Britain’s brewing capital is where I grew up and, in the absence of an official Burton-on-Trent tourist board, I feel required to provide a quick guide to its many delights.
A little gem across the road from what was once the mighty Bass brewery, now a Midlands outpost of Coors. It’s like stepping into a 1950s living room, complete with outdoor loo. The bar in the back room has just enough room to lay out a round of drinks, with an adjacent raised seating area so that the regulars are on hand to advisor visitors on the best guest beer of the week. The beer is reliably fantastic, the atmosphere welcoming and it’s only a quick shuffle down the road to Spirit Games (see below). Without doubt my favourite pub in the world.
Finding it: 43 Cross Street, Burton-upon-Trent, DE14 1EG
A fantastic micro-brewery, which can now reasonably claim to produce the best pint of bitter in Burton, it also offers a skittle alley, a wonderful annual beer festival, wooden bench seating, and top-notch Christmas carol singalong on Xmas Eve.
Finding it: just at the town end of the old Burton Bridge, Burton-upon-Trent, DE14 1SY
When Coors bought out Bass, a product of the Thatcher government’s botched attempt to increase competition in the brewery sector, it was fairly predictable that the new owners wouldn’t want the expense of keeping open the fantastic Bass Museum of Brewing History. Fortunately, after a big local campaign, the Lotter stepped in and created the National Brewery Centre, right where it should be in Britain’s brewing capital.
It combines accessible education on the brewing process with the history of beer in Burton, which at the start of the twentieth century was responsible for producing over half of all the ale sold in Britain. The business genius of the Burton brewers was to invest early in both the canals and the railways, giving them the opportunity to massively expand their markets way beyond the previous radius of a product not suited to transportation by bumpy roads.
I particularly remember from my last visit the depiction of the wonderfully named ‘ale-conner’, the bloke whose job it was to quality control the beer, which he did by pouring out a pint on a wooden bench and sitting down in it. If his leather breeches got stuck it was too sugary; if not enough sugar had turned to alcohol and it was good for being baralled up!
Finding it: Horninglow Street, Burton upon Trent, DE14 1NG
The national mecca for serious gamers. I make an annual pilgramage with my Mum to buy the family Xmas board game. Owners, Phil and Sally, test-play every game themselves with friends and customers in the shop back room, so you get tactical advice thrown in with a purchase. If you’ve never played Frank’s Zoo, Bucket King, or Loot, now’s your chance to catch up!
Finding it: 114/115 Station Street, Burton upon Trent, DE14 1BX
Virtually next door to Spirit Games, Henry’s Records is a proper old vinyl heaven. Browsing here introduced me to Neil Young, so I am forever in Henry’s debt!
Finding it: 117 Station Street, Burton upon Trent, DE14 1BX
Restaurant of choice for most Watts family celebrations, the Old Vicarage serves a sort of rustic half French / half English menu, in proper big old Victorian house. Ultra-friendly, great food and great memories.