The Falstaff, Derby
A caricature of jolly Sir John Falstaff sits in the middle of a beer mat on the table at which I sit. It’s a crude (as in not very well drawn rather than Donald McGill) representation of the man, but his red-faced, pot-bellied jolliness still shines even though he usually sang the praises of sack rather than ale.
However, I’m sure if he was to saunter into this comfortable neighbourhood corner pub, Sir John would be all too happy to sink a pint of beer, especially as not only is the pub named after him but also the brewery at the back.
I am in the lounge of the Falstaff, whose décor could be described as a symphony in brown allied to a lime-green colour scheme on the wall. Think robust settles and time-smoothed banquette seating alongside sanded and scuffed wooden flooring, while the walls are home to a variety of bric-a-brac including barometers and various labels for the beers that the Falstaff’s brewery has made in its 11-year history.
I continue to look about and the interior of the lounge starts to reveal more artefacts, as if it were an onion being peeled. As well as the barometers, there is a selection of brass bits and pieces used for looking after casks in the cellar, a brace of fireguards with ‘Take Courage’ embossed on their surface and a old hand-carved wooden ornament at the heart of which sits a clock.
Meanwhile Sir John’s modern (and less corpulent) equivalents are enjoying themselves in the public bar. As the pints are pulled, I am aware of the drifting smoke of conversation: someone is complaining about the time it takes to send a parcel to Scotland, while another mentions King Lear. When a reedy voice describes his time at Bayreuth and Wagner’s Ring Cycle it feels like a game of pub one-upmanship. The conversation stops and a dog barks gruffly as if to say ‘carry on’.
So I take the dog’s advice and order another pint of A Fist Full of Hops and a packet of crisps (there’s no food here, this is one of those rare foodless pubs). I suspect the brewer has a Clint Eastwood thing going as another one of his beers is called The Good, The Bad and The Drunk but as it’s 6.2% it’s probably just as well it’s not on at the moment.
The beer in my glass is a pipsqueak at 4.5%, very easy to drink and another pint soon looms. Whilst back at the bar I catch the eye of a poster on the wall advertising the brewery’s bottled barley wine called Hades. At the Leviathan-like strength of 15.4% this is only available in bottles and sensibly only sold off sale: I expect the morning after would be hell, even for Sir John.