On Saturday 25 March, CAMRA’s London Pubs Group had an ‘awayday’ to Derby. The following is taken from Robert Fraser’s blog of the day. Robert, a friend of the Group, joined the outing from his home in Wakefield, meeting his friend Martin on the train.
The crawl was due to start at 12pm but we were early, so we called in at the Victoria Inn near the station (DE1 2RR). Refurbished and reopened in 2022, this is an absolutely superb venue. Despite only buying halves (we bought two each at once), we got the CAMRA discount (20p off) which was a complex calculation because the beer is priced by ABV. Our choices were The Bounder, a 3.8% ABV golden ale from Leatherbritches Brewery and Wot It’s Caramel, a 5% ABV oatmeal stout from Front Row Brewing.
We then moved on to the first pub on the crawl proper, the Brunswick Inn. This Grade II-listed building is part of a terrace built as railway workers accommodation in the 19th century and was restored by the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust. The Brunswick is now owned by Everards but has its own brewery and is in CAMRA’s 2023 Good Beer Guide. The beers of choice here were Lister’s Limehouse Porter (4.1% ABV), with a superb subtle smokiness, and Adnam’s Oyster Stout (4.3% ABV), one of their seasonal beers, available in February and March. It is a rich, nutty, mouth filling classic dry stout.
The second pub was the Alexandra Hotel, just down the road. According the last edition of Real Ale in Derby, it was named after the Danish princess who married the then Prince of Wales (Edward VII) in 1863. It had previously been the Midland Coffee House. Once a Shipstone’s house, it was abandoned in 1988 and rescued from demolition by Bateman’s. It is now owned by Castle Rock. The Alex is also in the 2023 Good Beer Guide. It serves Castle Rock beers plus guests. The chosen beer here was Only With Love brewery’s Halland (4.9% ABV), an oatmeal stout. The brewery is in Uckfield.
Pub number three was the Smithfield Alehouse. This pub, which stands alongside the River Derwent, has historic connections with the cattle market that operated nearby. This is another 2023 GBG pub. It serves Draught Bass plus nine other changing beers. The chosen beer was a Vocation collaboration with Vault City Brewing (Edinburgh) called Banana Cookie Dough Cheesecake Stout (6.0%) with prominent banana notes.
The next pub, number four, was the Exeter Arms. This much altered Georgian pub is listed in CAMRA’s East Midlands Regional Inventory of Pub Interiors of Special Historic Interest for its snug. It is owned by Marston’s but operated by the Dancing Duck brewery. It sells their beers plus guests from national breweries. Recommended is Dancing Duck’s Dark Drake (4.5% ABV), an oatmeal stout with malty, caramel and liquorice flavours.
At this point we had a diversion from the planned route to visit the Derby Brewing Tap House, a worthy establishment where we enjoyed their Penny’s Porter (4.6% ABV), a rich, very dark, robust brew with a fine hop balance.
Back on the planned route, pub number five was the Old Bell Hotel. This pub is Grade II listed, although the original 17th century brick and timber-framed building has been much altered and restored. According to Real Ale in Derby, the old Tudor Room (once a men-only preserve) has been restored to near to its former glory, as has the front bar (the old ‘two steps down’). This is the only pub in Sadler Gate that serves real ale: Draught Bass plus four changing real ales from regional breweries. We liked the Frankenstein Porter from Aldwark Artisan Ales (Matlock), a 5.4% ABV Porter and an absolute monster!
On to pub number six, Ye Olde Dolphin Inne. This Grade II-listed building is also on CAMRA’s National Inventory of Pub Interiors of Outstanding Historic Interest. It is said to be Derby’s oldest pub and has been licensed since 1580. This four room pub is a remarkable survivor considering its city-centre location, although much of its present layout was created by an inter-war restoration. The lovely small snug (rear right) has a part-glazed partition wall around the servery, full height fielded wood panelling with a painted grain effect and inter-war fixed seating and leaded windows. Real Ale in Derby rates this as most picturesque pub in the city centre. Draught Bass plus other national beers and two guests are available. Our choice was Derby Brewing Co’s Mercia (5.0% ABV), a light hoppy IPA.
The seventh and final pub was the Flowerpot, famed for its range of real ales and its live music. We selected the Serious Brewing Co’s Moonlight (4.5% ABV), a silky smooth oatmeal stout with chocolate notes and a bitter hop finish.
To round off the day, prior to catching the train home, we had one more beer in the Victoria Inn. This was another Leatherbritches Brewery beer, this time Dovedale, a 4.4% ABV bitter which was well rounded and easy drinking, with a pleasant bitterness.