Monday, 28 February 2011

Malt Shovel, Northampton

The Malt Shovel is the premier ‘real ale’ pub in Northampton. It was built in 1914 by the Northampton Brewing Company. It has been through many incarnations until it was purchased by its current owners in 1996. As well as being renowned in the area for good beer, the Malt Shovel also houses a vast collection of breweriana. It is a large pub which on the Friday night I went was very busy.  
There is a good selection of local beers available. The Malt Shovel is the brewery tap for the Great Oakley brewery. The Great Oakley brewery operates a five barrel plant from Bridge farm, Great Oakley. Ales from Frog Island brewery are also available from the Malt Shovel. The Frog Island brewery is based around the corner from the Malt Shovel, and has been brewing since 1994. In total, there were about 10 real ales on tap at the Malt Shovel.

Great Oakley Harpers (4.3%). Harpers is a good brown bitter. It is a smooth drinking ale with a good complex flavours. I could taste a bit of wood and grassiness in this quite sweet rich bitter. A good quaffing bitter 6/10.

Great Oakley Gobble (4.5%). Gobble is a dark golden beer which is very rich and has a thick mouth feel. It is very smooth and easy drinking. Richness of golden syrup came through, as did slight apricot flavours. A tasty rich beer 6/10.

Elland Brewery Malt Shovel IPA (4.6%). The Elland brewery is based in Yorkshire, and was formed in 2002 as Eastwood and Sanders by the amalgamation of the Barge & Barrel and West Yorkshire Breweries. In 2006 the brewery was renamed Elland. This IPA is a light golden beer. The light theme continues in this very easy drinking beer. There is not as much flavor as I would have hoped for in this ale, especially given the levels of alcohol in it. 5/10  

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Lunch at the Kean’s Head in Nottingham

I was In Nottingham city centre on a Saturday afternoon with my girlfriend and a pair of rumbling stomachs, so in need of some sustenance we went for lunch at the Kean’s head. The Kean’s head is a Castle Rock brewery ran pub in the lace market district of the city centre. It is a very approachable pub, where I believe no one would be disappointed to go.  The pub consists of just one room which has an airy feel due to the high ceilings. There are lots of small tables where customers enjoy their drinks and/or food and chat away in this friendly establishment.
At the bar I order our food and drinks. The food menu consists of about 7 specials and then a menu full of more basic pub food (eg tasty looking sandwiches, ploughman’s etc). Local produce is a key priority of the Kean’s head, for example they source their meat and even salads locally. We decide to get one starter between us – the Kean’s head famous Scotch egg. For the main course I go for the Calves Liver with onions, mash potato and veg (cost £8.25). The food at the Kean’s head isn’t ‘bargain basement prices’, but I do not know anywhere in Nottingham where you can get food of this quality for a better price. This is certainly not ‘boil in the bag’ pub grub. 
There are 6 ales on tap, with three from Castle rock along with Batemans XXB, Young’s London Gold and Hopback Odyssey. I went for a pint of Castle Rock Screech Owl. Screech Owl is a strong blonde ale, which ever since I tried it at the 2008 Nottingham beer festival it has been one of my favourite beers. It was drinking superbly at the Kean’s head. It is very smooth drinking with a creamy wine like richness. The balance between sweet and bitterness is perfect. Even my girlfriend who normally only drinks dark ales thought it was superb. A class beer – 8.5/10
After sitting down the barmaid came over to say there was no mash left to go with my main course, so offered either new potatoes or chips. I choose chips. The barmaid dealt with issue in a very pleasant manner. I should probably add at this point that there was only the one barmaid working who served all the drinks and food.
The starter arrived promptly and to my pleasant surprise they had split the Scotch egg and prepared it on two plates for us with salad on each. Very good service indeed; a theme that continued throughout our time at the Kean’s head. The Scotch egg was served along with a nicely dressed salad and HP sauce. Without doubt it is the best Scotch egg I have ever had. It had a lovely light texture and a wonderful aromatic taste due to the sage contained within it.
Just before the main course arrived I got a second pint of Screech Owl. This time, however, it cost me nothing as I had collected enough of the ‘One over the eight’ stamps due to the food purchase to get the free drink. For those who have not heard of Castle Rock’s one over the eight scheme, basically if you buy one pint of their ale or spend £2.50 on food, you get a stamp. After collecting eight of these stamps, you can climb a free pint of beer.
A main consisted of a very generous helping of lamb’s liver, onion gravy, hand-cut chips and a selection of vegetable (broccoli, cauliflower and carrots). The main course was just as superb as the starter. Rich liver with a fantastic gravy = heaven. The hand-cut chips were great too; I did not feel I missed out by not having mashed potato. Proper chips like this are not found often.
My girlfriend dropped her knife whilst eating her main course (Pork burger with whole grain mustard and with an apple sauce in ciabatta bread). She wasn’t going to use the knife to eat with, so we decided not to bother asking for another. Once again the service proved to be outstanding, as the barmaid had noticed this from the other side of the room and within ten seconds had come with a clean knife. For the barmaid to be this attentive given she was the only front of house member of staff is truly impressive.
For a long time I have been a big fan of the Kean’s head and our lunch further enhanced its reputation in my mind. For a friendly location with great beer and superb food, you can’t do better. On the ale front, the well conditioned Castle rock beers combined with a few interesting others make this a place anyone would enjoy coming to for a drink. Food wise, I know nowhere in Nottingham who does tastier, better value, locally sourced and proper hand-made food than the Kean’s head. Topping this off is the superb level of service – the best I have seen for as long as I can remember. Combining all these factors together make for a wonderful lunch. 
In Nottingham city centre, things don’t come much better than the Kean’s head.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Some Pale Beers from Sheffield

This last weekend I took a few friends to my hometown of Sheffield for a real ale pub crawl. Here is a quick review of some Sheffield Pale beers I had along the way.

At the Harlequin pub, Yellow Rose by The Brew Company (4.5%). Although I have had a fair bit of the Brew Company’s offerings, Yellow Rose was new to me. It is a pale golden beer with a floral nose. I was pleasantly surprised how tasty this ale was, which has a good characterful hoppy flavour (slight grassy tones could be tasted). I think this is one of the best beers I have tried from the Brew Company 7/10

At the Fat Cat, Kelham Island Pale Rider. The legendary combination of The Fat Cat, Pale Rider a fantastic steak pie and Henderson Relish is now always a MUST when I go back to the Steel City. Pale Rider is one of the beers I grew up on (that sounds bad !) and is something from I have always been proud of. I was pleased that the combination of pub, food and beer didn’t disappoint any member of the group I was with. Pale Rider itself was drinking particularly well on the day. I have ‘analysed’ this beer many-a-time before, so I can’t add much more about this slightly citrusy, tasty and smooth drinking beer. Pale Rider is still a Sheffield classic 8/10

At the Wellington, Little Ale Cart Audley End (4.3%). I am a big fan of the Little Ale Cart brewery which operates at the back of the Wellie. This New Zealand hopped beer was another cracker from them, with citrus and kiwi flavours in this light drinking very pale ale. A fantastic quaffing beer 7.5/10

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Victoria Hotel Beeston, Winter Beer festival.

Any beer festival at the Victoria hotel is always a great event, but when over 15 ales from local breweries are available it sounds even more appealing.
When it came to picking beers for the evening I stuck to the local offerings.
Leadmill Brewery Pacific Gem (3.9%). The Leadmill brewery started in a converted pig-sty at Selston, but since 2001 it resides in the stable block of Park Hall farm at Denby, Derbyshire. Pacific Gem is a very light golden beer. On the nose it is very hoppy and strong kiwi and citrus flavours can be tasted. It is a very light refreshing beer which also has some complex grassy tones. A nice beer, but a bit more character is needed to make this a top ale. 6.5/10

Leadmill Pacific Gem

Prior’s Well brewery Father Hawkins (4.5%). Prior’s Well brewery was opened in July 2010. It is based in the grounds of the Clumber Park estate near Worksop. Father Hawkins is a dark brown beer with a slight reddish hue. Nutty flavours at the start go to a tobacco finish. It is an amazingly easy drinking beer, but it hasn’t got that much character. A good session best bitter 5.5/10
Maypole brewery Celebration (4%). The Maypole brewery name has been around for 15 years, but it is since 2005 that the brewery has it is operating in its current guise. Maypole is based at Eakring, Notts. Celebration is a golden ale with strong ‘green’ flavours such as celery and vegetable stock. It is a refreshing, palette clearing English golden ale. 5.5/10
Coppice Side Brewery Scary Crow (5%). The Coppice side brewery has only been in operation for a few months from its Heanor site. This golden beer has a sweet start which goes to a well balanced bitterness. There are some lemon tones, but I would want a little bit more hop character. 6/10

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

A few beers in Nottingham on a quiet Sunday night

On a quiet Sunday night I headed towards Nottingham city centre in order to go to some of the nice ale houses in the city. The first port of call was the Hand in Heart on the Derby Road as it drops down into the city centre. The Hand and Hard was originally a Victorian brewery which used the caves beneath for storing the ales. A Victorian shop front was added which enabled it to start operating as a public house.
The hand and heart is an interesting establishment due to the unusual setup of being carved into caves. There are normally about 7 beers on tap including a special brewed for the pub. The bar staff who served me were very friendly and knowledgeable about ale. My first choice pint of beer was the very last one in the cask. I was pleasantly surprised when the bar maid asked me to see if it was ok and if it was not, they would get me another beer. As it was, the beer wasn’t right so I choose another ale upon the recommendation of the helpful barmaid.
Anglo-Dutch Brewery Kletswater (4%). The Anglo-Dutch brewery is based in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire and has been operating since the year 2000. The name comes from the fact one of the partners of the brewery is Dutch and one is British. Kletswater is a light amber coloured ale with a thick dense head. Some lime can be detected on the nose. Upon drinking, Kletswater is a wonderfully balanced very smooth drinking beer. There is a slight caramel sweetness at the start which then has some biscuit and even Stilton tones. This is a superb ale with great length and a very complex flavour. 8/10
I then left the Hand and Heart and walked to the Lincolnshire Poacher pub which is on the Mansfield Road. At the Poacher I tried two beers.
Oldershaws Brewery Caskade (4.2%). Oldershaws has been brewed just outside Grantham since 1996. Caskade is another amber beer with a thick head. It is an easy drinking beer with a slightly warming light malty character and citrus nose. 6.5/10
Castle Rock Brewery Lords and Ladies (5.1%). This is Castle Rock’s December monthly special which is brewed to promote the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s work. This dark mahogany bitter has a thick head. It is extremely smooth, creamy and easy drinking. Flavours of sweet brown sugar and light treacle can be tasted. 6/10
I then walked into the city centre to one of my favourite pubs – The Kean’s Head. At the Kean’s head it was an easy choice on which beer to try, one of my absolute favourites, Screech Owl from Castle Rock.
Castle Rock Brewery Screech Owl (5.5%). Darker golden beer which has a rich sweet indulgence to it, as well as complex grassy and citrus flavours. This is another ale with great length and although it was not at its best, it is still a smashing beer. 7/10
I then took the short walk to the Newshouse on Canal Street. This is another favourite of mine for some quiet drinks and a bit of a chat. Traditional pub games are present in the Newshouse and I took the opportunity to hone my dart skills. The service in the Newshouse is always very friendly which helps create a very nice ambience in this traditional pub. Overall the Newshouse tends to appeal to the more discerning drinker, due to its slightly off the beaten track location. I always appreciate the choice of ales in the Newshouse, especially as they always try to serve at least Mild. After chatting to the barman, he advised me to drink Pitchfork from the RCH brewery.
RCH brewery Pitchfork (4.3%). RCH brew down in Somerset and have been in operation for nearly 30 years. Pitchfork is a golden bitter with a medium head. There are some lovely complex flavours which include grassy and citrus tones. This is a lovely well balanced beer that left me wanting to drink more. 7.5/10

Monday, 3 January 2011

Lunch at the Trent Navigation at Trent Lock, Long Eaton

I thought I would make use of the bank holiday Monday by going on a nice bike ride. The route was to go from the Nottingham University Park Campus to the city centre along the canal before picking up the River Trent which I would follow to Trent Lock. The bike ride sounds a great idea, but the practicalities of it with hyperthermia setting took some of the shine off. It therefore goes without saying that upon arrival at Trent Lock I was in need of a good pub to warm myself up and replenish my energy.
After dumping my bike outside the Trent Navigation I went in to order a drink/food. The choice of ales was poor with just some un-flavoursome beers from some of the uninspiring corporate large breweries. So I took a pint of mild, which as expected turned out to be bland. Whilst ordering my food at the bar, things did not get much better as the barman was having a war-of-words with someone over an issue of a locked door. Thankfully this disagreement only got as far as threatening to kick someone’s door in! For lunch I ordered the Navigation burger (topped with cheese and bacon) and chips. Since the pub was busy, we were told there would be a big wait for the food - I did not really mind this, as it meant I had time to defrost myself.  
So I sat there sipping my poor beer waiting patiently for my lunch, when someone decided that playing a best of the 1980’s CD at a loud level was a good course of action. Things were not getting better at the Trent Navigation!
Eventually the food arrived and I was impressed – for all the wrong reasons. The burger was the greasiest vile insipid thing I have had for years. Combine this with poor quality soggy bread made for a disgusting lunch. The portion (or lack of!) of chips that came with the burger would have been perfect if you were on a diet. Sadly I am not on a diet, and after riding nearly 15 miles on my bike I was very disappointed with the portion size.
The combination of terrible food and the music made this place a real throw back to the 1980’s, in all the wrong ways! Without doubt this is the worst pub I have been in for a long time. It is sad to see, because it is in a good location. I think this is probably the reason of the poor service – a captive audience who are forced to put up with crap food/drink/ambience once they arrive.

Friday, 31 December 2010

A quick half at the Wellington.

After leaving the Harlequin, my drinking companion had a need for a pale hoppy number from the Little Ale Cart Brewery. So off we scampered to the Wellington at Shalesmoor, where they make these fine ales on the premises.
This is perhaps my favourite pub in Sheffield. It is at the other end of the spectrum to the likes of the Harlequin. The Wellie is a cosy pub where one can have some of the finest beer in the country in intimate surroundings. I was really pleased to see they had a Blue Monkey ale on tap, which I felt compelled to order.
Blue Monkey brewery Nuts (4.6%). A dark mahogany coloured best bitter with a thin head. This tasty beer has a slightly fruity nose – tones of prunes and lovely full bodied character. Nuts has a complex flavour with great length and a lovely woody flavours. A smashing beer from one of my favourite breweries – 7/10  
Little Ale Cart Brewery Hertfordshire (4%). There is a very fruity nose from this pale ale. Grapefruit and apricot flavours make this a really easy drinking and pleasurable ale. 6.5/10