Round the Rock

It was hosing it down. That gave me a day pass away from gardening, yet stopped me from watching the cricket. What's a beery boy to do...? As I was off to Nottingham to meet that splendid nest of vipers that is my sister, I thought I'd shlepp around a few pubs. And as I hadn't been to a Castle Rock pub for an age, I set myself a challenge - visit four of their pubs, have a pint of their Harvest Ale, an interesting guest, something continental on tap and a bottle from Brewdog.

My sister was buying jewellery when I met up with her. The shop had over 120 items in the window... I only know this as I had time to count them all as she faffed about inside. With the rain still lashing and the pubs opening, I shepherded her away for lunch at the Kean's Head. This single-roomed pub in the shadow of St. Mary's church has won multiple awards for its food and rightly so. Seasonal specials with an Italian twist, great snacks such as home-made scotch egg or fish-finger sandwiches... it's difficult to make up your mind. But I had to try the pie of the day - pork and peach baked with Timmermans peche. Mounds of fresh mash (little sis had the same pie with hand-cut, home-made chips) and the most surprisingly tasty red cabbage that seemed to have been cooked with something aniseedy. A pint of Harvest Pale went down a treat, too; a no-nonsense lazy lemony pale ale that's always a joy to drink.

Onward to the next pub, leaving little sis to go and look at shoes or hand cream or some other such girly stuff. I hadn't been to the Newshouse for a couple of years; having recently been voted as Nottingham CAMRA's Pub of The Year I felt I ought to pay a visit. I dripped into a quiet lounge, low-volume R&B entertaining the two punters. With framed newspapers of key historical events adorning the walls and plush banquettes all around, the lounge had a clubhouse-comfy feel to it. The beer was top notch too - Hadrian & Borders Reivers IPA may not have had the citric bite I usually like in an IPA but the creamy hop feel made for an easy-going pint.

Out into the slashing rain and flooded streets and onward to the brewery tap. Sat in the shadow of the brewery and close to the Inland Revenue offices that inspired its name, the VAT & Fiddle pub offers a range of Castle Rock beers as well as bottles from around the world. Reluctantly, I left the Brewdog in the fridge and plumped for a guest ale, Leeds Midnight Bell. This has been stunning every time I've tried it, deep fruits seeping through smooth roasty notes. Seemed a shame not to be drinking one of the brewery's own beers here, but when the guests are this good I couldn't resist.

Still siling it down as I made my way down to the Canalhouse. It's an old warehouse where barges are still mooreed inside the building (as the photo shows). To go all sepia for a moment, I remember this place when it was Nottingham's Canal Museum. And mightly boring it was. Now it's been reinvented as a booming-music bar, even on a torrentially damp Saturday with only a dozen or so people in. Just the place to drink a fizzy pint, then, so I had a Veltins. I'd seen Maisels Weiss on tap and, to be honest, I really wanted a Paulaner but that doesn't seem to be served in Castle Rock pubs anymore. I should have gone for the Maisels, mind - the Veltins was rather bubblegummy and strangely bland. Sat by the barge mooring, the slack water bulged every now and then, crisp packets and green slime sliding back and forth. I'm not sure that thirty-odd foot of stagnant canal is really a great feature for a pub to have...

One Castle Rock pub left for the day's visit, the one which for me just edges out the Kean's Head as their best in the city. A wee walk over to the north side of Nottingham, the Lincolnshire Poacher is an unassuming pub from the outside. Within, there are treasures to behold; a bar bristling with beers, a small lounge tucked away from the throng and a sizeable sun-trap patio backing onto a conservatory out the back. I'd waited until now for Brewdog as there's always a chance of having their cask beers here. I'd settle for a bottle of Punk IPA, of course. But - the horror! No Brewdog - even the bottles had been out of stock for a month! I'd seen them languishing in fridges all day; now I wanted one and was to be denied. Instead, half a Harvest Pale was drank in a huff.

At least the rain had lifted. I was tempted to go back across the city to the Kean's Head for a Brewdog bottle, but I know when to call it a day. Well, almost... wandering back for the bus I forced myself into the Bell, a pub I haven't been in since the Greene King takeover of Hardy & Hansons. A good line of of beers to, plenty of Nottingham Brewery offerings to complement the GK staples. I couldn't resist Belvoir Star, particularly as it offered all the bittery goodness of the old Shippos with the added bonus of not giving you the shits the next morning.

Castle Rock have promoted themselves as "Nottingham's Major Micro". To be honest, they're what a city needs - someone with enough muscle to invest in a pub estate that offers great dining, pre-club and easy-Sunday venues; someone that can produce regular beers of consistent quality in sufficient quality to satiate said estate; someone who can offer quality continental draught and bottles in recognition that drinkers deserve a quality choice; someone who actually cares about their customers and seeks to offer them a fair pint at a fair price. Too often, the only times I've really thought about what Castle Rock have to offer has been when I've been stuck in the middle of arse-nowhere with a choice of a cavernous Spoons or national pubco bland-taps. Thinking - I wish I was back in Nottingham. With a pint of Trammie Dodger.


  1. 30 feet of stagnant canal is a feature I've never met in a pub before, it's certainly unusual!

    I'm intrigued by the pork and peach pie. It sounds like a mash-up between England, France and North Africa.

    The Castle Rock pubs sound excellent. There are very few pubs generally that provide the mix that they seem to, so having a chain of them is great.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the Midnight Bell. It really is head and shoulders above anything else that Leeds Brew. Nice to see it getting out and about.