Beer in Norwich 2017: The drinkers

How savvy are we?

Man, I’ve been prevaricating. Prevaricating hard.

In my last post, I promised a look at Norwich’s drinkers as the third part of an end of year, foot on the ball round-up of the city’s beer scene.

But Christmas, work and laziness had me sidelined. I was also a little bit unsure of what to say on the matter; trying to sum up the attitudes and tastes of an amorphous blob of people isn’t the easiest thing to do, after all.

But I was shaken out of my siesta by two bits of news in the last couple of weeks.

The first was the closure of the city’s hip city centre fried chicken joint, Woolf and Bird, and the second was the announcement of the impending¬†closure of The Reindeer, a fantastic gastropub where Duration Brewing launched their first beer.

After the initial surprise, the rubbish news prompted a couple of questions: what does this say about the tastes of people in my city? And, what does this mean for beer in Norwich?

I can’t answer those questions comprehensively without a survey or the powers of God, but I can have a semi-educated stab.

It would be easy to respond pessimistically after all that bad news; to jump to the conclusion that Norwich punters are thrifty plebs with little loyalty to independent food and drink vendors.

Both Woolf and Bird and The Reindeer were offering good quality fare, at decent prices, in comfortable settings. But neither were perfect, and there is no need to despair.

In my visits to Woolf and Bird I always enjoyed the food and service, but all their eggs were very much in the fried chicken basket, with little for anyone bird-averse. Perhaps the city wasn’t quite ready for something so niche in such a big space, and that was always a risk.

As for The Reindeer, their food was excellent and the bar was well stocked.

But its location wasn’t the most accessible, and it was also an odd fit for what isn’t an especially affluent area of the city.

St Andrews Brew House pub in Norwich
St Andrews Brew House in Norwich

So, maybe there’s more to their demise than tone deaf punters with no regard for the good life.

In fact, it may be the exact opposite.

When it comes to food and pubs, Norwich is blessed, as the celebs say. Competition is fierce, and there are plenty of options.

In my own case, there are lots of places I love, but only so much Andrew to go round.

That means even fantastic places like St Andrews Brew House and The Plasterers – both of which I love – get my custom a couple of times a months at most. While many others are more dedicated, there is a tendency among craft fans (food or drink) to favour variety and new experiences over loyalty. It’s one of the reasons craft pubs rely on freshening up their pump line-up so often.

What does this mean for Norwich?

Talking to a few pub owners and one or two craft-minded people in the city, it seems there is a core beer crowd out there.

But as The Reindeer’s situation suggests, pubs have little room for error, and extenuating circumstances can hit hard. Is there the critical mass to sustain more craft pubs? Can craft make inroads into the strong real ale market? Time will tell.

The good news is that bars like Brewdog will be sticking around, and places like The Plasterers and the ABV Store market stall are doing a great job of educating craft neophytes.

I also think the introduction of a single-venue festival – akin to Hop City or Craft Beer Calling – could make a massive difference by raising craft beer’s profile, and galvanising people who may not think there are many like-minded punters in the city.

That will take a lot of things to fall into place, not least a respected brewer or pub to spearhead it, but if it takes place, it will be as good an indicator as any of how much Norwich loves modern beer.

Author: Andrew Fitchett

I'm a journalist of ten years, now writing about beer. Find me on Twitter @andrewfitchett

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