It’s not just Nottingham Forest on the up now that the Reds have made the top flight for the first time in 23 years. Nottingham’s beer scene is now Premier League quality, too – the city has just launched seven Ale Trails, all named for a friend or foe of the its famous outlaw Robin Hood. So, as the new season kicks off, with fans of both craft beer and football in mind, we present our pick of the city centre action – from bustling boho hangouts to traditional pubs and vintage treasures.
Hidden on a narrow ginnel, the cosy Barrel Drop – scrubbed tables, beer ephemera, interesting music – has a bit of a Parisian jazz cellar feel. It is closely allied to Nottingham’s Magpie Brewery, whose beers are a key draw across Barrel Drop’s 17 cask, keg and cider lines. Beer lovers longing for the bitter, resinous era of west coast IPAs will love Magpie’s Simcoe-packed Trailhound, while featured beers from the likes of Siren, Arbor and Wild Beer cover numerous stylistic bases. Of particular interest for travelling football fans, Magpie’s Crafty Warehouse brewery-tap (Fri-Sat, Unit 4-6, Ashling Court) is located next door to Notts County’s Meadow Lane, a 10- to 15-minute walk from Nottingham Forest’s City Ground. It opens on match days.
• Pint from £3.60, magpiebrewery.com
The Kilpin and Junkyard
Named after Nottingham-born AC Milan-founder Herbert Kilpin, the Kilpin shares a courtyard garden and ownership with the neighbouring Junkyard. Broadly, Junkyard is a hip, post-industrial bar dispensing 15 lines of every variety of craft beer, from complex imperial stouts to fruity pastry sours. Events with cutting-edge breweries, recently Poland’s Maltgarden or Sweden’s Brewski, complete this beer geek heaven. The Kilpin is more traditional: it looks like a pub, it shows live sport and its beer range goes deep on German and Belgian ales; try the zesty, elderflower-tinged Kilpin pale, made by Nottingham aces Black Iris. Fans of Trappist ales, wits, saisons and funky, spontaneously fermented sour beers may never leave.
• Kilpin pint from £3.70, thekilpin.co.uk
This Edwardian-era cab drivers’ shelter at Nottingham station is a vintage gem: a simple, wood-panelled room with 11 taps of immaculate cask and keg beer and a compact, discerning selection of cans, ciders and perry. Local breweries, such as Totally Brewed and Lenton Lane, share bar space with the cream of UK craft: Burning Sky, Buxton, Wander Beyond, Wilderness. There are a few outdoor tables, but stay inside if you like musical surprises with your pint – Jonathan Richman, on this visit.
• Pint from £3.90, beerheadz.biz
A stone’s throw from Nottingham’s Old Market Square (fun fact: the UK’s largest public square after London’s Trafalgar), this architecturally stunning Victorian music hall is now a not-for-profit cafe-bar and event space operated by Nottinghamshire YMCA. The suitably named Malt Cross is also a keen supporter of craft beers. Its selection takes in national scene leaders such as Marble, Kernel and Verdant, with Nottingham’s Liquid Light, in particular, well represented on keg (the Malt was pouring Veloria, a blueberry and lemon sour radler, at the time of writing), and in several canned options.
• Pint from £3.80, maltcross.com
Nottingham’s Castle Rock started brewing in 1997 and, as a pub group, has enthusiastically supported the rise of modern craft ales. Its US-influenced, hoppy Harvest Pale was stylistically pioneering and, in its pubs, Castle Rock has always featured its beers alongside those of its international brewing peers. Its beer cafe, the Barley Twist (91 Carrington St), or the Canalhouse (a pub with an actual canal running through it, 48-52 Canal St) would be worthy additions to this guide in their own right. However, the one-roomed Kean’s Head by Saint Mary’s Church, in Nottingham’s historic Lace Market district, is a place of pilgrimage for beer lovers. A screen whirring through 14 pages of bottles and cans gives you an indication of its range, even before you include six cask and 18 keg lines. In the kitchen, Paajis knocks out great food, too; try the Punjabi samosa chaat.
• Pint from £3.90, castlerockbrewery.co.uk
This large and busy boho hang-out in Nottingham’s hip Hockley enclave is both brewpub and music venue; you’ll find shelves of vinyl, reel-to-reel tape machinesand a gig space, the Chapel, that once hosted the Arctic Monkeys, upstairs. Alongside beers from Northern Monk or Glen Affric, expect to see the Angel’s own four-grain pale Exodus, Archangel IPA, and the nicely citrussy Genesis pale on the bar. Very much a pub where you might pop in for one, at 4pm, and find yourself dancing upstairs at midnight.
• Pint from £3.80, theangelmicrobrewery.co.uk
Six Barrels Drafthouse
The draught selection at the Hockley Six Barrels includes some eye-catching beers (on this visit, a 12% chilli stout from Nottingham’s Navigation Brewery), but it is the bar’s fridges that will have beer nerds bowing in reverence. They are packed with beers from hot-tip breweries (Birmingham’s Dig, Derbyshire’s Bang the Elephant, Edinburgh sour specialists Vault City) covering every beer style imaginable, from dessert-inspired pastry stouts to lightly salty gose beers. If you want a 10% New England IPA from Dutch brewery Moersleutel, you are in the right place. There is a second Six Barrels (14 Mansfield Road) close to the Victoria shopping centre.
• Pint from £3.60, sixbarreldrafthouse.co.uk
Cock & Hoop
Unusually, this small bar at the Lace Market Hotel goes big on beer. On this fly-past, it was a hosting a tap-takeover from Derby’s Shiny Brewery, but do not overlook its selection of cans, which, due to the Cock’s novel pricing strategy (calculated by strength, so a 4.1% can of Pentrich Brewing’s Little Fury would be £4.10), may yield some relative bargains. The Cock’s fridge is packed with good stuff from breweries such as Burnt Mill and Elusive, as well Nottingham talents Black Iris and Totally Brewed.
Pint from about £4, lacemarkethotel.co.uk
Any pub advertising a 10% Evil Twin triple IPA as its beer of the week (25% off!) is clearly serious about such things, and Bunkers Hill’s fridges, cask pumps and 10 keg lines (featuring breweries such as North, Almasty and Yonder Brewing) are packed with next-level ale options. Also notable – a theme in Nottingham – was how friendly and engaged the bar staff were, sharing their enthusiasm and knowledge of good beer in a way that felt inclusive and welcoming.
• Pint from £3.70, bunkershillnottingham.co.uk
Over the road from Bunkers Hill, you will find the low-level lanes of Sneinton Market, a 1930s wholesale market reborn as a hub of creative businesses and boutiques. The 12 lines at Neon Raptor’s brewery tap (Fri-Sun, pint about £5, neonraptorbrewingco.com) take in a range of pales, sours and higher-strength, big-hitting IPAs and stouts. Its 6.2% Dial Emma New England IPA is excellent. From Neon Raptor, it’s a short walk to another of Nottingham’s hottest young breweries, Liquid Light. It’s a nice indoor-outdoor set-up (Fri-Sun, pint from £4.80, liquidlightbrewco.com), with street food and a wonderful stack of vintage speakers above the bar. If you have time to venture out of the city centre, the consistently brilliant Black Iris is easy to reach by tram, open to the public Fri-Sun, and serves 12 beers on cask and keg (pint from £3.30, blackirisbottleshop.co.uk)