Beer Scene and Drinking in North Notts by Tony Yates, a visitor to the area.
In July 2016 Tony Yates an American who brews beer and now lives in Norway visited North Nottinghamshire. He kindly sent the following article for The North Notts Drinker describing how he found the beer and the people.
Beer Scene and Drinking in North Notts.
Scheduled to brew a collaboration beer together with my good friends Christopher Harrison-Hawkes and Chris Froggatt at the Idle Valley Brewery, I ventured out into the North Notts countryside not knowing what to expect.
This trip was going to include several firsts for me! Unbelievable yet true, the biggest first I was going to experience was drinking my very first real cask ale. Seriously? Seriously! Never before had I the pleasure of drinking an authentic Real Cask Ale immediately after being poured from the tap. This trip was going to change all that, and expand my knowledge of the Real Ale culture in England today.
Shortly after arriving in Retford, we entered the Idle Valley Tap. Glowingly cheerful, the waitress visibly struggled to pull back on the thick shiny tap handle while simultaneously responding to a patron’s question. Curious, I crept closer. I had to get a better view of her pouring the cask ale into a proper pint. Sure enough, for the first time ever in my 44 years, the glass came into focus and I was able to see real Cask Ale turbulently filling the pint glass. It first appeared as though the force of the pour was going to cause a problem of too much head. Then I remembered that the low carbonation property of Cask Ale was not going to cause a problem after all. The waitress placed the pint on the bar mat between her and the patron and I could now without obstruction see through the amber nectar in the glass.
“What would you like?” asked Christopher Harrison-Hawkes – co-owner of the Idle Valley Tap and Brewmaster at the Idle Valley Brewery. I had heard so many good things about their award winning blonde ale, Vacant Gesture, I felt obligated to start there. The waitress heard my response to Christopher and without hesitation took a glass and again proceeded to pull with all of her weight on the tap handle and to the glass. It surpassed my expectations.
Idle Valley Tap, as I would later come to realize, is one of the more spacious establishments I would come to visit. Its’ space is intelligently divided, provided the sense that it’s bigger than it really is. The pool table area was often busy with friendly folks. People farthest away from the bar, and just beside the pool area, could sitting back relaxing and enjoying an uninterrupted pleasant conversation. Between the far back area, rests an antique looking tall bench where a group of friends huddled and talked about who knows what. Oh how cosy that appeared. Placed just beside the fireplace, that area felt really cosy. And of course the bar area was well positioned, just long enough to prevent any long queuing, and readily staffed with warm and prompt tenders. I often found myself sitting at the table just beside and closest to the bar, providing easy access to the great service and wonderful cask ales.
Winning the 2015 Pub of the Year award, BeerHeadZ became a “go to” pub as well. Although it’s slightly off the beaten path, it’s offering of fine cask ales and wide variety of craft bottled beers made this an attractive destination. The first thing that came into focus upon entering was the short bar hosting all of the available cask ales. Behind that lies a full cooler of bottled beers and other offerings. Knowledgeable and experienced, yet solemn and friendly, the tender told us of which casks were most popular that day, and what sort of tasting notes others have shared. Never steering me towards any one ale or the other, the conversation was open and refreshing. I looked forward to sampling a couple of the unique cask ales here too, as they were all unique and not seen elsewhere that evening. Turning left, it would be hard to distinguish this pub from any typical family dining room. It was small, yet with two distinct seating areas, this felt much like a family room – a comfortable place for entertaining friends and family.
Another night I was asked to join a small group of people on a short train ride to Worksop, to attend the Summer Beer Festival at The Mallard.
Conveniently located on the train station platform at Worksop, The Mallard first appeared to be not much larger than a coat closet – with a tightly packed corner serving bar and a few tables hugging the walls. It was, however, rumoured that this little gem in the station extended down into a lower basement area where there would be more seating available. Sure enough it was there, and that’s where we discovered the rest of our party. My friends introduced me to several folks attending the festival, and one just happened to be Dave French, the CAMRA representative for the area. With decades of experience and endless knowledge of the industry, I thoroughly enjoyed conversing with Dave about the cask ale scene and its’ history. I learned a lot that night, and really enjoyed the comradery and enthusiasm of the event. With more than twenty cask ales and a handful of Cider/Perry available, it was impossible to try them all. With several shared between friends, I did my best to explore as many as I could. In the end though, I discovered one that tipped my fancy and I ended up coming back to it again and again. While I don’t want to play favourites, I will share that I thoroughly enjoyed the cask ale Aurora, brewed by Burning Sky of East Sussex. I will admit that I am biased towards hoppy pale ales, and the floral and citrusy notes in that ale hit nearly every chord in my being.
Atmosphere and Overall Impressions.
I must admit that, having never been there, I had no idea what to expect from North Notts. What I have left with though is an enormous amount of respect and appreciation for its culture, community and lifestyle. Everywhere I went and everyone I came into contact with was friendly, inviting, social and pleasant to be around. The beer scene in the area is very exciting. There are countless breweries producing very good beers, and never once did the variety seem restricted or constrained during my visit.
With such a large number of session-able beers to choose from, it’s clear that an evening out is not about experiencing who makes the strongest and most bitter beers. It’s a well-matured culture that’s more about the social connections and sense of community than anything else. With such resonance, it’s easy to see why going to the pub is such a time-honored tradition and cherished custom. To me, the beer scene in North Notts today is about experiencing a great beer created by a brewer who is able to express their interpretation of a timeless story. It’s been an experience I am very happy to have had, and not one I will ever forget.
Thank you to everyone who shared their time with me, and showed me what it’s like to be a part of that community. I hope to return one day and am looking forward to that. Cheers!