Staying on the theme of great places to go for beer (see my previous post), I was recently lucky enough to spend a couple of days in Burton-upon-Trent. Once the brewing capital of the UK; birthplace of Burton ales and lending its name to a process (‘burtonisation’) for hardening water so it performs and tastes like the calcium sulphate/gypsum rich water that supplies the town, Burton has an undeniable brewing history, not to mention pedigree. Today though, it’s a bit, well, not exactly what you’d think of as a tourist destination. But I’d like you to think again.
For starters it’s home to fine selection of pubs offering the sort of welcome and general friendliness that pubs should be about. The kind that gives you a feeling of belonging, as if the landlord, landlady and/or bar staff are pleased to see you, happy to serve you and interested in chatting with you rather than just being there to take your money, or only interested if they actually know you in a horrible cliquey way that makes ‘non-regular’ customers feel at best excluded and at worst, as if they are second class. Burton style though seems to be to welcome everyone equally. Take The Devonshire Arms in Station Street. It’s a Burton Bridge Brewery pub run by landlady Jackie and it’s just the sort of pub that makes me sigh and say, “I wish this was my local.”
When I was there Jackie was sporting a marvellous ‘Beer is for life not just for Christmas’ t-shirt and commented that the beer I’d ordered, Burton’s Damson Porter (4.5%), was ‘orgasmic’. That’s my kind of landlady! She wasn’t far off with the description of the beer either. It was a smooth and tangy brew which tasted of rich, dark fruits with a subtly chocolatey and malty aftertaste.
Luckily I was in the mood for a porter or I’d have had been at the bar for an age trying to decide what to have. As well as five Burton Bridge beers The Devonshire Arms offers a guest ale and also has German and Belgian bottled beers too, which Jackie says are a popular choice with her weekend customers. If that wasn’t enough, you can even have your takeaway curry delivered to the pub or take your drink from the pub to the nearby Balti Tower – thus saving you from the non-choice that is Kingfisher or Cobra and opening up many new curry and beer food matching opportunities.
Round the corner from The Devonshire’, in Cross Street in the shadow of what is now the Molson Coors brewery, is Coopers Tavern – a building originally owned by famous, although not native, Burtonian and brewery founder William Bass that has served as a brewer’s house and a malt store but is now a somewhat labyrinthine pub. A Joule’s house (a brewery with a long and complicated history, that includes it being taken over and subsequently killed-off by Bass Charrington in the 1970s but resurrected as a brand in 2008) it is another example of the Burton welcome. Staff and customers alike were a friendly bunch and I ended up passing the hour till my train home chatting with the lady who did the housekeeping at the hotel I’d stayed at and enjoying a refreshing drop of their Blonde, which is made with lager malt and Saaz hops.
Two other notable Burton hostelries are The Burton Bridge Inn on Bridge Street, which as the name suggests is a Burton Bridge Brewery pub, and The Old Cottage Tavern in Byrkley Street which is owned by the Burton Old Cottage Brewery – which brews a number of fine ales including a delicious 4.7% Stout.
Even the town’s MP, Conservative Andrew Griffiths, is a beer champion and as Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group perhaps it’s not such a surprise that he not only compiled a list, and accompanying map, of pubs he thought visiting members of the British Guild of Beer Writers should go to but led us on a tour of the pubs too. Like those who run the town’s pubs he also did a splendid job of making us feel welcome and at home.
Of course, not everyone will be lucky enough to be taken on a pub crawl by the local MP, but what a pub crawl he put together! In some places there’s such a monopoly of pub ownership that you’ll be lucky to be able to try three different beers but that’s not the case in Burton.
Maybe you are thinking that it’s a bit of a long way to go for a pub crawl (that’s assuming that, like me, you don’t live nearby)? Or maybe you have to just go there for a couple of days to understand why I came back so enthused, but it is also home to a rather interesting beer and brewing museum in the shape of the National Brewery Centre, which also incorporates the Bass Museum. The centre is a celebration of the social history of the town’s brewing heritage and the story of how it came to be so famous for its beer. It probably deserves a blog post of its own, but instead I’ll suggest a visit to its website so you can see what a good day out it would make: http://www.nationalbrewerycentre.co.uk/days-out-in-staffordshire-midlands.htm
It also has decent bar/restaurant called The Brewery Tap, serving a selection of cask beers such as the famous Worthington White Shield, an IPA originally brewed by Worthington in the 1820s and now produced under the auspices of Molson Coors whose huge breweries, turning out a gamut of different beer brands, dominate the road into town from the train station, filling the air with a malty, but also somewhat industrial aroma.
I’m already planning another trip to Burton-Upon-Trent, not least because I didn’t actually get to go round the National Brewery Centre because I was too busy learning fascinating things about beer’s ingredients. I recommend you get one into your diary too.
Burton Bridge Brewery: http://www.burtonbridgebrewery.co.uk/Index.shtml
Coopers Tavern/Joule’s Brewery: http://www.joulesbrewery.co.uk/pubs/pub_details.php?id=6
Burton Old Cottage Brewery/pub: http://www.oldcottagebeer.co.uk/index.html
- Another excuse to go to Burton is for the National Brewery Centre’s Easter Beer & Food Festival which runs from Sat 7th to Mon 9th April and also features steam engines and shire horses! Tickets £5 or £18 for a family. Book in advance on 01283 532 880.