Dependable Derby

I live in Derby.

Well, I live in Spondon. Which used to be a village on the outskirts before being swallowed up by the city when the latter became desperate for a charter back in 1977. A city needs a populace; boundaries were redrawn to bump the numbers up. Some villagers - self-proclaimed Spondonians - are still bitter about this. There was a bloke at the pub today who was quite bitter about the claimed wattage of energy-saving bulbs. People need to learn to not be bitter about stuff that doesn't really matter.

I'm always going to have a jaded view because I was born in Nottingham. Lived in Nottinghamshire as a youth. Still support Nottingham Forest, to the extent that you can support a rudderless bunch of muppets that couldn't score in a brothel.

But I married a Spondon girl - a Derby County-supporting Spondon girl - so here I am. Conducting endless missionary work amongst the heathens. And regularly taking advantage of Derby's great strength.

Regular train services to other parts of the country.

Within the hour I can be in Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield. Or into the Peak District. So I don't spend a great deal of time drinking around Derby.

Until today. Gulp. Because I couldn't be arsed to go anywhere else.

The Alexandra Hotel is the birthplace of Derby CAMRA but thankfully there are no awkward stains on the welcome mat. Fyne Ales Jarl was served the cool side of cool and all the better for it.

When in the Brunswick, all of thirty seconds walk from the Alex, I drink one of three beers. Budvar when it's really hot. Brunswick Father Mike's when it's really cold. Brunswick White Feather when I just fancy a beer to knock back. The latter today was its usual combination of slight sulphur, dry malts and wincing hop. It may now be two quid a pint, but I bloody love it.

Most of my drinking time outdoors in Derby is spent at the Smithfield. Sat above the river, the constant grind of the A52 nearby doesn't really detract. There's always plenty of pale & hoppy on - Oakham Citra for me today - and a half-hour spent watching swans stretch their wings and kick lazily upriver is all the entertainment you need on a Sunday lunch.

Speaking of which, I wish I'd eaten at the next pub. The Exeter Arms has always had a reputation for keenly-priced pub grub. My wife keeps telling me how good the lunches are and I've enjoyed the five quid pie-and-pint night. But I didn't quite fancy the pork lunch, so I just supped a pint of Dancing Duck Gold. The brewery now run the pub; their beers are fairly sugary which often clashes with my palate, but their Gold had a Belgique-sweetness and strong malty backbone that worked un-nervingly well.

Perhaps the problem with the Flowerpot is my high expectations. A few years ago they had around 15 beers available on a Sunday, maybe a third of those being on gravity in the glass-fronted stillage room. The beef and mushroom cob was a thing of genius - thick slices of beef from the Sunday roast paired with pan-fried mushrooms in a blousy bit of bread. But times have changed; there's still about eight ales on, including Thornbridge Jaipur on gravity, but the beer range is wanting and the food is really poor. My Sunday roast was a plate heaped full of veg freshly-pinged from the microwave and a sorry tablespoonfull of stewing steak. That's not lunch; that's a cop-out.

There's always a pub up the road to chipper my spirits back up. The Five Lamps is a case study in how to Get The Pub Right; somewhere that was a failing grot-hole made wonderful by the application of a simple equation: good landlord + good staff + good beer + good food + good atmosphere = great pub. Buxton Kinder Downfall was good, but... average. Perfect condition, well brewed, but just seemed to have something missing. Not sure what.

It could be that Buxton brews are usually hopped up the wazoo. It was certainly the case with Adnams American-Style IPA at the Standing Order. One of the festival beers, it survived being poured as flat as a trampled badger. Riven with juiciness. And even though the pub is a real JDW barn - it was a massive banking hall beforehand - I love being there. Huge ceilings to gaze up at. Excellent beer quality. Just a shame that staff don't pick up empty glasses by rote: if you're on the way back to the bar and pass a table with empties on, it makes sense to clear as you go.

Every beer was spot-on quality today. The range was exactly what I expected. And perhaps that's the issue I have with Derby. You're unlikely to find a leftfield brew, a new brewery tick, an adventurous recipe. You won't find anything interestingly kegged. Don't even think of looking for world-beating bottles in the back of those dusty fridges.

Derby delivers what Derby does best: dependable, tried-and-tested beer. I know it could be worse. But, I know it could be so much better. Forty minutes and nine quid away, I can have the best cask and keg beer in the UK at the Sheffield Tap. A monster roast at the Harlequin. Stunning cider and The Best Chocolate Brownies Ever at the Rutland.

Which is why the best place for me in Derby is still Platform 2, northbound...

1 comment:

  1. Spot on!!
    As you quite rightly say,The Flowerpot is a real let down.