He holds him with his glittering eye —
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years' child:
The Mariner hath his will.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner - Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Derby is a great drinking town I'm told. I have been there a couple of times before, but it was quite a few years ago. This time, fresh from the magnificent Victoria in Beeston, Nottingham, where we had a private behind the scenes tour - one of our party knows the owner - we checked into our hotel just across from the railway station and handy for a kebab house, an off licence and a knocking shop. What more could a man want? Well cask beer obviously. Now my two previous visits to Derby had, I think, confined me to just two pubs. Who am I to break what could almost be described as a tradition? Thus it was we convened at an old friend, the Brunswick, a magnificent Brew Pub, fashioned out of a complete mini terrace of houses and with that classic ship's prow, or flat iron front, that I for one find irresistible. I was first there, which is my bounden duty as kitty holder.
Now I am not always the most observant guy in the world and having first of all scanned the pumps to see what was on offer, I scanned the room to get my bearings and check out customers for possible danger, good looking lasses etc. Thus when the friendly barman asked what I wanted, I didn't spot that the beer was unsparkled, until my glass, brim-full and more or less headless, was presented to me. It was I recall, from Oakham. My companions joined me and all chose a house beer, which was enjoyed to varying degrees. I was asked "What's yours like?" "Pretty good" I opined, "but it would be better sparkled." At that, a fellow barfly piped up "You should have asked for it to be sparkled then Mate, we do both." My baleful eye was cast over the piper up. "I'm the landlord here." he added. Now he was up for conversation and I'm always up for a sparkler debate, so it all looked promising, but this was to turn out a much more wide ranging and knowledgeable discussion than I was expecting.
"Didn't you notice the pumps then?" I was asked. The bar was "L" shaped. I hadn't really, but a bank of six or so to my left at right angles had the classic short spout and on/off key . "Not them" said my new friend. "The ones in front of you." I tiptoed up. Each pump had the classic short spout and in addition had the revered and welcoming swan neck and sparkler. Yep. Both. "You know why don't you?" I was asked. Now in sparkler conversations, I like to think I lead from the front, but this was back foot stuff. "Umm, choice?" I ventured. " Yes. Obviously that" said my new mentor. "But do you know why?" Then he pulled his rabbit out of his hat. "Because Derby is the dividing line between Northern and Southern dispense. Below here it is all sparklerless, above, sparkled." I thought about it and sort of doubted it. I had no backing from my elderly friends who had all long since sat down to discuss retirement pensions, new knees and what kind of jam they like. Could he be right? I remembered a map I had published in this very blog about this very subject, back in 2008. It was possible, though then and before this, I would have put Derby in the sparkled camp. My new friend had stats. 90% of beer in his pub and elsewhere in Derby is served Southern style. I looked round. It was more than that there. I couldn't doubt him.
The landlord, like the Ancient Mariner of old, had stoppethed one of four (in this case), and I was in his thrall. The telling of his tale could not be denied him. I was powerless. He described how unrest had come to this tranquil part of Derby on many occasions, when thirsty travellers from Sheffield, a mere 30 minutes away by train, had descended on the Brunswick, ordered pints and then gently remarked in that laid back South Yorkshire way, "Beer, beer everywhere, nor any drop to drink". (Expressed more succinctly as "What the fuck have you done to this beer?" After many such enquiries, the landlord had asked his handpump supplier (CFBS I think) for a solution. It was as I already described and the second bank of pumps would be converted in due course. The Sheffielders were happy - well as long as they chose from the converted pumps they were.
My friends were keen to move on, but I could not be denied another ten minutes discussing pulling technique - beer - not women - before I was reluctantly dragged away. We moved on to the Alexandra, about 50 yards away and my only other visited Derby pub. A Tynemill House, it had a great beer selection, a friendly welcome, haggis Scotch Eggs and unsparkled beer, but with a swan neck. We stayed almost until closing time, but I had to go back to the Brunswick for the last pint, where my new friend, the landlord pulled me a (promised) perfect sparkled pint. So. Is Derby where North and South divide sparkler wise? My previous line was more likely to have been Birmingham, drawn at an angle though and maybe excluding Coventry below the line and Leicester above. Maybe my readers can venture an opinion or two, preferably town by town and where the line might be drawn.
For now though, I accept Derby as sparkler free by and large, but not as the dividing line. Does my map look about right? It doesn't to me really if I'm honest.
It is nonetheless gratifying that the line appears to be heading southward and does anyone else think as I do, that a Scotch Egg is better with just a little heat going through it? say 30 seconds in a microwave? I know. I'm asking two big questions here.