This is the second part of a series on Norwich’s beer scene in 2017. The first part, on pubs, is here.
The first thing to say is that I ummed and ahhed over whether to call this post ‘Breweries’ or ‘Beer’. In the sense that it’s my thoughts on beer produced locally, the two are interchangeable, really.
However – and I don’t want to reveal too much of what goes on behind the magician’s curtain here – I realised that I already had the word ‘beer’ in the headline, so chose the alternative for SEO and aesthetic purposes. We all have our process.
Anyway. The purpose of this post is to look at our local craft scene, the quality of beer produced therein, and what opportunities lie ahead in 2018.
As mentioned in my last post, Norwich has a very healthy selection of pubs and some big national-name traditional breweries in the vicinity. Greene King and Adnams are the main two.
It also has a number of second-tier (in terms of size and reach rather than quality) breweries, of the likes of Woodforde’s and Grain.
All produce big quantities of real ale (Grain dabbles in craft and does a decent pilsner), and are stocked by most of the pubs round here. Everyone knows their names.
Those are the basics. What of craft?
The main player in recent years has been Redwell, which has achieved some notoriety through legal disputes, lease issues and getting its beer into Tesco. More on which here.
But while Redwell was a cause of initial pride in the area, it has hit the brakes in terms of innovation in recent years, and seems more focused on knocking out its core beers to fill supermarket shelves than doing anything too bold. The issues outlined above may be a bigger contributing factor, however, and hopefully their new ownership deal can provide some impetus.
And apart from that, Norfolk craft brewers have been pretty scarce.
But with new demand comes supply, and like Luke Skywalker watching two suns set on Tatooine, some fresh faces are dreaming big.
First up, Ampersand Brew Co, from Bungay, has been quietly making its mark with some fine work. Having launched in July, it has already made eight beers, including a saison, imperial stout, red ale and other craft staples.
Then there’s Duration.
Yet to land, the much-anticipated new act has been making a splash with a series of collaborations with UK brewing’s biggest names – the numbers of Cloudwater, Verdant, Deya, Left Handed Giant and Brixton Brewery are all in brewer Derek Bates’ rolodex.
Clearly the most exciting prospect on the horizon, Duration’s plans for a destination brewery are big potatoes for the national brewing landscape, let alone Norfolk. British drinkers casting jealous glances at the US craft scene will be flocking to tiny West Acre, which is both weird to anyone from Norfolk, and very cool.
It’s a move with the potential to change things round here. While nothing is guaranteed, Duration seems to have all the tools to become a star of UK craft beer.
The hope is that others will be drawn into its gravitational pull. Certainly, anyone with an entrepreneurial bent should see the potential in picking up on the scraps, with either the wide open plains of Norfolk countryside available for another destination spot, or space for a taproom in any of the highfalutin tourist draws of North Norfolk, or Norwich.
There are, naturally, concerns about the county’s infrastructure and transport links. As someone who once wrote a 50-page supplement on the dualling of a 9-mile stretch of the A11, I can testify to the desperation of businesses to see improvements.
But the example being set by Burnt Mill Brewery and Little Earth Project, across the border in Suffolk, should hopefully be an inspiration to anyone concerned about setting up a rural brewery. It can be done.
Ultimately, the outlook is rosy. While not all our pubs have quite caught up with craft, these upstart breweries seem set upon forging their own path, so it shouldn’t hold them back. If 2016/17 was phase one for Norfolk – the influx of craft pubs – 2018/19 could be phase two. A new wave of beer makers.
The final post in the trilogy will appear some time next week and will be on the city’s drinkers. I think.