One last post about Nottingham and the CAMRA Members Weekend, this time about that often overlooked subject beer and pubs.
Nottingham is a bit of a throwback. Only its greatest fans would call it beautiful, as it seems an odd mixture of old and tatty and new and nondescript. But it is a throwback in another way. It has a pub on nearly every corner it seems, even in the centre. That moves it up a notch in my esteem. Our Nottingham CAMRA colleagues had produced a very comprehensive guide to the pubs and while as always some were better than others, they were a pretty good lot really.
Hot off the train we started at two of the best. Fellows, Morton and Clayton, near the railway station, is the kind of pub you really like to start off in when you are in an unfamiliar city. Several distinct drinking areas, a lovely atrium cascading light into the rear and a good feel to it. A rather mainstream choice of beers - think Doom Bar, London Pride,Landlord and Black Sheep is augmented by a local beer or two. We enjoyed sparkled pints of Nottingham Extra Pale Ale and banter from the very chatty barmaid. Almost next door is the Canal House, which features, somewhat uniquely I'll hazard, a full size canal boat within, which you can gaze down on as you sup your pint. Converted from a large warehouse, it was strikingly good and as owned by Castle Rock Brewery, we had excellent beer and as always in this group, excellent service from the cheery staff. A great start. Beer was properly sparkled as God intended, more of which later.
Around our hotel clustered another fine bunch of pubs. We liked all of them to varying degrees with a special mention going to the Crafty Crow - modern and studenty, but not grungey - the Roebuck which showed off how Wetherspoons can make the most of a building and perhaps most stunning of all, the Malt Cross, a former Victorian Music Hall with a high arched roof, a gallery and lots of wrought iron. On a Saturday night it was busy with youngsters on their way to a club (judging by the skimpiness of their attire). It had a great atmosphere and friendly staff, but the beer could have been better looked after. Too warm and not well enough conditioned, it was served without a sparkler, but crashed into the glass to create a head. Minus points for that.
Near the Conference Hall was another fine clutch of pubs. The Hand and Heart impressed with a great range of well kept local beers (we avoided those on a stillage) and excellent service, the Ropewalk didn't impress though, showing the tatty side of student drinking. The wonderfully named Sir John Borlaise Warren had excellent beer, lovely cheese rolls and the kind of barmaid that truly enhanced the drinking experience by great charm and a wonderful knowledge of the names given to bread rolls in different parts of the country (cobs in Nottingham don't you know). The Falcon and Blue Monkey both also gave great pleasure, but the Blue Monkey had that bad habit of removing the sparkler to (allegedly) speed up service. This was one of the few pubs that didn't really give that warm a welcome, but the Blue Monkey Brewery Beer was very good indeed. We finished off on Sunday by repeating our visit to Fellows, Morton and Clayton and that was Nottingham done. The pubs had put on a great show.
Looking back, the pubs invariably had good beer, were plentiful, varied in type and close together. But really it was the great service and charming bar-staff that really shone. It was noticeably good nearly everywhere and it does make a difference.
I wasn't asked by barstaff "You alright there?" once. That helped too. I wonder where Nottingham sits in my sparkler map. Just in I reckon.
We also had quite impressive stops in the Sheffield Tap and the Piccadilly Tap on the way home.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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