: The Plough Inn.

Yes, I’ll gladly travel two hours to get to a certain pub, thank you. Often, it’s good, but rarely does it exceed expectation. Situated just outside of Nottingham centre in Radford, The Plough sits proudly in the middle of a huge estate, proclaiming the brewery that it serves in huge gold letters across the front. Our taxi driver just a speck in the distance, we stood outside, peering into the brewery yard. It wasn’t quite opening time.

And it was cold. Very cold.

We tried the door; it opened. ‘Hello?’ I asked, half-fearing the response.

‘Hello’ came a cheery voice from behind the bar. ‘You’re a little early.’ remarked the landlady.

Legend NewEver polite, and perhaps a little too English and uptight, we immediately offered to wait in the car park until the clock hit 12. For this, we were told in no uncertain terms not to be stupid, and get inside. Minutes later we were nestled in a warm corner, frothy pints of Rock Bitter at our hands and having a good old natter with Mel (the aforementioned landlady). Assuming we were there for the football, it soon became apparent that we a bad joke writ large: A Leeds supporter drinking in a County pub with a Forest supporter being served by a secret Liverpool fan. she kept the beer coming with a little backstory each time – and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Our pints of Rock Bitter disappeared in almost record time; golden and rich with digestive biscuit in the body, finishing dry, long and surprisingly assertive. It was about as much of a thirst-quencher as we needed after our journey. Rock  Mild (3.8% abv) was not so much of the Blackcurrant-fest that we recalled but fruity and plummy nontheless – and boasted an older sister in Foundry Mild (4,7%abv), all toffee and gentle smoke. Extra Pale (4.2%) freshened things up with soft, wheaty notes in the body and a peachy, stone-fruit finish. Legend (4%abv) proved to be the real surprise package; amber in colour with a super-smooth body full of bonfire toffee and a remarkably grassy twang on the finish.

All simple beers, fresh from the brewery all of 10 yards away, and all packed with flavor. Worth the trouble? Absolutely.  Mel made sure that, before we left, we tried a sample of Sooty Stout, which was just getting ready to go on the bar – don’t miss it. A luscious Oat stout, the nose is thick with Milk Chocolate and Cappucino and the sip laced with fruity, bitter liquorice. A real treat.

IMG_0117Our day was only beginning, but as the glasses stacked up around us, the pub slowly filling with drinkers both alone with papers tucked under their arms and couples whispering conspiratorially in the corner, we both realised that we wanted to stay. Our session had achieved what it set out to – to experience the full Nottingham Brewery / Plough Inn story – but delivered a special sub-plot; one of a warm welcome and local knowledge. The couple of hours we spent there felt like a couple of weekend-lunchtime pints with mates rather than a geeky beer pilgrimage. I’m so glad we took the effort to visit a care-worn but much-loved pub, as comfortable as a pair of slippers even to a couple of interlopers from across the border. The kind of pub experience that you often read about, but rarely find.

Buoyed by the excellent start, we moved on after some farewells and effusive thanks. After all, we had another couple of Nottingham Breweries to try and distill into an afternoon pint.

Thanks Mel – we’ll see you again soon.

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