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.

Beer in Norwich 2017: Breweries

A new hope.

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.

A can of Duration fool for you
A can of Duration Brewing and Cloudwater’s Fool for you.

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.

Duration Cloudwater fool for you launch party
Duration Brewing launch Fool For You at The Reindeer in Norwich, a collaboration with Cloudwater.

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.

Beer in Norwich 2017: Pubs

A foot on the ball

From Trump to Weinstein, and Brexit to Grenfell, 2017 has picked up the rhythm of 2016’s death march, and added a funk bassline.

But while it has been a long, long year in the wider world, the UK beer universe is crackling with positivity.

Sales are booming, as are the number of breweries, with more than 300 launched in the last year.

But where does Norwich sit in this flourishing scene?

Known as a city of pubs, in a county bursting with brewing’s raw materials, is it punching its weight in craft beer terms? What challenges does it face? And what are the opportunities?

This is the first in a short series of thoughts on the city’s pubs, breweries and drinkers.

And – full disclosure – I’m not a landlord or brewer. If you are, let me know what you think.



I’ve already written about where I drink in Norwich, but what I’m more interested in here is the breadth and depth of the city’s pub offering, and if there is anything missing.

In the last couple of years, I’ve visited and drunk in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh, York and elsewhere, and the first thing to say is that Norwich is a brilliant city for pubs.

It has breadth and variety, as well as quality for a city of its size.

As well as the boozers I’ve previously mentioned, there’s the historic Adam and Eve, the spit and sawdust charm of The Kings Head, and the slick, hipsterish Gonzo’s. Then there’s The Cottage, The Sir Garnet, and The Murderers, before you even get to the places which line the Wensum and come to life on summer days.

Not all are craft beer havens, but most look after their ales well, and have dipped their toe in craft waters.

The issues our pubs have when looking to broaden their offer appear to be a lack of knowledge (and subsequently confidence), as well as the influence of the local prestige breweries.

For example, the recent news about Redwell Brewery’s takeover prompted analysis of its shortcomings, with Matthew Curtis of Good Beer Hunting commenting on its inability to transcend its Norwich roots.

“Ultimately, the brand failed to both break out of its East Anglian homeland and to put its hometown on the modern beer map” – Matthew Curtis, Good Beer Hunting, on Redwell’s takeover

It’s something likely felt by the city’s pubs, who have backed Redwell’s core beer (most of all the brilliant Tap House), but never seen it kick on in terms of innovation.

Equally, the likes of Adnams and Greene King – big brewers for the area – are known for safe, relatively bland real ales, but have turned out mediocre ‘craft’ ranges. It’s no shock that landlords who have then stocked this beer – only to see it fall flat – will start to see ‘craft’ as a four-letter word. Not to mention that those same breweries (mainly Greene King) own a good number of the city’s pubs, restricting the beer their tenants can sell.

And perhaps it is the stranglehold of the real ale barons – Camra loves Norwich – that has held some pubs back.

But that will surely be temporary. The success of pubs like St Andrew’s Brew House and The Plasterers can’t be ignored, and landlords will ultimately go where the money is.

More generally, pubs will likely follow the polarising trend of supermarkets.

In a society of haves and have nots, the likes of Wetherspoons are Lidl and Aldi, scooping up those looking for a cheap drink. Meanwhile, those with Waitrose tastes will be more and more picky about where they spend their money, with craft brewers and bars set to benefit. When you are paying £5+ a pint, that’s inevitable.

Cloudwater at Wylam

For Norwich, that means landlords being bold and picking a lane. Go craft, and do it properly or carry on in mediocrity, go out of business, and make way for the new generation.

Another option would be to go cheap, and take on Wetherspoons. Good luck with that.

What’s most important is that the next craft beer spot in Norwich can not be half-arsed. Beer drinkers are looking for new, bold flavours and experiences, and more of the same won’t do.

Next: The breweries

For more on Norwich pubs, Nathaniel Southwood (@natedawg27) is visiting them all. Even the bad ones.

How to navigate Beers of Europe

Conquer those aisles.

November has escaped. December has found us with its tinsel, weight gain and overdraft-busting excess. Norwich is sunny and cold, and bun fights break out between shoppers in toy stores.

Normally, I’d be stocking up on good wine, cheese and cured meat at this time of year.

But in the last few years I’ve made a point of treating myself during the festive season and buying myself some top drawer beer, too. Working on a daily newspaper* can be bloody stressful, so I’ve earned it.

And I’m already halfway there. £70 of the good stuff is chilling in my fridge, with more to come.

It got there courtesy of my annual pilgrimage to ale Disneyland, Beers of Europe.

I love the place.

This was my third visit in three years, and I’ve learnt how to navigate its labyrinthine aisles.

Of course, if you wanted, you could rattle around armed with one of their rickety trollies, squealing like a five-year-old in Hamleys and sweeping armfuls of beer off the shelves.

In reality, the process is more like picking out ancient texts at the British Museum.

Unlike a discerning craft beer store, BoE’s strength and weakness lies in its vast range. It does not discriminate between good and bad beer.

You can get everything from aged bottles of Schneider Weisse Unter Aventinus to meat and potatoes Carlsberg. Cantillon to Carling. Boon to Budweiser.

Hundreds of different styles line its shelves, with no preference of placement.

You might find that Struise Black Damnation XXI Black Mes Senior on a dusty rack in the back corner, while tins of Pabst Blue Ribbon are given prime real estate, centre-shelf.

While wonderfully Utopian, it means you must take your time. And scour. Rush through an aisle, and you’ll miss a gem.

The prices aren’t especially cheap, and there aren’t any sales (a small section of reduced stock is as good as it gets) so don’t bother looking for a bargain.

You can, of course, swerve all this by simply buying online. At the very least, you can plan ahead by going through the website and making a list.

But there’s no sport in that.

Here’s my haul:

  • Schneider Weisse Tap X Nelson Sauvin 750ml
  • Brew by Numbers/Stockholm Brewing Oyster and Kombu Saison 750ml
  • Cantillon Kriek Lambic Bio
  • Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier x 2
  • Westmalle Trappist Dubbel
  • Anchor Summer Wheat can
  • Sweetwater Hop Hash can
  • Beavertown 8 Ball Rye IPA can x 2
  • Orval x 4
  • Firestone Walker Easy Jack IPA
  • Brew by Numbers Lemon and Hibiscus Table Saison
  • Anchor Go West IPA
  • Chimay Red

*It’s the same paper which broke this story about Redwell Brewery. Which Matthew Curtis wrote about here. And which I’ll be writing something about, at some point.

Three beers: November 11

Sepia-toned IPA times

I continue to plough through my World Beer Awards haul, but this week I returned to craft in the form of three IPAs from my favourite market stall, ABV Store Norwich. (Profiled previously here.)

Here we go:

Marble Brewery Dobber IPA

Marble dobber ipa
A Marble Dobber IPA

Marble stopped making Dobber last year, only to revive it thanks to the prompting of writer, Matthew Curtis.

It was my first time trying it, and it made me come over all nostalgic.

Big, piney IPAs were the gateway beer for many a craft warrior, and I’m certainly in that club.

This slotted in to that category beautifully, with pine, spice, biscuit and dried fruits, with a solid bitterness and a dry finish.

Burnt Mill Brewery Pintle & Green Path

burnt mill pintle

Two cans from a new brewery that I think it’s worth getting excited about.

Based in Suffolk, Burnt Mill look to be part of the new wave of breweries who are leaving London behind for the fresh air, low overheads, and plentiful Corn Exchanges of the countryside.

Their first can release featured Pintle (pale ale), Green Path and East View (both IPAs).

I’ve tried the first two (East View won’t last long in the fridge) and was very impressed.

Pintle was light and drinkable, but with good bitterness and hop character from the citra and cascade. On the upper fringes of sessionable, and I could have easily knocked back a couple more.

Green Path was bigger and bolder, and not a million miles from the Dobber. Big pine from the mosaic is balanced by citrus fruit and a dry finish.

Craft Beer Calling at Wylam Brewery

Grog on the Tyne is all mine.

Fate is a funny thing.

Sometimes, the stars align, Jupiter and Saturn do a tango, and the Gods drop you somewhere you don’t deserve.

Last week I was heading to a wedding in Scotland (at a house owned by Prince Charles, with Monets on the wall and Chippendale furniture in the drawing room – suffice to say I did not fit in) with a stopover in Newcastle factored in to counter the 8 hour drive.

It was my first time in the Toon, and while I was looking forward to seeing the city which inspired Sting, Knopfler and Nail, I was mostly looking forward to heading to Wylam Brewery.

One night in a taproom, and a canny kebab on the way home was the plan.

But whatever lies in the Fog had other plans.

My now-betrothed friend may have foolishly organised a wedding in Scotland in October, therefore ruling out any chance of Vitamin D intake, but he did manage to organise it on the same weekend as Craft Beer Calling (CBC).

Thirty-plus UK, US, New Zealand and European brewers in Wylam’s stunning art deco brewery, with lip-smacking street food and some good tunes.

Nice one, fate.

The beer

Cloudwater at Wylam
A Cloudwater/Dry & Bitter Mobile Speaker, foreground, and a Mad Hatter Tzatziki Sour behind, at Craft Beer Calling.

While the line-up was international and beautifully curated, it was the UK breweries that were very much star of the show at CBC.

Cloudwater, Deya and Verdant were there, and brought their staples – as much as Cloudwater have staples. Juicy IPAs all round.

Also there – their stalls skirting the walls of the central exhibition space and brewery like it was the best fun fair ever – were Fourpure – whose Passion IPA was one of my highlights – Magic Rock, Wild Beer, and other big swinging things of the British beer scene.

The gild on the lily was hidden in a heavenly apse just off the main space, where Orval and Bourgogne des Flandres were being served as a reminder to the Johnny-craft-latelies that one great beer can be all you need.

The food

Food at Craft Beer Calling
Two chicken parm burgers with bacon and blue cheese fries.

The festival’s doors opened at 5.30pm, which has been legally designated as teatime in England, and meant they had to have food.

The leaden pies and pints of pork scratchings of the average real ale festival have well and truly been effed the eff off by their craft children, and CBC was no different.

We inhaled a couple of chicken parm burgers, and some fries with bacon and blue cheese sauce, but there were burgers, pizzas, hot dogs and more. All delicious-looking, all spot on with a beer.

The details

Craft Beer Calling.
Drinking at Craft Beer Calling

As I found out at BeaverEx, there is more than one way to skin a beer festival.

CBC was fairly traditional, with a few twists.

Once you had paid your £11 to get in (ticketed), you then exchanged wonga for tokens, which you then turned over for beer and food.

Unlike BeaverEx – where punters had paid up front and were trying as much as possible – CBC was more relaxed, with discerning drinkers taking their time over choosing and drinking. The service was always quick and friendly.

The prices were excellent. Half a pint of Cloudwater, for example, was £3. Most other beers were £2 a half.

To top it off, cool cats could enjoy the slickest beats played by a resident DeeJay – or something like that. Seriously, the tunes were brilliant.

In fact, the whole thing was brilliant. I will return, if fate allows.

Three Beers: October 16

A trio to ponder.

Since taking delivery of a butt-load of award-fancying beer two weeks ago, I’ve found myself at a couple of events which firmly favoured quantity over quality in the beer stakes: a stag-do and a Sunday League football team awards night.

I’m not the laddiest, but suffice to say, we were not sipping Cantillon Gueuze with cautious restraint.

And, fun as those get togethers were, I was looking forward to getting back to having a normal drink. One which didn’t involve intentional liver destruction.

So, here are three efforts from the awards lot.

Hoepfner Jubelbier

A Hoepfner Jubelbier

German beers have a strange power over me. That distinctive malt and caramel flavour, normally joined by spice, banana and clove, with plenty of fizz, sends me back to drizzly nights on the cobbles in Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Munich, Berlin and all points between.

This festive Märzen is not the best example you’ll ever find – it verges on over-sweet – but it does the job, with all the aforementioned Teutonic tendencies on display.

I’d recommend it, but if you can get any Schneider Weisse, go for that instead.

Boon Mariage Parfait Kriek (2015)

boon kriek

This was one that I’d earmarked for a special occasion, like Christmas or a birthday. Turned out the special occasion was after a crap day at work.

Bloody worked though, didn’t it.

For starters, it’s hard not to enjoy a drink that starts with twisting off a champagne-style cork. Then, you remember that Boon crush everything they touch and their Kriek is no different.

It’s dark, tart, sour, fruity, a little dry and beautifully balanced.

If I had to choose a Boon to drink, especially as a treat, I’d pluck for the Geuze Black Label, which proved a knockout a couple of weeks back. But if you prefer your funk toned down, this is a worthy replacement.

Which makes it sound like I’m calling it the Jamiroquai of beer, but I’m not.

Abdij Averbode

Averbode Abdij beer and its glass.

99 times out of 100 I drink the beer for the beer. But then there’s that time where it’s for the glass.

(I’d argue that impulse is peak beer geekdom, but that’s for another post.)

This was one of those moments. The Averbode beauty pictured is my favourite, and it was yet to meet the Abbey beer it was made for.

It all looked the part – the beer fit the glass like an old pair of slippers – but it’s a blonde abbey beer, and that’s what it tastes like.

That is to say, very nice, but nothing new. Crisp, spicy, boozy, with dried fruits and a reasonably crisp finish.