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.

Where to buy craft beer in Norwich (and beyond)

Drinking at home? Here’s where to get your stash.

I’ve written previously about some of the wonderful places to drink in Norwich.

But unless you’re pulling down some serious bunce – or just have a disregard for the way the economy is headed – chances are you’ll have to do at least some of your drinking at home.

And in a lot of ways, drinking at home can be better. The glass is always clean, the beer is always the right temperature, and the loo is comfortingly within reach.

Here are some places in Norwich and further afield to buy a decent beer.

ABV Store Norwich

market

Norwich Market is the oldest fixed market in the country, and has undergone something of a revolution in the last year, with the addition of a cluster of foodie stalls and an associated increase in beards per capita. Holding up the liquid end of the deal is the ABV Store.

Perched on the edge nearest the Guildhall (opposite Tesco Metro) and run by two very nice gents, Dan and Matthew, the stall stocks most of the big names from the UK and Europe, and a smattering of beers from across the pond. I’ve picked up beers from To Øl, Cloudwater, Evil Twin, Mikkeller, Omnipollo, Buxton, Wild Beer and elsewhere.

With the supermarkets muscling in on craft beer, the stall has the very simple goal of stocking beers you can’t easily find elsewhere, and it does it very well.

Brewdog Norwich

NorwichOpen_3

An obvious but necessary inclusion, Brewdog has a very decent bottle shop.

I find it a little pricier than most other places (I’ve accidentally waved goodbye to £50 there more than once) but it stocks a lot of rare beers, lots of good imports, and of course the whole Brewdog range. There’s also a bunch of merch, growlers, glasses and even the odd homebrew ingredient.

Beers of Europe

beers of europe

First up, Beers of Europe is not in Norwich. It’s in King’s Lynn, a 45 minute drive through the wilds of Norfolk.

However, it is the shit.

This beer hangar has been stuffed to the gunwales with the finest beverages from around the globe for over a decade, with Belgian, US, German, Swedish, Danish, French and all manner of other nationalities on show.

Ambling by the steel shelves while gradually filling your trolley with rare and exotic finds is a giddy experience for a beer nerd, like a cross between Hamleys and safari.

They also do very nice things.

Beautiful Beers

This is getting ridiculous now. Beautiful Beers isn’t even in Norfolk. It’s in Bury St Edmunds. Suffolk.

Geography aside, this place – run by the marvellous Rene van der Oort – is a gem.

If his name wasn’t a giveaway, Rene is Belgian and knows a thing or two about his homeland’s most magnificent export and stocks a rainbow of wonder – golden, brown, red, white, brown, lambic, Trappist, Abbey, sour, fruit, dubbel, tripel, dark, light.

He also does a good trade in craft beers and real ales, and it’s a top place for gift sets and glasses.

Brexit looks to have put the kibosh on him opening a store in Norwich, but the original store is worth the trip.