With the National Winter Ale Festival being held in Derby back in February, I took a trip to Derby from my hometown of Ashbourne to experience some of the best pubs and ales the city has to offer. While the majority of the pubs feature away from the railway station, the walking distance to the majority of the pubs is fairly close by, with some unreported gems on the way into the city.
With only a short bus ride to the edge of the city, the starting place for a decent pint begins at the New Zealand Arms located on Peel Street. With a selection of at least 6 ales from the award winning Dancing Duck brewery, there are also several guest ales and a selection of boxed ciders. This quaint pub also sells mini kegs and bottled Dancing Duck ales if you want to take home some of your favourite tipple. To begin with a pint of Ay/Ey Up (‘Ay/Ey’ depending on your interpretation) is refreshingly hopped at 3.9% and has a delicate dry finish.
Moving on, the Golden Eagle, located on Agard Street, reopened last August with a brand new look and is the supplier of an exclusive beer range under the title of Titan. To acquire a barrel from this brewery, you have to trade one of your own giving the Titan beers an air of exclusivity. With decor provided by locals, this pub contains many interesting features such as an old style radio, an extensive games room and the exterior design of the pub (pictured) was designed and spray-painted by the modern mural graffiti artists Urban Canvas. This has given the Golden Eagle a distinctive, modern exterior while maintaining a traditional and welcoming interior. Turning to the ale on offer, Slater’s award winning Bitter at 3.6% had a spiced hop element to the flavour that turned to an almost tart fruit by the end. This pub has been completely turned around and is a hidden gem in the Derby drinking scene.
Just over a five minute walk away is the Everards Five Lamps pub on Duffield Road that have a fine selection of 14 hand pulls, 3 draught ciders and an impressive selection of over 25 whiskies. On the day, 4 ales from Sheffield and the surrounding area, from breweries such as Thornbridge, Acorn and Kelham Island showed a more familiar face to the line-up. However I opted for BG Sips at 4% from the Blue Monkey brewery located on the Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire border. This very easy-drinking pale ale, has small notes of tropical flavours and a strongly hopped finish. This pub has gone under a major refurbishment in recent years that rewarded it with being CAMRA pub of the year in 2012.
Our next stop is the Furnace Inn on Duke Street which has its own on site brewery making Shiny beers (pictured). A real community pub, the Furnace Inn has 4 rotating Shiny beers on that are brewed roughly 15ft away from the pump, 4 rotating guests as well as 4 keg beers. Opting for a Boomerang by Shiny, this pale ale had the aroma of caramel but an almost burnt biscuit flavour from start to finish. Offering themed beer festivals throughout the year as well as some of the most local ale you will ever have, the Furnace Inn is a firm favourite within Derby.
Heading more towards the City Centre, a stop at the Old Silk Mill (pictured) located on Full Street was welcomed greatly, accompanied by an outstanding Sunday roast. Reopening in late 2013, the ale and cider house has undergone a complete refurbishment that has a modern take on traditional pub food and a fine selection of 7 ales and 4 ciders. This pub has come into its own right with a very welcoming feel and a real passion for ale. This was shown by the fast turnaround with Hooky from Hook Norton being changed within minutes to BG Sips. However, the choice this time was Derventio brewery’s Cleopatra. This apricot flavoured pale ale was outstanding and at 5% it was almost too drinkable.
The Exeter Arms (pictured), situated on Exeter Street, is our last stop and is a particular favourite of mine. While the walk to the Exeter Arms passes several closed down businesses, this pub is always thriving and is truly a diamond in the rough. Offering 3 rotating Dancing Duck ales, Marston’s Pedigree, two rotating guests and a rotating cider, the Exeter Arms won Derby’s best Food and Drink Award for 2013 and CAMRA pub of the year award also for 2013. Also run by the same management as The Old Silk Mill, this pub has rich history (the 200 year old cottage can be explored at the back of the pub), an exceptional menu as well as live music and quiz nights most weeks. The well kept beer garden contains the Herbert Spencer Bar which is opened on the busier weekends of the summer months as well as the regular beer festivals the pub holds. Having enjoyed my Ey/Ay Up so much at the New Zealand Arms, I opted for Dancing Duck’s award winning Dark Drake at 4.5%. One of the smoothest dark ales I have ever had, this oatmeal stout was refreshing and left you wanting more.
With Derby being half an hour away with only two stops on the train from Sheffield, there is no excuse not to explore this diverse and strong ale scene. With many more pubs in the city centre, this is a city that has a lot to offer in terms of top quality ale.