Saturday, 28 November 2015

Sword in The Stone.

Them Victorians, eh?
Did you know that, in 1820, when Sir Walter Scott wrote 'Ivanhoe', he sparked a national obsession with chivalry, heraldry, pageantry and The Crusades?
Well, you do now.

It's in this period that many pubs were named (or renamed) with names which harked back to medieval romance; like The Kings Arms or The Turks Head* and, no doubt, when The Pilgrim pub in Nottingham was renamed 'Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem'.

Now, Nottingham town centre, to me, is like an architectural button-box, you never know what odd gem of a building you're going to encounter next and, the other Saturday, we bumped into that same ungainly-looking hostelry still clinging, crystal-like, to the patchy brown curved walls of the old Norman castle.

The Olde Trip, you see, is one of several claimants to 'The oldest pub in England' (although it was actually built, bit by bit between 1650 and 1750) because it's built on the site of the Norman Castle's brewhouse. Stretching it a bit, I reckon.

Half cut into the rock are its snug little bars and my eagle eyes spotted, glinting in the gloom, a pumpclip marked 'Stancill Stainless'. Now, should you collect them, here is a coincidence;
Stancill Brewery is a new operation, but (like Ye Trip) sits on a spot of a much older (Cannon) brewery in Sheffield, notorious for brewing Stones Bitter. So, they too can benefit from the association.

Not that they need to, in my opinion. 'Stainless' is a delicious pale with a sharpness worthy of its name and a subtle underlying fruity sweetness which balances it perfectly. This is a quintessentially Sheffield guzzle-worthy brew which, quality-wise, is a fit rival to any of the existing commercially successful pales such as Moonshine, Pale Rider and Farmers Blonde.


*No doubt named to celebrate the decapitation of 2700 prisoners by our romantic hero, Richard the Lionheart during the Crusades. Celebratory Turks head brooches were also popular with the ladies. Strange taste.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

The Royal 'We'..

I love history; partly because I have quite a vivid imagination but mainly because I have an appalling memory. Every time I learn something about Henry the Whatever,for instance, it's like all fresh and new; like I have never heard it before!

Well, it was on our birthday (J and I pretty much share one for economy) last year that we spent the day in historic Chatsworth down the road. I don't mean parking up and looming around the grounds with a carrier bag full of sandwiches...I mean we actually did the whole house tour and whatnot.

That's how I know that here is a special room inside Chatsworth House (and a most sumptuous one at that) earmarked for the Queen (Queen Elizabeth the Whatever, that is...) and sporting a grand four poster bed, desk, tapestries, washstand, etc..etc... All top quality stuff...none of yer MFI.

You see in days of yore, if you owned a great pile, more than likely it had been given to you by some Royal or another and could just as easily be snitched back again.

So what our smart forbears would do, in order that this ghastly fate would not befall them, is to have a room (or rooms) kitted out at great expense so that if the Royal and his/ her entourage were to suddenly decide to pop by at short notice they were not caught short and consequently risk losing the whole kit and kaboodle.

A somewhat less ostentatious local establishment than Chatsworth is The Chesterfield Alehouse on West Bars. A 'micropub', and one of a new breed of establishment brought about, no doubt, to wreak revenge on the retail moguls like Tesco who have taken to buying up pubs from the ailing pub-cos.

The Alehouse is arranged on three levels, ground, ground and a half and first floors:-

The Club Room on the first floor is mainly used by larger groups; the Socialist Party Intelligentsia hold their Quiz there and the LibDems their campaign meetings.

The upper ground floor is where the beer dispensary is located. Here you will always receive a kindly, sympathetic smile and probably the best quality and value in drinks and nibbles available anywhere in Chesterfield.

Amid simple bench seating on the lower ground floor is sited the grandest toilet in Chesterfield-  built, (no doubt at considerable expense) to accomodate the Queen, her Privy Council and maybe the odd wheelchair-user, should they ever deign to pay a quick visit.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Oh, and just one more thing...

If you are the kind of person who would forsake the usual Rice Krispies and eat toasted oatcakes with lime marmalade and a dollop of greek yogurt for breakfast, then you will appreciate Columbae 3.8, the latest offering from Pigeon Fishers Brewery.

Columbae is dangerously hoppy, finely balanced and leaves just enough sweetness on the palette to make you want another.

Well done Ade, old fruit, your tenacity paid off!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Hanging Around the Arms!

If you have ever been woken by a clammy disembodied arm flopping over your face, only to discover that it's your own, then maybe you would empathise, to some degree, with those poor souls who have lost the use of these awfully useful appendages.

So here is a heartening fact for you; an Irish fellow has managed to gather together a whole troupe of such unfortunates and taught them to tap dance, of all things! Starting in the local river and progressing to theatre stages throughout the country, the dance group has now entertained many thousands.

Of course, the choreographic possibilities are fairly limited, primarily for safety reasons (due to centrifugal force- spinning like dervishes and slapping one another in the chops just would not do) so they prefer to perform in a long line which clickety-clacks from one side of the stage to the other.

The reason I mention this is because I was in the Chesterfield Arms (my Ale-ma Mater) a while ago, where I observed Tom (my favourite bar steward, sans exception) giving every appearance of having lost the use of both arms; they just dangled pendulously by the side of this strapping young man like those of a rag doll.

Let me explain....I walked in, stood by the bar and, amongst the beer pulls (stretching into the distance), spotted the familiar pump-clip of Marble brewery and the intriguing name of 'Lagonda' on it. 'Go for it!', said the brain. So I ordered a pint with my usual flourish. There was little response, however, to my request; he just stood there, as described, smirking at me.

After a moment (that seemed like hours) of this rather awkward impasse, Tom turned the clip around to signify that Lagonda was now off. I let out a cry of 'Oh, sh*t!...No!'
This was greeted with a sudden chorus of shrieks, yips and guffaws from the assembled regulars from whose huddle an arm extended and a large tin was waved and rattled under my nose. It was the Ashgate Hospice ( Chesterfield's preferred Destination and charity) 'swear box'!

Frustration and indignity prised a pound from my pocket to feed the tin. Unfortunately it also prised another expletive from my (somewhat dry) lips, only to illicit another chorus of shrieks, yips and guffaws and another tin-rattling episode under my nose. So it continued until my change was gone and I twigged that I'd been 'had' and the cask was not empty after all.....I had been chugged by Mr Brown's Boys!

Well, that's the The Chesterfield Arms experience; I always leave a lot poorer, but with a smile that takes at least a day or two to wear off!

And Marble Lagonda? a deliriously tasty (albeit expensive!) pint.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Ay-Up Tommy!

If you are looking for the best fish finger sandwich in the vicinity, look no further than The Peacock in Cutthorpe. However, if it's a nice beer garden you want, you could much worse than our very own Peacock in Brampers.

So, the other Saturday, I sidle through the gate into the garden with J and the Giddy Twins* to investigate their Beer Festival. I was ushered into their marquee to be greeted by the following line-up:-

Oakham, Citra and Inferno
Abbeydale, Absolution
Thornbridge, Jaipur
Cross Bay, Sunset
Barlow, Heath Robinson
Peak Ales, Swift Nick
Dancing Duck, Ay-Up

Now, to me, this is pretty much The Dream Team; a liquid version of The Travelling Wilburys; I had to pinch myself to check that I hadn't died and gone to Heaven.

Talking of Heaven, I was left with this vision of myself, loitering around them pearly gates, only to hear the voice of St. Peter calling, "Ay-Up, Tommy!"

This is not because Peter is a Yorkshireman
This is not because Peter is a Derbyshire lad
This is not even because Peter is from Notters

It is simply that Peter is offering me a pint of Dancing Duck's finest pale.......and that's what they serve the Angels!


Friday, 21 August 2015

Let's do lunch!

If you trot down Upper Brook Street in London's West End, you might strike lucky and get a table for lunch at Le Gavroche where (if you're in a fishy mood) you could sit down to a plate of Sole a la Bonne Femme avec pommes sautees et legumes au saison.

You might like to pair this with a dry, grassy, Pouilly Fume. In my estimation, this would cut rather nicely through the cloying richness of the creamy sauce whilst accentuating the woodiness of the mushrooms, refreshing the palette for the next unctuous forkful.

Alternatively, you could (as I did) pop into the delightful Norfolk Arms in Ringinglow (where you're pretty much guaranteed a table) and order their battered fish and chips with either mushy or garden peas.

Should you choose this option, you may well like to wash it down with a pint of Abbeydale's  Moonshine or Bradfield's Farmer's Blonde. Both decent, refreshing pales.
On my recent visit, I chose to try out their guest pale from Geeves Brewery. 'Clear Cut' (as it's name suggests-we are talking Barnsley, here!) is a clean, crisp and refreshing ale with an exceptionally pale colour....very much like its West End counterpart.

Now, a pint of Geeves' Clear Cut Pale at 4.4% does to for fish and chips what Pouilly Fume does for Sole a la Bonne Femme. Just does it a little cheaper!

Ps. Sorry about lack of accents. Couldn't be arsed.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Tom Strikes Gold.

My Grandma was a Geordie but I was born and raised on the South coast.

Now I've been led to believe that the further North you go, the more open and friendly people become. So, whereas the Southern folks strut about with their noses in the air, occasionally lowering their heads to blow raspberries at strangers, the Scots presumably dance along the streets hand in hand, blowing kisses at each other.

Of course, everyone round here are normal, just popping out with the occasional "ay-up" or "y'all reet" as they pass by.

Another quality of Derbyshire folks is their penchant for saying it 'like it is'. An example of this can be observed in the county's onomastics*.

Traditionally pubs have been named after some part of a monarch's anatomy (even though neither head or any other part of the particular royal anatomy has ever graced the building) or some animal, but the new-wave publican prefers to name his/her dispensary according to it's function..
i.e. Real Ale Corner, Beer Parlour, Chesterfield Alehouse

The Tap House does what it says ont tin, does it well and does it for even less on a Tuesday. On a Tuesday you have a chance to buy a pint (of selected beers) for only £2.

Naturally, being the cheapskate I am, I make every effort to avail myself of this offer as often as possible; it's rather pot-luck and more often than not I revert to Betty's Blonde, their thoroughly decent and quaffable house pale.

However, the other Tuesday I chanced upon Nottingham Brewery's ** Bullion for £2. What a treat! Apparently, this triple-hopped golden glass of lusciousness won Bronze in Best Beer of Wherever in 2010 or something. Well, it won Tommy's Beer of the Month from me, which is far more prestigious!

Keep reading the Tommy's Ales blog to find out what's worth drinking or what is best poured down the sink.

* Google it ;-)
**Nottingham Brewery... a brewery in the town of Nottingham...see what I mean?

Sunday, 9 August 2015

It's all about them hops ('bout them hops, 'bout them hops...)

And now, at the other end of the scale....

I was drawn to the Derby Tup on Friday, home to Ade, Wizard of Whittington Moor and his faithful cat Tess to partake of his latest  potion intriguingly labelled 'Test Brew A'.

For a few seconds I got a pleasant, subtle, almost medicinal sweetness evoking the aromas of lychees or parma violets. But, before I get the chance to decide which... wham! In charge the hops, poles and all, with a woody bitterness verging on the sour to daub the inside of my mouth green, leaving my cheeks sucked in like a teen selfie.

This is a grown-up brew for drinkers of Pale Ale as was evidently intended and as such it's far from lacking in sophistication. But, like a dress-suit worn with odd socks, adjustment, in my opinion, is needed.
A tweak on the hop balance  for Brew B and we are in for a real treat.

So, what can I say about Test Brew A experience? Magic!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

We're Doomed, Mr. Mainwaring!

Now get this:-
Sharps- brewers of Doom Bar are owned by Molson Coors; a massive North American Company who also own Stones, by the way. Around a million pints of Doom bar are served every week. That's right...a million!

Now looking at the pump-clip, you would never imagine this...brewed in Cornwall from the finest ingredients, blah blah blah! Looks for all the world like a small, local affair.

So, it's a lovely evening and J and I decide to take the dogs ( you'll get to meet them later if you haven't already) to a local you do. 

Being an ale drinker (rather than lager...and, no doubt, I'll expand on that in a later post!) I had a choice of 2 on draught- Tetleys ( their tea is drinkable) or Doom Bar. I plumped for the latter.

Here's a confession- I do like my jelly-babies! My favourites are the blackcurrant ones and the lime ones (and...yes... I do bite their heads off first!). Next come the orange ones and finally the lemon ones.

Imagine that the only babies left in the packet, when I have been nibbling away at them, are the red ones which presumably have some kind of fruit flavour, but heaven knows what.

Imagine now, taking said red babies, mashing them up, steeping them in Tizer 'rouge' and straining the sickly liquid into a glass.

Doom Bar. It has to be the chickentikkamasala of beers.


Great word, 'serendipity'.

I like to imagine that's what deposited me in the Sheffield Tap placing a glass of Jaipur (Thornbridge) on the dark polished bar in front of me, but in actual fact it was Jayne my partner who took me in there, rightly thinking that I would love it.

The Sheffield Tap...aptly the first real ale bar I encountered on arrival oop north. Aptly because it is a part Sheffield's beautiful railway station on whose platform I had just arrived.
Jaipur. What can I say? The ale has become very popular ( although its recipe has changed at least once since) and casks drain rapidly wherever it's served. 

So, within the space of a British imperial pint, I became hooked on Northern ales and Jaipur was my first.
Now my difficulty is this. I can't recall the nuances of taste of that pint I drank a few years back. All I know is that it impressed me so much that the name Jaipur occupies a special place in my memory.

'Ah, but..', you might interject, 'have you not drank ales equally as good since?' But, of course! Many! And the real ale business here  (Derbyshire and environs) is SO healthy that I enjoy new exciting tastes again and again.

That is why I am writing this blog. To describe the ales in my terms so that I can recall the taste experience and to share with like minds (and palettes) the joy of slurping these wonderful liquids.

So please keep reading and, if you 'get my drift', I'm sure we are in for some great drinking together! Cheers!