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… ?