So; 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.
The 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 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.
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.