I know things were starting to get a bit jumbled by the ninth pub of the day but I couldn’t believe it when Retired Martin thrust a Wetherspoons ‘CAMRA 50p off a pint’ voucher in my hand.
‘What do you mean, I’ll need that?’
Seems they are using Wetherspoons vouchers like coin of the realm in beer discount town. Sorry, Northampton. Only one per visit mind. I suppose it keeps the punters money out of Mr Martins till and puts it in The Malt Shovel’s.
They didn’t seem to be needing to boost custom, as they were having a five day beer festival that was going on until Bank Holiday Monday; 40 cask ales and 10 real ciders. To accommodate all this they’d set up stillage at the side of the bar to supplement their existing 13 hand pumps.
There was a decent selection of beers from quality brewers from across England, although the selection wasn’t particularly progressive to my mind. It was however commensurate with the ‘middle of the road’ taste in beer that I am finding prevails in Middle England.
I haven’t any record of what I drank, apart from some scrawled note about it being a tad warm, but it had a decent head for a gravity dispensed beer. I can say with certainty though, that I had a pint of Dark Star Partridge Best, it’s always a nice drink which stands tall amongst other more traditional Bitters.
Now you’re probably going to think that I’d really lost it by this time, when I go on to say the room towards the rear of the sizeable pub had grass on the floor, inside. Thankfully I’ve got a photo to prove that in keeping with the ‘On the Farm’ theme of the beer festival there really was grass on the floor.
A nice bloke called Scott Whyment told me they’d had a real job laying the artificial turf, but were pleased with the overall effect. He worked for Burlison Inns, a small regional pub company who own the The Malt Shovel. The Merchant’s in Rugby is another one of their more well known pubs.
He introduced me to Kirsty the manager of The Malt Shovel who kindly posed for a pic in her ‘On the Farm’ themed Wellies. I think I’ve got this right, when I say that Kirsty’s Dad had been a past proprietor of the pub, a sort of continuity I thought was quite fitting.
The stand out feature, apart from it being busy and full of nice people was the breweriana around the walls, a proper shed load, and some interesting items. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night gasping for a pint of proper Wards. Scott told me it was a feature of the companies pubs and something Gary Burlinson, the MD, took a keen personal interest in.
Not surprisingly, the GBG tells me the pub has won many CAMRA awards over the past 20 years. It also has live Blues every Wednesday night, lunchtime food, live sports and a quiz night. That sort of makes it a proper pub that I’d quite liked to have seen on a normal Saturday tea time to fully appreciate it’s proper pubiness.