Back 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.
Ever 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.
Our 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.