So starting at the railway station on a recent Thursday night my mission was to visit all the key pubs around the city which have helped give Derby this lofty accolade. First call was the Brunswick, just a couple of minutes walk from the station. This was appropriate as the pub is noted as the original multiple ale choice pub in the city and the impressive display of pictures on the walls highlight its transformation over the years. I had my reservations before entering seeing as it's part of the Everards clan but this was quickly dispelled with a great choice of 16 ales including Brunswicks own microbrewery that can be seen to the back of the pub. The mild on offer was excellent and the whole feel of the pub with cosy rooms sprawling throughout was welcoming. In a more humble town or city this would be an absolute destination in its own right, but there were more great pubs to come...

Next up and just around the corner was the Alexandra. This proper old-style boozer is part of Nottingham's Castle Rock empire and a number of its fine beers were amongst the 10 on offer. So too was the top drawer Dark Star Victorian Mild. Any pub that serves Partridge Green's hallowed ale can do no wrong as far as I am concerned and this was a great surprise to see it served this far north. This non-pretentious pub is just the sort that seem under most threat yet the Alex was buzzing nicely with customers appreciating a good pint of ale.

After that it was a 10-15 minute walk though the city centre for the next two on my trail. First up the Brewery Tap (also known as the Royal Standard) and home to another microbrewer - Derby Brewing Company and after a taste of their Triple Hop I was very much wanting more but really had to hold myself back with so many pubs to visit in a short time. The Brewery Tap has a smarter feel and is definitely more food orientated but still somewhere you can happily drink and enjoy ales, a hard balance for some 'foodie' pubs to get right. Around the corner from this was pub #4 on my trail - the Exeter Arms, run by yes - another micro brewer called the Dancing Duck Brewery. Seven ales on offer here and again those seemed on top form.

A walk back over the bridge on Derwent St was needed for my next stop - The Old Silk Mill. This was Derby Pub Of The Year 2011 and you can see why. A two piece band were warming up while I was warming up to Salopian's wonderful Lemon Dream. The range here included two Thornbridge ales (Jaipur and Kipling), Purity Mad Goose, Kelham Best, Black Hole Red - as good a fivesome as you could wish for and there were at least another five, some of which were served straight from the cask. Close by I popped into the Standing Order, one of three JD Wetherspoons in town. While I wouldn't normally include these in a tour the range was very impressive and far fewer national brands giving way to more micro brewers than most JDW's near me.

After a five minute walk up Queen Street the next stop was the Flowerpot. More of a live music venue this still had an impressive range of ales (Rat Brewery, Shardlow, Cullercoats, White Rose, Ossett, Oakham, Black Iris etc etc!) I was somewhat spoiled for choice and again in ale heaven and went for Huddersfield's fine Rat Brewery.

Next a welcome 10 minute plus walk on Duffield Road to the Five Lamps, the 2012 Pub Of The Year for Derby. This pub was packed and had a really good vibe to it. As I scanned my Cask Marque code into my phone this got me into a cheery discussion with several of the friendly locals about my two favourite subjects - ales and pubs. I can report that very knowledgeable they were about both! Of the 10 ales on offer, three were from Titanic and my 1912 was excellent. This was yet another pub that I could have happily spent the whole evening in and in lesser cities would have. But I still had pubs to visit so sadly had to move on vowing to return.

I cut across several pleasant back streets then down Bridge Street to get to the Greyhound. Another Derby Brewing Company offering and again quite smart if a little too brightly lit for my own taste. Nothing wrong with the beer however and on top of their own ales I sampled the lovely Mary Jane from Ilkley Brewery.

Just a few minutes up Ashbourne Road and it was the turn of Mr Grundy's to form part of my ale trail marathon and another micro brewery. This one has an array of decent ales with a World War 1 theme and had their range including the tasty No Man's Land with ales you can get anywhere such as Bass and Pedigree. A fine quirky boozer with interesting varied bric-a-brac.

A little further up Ashbourne Road and off a couple of back streets on Langley Street was my final destination, the New Zealand Arms. I love back street somewhat hidden away pubs in cities and this fitted the bill. The Dancing Duck Brewery have taken this pub over fairly recently and their own beers were priced at just £2.50 while I also noted 4 real ciders available.

As this was open to midnight I took a seat and just enjoyed the atmosphere here thinking back to what an excellent array of pubs I had visited. Despite my exploits there were a number of others I did not make it to such as the Falstaff Tavern, home of yet another fine micro brewery. Oh well next visit I will make sure I have more time to enjoy this deserved real ale capital, the fine ale drinkers of Derby are very lucky indeed. [One of the other Wetherspoons pubs, the Babington Arms, is also highly recommended, with lots of local and other microbrewery beers - Ed.]

Jean-Paul Russek

Text and Images Copyright Jean-Paul Russek May 2012

* Derby is one of many cities making the claim as 'real ale capital' - others include London, Norwich, York and Sheffield.