Saturday, 6 April 2013

Debauchery and Job-sharing in Hertfordshire


      yesterday I was out in the Derbyshire, a name which, perhaps unfairly, not only does the spell checker on here not recognise but also invariably insists should instead be debauchery. Or jobshare. Or Hertfordshire. Ouch. Luckily, the county can proudly claim to be better than those labels, as its packed full of damn fine pubs. And perhaps, none finer than some of those I had a warm in yesterday.

I got the train to Derby, and had a quick half of Dashingly Dark at the Derby Brewery tap, before catching the bus towards Belper, and alighting at Openwoodgate. I had never been there before, but had heard good things about its 2 pubs.

I went into the Hop Inn first since the bus stops outside. There were 7 hand pumps with 2 beers coming soon so I ordered a pint and sat down near the welcoming fire to sup a pint if Bumpmill Drops of Jupiter. It was a little tired, but not unpleasant, and I think that all beers are £2.70 a pint - so maybe the stronger offerings, like Abbeydale Black Mass which I studiously avoided, sell quicker? This was my first of the day so was a short sup, and a short stop. I think the pub is still finding its feet - it seems an odd mish mash of young drinkers and family pub and real ale house.

Across the road is the Black Bulls Head in Openwoodgate. Its bloody brilliant basically. A fantastic 30's interior, but with  modern furnishings, a big comfy red leather sofa, onion and cheese cobs at a £1.00, (there's a slice of onion as thick as your finger with a similar slab of cheese) warming fires in each room, 8 real ales, and a bar in a former slaughterhouse at the back. What more could you want?

Having sensibly passed on the Black Mass at the Hop, I rather less sensibly went straight for the excellent Whim Flower Power in here, about 5.4% and £3.00 a pint - excellent value. This from a range that also included Phoenix Wobbly Bob, Marble Pint, Hand Drawn Monkey Monkeys Love Hops and Titanic Cappuccino stout.

Having a tour of the Bedlam Bar out the back with the Landlord I noted there were also 5 beers on in there as well. The problem was, it didn't open til Three. Well over an hour off. And I wanted to be at the Dead Poets in Holbrook for half 4, and, well, the Flower Power was being supped too easily. I could see the day getting messy.

So I dropped down an ABV and had half of the Hand Drawn monkey beer, which was quite nice, a darker bitter and far more palatable than their clumsy keg collaboration with Quantum. I then noticed the bus to Belper go past. I abandoned my Belper idea and instead walked to the village of Bargate nearby to go the White Hart.

Another first for me, this old stone pub is run by the guy who had the Holly Bush at Makeney for years. A slightly cleaner looking joint, serving meals ( although possibly the Holly Bush did?)   but still with real fires and real ales. From a range of 4 I had halves of the Tower IPA, and Navigation Lepus, which came to £2.90. The Lepus was a surprisingly malty beer, a bit like a brown ale, and the Tower IPA had that Tower taste which I can never nail. Enjoyable though, as was my quick visit.

I went back to Openwoodgate next and I popped in the Hop again. I got chatting to Amy and Jamie who run the joint, and had a pint of Dukeries beer, not sure which one alas. They seem to be doing the right things in trying to get the pub back on its feet and it is cheaper than the Black Bulls Head, and they do hearty food,  but I think they have quite a task to compete. Having said that, the 7.1 bus route features two pubs on Chapel Street Holbrook, the White Hart at Bargate as well Belper's hostelries at the other end and the Little Chester Ale House on its way out of Derby, so the competition should create quite a bit of interest in visiting the pubs along the route.

Back at the Black Bulls Head I went straight onto Bedlam bar. What a gem. A big wood burner, a high dark wood bar down one side with pint and half pint dimpled mugs hung in the inside of it, and barrels and cider boxes stillaged behind. The choice on gravity is Bass, Pedigree Taylor Landlord and a couple of guests - Everards Original, and Leadmill Imperial Russian Stout at £3.10. Pretty good value at 8%.

Much trade seemed to be take out with people coming to fill up jugs and containers. I think the seating probably dissuades long visits (cut down logs) but if you are a vertical drinker perhaps that doesn't matter. I loved it personally, with its uneven brick floor and troughs for draining the blood now flanking the stack of chopped wood, and the smell - oh the smell! Heady wood smoke, absolutely lovely. Add to this the inexpensive beer and free cheese and biscuits and this is a must visit bar that simply improves what is already a truly excellent pub. I had 3 halves, Bass, Taylors and the Imperial Stout. Well it would be silly not to...

I also bumped into Yvonne and Helena from Nottingham  who were out warming up (not really!) for Yvonne's birthday party later that day. They had already been to the Dead Poets which was where I was heading, and they were both straight onto the Leadmill in the Bedlam bar. They also had my eye for timing - "How long we got? 7 Minutes? I'll just have a quick half... " This is classic Wee Beefy reasoning. Admirably done.

I bade them farewell as I was off to the Dead Poets next. Unchanging, traditional, welcoming and popular nicely sums the pub up, and I was quickly served with a pint of the Navigation Stout, a far better beer than their offering earlier. It was also very tasty and warming, supped as I sat in a big leather chair surveying the bar, listening to the hub-ub of conversation, and watching a steady stream of drinkers come away from the bar with lovely enticing pints of real ale. A classic pub.

Next I had to compete the "catching the 138" challenge, for which you will need a weak lemon drink. And a bit of local knowledge - since there's no bus stop. You just stand opposite the Post Office, and wait.......

This took me to Kilburn and I was able to go to the Hunters Arms, another pub offering free nibbles, this time sarnies pork pie and sausage roll. I did go back for a few helpings because, having somewhat rashly chose to drink Blue Monkey Infinity and the Dark Star Revelation, I noticed I was becoming a trifle refreshed. Great beer and atmosphere in the Hunters, and the beer was about £3.00 a pint.

I was soon back in Derby and looking to walk up Mansfield Road to Chester Green. Unfortunately, in a state of mild befuddlement, I kind of lost track of how to get over the dual carriage way (literally, not in terms of dealing with its departure from my life) and ended up accidentally sort of walking up it a bit. Ooops. Luckily I came out near the Flowerpot, and went in for a half that has mysteriously not been recorded and to jibber tediously at some poor bloke about getting lost and how I'd get to Chester Green. The patient gent very kindly gave me the directions I needed. Even after I asked him to repeat them for the 5th time...

The walk probably did me good and I arrived in good time, to find Little Chester Ale House rammed. Not that this is an unusual scenario am guessing - its very small. Its Derby's first Micropub. And its brilliant.

I started on something pale and hoppy from a range of four real ales and got chatting to the folks behind the bar and some blokes stood drinking at the right hand side. There somehow manages to be two rooms and a drinking corridor (and a loo, obviously) and every available stool and chair was utilised by drinkers. I got to take some pics as well, and got one of the lady behind the bar serving me a pint of Wentwell Barrel Organ Blues which was a pleasant dark bitter.

There's something incredibly prosaic about a small pub that sells nothing but real ale. Its excellent enough for being so cosy and simply furnished and for being made in the image of great real ale bars around the country, but the sheer brilliant simplicity of the concept makes it a must visit venue. Am looking forward to doing just that.

I walked back into Derby and just had chance for a last pint - inevitably Bass from the jug, at the Station on midland Road, nicely topping off a great day. Overall this trip showed me that there are still many excellent pubs in Derbyshire to be discovered. And someone has to travel out and report on that. I take up that challenge, with all the pressure and weight of responsibility it comes with.


Wee Beefy

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