Friday, 11 June 2010

In training for the World Cup

I limbered up for the World Cup last week not by donning track suit and trainers but by raising a glass to my lips. In my book, that’s the sensible way to keep fit. As a former president of Chicago University once observed: “Whenever the urge for physical exercise comes over me, I lie down until the feeling passes.”
I was in Derby for a World Cup beer tasting organised by Trevor Harris in his pub the Royal Standard. This was a pub saved from closure and demolition by Trevor and his son Paul. With an attractive open-plan interior, an outside bar for smokers and a terrace overlooking the River Derwent, the pub has become a popular addition to Derby’s pub life.
For several years, Trevor ran the Brunswick Tavern, a brew pub close to Derby station. That’s now an Everard’s tied house and Trevor moved on, first to launch his Derby Brewing Company and then to save the Royal Standard, which acts as his brewery tap.
Before the beer tasting started, Trevor whisked me off to his second pub. The Greyhound in Friargate has had a chequered history. It was once part of a circuit known as The Mile, a group of pubs that led in to the city centre and which attracted large numbers of enthusiastic drinkers. But most of the pubs have closed, the Greyhound among them.
The pub is a building with an impressive pedigree. It was built in 1734 and has been a licensed dispenser of healthy beverages since the 1770s. It became an Offiler’s house, a revered Derby brewery whose signs can still be seen throughout the city.
Offiler’s was eventually taken over and shut by mighty Bass. When the Burton giant decided to quite brewing in 2000, the Greyhound became an Enterprise Inn. The pub company closed it three years ago but now Trevor Harris has revived it and is immediately breathing life back in to The Mile, with other pubs planned to re-open.
As with the Royal Standard, Trevor had a long battle with the local council to get planning permission to restore the Greyhound. In common with many authorities, the good burghers of Derby prefer yuppie flats to pubs but eventually Trevor won the argument.
The restored Greyhound is a clever example of old and new. It was once a single bar pub but a wall at the back has been demolished to create a second bar in what was once an on-site brewery. Old ceiling beams, long covered over, have been revealed. There are bare brick walls and tiled floors but bright lighting and modern bar areas give the pub a contemporary feel.
Ten handpumps dispense a dazzling array of cask beers. As well as Trevor’s Double Mash, Triple Hop, Dashingly Dark, Penny’s Porter and Old Intentional, there are several guest beers, including Tim Taylor’s Golden Best and Landlord. The Czech Budweiser Budvar has three taps for its golden lager and black lager, with the third pump serving a blend of the two beers as “Half and Half”.
Back at the Royal Standard, an upstairs room was packed with people waiting to toast the World Cup and England’s chances. The first beer was brewed by Trevor. It’s a 4.4% cask ale called African Dream. As a long-standing supporter of Derby County, Trevor is understandably cautious about England’s chances in South Africa.
The beer is rich and complex, brewed with pale and darker malts and hopped with English Bramling Cross and Fuggles and American Willamette. This was followed by a beer brewed by a new craft brewery in Durban, called Robsons. The 5.7% bottle-conditioned Durban Pale Ale has a fine malt and hop flavour and proved there is, at long last, an alternative to the bland offerings of South African Breweries.
Next up, as they say in football circles, was an American beer, a 4.7% Doggie Style Pale Ale from the Flying Dog brewery in Denver, Colorado. It was typical of American craft brewers’ interpretation of a style that originated in England: intensely hoppy and bitter, balanced by juicy malt and with a powerful blast of citrus hops. In sharp contrast, the fourth beer was a lager from Brazil called Palma Louca. The 4.5% beer is brewed by Kaiser Brewery: as the name suggests, it was founded by Germans using European lager technology. The beer has a toasted malt and light hop aroma and palate, with a refreshing finish.
The final beer was a revelation. It comes in a Grolsch-style stoppered bottle and is a German “kellerbier” (cellar beer) from the Brauerei Goller. It breaks all the rules of modern lager beer: it’s cloudy, unfiltered and unpasteurised. The 4.9% beer has a yeasty, hoppy character and a big fruity note reminiscent of gooseberries. It’s a full-tasting and memorable brew and shows what lager was like before the global brewers replaced taste with fizz.
The evening was judged a success. The drinkers enjoyed the beers on offer and, on a show of hands, gave their vote to Trevor’s African Dream. Whether the dream becomes reality, the next few weeks will show. But I fear Capello has missed a trick. As every ageing England football supporter knows, it needs three West Ham players in the team if we’re to lift the World Cup.


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