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Four Beers… a response

I read with interest today the blog of Boak and Bailey, where a friend of theirs had been on holiday to Norfolk, and brought back some small brewery beers for them to try. Three of which were undrinkable, the fourth certainly poor. It saddened me to think that this is what is representing Norfolk beer outside of the county. While I admit, there are beers I have bought here that I would describe as ‘past their best’ to put it kindly – though I doubt there is a county that doesn’t have these kind of breweries – we also have some amazing beers and breweries.

I thought that perhaps I could highlight some of the best beers from the region, and see if they might change their minds about our ‘exploitative, gift-shop, tourist-trap beers.’ Whilst I myself have called Norfolk conservative in it’s brewing industry, times are changing. One of our most successful beers was our 5.8% – Jiggle Juice IPA, heaped with citra hops. Whilst that’s not particularly earth shattering these days, there was nothing like that a couple of years ago here in Norfolk when it was born.

The beers I’ve highlighted here, are in no particular order, or style, I’m as much as a fan of a really good bitter than I am imperial stout, but here are a few that might just make people thing twice about Norfolk being poor or resting on it’s tourist laurels when it comes to brewing.

Probably our biggest brewer in the region is Woodforde’s. Their Wherry (a previous champion beer of Britain) is a lovely pint of bitter. When you find a fresh barrel on in a pub, there are few better bitters. Their Sundew a  great golden ale for sunshine drinking. However, their Nip is something else. An 8.5% beer served in a tradtional ‘nip’ size, these limited edition and numbered bottles contain a really special beer. If you like deep dried fruit flavours, with hints of liquorice and treacle, you’ll love this.

Another brewery I’d recommend trying would be Grain. Since opening in 2006, they’ve won numerous awards for their beers. Try Oak for a traditional English Bitter, the porter is delicious and has just won Norfolk beer of the year. Consistently good beers. Not all are bottle conditioned,  some are cold filtered.

Humpty Dumpty are a must, another multi-award winning brewery. Their Porter is all dark malt deliciousness, and the Little Sharpie bitter a light and clean beer.

I was also surprised to see much condemnation of bottle conditioned ales, pointed at small breweries – not from Boak and Bailey themselves. Comments on their blog posts suggesting that micros bottle conditioned offerings are ‘muck’ I feel a quite a way off the mark – and missing the main reason why a lot of these breweries bottle condition their beers in the first place. It’s far easier to contract out the bottling of your beer, to get them cold filtered/pasteurised and such like. It’s less hassle and can sometimes be cheaper. However, a lot of these little breweries rely on CAMRA to help publicise them, they wont get that help if they’re not bottle conditioned, they’re not allowed to enter competitions or be on ale trails. Several of the ‘real ale’ shops here will simply just not stock your beer if it’s not bottle conditioned. Some of these breweries can be more nano than micro – and just too small for the contract bottlers to take on. When bottle conditioning is done right, it can be brilliant, while it takes practise to perfect it, I do feel it’s worth the persistence for these small local breweries. I wonder if the beers in the original blog post would have been just as poor if they had been filtered.

I’d like to know what you think are the best Norfolk beers around, which you’ve enjoyed and which you’d pass on next time… ?

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13 responses »

  1. One microbrewer of my acquantaince only bottle-conditions beer to experiment with the process and sell on site to afficiniados. He told me most people don’t know how to stock/treat/pour it, so when BC beer doesn’t taste right they blame the beer/brewery not themselves. A big risk for a brewery. Another micro thinks the same and doesn’t bother bottle-conditioning at all. A third produces nothing BUT bottle-conditioned and is critical – if not contemptuous – of those buyers who can’t deal with it.

    Same issues, different attitudes.

    I’m a recent convert to BC beer, having just learned how to pour, etc .it and as a new nanobrewer (tongue-in-cheek Castlegate Brewery, or maybe St. Arbeck’s. Not yet decided on name!) produce nothing else.

    You are making me think about planning a beer visit to Norfolk!

    Reply
    • It can be tricky, and each beer has it’s own nuances, so may take a few goes to get right. Just as with the cask/keg debate there can been a lot of snobbery around beers which are/aren’t bottle conditioned. Putting the storing/pouring instructions on the label does help, and talking with your consumers and educating them is a must. I have had beers from well respected breweries that are bottle conditioned that would not be accepted for retail in some of the outlets that we used to sell to – due to sediment levels, over carbonation etc. I suppose it’s a case of what the market is willing to accept also.
      You really should visit Norfolk, we have some great beers/pubs/breweries – plus the worlds best malting barley 🙂

      Reply
  2. I think it’s a bit unfortunate that the beers all came form Norfolk, I’m sure it’s no reflection on general quality and it could probably just as easily have been another county/area. Still – always good to hear some positive recommendations so cheers!

    Reply
  3. This is great — a much more constructive approach than us naming the beers we were disappointed with.

    On bottle-conditioning, some interesting points here, especially that people feel compelled to bottle condition to get into the ‘local real ale’ shops and mail order services. Perhaps the problem isn’t so much ‘gift shop beer’ as gift shops…?

    In general, though, in our experience, bottle-conditioned beers from small breweries are more often disappointing than exciting. Still not quite convinced that everyone is actually conditioning them (i.e. making an effort to package and sell them that way, putting care into the process) rather than just doing it like that because it’s what they used to do with their homebrew.

    Of the two beers remaining from those our friends brought us, one is a Wherry, which we’ve enjoyed in pubs before. We also liked Grain when we tried their beers a couple of years back.

    Reply
    • Thanks, it’s an interesting debate, and I do think that bottle conditioning when done properly is fab. That said I agree that it’s not always done properly, and it’s not always teeny micros from the sticks that aren’t doing it properly. I’ve had some well respected breweries beers that have been totally over carbonated, full of mobile sediment and what would be considered unacceptable by some of the shops we used to sell to.
      Personally I think it’s more constructive to contact the brewery if you’re not happy with their wares, than name and shame, give them a chance to put it right. Being a brewer isn’t just about making beer, you’re also the customer service and complaints departments too. They could turn this experience around for you if they dealt with it properly.

      Reply
    • pintsandpubs

      I agree with the recommendations above and would add that Grain IPA and Redwood are great beers and Humpty Dumpty Wherryman’s Way IPA (now rebranded as Double W IPA) is simply superb. I’d also recommend Tipples Brewery and Green Jack who make some great beers including the immense Baltic Trader.

      I still have several bottles of Northcote beer, including the aforementioned Jiggle Juice, which was on cask at the Cambridge Beer Festival last year, one of the best beers to come out of Norfolk in my opinion.

      I’ve had disappointing bottle conditioned beers from many breweries, including some of the most revered, but I prefer not to name them or contact them, instead I’d just be unlikely to rush out and try them again.

      Cheers

      Reply
      • All great suggestions, the only reason I didn’t include Green Jack is because strictly speaking they’re Suffolk. Their Lurcher Stout is really very good, as is their Orange Wheat.

  4. I was in Norfolk last summer for a week. Quite enjoyed the Wherry but thought Nelson’s Revenge (4.5%) was an even tastier pint. Also had a couple of tasty Fat Cat beers at their pub – I thought Cougar (4.7%) was especially tasty.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Love all the little children « The Lighter Side of Beer

  6. from a beer tickers point of view Norfolk doesnt come high on the list for good breweries..the only new one recently that produced excellent beer was you own Northcote brewery.i and guys i know from Norfok were amazed to find you had closed .MY son gave me 3 bottled beers from Cornwll last summer and they all finished up in the drain.its holiday beer you are meant to buy it not drink it. cheers.

    Reply
  7. well its been estimated or counted Im not sure which yet, that there will be 217 norfolk ales available during the Norwich city of ale event, that should keep most beer tickers happy Id have thought 🙂 but I think the point your really making is outside of Norfolk, or even Norwich, most people would struggle to name more than a handful of those breweries or beers

    So it when it comes to Norfolk coast type holiday shop selling “local” beer, its often a leap into the unknown for maybe a local microbrewer only working on small volumes whose customer base is tiny in comparison to say equally sized breweries from other parts of the country who manage somehow to get their beer across the country, so maybe there isnt the same feedback loop if what they are doing is wrong. Even in neighbouring parts of East Anglia we dont see the volume or selection of Norfolk beers that there are, beyond Woodfordes on cask in some select venues, but bottles of wherry are still very difficult to come by, its only really Wolf & maybe Humpty Dumpty as well, who both make some good beers in bottles, who have made that kind of retail breakthru outside of Norfolk.

    But for instance I live nearer the Grain brewery than any pub or shop selling its beer, if I want to buy bottles of Grain its quicker for me to visit the brewery than try and find anywhere local that might sell it, even BeersofEurope dont sell Grain or a number of other notable Norfolk breweries, and they are the biggest bottle shop based in Norfolk, arguably the UK.

    Reply

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