I don't know how it happened but somehow, over the course of the years since this blog has existed, I've committed an egregious error. In the near decade of this thing's existence, I've never made it out to the home of British brewing; a place where IPA came into being; a place that is synonymous with the growth and development of real ale, not just at home but worldwide. Those in the know will know that I speak, of course, of Burton-upon-Trent and last week, on my day off, it was finally time to correct my longstanding mistake. Not only would this tick a significant destination in beer history off of my ever-growing pub trip bucket list, but it would also see this blog make its first foray into the county of Staffordshire. The excitement was palpable.
Burton upon Trent, also known as Burton-on-Trent or simply Burton, is a market town in the borough of East Staffordshire, close to the border with Derbyshire. In 2011, it had a population of 72,299. The demonym for residents of the town is Burtonian. Burton is located 11 miles (18 km) south-west of Derby, 27 miles (43 km) north-west of Leicester, 28 miles (45 km) west-south-west of Nottingham and 20 miles (32 km) south of the southern entrance to the Peak District National Park.
Burton is known for its brewing. The town grew up around Burton Abbey. Burton Bridge was also the site of two battles, in 1322, when Edward II defeated the rebel Earl of Lancaster and in 1643 when royalists captured the town during the First English Civil War. William Lord Paget and his descendants were responsible for extending the manor house within the abbey grounds and facilitating the extension of the River Trent Navigation to Burton. Burton grew into a busy market town by the early modern period.
The town is served by Burton-on-Trent railway station. The town was also the start and terminus of the now defunct South Staffordshire Line which linked it to Lichfield, Walsall, Dudley and Stourbridge.
Rykneld Street, a Roman road, ran north-east through what later became the parish of Burton, linking camps at Letocetum (Wall), near Lichfield and Derventio (Little Chester) near Derby.
Between 666 and 669 Wilfrid, the pro-Roman bishop of York, exercised episcopal functions in Mercia, whose Christian king, Wulfhere, gave him land in various places, on which he established monasteries. Burton was almost certainly one of the sites: the name Andresey given to an island in the river Trent near the parish church means "Andrew's isle" and refers to a church there dedicated to St Andrew. The island is associated with the legend of St Modwen or Modwenna, an Irish abbess. It is likely that any surviving religious house would have been destroyed during the Danish incursion into the area in 874. Place names indicate Scandinavian influence, and several personal names of Scandinavian origin were still used in the area in the early 12th century. In 1003 a Benedictine abbey was established on a new site on the west bank of the Trent at Burton by Wulfric Spott, a thegn. He is known to have been buried in the abbey cloister in 1010, alongside his wife.
Burton Abbey was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, where it was said to control lands in Appleby Magna in Leicestershire, and Mickleover, Winshill, Stapenhill, Coton in the Elms, Ca(u)ldwell (in Stapenhill Parish) and Ticknall, all then in Derbyshire. The monastery was the most important in Staffordshire and by the 1530s had the highest revenue. It is known that there were frequent Royal visits to the abbey, including those by William I, Henry II and Edward I. In the 12th and 13th centuries, streets were laid out off the west side of High Street, the earliest being New Street, which stretched from the abbey gates towards the line of Ryknild Street. Horninglow Street at the north end of High Street was part of a major east-west route using the bridge over the river.
A royal charter was granted on 12 April 1200 by King John to the Abbot to hold a market in Burton every Thursday. This charter was later renewed by King Henry III and King Edward IV. There were four annual fairs for trade in horses, cattle and produce: on Candlemas Day, 5 April, Holy Thursday, and 29 October (the feast of St Modwen) although as in other British towns this practice has died out.
While Burton's great bridge over the Trent was in poor repair by the early 16th century, it served as "a comen passage to and fro many countries to the grett releff and comfort of travellyng people", according to the abbot. The bridge was the site of two battles, first in 1322 when Edward II defeated the rebel Earl of Lancaster and also in 1643 when the Royalists captured the town during the First English Civil War.
Under Henry VIII the abbey was dissolved in 1539, to be refounded in 1541 as a collegiate church for a dean (who had been the last abbot) and four prebendaries. It was again dissolved in 1545 and granted to Sir William Paget. Paget began planning to expand the Manor House within the abbey precincts, known to have existed since at least 1514, into a grand mansion. To provide the materials for this project, the old abbey buildings were to be cannibalised. There were major alterations to the house over the next three centuries. Sir William died in 1563.
In 1585 it was suggested that Mary, Queen of Scots might stay at Burton while Tutbury Castle was cleaned, but it was said that it was "a ruinous house, the buildings scattered and adjoining a very poor town, full of bad neighbours". The Paget family was implicated in Catholic plots against Queen Elizabeth I, the manor house along with most of the family estates were confiscated, with the Manor House leased to Richard Almond in 1612. Parts of the abbey church may have been retained for parish use, however these were demolished and replaced by a new church in 1719–1726. Some fragments remain of the chapter house nearby, but little of the rest remains. Two buildings were converted to residential use—a part known as the Manor House and the former Infirmary. The Infirmary became known as The Abbey and is now an inn.
The Paget family's lands and title were restored to them by James I in 1602 and they owned considerable estates around Burton for over 150 years. In 1699, William Lord Paget obtained an Act of Parliament to extend navigation on the River Trent from Nottingham up to Burton, but nothing was immediately done. In 1711 Lord Paget leased his rights to George Hayne, who in 1712 opened the River Trent Navigation and constructed a wharf and other buildings in the precinct of the old abbey. This led to the development of Burton as the major town for brewing and exporting beer, as it allowed Burton beer to be shipped to Hull, and on to the Baltic Sea and Prussia, as well as to London, where it was being sold in 1712. A number of breweries opened in the second half of the 18th century. The Napoleonic blockade badly affected overseas trade, leading to some consolidation and a redirection of the trade to London and Lancashire via canals. When Burton brewers succeeded in replicating the pale ale produced in London, the advantage of the water's qualities, in a process named Burtonisation allowed the development of the trade of Burton India Pale Ale (an ale specially brewed to keep during the long sea voyage to India). Burton became a centre for the brewing industry due in part to the quality of the local water, which contains a high proportion of dissolved salts, predominantly caused by the gypsum in the surrounding hills. This allowed a greater proportion of hops, a natural preservative, to be included in the beer, thereby allowing the beer to be shipped further afield. Much of the open land within and around the town is protected from chemical treatment to help preserve this water quality. New rail links to Liverpool enabled brewers to export their beer throughout the British Empire.
Burton came to dominate the brewing trade, and at its height one quarter of all beer sold in Britain was produced here. In the second half of the 19th century there was a growth in native breweries, supplemented by outside brewing companies moving into the town, so that over 30 breweries were recorded in 1880. However at the beginning of the 20th century there was a slump in beer sales, causing many breweries to fail; the industry suffered from the Liberal government's anti-drinking attitudes. This time no new markets were found and so the number of breweries shrank by closure and consolidation from 20 in 1900 to 8 in 1928. After further mergers and buy-outs, just three main breweries remained by 1980: Bass, Ind Coope and Marston's.
The town is currently home to eight breweries; Coors Brewers Ltd: formerly Bass Brewers Ltd, and now the UK arm of Molson Coors Brewing Company – which produces Carling and Worthington Bitter; Marston's, Thompson and Evershed plc, bought by Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries now renamed Marstons plc. The Marston's Brewery produces its own brands, draught Marston's Pedigree, draught Hobgoblin and also draught Bass under licence from InBev. Burton Bridge Brewery is based in Bridge Street, with six pubs in and around Burton. It produces a number of traditional beers including Bridge Bitter, Stairway to Heaven, Damson Porter and Golden Delicious. Tower Brewery is a microbrewery off Wharf Road. Old Cottage Brewery is based in Hawkins Lane. Its beers include Oak Ale and Halcyon Daze. Black Hole Brewery is based at the Imex Centre. Gates Brewery microbrewery is in Reservoir Road. Burton is also the corporate headquarters of the pub operators Punch Taverns plc and Spirit Pub Company, which were spun out of Bass in 1997. In addition, the White Shield microbrewery remains open alongside the National Brewery Centre (formerly the Bass Museum of Brewing).
A by-product of the brewing industry is the Marmite factory in the town. The original Marmite factory (now demolished) was at the corner of Cross Street and Duke Street before they moved to the current factory on Wellington Road in the 1960s. The production of Marmite has in turn generated the production of Bovril. Both are owned by multinational company Unilever.
Burton is also home to CAMRA's National Breweriana Auction that takes place each October in the Town Hall.
Burton was home to the Peel family, who played a significant role in the Industrial Revolution. The family home is still visible in the town as Peel House on Lichfield Street. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited the town on 3 July 2002 during her Golden Jubilee celebrations.
Following a 40 minute train journey, and a slight delay caused by a freight train, I arrived in Burton around midday on an warm and slightly breezy Thursday. I had a simple plan in mind and a route that, due to the staggered opening times of a number of Burton's pubs, would involve lots of toing and froing across town. If nothing else, this would allow me to immerse myself more completely in the town whilst exploring as much as possible and keeping an eye out for the pubs on the itinerary. I was hopeful that, all being well, I'd be able to tick them all off of my list and arrive back at the station in plenty of time for my return journey. However, as will become clear, things didn't quite pan out that way.
Leaving the station, I immediately turned right and headed down the slope of the railway bridge. At the bottom of this, the road becomes Station Street and, a few feet away, on the right hand side is the pub that would be my first port of call. My introduction to Burton would begin at The Roebuck Inn.
Dating back to the 19th Century, the Good Beer Guide 2022 listed Roebuck is a three-storey corner terrace, situated opposite the former location of the Ind Coope Brewery. The pub took on its current appearance when it was rebuilt in 1956 during the widening of Station Street. The Roebuck effectively operated as the Ind Coope Brewery tap and the legendary Draught Burton Ale was launched here in 1976. Subsequently the pub has been owned by Punch Taverns and, since 2007, Admiral Taverns. Internally, the pub is basically a long, single room with entrances on both Station Street and Mosley Street. The flooring is bare wood and the decor is mostly dark wood panelling, with the bar along one side of the room. Old photos of the town and old brewery adverts and memorabilia are displayed throughout. There is a TV and dartboard at the far end of the room with a corridor to one side leading to the toilets. There is a small concrete patio area at the rear for outside drinking. The furniture is scrubbed wood tables and chairs with some banquette seating around the perimeter. 8 handpulls are located on the bar, 6 of which happened to be in use during my visit. One of these held Weston's Old Rosie cider with the remaining 5 given over to real ale, on this occasion offering Theakston's Old Peculier, Bass, Gates Burton Ale, Marston's Pedigree and Greene King Abbot Ale. One of my goals for the day was to drink Bass, on draught, in the town were it was born and is still brewed. I had in my head that this would make the perfect farewell drink before my train home so, for now, I skipped it and went for the Gates Burton Ale (GBA), another locally brewed beverage. This is a 4.8% amber ale that is based on the original Ind Coope recipe for Draught Burton Ale. Made with premium hops and dry hopped in the cask, it has a floral aroma and a sweet finish. I have to be completely honest: this is an absolutely cracking beer. The depth of flavour really resonates throughout the whole drink and it's clear that Draught Burton Ale lives on in all but name. I was genuinely gobsmacked at how good this beer was. Well done to all involved. My day in Burton had started with a definite bang!
Leaving the Roebuck, I turned right and continued down Station Street, identifying some locations that I would be returning to later in the day. I passed the hulking titan of the Molson Coors brewery on the left hand side, lamenting the fate of Doom Bar as I did so, and admired an ornamental fountain made of recycled metal beer casks on my right. After a few minutes walk, I found myself in the town centre proper and made my way down a pedestrianised area between two rows of shops. Reaching the end of this, I turned left onto High Street where my next location resides, next to the local branch of a certain, cheap, well-known national pub chain. Next up, the Prince of Brewers.
This pub is built on the site of the much-earlier Star Inn, which dated back to the early 1800s and had its own on-site brewery from 1845-1870. While the original Star Inn was believed to have been demolished, a pub of the same name appears to have existed in 1960, and a sketch of the pub from 1952 looks remarkably similar to a 1984 photo of the Galaxy, this pub's name at the time. Despite the murky and uncertain history, the pub went through a number of names and incarnations, including as a struggling nightclub, before being bought and refurbished by Amber Taverns and reopened in 2016 under the current name, which is an oblique reference to Michael Arthur Bass, the first Lord Burton and great grandson of William Bass, the founder of Bass Brewery. The pub is much bigger and longer than it appears from the outside. A narrow single room stretches back from the entrance with access to the beer garden at the far end. The decor is largely wood and wood panelling, including on one side of the bar which is along part of the right hand wall. Furniture ranges from standard tables and chairs to 4-seater booths and higher tables and chairs. A large map of central Burton, with transport pictures, is on a wall near the entrance. Some drink-related sayings and Bass Brewery memorabilia complete the decoration and there are a large number of TVs throughout, including 2 in the beer garden. Live sport is one of this pub's specialities. I was confident that, even though this pub was something of a wild card, that it would continue the strong start. After all, a pub called the Prince of Brewers, in a town famous for its brewing heritage, wouldn't let me down, would it? Alas, I was incorrect. Three handpulls are on the bar here but, when I arrived, none of them were pouring anything, with all 3 pump clips turned around, a sure indicator that no real ale was available. Being someone who breaks out in hives if I go into a pub and don't buy anything, I instead settled for a Guinness and used up some time charging my phone in one of the aforementioned booths. As disappointed as I was, the presence of pump clips, albeit turned around, suggests that the pub does cater for real ale at some point. Perhaps Thursday lunchtime is not the time. Still, I was hopeful that this would be my only disappointment of the afternoon.
Phone charged and negativity shaken off, I left the Prince of Brewers in search of my next stop. Turning right, I continued down High Street, where pub number 3 soon hove into view. Situated at a crossroads, is the aptly named Crossing.
This large, two-storey building occupies the spot where an 18th century pub called the Blue Posts or Blue Stumps, which incorporated Yeomans Brewery once stood, not to be confused with another pub/brewery called the Blue Stoops which existed nearby at the same time. Marston's acquired the Blue Posts around 1890 and it was sold to Worthington's in 1925, before being demolished and replaced by a new Blue Posts two years later, the same year that Worthington's merged with the Bass company. The building remained in Bass hands until sometime in 2002/03 and was then a privately-owned freehouse before Enterprise Inns took ownership in 2006. The pub has been renamed several times in the intervening years and suffered intermittent closure until being taken over by the current landlord. The current name comes from the 1961 L.S. Lowry painting 'Level crossing, Burton-on-Trent' in which the pub features. The Crossing is comfortably furnished throughout, with an L-shaped bar area to the front and a dining area to the rear which overlooks the garden. The dining area contains a small, more luxurious, raised section which is partly partitioned off from the main area. The bar itself is very well stocked and modern and, when I entered, had been festooned with Union flags in preparation for the Jubilee. I'd also managed to arrive at the same time as members of a wedding party so felt significantly underdressed as I made my way to the bar. 5 hand pumps are in residence here. Two of them were taken up by ciders from the Lilley's range, in this case Peach and Mango respectively, whilst the remainder offered a choice of beers in the shape of Dancing Duck Dark Drake, Dancing Duck Ay Up and Marston's Pedigree. I plumped for the Dark Drake and retreated to a small, round table in a corner opposite the bar, trying to look inconspicuous in a room full of wedding guests. I was shortly forced to return to the bar though as the Dark Drake was off and was tasting vinegary. This was replaced very swiftly by Ay Up as the next cask of Drake wasn't quite ready and besides which the line would need to be cleaned. I have to commend the staff at the Crossing for being so efficient and professional in dealing with the issue. I don't like to complain but it was handled with consummate skill. The Ay Up, from Derby's Dancing Duck, was excellent. This is a thoroughly drinkable session ale, at 3.9%. Subtle malt and floral notes match perfectly with citrus hops and the whole thing ends in a dry finish. It was very enjoyable and the Crossing is a welcoming, comfortable atmosphere to enjoy it in. I thought some of the decor rang a bell and it turns out that the current landlord also owns the Exeter Arms in Derby, the Refectory in Chesterfield and the Devonshire in Belper, all of which are cracking pubs which I'm fairly positive have all featured in these pages at some stage.
My next stop was a bit of a walk away but I was determined that I wasn't going to miss it out as it was very much a bucket list destination. Leaving the Crossing, I turned right and then immediately right again onto a nearby side road. I followed this until I reached a nearby retail park which I then cut through. Emerging on a main road, I followed this straight down until the first signs of my next stop started to appear. An old copper brewing vessel. A long line of large casks suspended from a rack in an outdoor shed. A pair of shire horses contentedly munching grass in a paddock. I reached the end of the road and turned left onto Horninglow Street where signs welcomed me to the National Brewery Centre and its adjacent Brewery Tap.
The buildings that now house the National Brewery Centre were formerly occupied by the Bass Brewery engineering, craft and maintenance workshops. The premises opened in July 1977 as the Bass Museum but became the Coors Visitor Centre and Museum of Brewing in 2003 following the Molson Coors acquisition of the site, including the entire brewery. Alleged financial issues forced the closure of the Coors Visitor Centre in 2008 but a persistent campaign led to its reopening in 2010 as the National Brewery Centre under the current management. The site includes the White Shield Brewery, which is England's oldest microbrewery and the new 25-barrel William Worthington's Brewery which opened in 2011. Whilst the main museum requires a ticket and opens at 10am, the Brewery Tap can be visited, free of charge, without the need to visit the museum and is accessed through a separate entrance through the beer garden. The bar is in a comfortable L-shaped room with an adjacent restaurant and mezzanine floor. Both areas are bright and airy and furnished in a modern style, despite the sheer abundance of brewery memorabilia on the walls and hanging from the ceiling. The cellar that serves the bar can be viewed through an adjacent window. There is an L-shaped conservatory space that overlooks the garden and children's play area as well as a part-covered patio for outdoor drinking. Sadly, I didn't have time on my trip to visit the museum proper but, rest assured, that's an adventure that will be saved for another day. Instead, I was here to explore the bar. It features 6 handpulls, perhaps unsurprisingly offering Bass and other beers from the William Worthington brewery, marketed under the Heritage Brewing Co. name, as well as one guest beer. The Heritage offerings were Happy as Larry, Masterpiece IPA, Oatmeal Stout and HPA (Heritage Platinum Ale) with the guest beer taking the form of Goffs Lancer. Whilst I'm familiar with some of the Heritage range, I'd never come across Happy as Larry so it seemed like a good choice to partake here. I took my beer to a table off to one side to enjoy not only the drink but the brewing history that surrounded me, as well as an excellent, if eclectic, inhouse playlist (No Doubt, Britney, Paramore, no complaints here!). Happy as Larry (4.6%) is a pale bitter with hop sweetness, a balanced character and a well rounded finish. I was indeed happy as Larry that I had finally made it here! With a little bit of time to kill, I settled for another beer, this time giving the HPA, a Jubilee special, a try. This is another pale ale, albeit a tad weaker at 4.2%. This time, the aroma is fruity and there is a clean hop flavour that develops throughout the mouthfeel. As limited edition beers go, it's certainly a decent one. I would have loved to have stayed here all day and dosed up on beer history but time was moving on which meant that I had to as well.
Retracing my steps back through the retail park, I had a brief wander down to the river to bask in the view and sunshine. I also inexplicably bumped into the same wedding party from earlier on and gave them a much wider berth to avoid an accidental photobomb of the happiest day of someone else's life. Heading back down High Street, back onto Station Street and successfully negotiating some roadworks I arrived at the next location shortly after opening. The first micropub of the day would be Brews of the World.
Built on the site of a former police station, the building was formerly the Burton Museum & Art Gallery which opened in 1915 and closed in the late 1970s. Located in a double-fronted shop unit, next to what is now a nail salon, the ground floor premises where the pub resides was previously a bookshop and a hairdressers. Self-styled as Burton's 'premier bottled beer shop and tap room', Brews of the World opened in November 2017 as an off-licence offering beers and other drinks from around the world, before obtaining an on-licence in May of 2019. The interior consists of two rooms. The large, slightly spartan room to the front features the bar counter to the right, adjacent to two fridges that house an array of bottled and canned drinks as well as bag-in-box ciders. Memorabilia from Burton breweries can be found throughout the space. 20 keg fonts dispensing craft beers and ciders are mounted behind the bar with boards above listing what is available. The second, smaller, room to the rear features more brewery memorabilia, including what is allegedly the world's largest Double Diamond flag, additional seating and toilet access in a nearby corridor. As well as the 20 keg fonts, the bar also boasts 4 handpulls featuring locally brewed ales. On my visit, all 4 of the offerings were from the town, specifically Gates Burton Ale, Heritage Masterpiece, Heritage Massey's Original Mild and Heritage Oatmeal Stout. The Masterpiece seemed like an excellent choice so this is what I opted for. I drank my beer sat at a high table opposite the bar. I had a brief chat with the landlord about how business was going and was very pleased to hear that things were picking up and business was starting to boom again post-pandemic. It's always good to know that pubs are doing well, especially in a town with so much brewing in its industrial blood. The beer was great too. I've had Masterpiece before and it's always a good drop. Masterpiece is a 5.6% IPA that carries a full, luxurious mouthfeel and a subtle, peppery character. It always goes down well. If only there was a word to describe a beer this good.......
More retracing of the steps would be required now. Tearing myself away from Brews of the World, I turned right and continued on my way back down Station Street in the direction of the station. Going over the railway bridge, with the station on my left, I took the next right onto Derby Street. A short distance down this road, on the left hand side, sits the next stop of the day. Time to investigate the Alfred Ale House.
Built in the 1860s, this double-fronted terrace pub is located in the middle of a row of houses. It was the Truman's Brewery tap until the brewery was closed in 1971, although an original Truman's mirror and pictures remain. The pub had various owners until Burton Bridge Brewery purchased it in 1996. Inside, two rooms are served by a central bar counter. Each room features wooden partitions topped with leaded stained glass. A raised seating area can be found in the left hand room (the lounge). A small snug to the rear features a charity book stall, some unusual barrel seats and photographs and memorabilia related to submarines. The local Submariners Association meets at the pub on alternate Fridays. As well as real ale, the Alfred is also known locally for its selection of English fruit wines. I was slightly confused by the bar layout to begin with and mistakenly thought there was just a single hand pull to meet my needs. In reality, there are 6 handpulls present: one on each side of the bar, with a further 4 mounted in a bank on the back bar, facing outwards. This being a Burton Bridge house, their beers take pride of place. 5 of the hand pumps were in use giving me a choice of the following beers, all from the Burton Bridge range: Burton Bridge Bitter, Draught Burton Ale, Stairway to Heaven, Festival Ale and Top Dog Stout. Having initially panicked at only seeing one handpull, I had ordered the Burton Bridge Bitter. I didn't mind as it was one of the Burton Bridge beers that I'd never previously tried. The brewery's flagship beer, Bridge Bitter (4.2.%) has been brewed to the same recipe for over 30 years. Reddish brown in colour and with aromas of earth, nuts and malt, it is brewed with Challenger, Target and Northdown hops, with Styrian hops added at the end of the boil. The end result is a lingering, dry bitter finish. I can absolutely see why the recipe for this particular beer has remained unchanged for so long. If it ain't broke and all that! The Alfred is a nice, traditional little place which, whilst quiet on the day, I have no doubt has its fond admirers locally.
Once again, I found myself turning back on myself. Once again passing the train station, this time on my right, I made my way back down Station Road to a place that I had located earlier on but which I knew didn't open until later in the day. It was time for another micropub now: The Last Heretic.
Set in a terrace of commercial properties, the Last Heretic opened in May 2016. It comprises a comfortable single room with wooden flooring and furniture, a small bar counter to the rear with the stillage visible through a glass door and window beyond and a short corridor, up one step, that leads to the toilets and rear garden. A picture of historical and drink-related pictures adorn the walls. The unusual name of the pub comes from that of Edward Wightman, a Burton resident, though born in Burbage, who was the last person in England to be executed for heresy when he was burned at the stake in Lichfield in 1612. Despite his demise occurring in a neighbouring city, Wightman's shade is believed to still appear in the town in which he lived and has been sited many times around Burton in the centuries since his death. Beerwise, 3 cask ales are offered at a time, served on gravity direct from casks behind the bar counter. A board near the bar displays current and pending beers. A selection of keg beers is also served. The trio from which I had to choose were Dancing Duck Dark Drake, Old Sawley Two Rivers Oxbow and Purple Moose Elderflower Ale. It seemed unusual to see Purple Moose in this neck of the woods so that was an easy choice. It was at this point however that my visit, and my day in general, started to unravel. I had somehow missed that the board on which beer information was displayed also clearly stated that there was a minimum spend of £5 in order to pay on card, something that I had been doing all day without an issue. As I had only ordered the one drink, and intended to stay and drink it, I had no choice but to order an additional pint in order to reach the required amount. The landlord explained that this was due to the charges he faced from accepting card payments lower than this, although I had not encountered this in any other venues thus far. More annoyingly, this was one of the few occasions where I hadn't thought to bring a little bit of cash with me as I sometimes do when I visit smaller towns where not all pubs may take card. Still, willing to ignore a niggling issue in favour of tasty beer, I contented myself with enjoying just that. The Elderflower Ale (4%) from Porthmadog's Purple Moose went down swimmingly. Golden straw in colour and brewed with Cascade hops, the beer gives a floral aroma and a sweet citrusy finish. The elderflower is subtle but contrasts well with the sweetness. My second beer, Old Sawley's Two Rivers Oxbow (3.9%), is a completely different beast. This is a modern take on a classic amber ale. Brewed with a combination of darker malts and fruity hops, it's a well-rounded, slightly sweet amber bitter.
My additional time at the Last Heretic had waylaid me somewhat but I was still confident that I would be able to conquer my complete list of pubs in time. Conveniently, the next stop was only just down the road at the Devonshire Arms.
This Grade II listed and Good Beer Guide 2022 featured pub was originally built as a house around 1830 and converted into a pub during the 1850s. At some stage, probably during the late 1800s, it became an Eadie's property until that brewery was taken over by Bass in 1932. It then became an Ind Coope pub as the result of a 'pub swap' in 1978, was bought by Burton Bridge in 1998 and was then sold to the current owners in 2019. Now a free-house, the pub contains a smart public bar at the front, with a larger, split-level lounge to the rear, which also features an unusual curved wooden ceiling and a framed 1853 map of Burton. Brewery and drink-related items are prevalent throughout, including framed lists of Burton breweries (1870-1880) and licensed premises (1911). The Devonshire has developed a good reputation for real ale, as evidenced by its GBG inclusion and the 10 handpulls that occupy the bar. Of these, 4 were doubled up with Bass and Burton Bridge Stairway to Heaven respectively. The remaining 6 offered Burton Bridge Bitter, Gates Burton Reservoir, Burton Bridge Top Dog Stout, Ashover Font, Anarchy Blonde Star and Purity Mad Goose. After a moment's deliberation, I passed over the local offerings for the Font, a guest beer from Clay Cross based Ashover. Font is a 3.8% session pale ale brewed with Chinook and Cascade hops, giving floral grapefruit and subtle spice flavours. It's also apparently named after an ornate font at All Saints Church in Ashover. So there's that. It's a very good beer though and a perfect palate freshener after the bitterness of my last choice. I sat and enjoyed it in the lounge bar, enjoying the ambience and listening to regulars complaining to the landlady about the taste of the new rose wine.
It was another gallivant across town now, as my next stop was at the far end of High Street, past the Crossing and further on. Once again a micropub took my fancy. This one was Beeropolis.
This micropub opened in May 2021 on the ground floor of a Grade II listed end-terrace building that was previously occupied by another micropub called the Fuggle & Nugget. The building itself is believed to date back to the early 18th century but the shop-front is more recent, dating from the late 19th-early 20th century. Previous incarnations of the building include both an estate agents and a hairdressers. This is another comfortable single room layout with upholstered bench seating around the periphery and low tables with a short raised area under the windows. A small bar counter is located to the side and towards the rear with the stillage room located behind. Current and upcoming beers are listed on a TV screen above the bar. As well as a pair of hand pumps, the bar also features a bank of keg fonts mounted on the wall behind, offering a choice of craft beers and ciders. On the cask ale front though, two choices awaited me, Allsopp's Pale and Heritage Oatmeal Stout. I opted for the Allsopp's, local to Burton. Due to my earlier hold up, I was already in a little bit of rush by the time I arrived here. That's my only explanation for missing the sign on the bar that once again advised me of a minimum £5 card spend. That meant I had again found myself in the position of having to order two drinks at once and therefore spend more time than intended in this location. I was more annoyed with myself than anything, as well as slightly baffled that 2 of the last 3 pubs had had the same rule in place despite there being no issues anywhere else on the day. It soon transpired that both this pub and the Last Heretic are under the same ownership which goes some way to explaining things. I was now in a difficult situation. With me now having to take root at Beeropolis for longer than planned, it was increasingly unlikely that I would complete the route I had devised. It was either: finish my beer, rush to the next pub and hope I don't miss the train; skip the next pub and head straight to the train or, continue as planned and get a much later train, not knowing exactly when I'd get back, and also sacrificing funds and phone battery in the process. I had a beer to drink first though, which would at least help me to decide. Allsopp's Pale (4.4%) is a golden session ale. It's crisp, sessionable and refreshing and very balanced through the use of three types of malt and Aurora and Cascade hops. It's definitely drinkable as both my first and second helpings will testify!
Ultimately, Beeropolis ended up being the last pub of the trip. I decided that, with time escaping me, discretion was the better part of valour and I couldn't really afford to miss my return train. I was a bit frustrated and disappointed that I'd missed out on completing my route due to a not entirely legal rule in a couple of the pubs. I also blame myself a little bit as I normally do take some cash with me, however, none of the research I did into the pubs I had lined up suggested that I would have any issue paying with card, even in small amounts, and this was certainly the case for the vast majority of the venues I visited. Despite the late snag, was my trip to Burton worth it? Absolutely! I'd waited far too long to visit the real ale mothership. I don't think I could really have continued to call myself a real ale drinker, let alone a beer blogger, if I hadn't deigned to make that pilgrimage. The variety and quality of the pubs impressed me and that's even saying that I didn't manage to make some of the most iconic and vaunted ones. Nevertheless, that's given me fuel for next time. The only advantage of missing out the final trio of pubs is that it gives me an excuse to come back. Besides which, I never did get around to having any Bass.