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Rail Ale: Derby

Added: Saturday, August 1st 2009

That old slogan "let the train take the strain" comes vividly back to life when you travel to Derby. Not only is the Midland Station being overhauled and updated but just a few yards away stands beer heaven in the shape of the Brunswick Inn. As befits heaven, it has the perfect address: 1 Railway Street.

The pub stands at the end of a terrace of small cottages that form a "railway village". The terrace, complete with pub, was built by philanthropic railway employers for their workers in the 19th century. The pub closed in 1974 and fell into disrepair. It was saved by a local preservation group and restored to its former glory, with the addition of its own small brewery at the back.

The brew-pub was run as a free house with great passion for several years by Trevor Harris. In 2002 it was bought by the Leicester brewery, Everards, and Trevor left to launch a bigger commercial concern, the Derby Brewing Company.

Everards installed Graham Yates as manager and brewer and he runs it with considerable independence from the owner. He serves some Everard's beers but he also offers the most famous of Burton's pale ales, Marston's Pedigree.

But the centrepiece of the pub is the range of his own-brewed ales, a range that turns the pub in to a beer festival. The house beers, brewed at the end of the long corridor that links the main bar with several side rooms, include Black Sabbath, Second Brew, Triple Hop and White Feather.

The Brunswick is arrow-shaped, with the front room tapering almost to a point as it meets the end of the terrace. It has several smaller, intimate rooms off the corridor. They are wood-panelled and decorated with brewery memorabilia. There's more breweriana on the walls of the corridor while the seating area beyond the bar has an open fire and photos of old Derby, including trains from the age of steam. There's plenty of comfortable seating with padded leather chairs.

The beers are splendid, full of rich malt and hop character. Triple Hop in particular is a delight, intensely bitter as the name suggests but balanced by a fine juicy malt character. At around 2 a pint, the beers are also remarkably good value.

A pint of beer, a sustaining lunch and the local newspaper means it's hard to tear yourself away from the inn. Graham Yates (left) doesn't mind if you leave. He knows that if you come by train and go on a pub crawl of Derby the Brunswick will be both your first and last port of call.

Good beer is kept in the family, for just round the corner at 203 Siddals Road, the Alexandra Hotel is run by Graham's brother, Alan.

The brightly-painted, cherry/pink pub has a long history, named after the Danish princess who married the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII in 1863. It was first called the Midland Coffee House and, like the Brunswick, had close links with Midland Station. It was run as a pub by Zacharia Smith of Shardlow and then for many years was owned by Shipstone's of Nottingham. More recently it was a Bateman's pub but is now owned by the Nottingham-based Tynemill pub company that also runs the Castle Rock Brewery.

The spacious and comfortable rooms have ample seating and an abundance of old Derby and brewing memorabilia on the walls. As well as Castle Rock beers, including Harvest Pale, the Alex is renowned in the area for selling a fine range of imported beers, including genuine European lagers and Belgian ales. The Alex has letting rooms and is a good base for visiting the city and the local football and cricket grounds.

The next port of call, after a short hike through a pleasant park and alongside the River Derwent, is the Smithfield on Meadow Road. There was once a cattle market alongside, which took the name Smithfield from its more famous London counterpart. The Smithfield pub is now owned by the Headless Pub Company but it was once a Bass house. Inside and out, there are artefacts from Offiler's Brewery, a much-loved Derby institution that was bought by Charringtons of London. Charringtons became part of the Bass empire and the Burton-based company closed Offiler's in 1966.

Roger Myring runs the Smithfield as a permanent small beer festival. He stages a week-long festival in September, offering 40 beers and ciders. His beer range is excellent, drawn mainly from smaller craft breweries, including Hartington, Hook Norton, Hop Back and Whim. There's also Draught Bass but, despite an ageing advertising sign on one wall, no Offiler's Mild.

The Royal Standard, on the corner of Derwent Street and Exeter Place, is just a minute or two from the Smithfield. The pub was closed in 2006 and the local council wanted to knock it down to make way for up-market housing. Following protests, the council relented and the building was sold to Trevor Harris, owner of the Derby Brewing Company. In partnership with his son Paul, Trevor has invested 100,000 in the Royal Standard. It's now open-plan with a modern but not over-powering design. Walls have been sand-blasted back to the original brick while fine stained-glass windows have been restored. Upstairs there's a balcony area for eating and drinking in warmer weather, with pleasant views of the Derwent flowing below. Right: interior of the Royal Standard. Who says younger drinkers don't buy real ale?

The pub's name stems from the 19th century when it was given rare permission to fly the royal flag. It's even rumoured that Queen Victoria once had a drink in the pub. The beer range today is splendid: Hopsmacker, Old Intentional, Business as Usual and Hop Till You Drop come from Trevor's brewery and they're backed by guest beers and a wide range of imported beers, including an excellent choice of Belgian brews, including Trappist ales. Food is good traditional fare: fish and chips or Cumberland sausage.

A short walk takes you into the heart of the city and one of the country's oldest ale houses. Ye Olde Dolphin Inne (5a Queen Street) stands almost at the foot of the great Gothic cathedral. It dates from 1530, it's timber framed and has many small, beamed rooms inside. It was once a haunt of highwaymen, including Dick Turpin, and has a resident ghost - perhaps the founder of Offiler's Brewery, for this is another former Offiler's pub, now owned by Enterprise Inns. The beer range is substantial, but drawn from bigger breweries: Adnams, Black Sheep, Deuchars, Greene King and Marstons. Craft breweries are represented by Thornbridge and Wylam.

Across the road and road a corner, the Flowerpot (23-25 King Street) is the Headless Pub Co's second outlet in Derby. The pub was once derelict, but it's been restored and extended, with several small wood-panelled rooms and a stage for live music events. Manager Alistair Moffat says the pub is "a daily beer festival". He sells 25 beers and they are stillaged in nine-gallon casks behind a glass wall in the back bar. Alistair trawls the country and, among others, offers Bridge of Allan from his native Scotland, Foxfield from Cumbria, Castle Rock from Nottingham, Durham, Shugborough - a stately home with its own brewery in Staffordshire -- and Tring from Hertfordshire. Alistair sells around 160 beers a year but, not satisfied with this largesse, he has built his own 10-barrel brewery at the back of the pub.

When it's time to go back to the station, the Brunswick demands a return visit for a final snifter. But no visit to Derby is complete without a beer in the Station Inn, 12 Midland Road, for this another pub with railway associations. It has an elaborate exterior with stained glass and, inside a traditional bar with a panelled counter, replete with a cast-iron foot rail and quarry-tiled floor. Here you can sample impeccably kept Draught Bass, Black Sheep Best, Deuchars IPA and guest beers.