There are many places vying to be the UK’s top real ale destination such as Derby, Manchester and York, with of course Sheffield being preeminent among them. Norwich has long been an excellent destination for the real ale lover and in order to promote Norwich as a real ale destination, no less than 44 pubs took part in Norwich’s “City Of Ale” festival from 22nd May to 1st June.
There were many events such as brewery tours, meet the brewer nights and so forth being held as part of City Of Ale. My first port of call as part of this was just such an event, an “East v North” beer tasting at The Rose Inn.
The Rose Inn is an excellent pub, popular with Norwich City supporters and real ale enthusiasts alike. In addition to been an excellent host, landlady Dawn Hopkins is also very active in the “Fair Deal 4 Your Local” campaign, to try and reform big PubCo’s such as Punch and Enterprise.
The first part of the “East v North” beer tasting pitted Oakham JHB against Kelham Island Pale Rider. I personally preferred the cleaner taste of Oakham JHB but I was in a clear minority here as most plumped for Kelham Island Pale Rider.
The 2 beers to go head to head were Golden Triangle Hop Lobster and Thornbridge Jaipur. I had been looking forward to sampling beer from Golden Triangle brewery but on the night it was a clear victory for the more citrusy charms of Jaipur.
The next section was fruit beers. The contender from the East here was Panther Brewery’s “Pink Panther”, a wheat beer made with pink grapefruit. I had sampled this beer last year and loved it. Sadly on this occasion I felt that the beer wasn’t on such top form. The contender from the North was Samuel Smith’s Organic Apricot, which I found sickly sweet and not to my taste one bit. The Organic Apricot won this section.
It was dark beers for the final section, with Wolf Brewery’s “Grandma’s Rich Porter” going head to head with Blue Monkey Guerrilla. This was quite an even contest, with the smoother, richer offering from Wolf Brewery holding its own very well against the roastier stout from Blue Monkey. In the event this was the one section where the East Anglian beer was victorious, although I personally voted more for the East Anglian beers on the night.
The following day I undertook a crawl around some of Norwich’s best pubs. The City Of Ale programme has no less than 7 different pubs crawls for the intrepid drinker but I decided to go my own way.
My first port of call was the Fat Cat. This pub has twice won CAMRA’s National Pub of the Year award and deservedly so. It’s a truly outstanding local with a huge range of cask ale on both hand pump and gravity dispense, including quite a few beers from their own brewery and a Scottish beer festival when I visited. I started with the Fat Cat’s very own honey ale (an old favourite of mine) before sampling beers from Tryst and Williams Bros. The atmosphere in the pub was great and quite frankly I could have stayed at this one venue all day!
Next up was a short walk to the Reindeer. A pub with 10 real ales, busy with people eating Sunday lunch. The cask range had a distinctly local flavour with beers from the likes of Humpty Dumpty, Redwell and Elgoods. The beer I chose here was Humpty Dumpty’s City Hoppers, one of a series of individually dry hopped beers designed especially for City Of Ale 2014. This was a very pleasant 3.8% beer.
From there I headed into the Plough, a pub run by Grain brewery with 5 cask ales, all from Grain. I chose their porter, which turned out to be one of the nicer beers from this slightly under-rated brewery.
I then ventured further into the Town centre, to the Murderers Arms. Happily this pub wasn’t full of actual murderers, but instead is a bustling city centre pub with food and, when I visited there was also a separate City Of Ale bar here selling local ales. I ate at the Murderers, with Jo C’s “Knot Just Another IPA” to wash the food down.
From there I decided to give in to a spot of craft keg heresy and moved on to the Norwich Tap House, a bar that specialises in craft keg beer. I started with a half of Redwell IPA, which I found disappointing but then I noticed some excellent bottle conditioned beer in the fridges and ordered a bottle of De Molen “Donder & Bliksem”, a bottle conditioned beer from an excellent Dutch brewery.
For my next venue I chose a pub which has gone in the opposite direction to the Norwich Tap House and been keg free for many years, the Kings Head on Magdalen Street. This pub had 14 beers on cask, again with a strong local emphasis. My own choice here was Shortts Farm “Blondie”, which apparently was selling very well. The Kings Head was unusually quiet, but it turned out this was because many of their punters were out on a brewery trip that afternoon to S&P brewery.
Not far from there was my final call of this trip, the Plasterers Arms. This pub was hosting its own “Fem:Ale” beer festival with beer made by Brewster led breweries such as Brentwood, Ilkley, Dancing Duck and others. The beer I chose here was my favourite of the whole visit, Jo C’s Norfolk Kiwi, a very good hoppy bitter. The Plasterers was very friendly and busy, with live acoustic music as well.
In summary, there are many truly outstanding pubs in Norwich, and there are a fair few other pubs I didn’t visit on this occasion I could also recommend such as the Earlham Arms, Fat Cat & Canary and Kings Arms. When it comes to pubs Norwich can stand toe to toe with any other top beery British town. City Of Ale is also a superb event, with more than enough to keep any lover of real ale busy. However, I do personally feel that many of the many East Anglian Breweries are lagging behind their less conservative Northern counterparts.