Sunday, 9 October 2016

Raising Purgatory

I take the title from my friend's comment on our activities this weekend on a Saturday in Ilson town. I think it most appropriate! Two blokes out for a beer or two with the hope of curry are hardly the sort of combination to cause trouble or raise the roof particularly. So it was that my friend from FE and I descended on the southern part of Ilkeston in the evening to sample ales and discuss matters of import - setting the world to rights - and nary a sporting anecdote to be seen.

There was very little in the way of planning, as one might expect, and a rumble of thunder (that caused a comic dash from me to unplug the EV before setting off) preceded a big fall of rain that pretty much obliterated chances of getting exterior shots of the pubs we visited whilst the joy of catching up pretty much obviated the collection of pictures from within. Luckily my beer bore settings were high so I managed to gain pictorial proof of the ales consumed.

Would you like to know more?

First stop was the mighty Burnt Pig Ale 'Ouse, part of the reason for a night out rather than an afternoon in with bottles, where we found a stout on. It is always a dodgy prospect starting with the heavy stuff but, in fairness, it was cold and we didn't know yet what the plan of the evening would be. Also, the place was pretty busy, as one would expect for the afternoon turning into the evening.

Proceedings were opened with Fixed Wheel Blackheath Stout weighing in at 5% ABV and being, well, a stout.
Smooth pull into the glass with a big white head atop the kind of peaty blackness that wouldn't be out of place in the Ireland of fictional heroes and failed rebellions. Good aroma of stocky malt with hints of something else and then it was into the tasting as we stood in the corridor bit to the rear of the pub. Surprisingly cosy and good to have a chat there with more privacy than one would expect being near the loos. Taste was strong and full-bodied with a smooth roasted aspect to it all, lacking the smoke and the pepper of other stouts and falling more toward the mild side of the beer stakes. It was a solid number, plenty on the tongue, good weight and a decent bit of aftertaste that made one glad one had chosen it without it becoming so huge and all encompassing that it made you wish to stay with it for the night. However, as I would discover, it did cast something of a shadow on the rest of the ales that meant they struggled to match it. No bad thing, this was a good ale and one worth recommending if you find it out and about.

Having checked the weather for no real reason we decided at length that we could brave the elements and find a second hostelry rather than keep guard at the table we had liberated. Partly due to the fact that a good walk never hurt anyone and partly out of a desire to show off my neck of the woods to someone new, we left and wandered down the road, now assailed by light rain, to the Spanish Bar on the main road. As it did the last time I visited the interior was not suggested by the restaurant-like exterior and we went out into the garden area to sup our halves.

Next ale, for me, was some Summer Lovin', a golden pale 4.3% ABV brewed by Thorley and Sons in Ilkeston. I could hardly say no to actual local ale!
This was a good clear aspect and a decent head without being mental. There was evidence of carbonation but it did not distract from the hops on the nose, being citrus and sharp without being sour and divisive, and then into the taste. Softened bitter hues from the hops atop a surprisingly strong malt that carried them through the middle passage of the taste, filling up and spilling down the edges of the gullet like seawater down the rough-hewn wooden gunnels. Clear and shiny end to the body before the kind of quenching and moist aftertaste that I have come to associate with golden ales. My friend took the Gold you can make out in the photo and that was very nice too, but I am rather glad I went with the slightly cheeky summer number at the beginning of a wet autumn because it was just what the doctor ordered. As an accompaniment to conversation of the most heavy sort, concerning the state of politics and the situation of humankind, with the drumbeat patter of rain as it waxed and waned it was just the right note to hit - eminently drinkable and probably good in sessions. I could happily have had more of this and whiled away the evening but the precedent had been set and the memory of the stout was still strong enough to slightly overpower the good in this offering so it was off again, sentences hanging in the air, to the next bar.

Rain had intensified by now and so I opted to get straight across the A608 running down toward Notts and Derby and enter the sporting domain of the Three Horseshoes. It's a good building, set in such a way to suggest that it once served those that were waiting to pay tolls or had just paid them. Plenty of TVs on watching the golf for some reason and the kind of bar staff that suggests a good service who aren't that fussed for sport. I prefer the garden, even when it was raining in sheets, because there's no TV commentary to distract and plenty of shelter. Alas, the extra building I noted the last time I was here was being renovated but the small roofed enclosure was ours for the taking. We took it.

Looking like it may be at home I opted for the sterling Plum Porter from Titanic at 4.9% ABV and got my friend in on the action too, because why not?
Poured expertly by the staff and then topped up as it was a new barrel, it sat and looked exactly like plum porter should: dark of hue, slightly purple in the light, with a creamy head that promised great things. Sure enough the taste was what one wants from a porter: slightly moist with a smoky undertone from the roasted malts and the slight edge of fruit. In this case the aroma was very much British plum at the start of autumn and the taste carried enough of this slight sweetness to be just right for the point of the evening where we talked about work and superiority structures in the workplace. Complex notes from the malt atop a forgiving set of hops and an aftertaste that built slowly, promising a good night without being so strong as to knock you for six. Good, decent strength in the ABV suggests one shouldn't look to session this ale but the overall quality meant that we could take our time and enjoy it. It's a good addition to any night out and I heartily recommend its quaffing whenever you see it - whatever the pub is charging is probably worth paying.

My porter thirst thus sated we opted to head once again into the gathering darkness, by now the rain had abated somewhat, and move on to the General Havelock over the road. This is a place that has been done up to 1930s stylings and has a decent selection of good ales on, at least, they have had every time I have visited. Mystifyingly I have never really found it busy and tonight was no exception, being that there were about six other people in. More arrived as we chatted, and they ordered food, so perhaps this is the sort of place people frequent in the middle of the day rather than at the end.

Here I went with Shiny Affinity at 4.6% ABV, remembering the time that I found it down the Burnt Pig fondly, and my friend went with Citra at my suggestion.
Sitting near the original fireplace with a 1930s vintage mirror, not original to the fireplace, hanging above it we started to move onto other topics of conversation, discussing the merits of having the right people promoted to the right positions and the general powerplays one finds in school situations. Basically, we were passing time whilst we enjoyed some proper light ales. I make no secret of the fact that, over time, I am becoming less fond of the pales and more into the stouts, but this one bucks that trend. Plenty of hops on the nose, being fruity and floral rather than sharp and bitter, translate into the kind of pungent hoppy hit one would expect from an IPA rather than a simple Pale. It settles well, still with a decent head, and pours easily into the middle of the taste. Here there's a hint of the malt that carries the heavy load of hops but mainly it is floral and fruity again, big and soft like a giant marshmallow made of flowers. It slips into the back of the taste like it needs to be there, no hurry and no fuss, and then slowly takes the back of the throat into a loving embrace, gently kissing its way down so that one is left with the memory of those lovely full hops and takes another drink. Good sessioning ale but dangerous as I suspect it's the sort that has people having pint after pint without realising how many they consume. Well worth having if you see it out but don't get so starry eyed that you miss others on offer.

It had started raining again but skin is impervious to water and none of us was likely to dissolve in mere rainwater. Thus we decided that it was high time we headed to eat a curry, this meant walking all the way from one end of the centre to the other in increasingly heavy rain and as the light finally failed and left us in inky blackness a few times. We passed, and we glad of doing so, the Harrow and the sadly shut Borough Arms and eschewed the delights of the Observatory on the grounds that good pub or not it was unlikely to serve curry to the standards I had promised. For that we had to visit the Radhuni. Here we had a half of Cobra but I did not get a picture. Equally, we were served on Indian time, no complaint, it just meant that conversation transcended the desire to record and discuss the ale we were having. If you're up in my neck of the woods and fancy food, consider the Radhuni!

Thus it was that we were sated in terms of food but still had time to fill, we avoided the newly reopened Ship Inn and ambled pleasantly back to the Burnt Pig, because it was still the best hostelry in the town and had other ales to try. Sure enough one of the ales on tap had run out and we opted to try the new one on the bar (the stout was still there but the pull of the new was more powerful than the familiar).

This was embodied by the choice of Ruby Red from Seven Brothers at 4% ABV and was a ruby, oddly, that we both had, again because it looked lovely.
By this point we had Opinions and were exchanging Observations, which was good. Ensconced down in the back room with our own table this time we sat and discussed pub culture and the ubiquity, or not, of games such as shut the box and the class divisions in ale drinking. The ruby did the job of being strong tasting enough to round out the night, soft enough to clam the heat of the curry we'd eaten and calming enough to bring us to a natural end. Good strong aroma, nice thin head and a decent enough body to keep the whole thing interesting. Lacking in the high ABV of a stouter offering it nevertheless felt like it was punching above its weight and the slightly delicate floral and fruit notes were obscured by the fact that I was ruminating on my lime pickle, so that was a bit of a shame, nevertheless, this definitely wasn't any slouch and it filled the gap we had left for it to be a crowd-pleasing finisher for the evening. I think a stout might have played better here but, in my defence, there was no sign of a ruby on the bar at the beginning of our evening. So I stand by the choices made and cogitate on the collusion of class and geography that plays out in a pub setting, wondering if games in pubs are a return to the olden days or else a rose-tinted rearview action of the new hipsters. Basically, it is the sort of ale that fades into the background when people are having Big Thoughts and plays that role very nicely.

The winner, this evening, was friendship. Like the Little Ponies that made it semi-okay for grown men to discuss such things this was the sort of evening that needed a main (or mane) cast that did the job. There were no stinkers, all ales knew their place and played their roles that had been assigned by our meanderings well. That said, the biggest find was the local Summer Lovin' and my favourite had to be the Affinity which, given it was up against Plum Porter and Blackheath Stout, was quite the victory and rather unexpected. In all, the night proved that night's out and having ales are best served with friends.

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