Wednesday 11 March 2015

BRAPA - Derby

Watching my favourite band of all time, the Swingin' Utters, was good enough, but the fact that the nearest gig was in Derby afforded me the chance to "get the red pen out" (as Tom would say) and tick off some more BRAPA pubs.  After all, with the possible exception of Norwich and York, Derby is as good as it gets for the real ale pubber - with so many local breweries and proper pubs making it a cornucopia of delights for me.

However, for all this yin positivity, there has to be a yang and just like my Nottingham trip last summer, it's the people.  I wouldn't say they are unwelcoming, and it's not "League of Gentleman" syndrome, but in true East Midlands fashion, it was all nervy glances and an air of "we don't give two hoots for your presence" for want of a better phrase!   To think that on some BRAPA days, I'm complaining about how sociable I have to be (like that outer Northallerton day for example), but people here (and most damagingly, the staff) barely registered my existence.  At least this allowed me to 'observe', which as a pub blogger, I guess is an important part of the day out!

594 - SMITHFIELD, Derby - After a pleasant sun-drenched riverside walk, I found my first pub looking a bit lonely, very much the only building not to be demolished in this particular part of town.  I was greeted by the strange smell of dog biscuits on entering, and maybe it was pre-emptive, as a large hungry Alsatian soon arrived to try and devour any food it could get it's paws on! As usual, I had forgotten to take advantage of the CAMRA discount but to my relief, the local Smithy Ale was £2.80 so they hadn't included it in the scheme.  The landlord/barman was the first of many underwhelming characters I encountered today, he looked like a scrawny ex-biker, perhaps the type who'd stab a rival gang member without sanction, never admit it, and leave his burly gang leaders to suffer decades of consequences.  Perhaps(!)  He made a good job of polishing the silver (cutlery) but then let the Alsatian lick his face.  The blackboard claimed "enter as a stranger, leave as a friend" and despite an enjoyable pint, there was no real warmth or atmosphere on show here.  Tuesday lunchtime might not be the time to do pubs justice in this respect however.

The Smithfield from across the river

I then followed the canal path round past Pride Park (sorry, the iPro stadium) to my Travelodge (surely also needs renaming the iProLodge), checked in, had lunch and was ready to crack on with some serious pubbing.

595 - EXETER ARMS, Derby - 2013 Derby pub of the year, so highly recommended, and I could see why.  It is the main outlet for Dancing Duck brewery and the full range was showing, I think I got one of their bottles for Christmas.  Today, conscious of my alcohol intake, I stuck to light ales (though I came to be hankering for a porter or stout before long).  This pale ale,  "Ay up" was one of the nicest. The pub itself was wonderfully old skool, with many rooms and a fantastic settle snug, very rare to see nowadays.  As I was getting served, a Brummie couple of visitors declared to the landlady "we've got gas!" and as everyone was about to put their hands to their noses, explained it is Brummie for "we really love it and we don't want to leave!".  Hmm, well it takes all sorts.  The main boss of the pub seemed to be a very characterful West Highland White terrier, ultra characterful and friendly.  Glad I didn't stand on him now.  The pub was friendlier than most, the old music added to the ambiance but my one criticism would be it was too foody and sitting right next to the kitchen didn't help.  As a very multi-racial family came in for an after school pint in the settle, I wondered if I'd felt less like an outsider if I'd been in the snug and not just outside it!  

Great Dancing Duck ales in the impressive Exeter Arms
596 - PEACOCK, Derby - My third pub took me underneath a scary underpass to this very local locals pub, and I have to say, in many ways it was the pub of the day despite never hearing anyone mention it before in Derby real ale circles.  A fantastic range of ales and ciders were on offer, 14 I think with some in the cellar and I went for another local one, Hartshorne for which this is the de-facto brewery tap I believe.  But herein lies the problem, the staff were more mute here than anywhere else.  Sure the locals were having a jolly whale of the time around the bar area, but both man and crazy haired woman didn't utter a word when I really could have done with a "what style of beers do you like, we have this, this and this here and this down in the cellar?" style staff effort.  However, the pitch of the pub was perfect.  By which I mean one roomed, bare boarded but cosy and intimate, no food but some filled rolls on the bar, old Derby County memorabilia from a time long ago when they were good.  As Cloughie looked down on me, I felt as content as I did all day.  Two more dogs, one like an overgrown rabbit and the other yappy and crazy, added to the old style atmosphere and a theme of the day really seemed to be a dog in every pub.

Excellent proper pub at the Peacock, didn't feel very Marston's! 

597 - FURNACE INN, Derby - Current pub of the year now, and in Derby standards, that's really saying something.  So whether I'd done the usual "build it up in my mind too much", I'm not sure but despite being very good, it fell a little bit short of 'best pub in Derby' in my increasingly sozzled eyes.  The local brewery represented was "Shiny" and the New Zealand hopped ale was powerful but very flavoursome.  I'll be looking out for their beers again.  The pub itself was quite spartan, very much a serious drinkers pub with a games/function room, and a big group of local CAMRA men sat around discussing village pubs in Derbyshire, so I tried and failed to make notes for future Derbs trips.  Also, I quite secretly hoped they'd ask "why I was in their pub?" but no chance of that in the East Midlands!  I missed the CAMRA discount as well, and they had a no shrapnel policy, meaning all beers were rounded up and down to the nearest 10p.  The customary crazy dog was on display, a growly black lab but most visitors got more of a growl than me, despite the crazy red jacket I had on! 
A beer delivery was going on too, something you don't normally see in the afternoon but made me think the beer was probably fresh!  I got an urge to wheel a barrow into the pub so I could make a very bad "barrow in furnace/furness" joke.  It was time to move on. 

The Furnace and beer delivery on Tuesday arvo in Derby
598 - FIVE LAMPS, Derby - After a succession of pubs specialising in one particular local brewery, it was noticeable how much more tied this pub felt.  It had the unmistakable Nicholson's feel, it even smelt like a Nicholson's but whether it is or not, well, I still can't find out.  Just the range of beers and blackboards certainly meant it felt more part of a chain.  Don't get me wrong, it was very nice, with a large loungey feel different from anything else encountered today.  It seemed to cater for a more upwardly mobile Derby citizen (i.e. employed people finishing work!) but despite not feeling overly busy, seats were at a premium so as I'd done with Dad in Stockport's wonderful Boar's Head, I used a stool and mantelpiece over a very nice fire to position myself.  As locals gleefully watched the news going mad over Jeremy Clarkson's suspension, I achieved a landmark moment in checking in my 1,000 distinctive beer in Chatsworth Gold, the only unusual guest I could see.  I also had the feeling something was missing, and then it hit me .... "no dogs!" 

Five Lamps : A very different type of Derby pub as dusk falls.
599 - HORSE & GROOM, Derby - With time ticking on, I marched down to Elm Street but there was no nightmare here (sorry) as I found another backstreet community local, full of happy old punters and I also recollect the staff may actually have said "hello" here.  Surely this was the alcohol kicking in as I was quite drunk by this stage.  I had another local brew, a Bayswater "Torque" of stunning quality.  I sat with my back to the bar, still don't understand why so many people insist on standing in pubs when there are seats available, especially when they are over 70 years old!  The pub was quite basic, just as I like it, with low bench seats and darts teams, pool teams, noticeboards advertising live music.  I guess the "West End" area of Derby is different from London's version, and good I say.  A healthy contingent of dogs were present, they seemed by now to be a reassuring presence.

Great local pale ales were the theme of a great day (this pic was taken in Smithfield)

I drank water throughout the excellent gig, felt fairly sober by the time I walked back (but not along the river just in case!) to the iPro Travelodge, had an okay night sleep, back at York today.  Six more pubs done,  Probably should have eaten more through the day but successful on the whole, and still EIGHT more Derby pubs to achieve.  Return trip in 2015/16 perhaps?  Great place for an ale day out.


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