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Norwich City of Ale: Event Picks

It’s just a couple of days now until the launch of the second City of Ale event in Norwich.

There are a lot of events and beers listed in the programme, so I thought I’d choose what I think will be some of the highlights of the festival. Let me know what you’re looking forward to, and what you enjoyed when you went along. There are lots of music events, pub quizzes and the like, but I thought I would choose to highlight parts of the programme which are a bit more unusual.

31st May – Official Launch Party at St Gregory’s, this is a ticketed event, where you get nibbles, beer and music, should be good fun with a lot of the local brewers and landlords going along. I attended this last year as a brewery, I think this is the first time it’s open to the public as well.

Throughout the Festival – The Forum is hosting a film show on it’s impressive Fusion screen, which depicts Norwich brewing past and present. There are also talks and historical walks taking place over the 10 day festival if you want to learn more.

1st June – The Political Debate at St Gregory’s. Free to attend Three MPs are confirmed for the Political Debate on Friday 1st June – Toby Perkins, Labour MP for Chesterfield and Shadow Pubs Minister; Chloe Smith, Conservative MP for Norwich North and Economic Secretary To The Treasury; and Simon Wright, Liberal Democrat MP for Norwich South. The fourth member of the panel is Tim Hampson (@BeerHero on twitter) beer writer. BBC East’s David Whiteley will be chairing the debate, which will focus on pubs and brewing.

2nd June – The Brewers Market – Outside the Forum – a chance to buy bottles from your favourite breweries, sample some of the beers and local produce.

6th June – Ladies Beer Tasting – at the Ketts Tavern – Ok, so I may have a hand in this one with landlady Dawn, but it will be a fun evening with lots of different beers to try along with a few nibbles, it’s aimed at those who don’t drink beer as well as those who’d like to learn a bit more; the best news? That it’s a free event, but make sure you book in advance.

7th June – Tapas Night at The Cottage – Sally the landlady has lived in Spain, and creates delicious authentic tapas. Booking will be essential for this one, as it’s really popular.

8th June – Dirty Burger BBQ – The Plough – Probably just what you’ll need after a week of beer drinking in the city.

These are just a tiny selection of what will be on, there are so many events on each day that you will be really spoilt for choice as to what to go along to. I really recommend that you make the effort and get along to Norwich, the one thing that makes these kind of events great is the people who attend.

Let me know what your hight lights of the festival were and what you’d like to see more/less of next time!

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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… ?

Roasted Veal

UK rose veal is becoming rather fashionable, and rightly so. It’s lean, tasty and very easy to cook with. It’s pale, so think more like you’re cooking pork than beef and you won’t go far wrong. I’ve seen lots about braising veal, or using mince for ragu, but not as a roast. My local butcher is the cities only organic butchers, and having something of a conscience about such things, I generally only buy meat there or from the farmers market. This week they had a great selection of local veal in, and I really though it was about time I gave it a go.

I much prefer having a roast on a Sunday, than a stew, I don’t know why, it just feels a bit more special, so I was determined to give it a go with veal too. I got a small-ish joint, probably would feed 3 people although 4 at a push.

It was a kind of veal topside, not my favourite cut for roast beef, but I thought that I could still make a go of it with the veal if it was treated right.

I marinaded the meat with a mixture of bashed up garlic, rosemary, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and white pepper. I used white rather than black pepper corns as I thought they would go with the more delicate taste of the meat better.

I rubbed it all over the meat, and left it for half an hour or so. I then went onto sear the meat all over in a hot pan, with some onions, the smell at this point was pretty good, so I was happy that the choice of rub would work well. Once browned all over, I put the joint into a roasting dish in the oven at about 170 (fan assisted). I put half the onions in with the joint, and de-glazed the pan with some red wine (a Beaujolais, thinking that I wanted a light wine, but not white), poured that over the meat and covered with tin foil.

The rest of the bottle of wine went in the pan with the remaining onions, and reduced down to make a gravy/sauce kind of thing.

I roasted the meat for about half an hour, then left it to rest. Served with a selection of roasted root veg and some spring greens. For pudding we had some home made melting in the middle chocolate lava pudding things from Rachel Allen‘s Bake book, which I was a bit worried about, but were very tasty. Yesterday was a good cooking day.

I used wine here, although I do love cooking with beer. I think a nice light saison or wheat might work, although I’ve never cooked with those. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this and what you think might work well.

The meat was cooked really to perfection – for me anyway, golden on the outside and pink in the middle. Veal can be very lean, so I guess you either cook it quick as above, or slowly in a slow cooker or similar. I really recommend trying it, it’s light and tasty, perfect for spring.

Don’t be fooled

I’m writing this just after hearing the budget and talk of alcohol duty.

It’s being widely reported that there is no change to alcohol duty.

What they actually mean is there is no change to duty policies in place. The beer duty escalator (BDE) in means that until 2015, beer duty will rise at 2% above inflation every year.

So, to all those reading that there are ‘no changes’ who aren’t aware of the beer duty escalator, you’re likely to be handed a 5.4% rise in the price of a pint from tomorrow, not exactly great reporting. Imagine having to explain to your customers that yes, there was ‘no change’, but actually that’s just ‘no change in policy’ so now there is a 5.4% rise, and no, you’re not making more money from them.

Once again, putting the squeeze on the public, publicans and brewers.

I wrote to my own MP about the BDE, and she basically told me that the revenue made from excise duty is needed, but the government make it easier to let bands play in a pub or communities can step in and take over struggling pubs. Missing the point as ever there Chloe.

What she’s failing to realise is why these pubs are failing in the first place. I’m sure we all have our own opinions on why this is, and I wont bore you with my views.

As I’ve said many a time, we’re not going to be the last brewery to stop production this year, and this latest duty hike might just make a few more decide to close the doors.

There is something you can do about it though…. sign the E-petition. It doesn’t guarantee change, but just sitting there complaining wont change anything either.

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/29664

Summer is Coming

Well not quite, but it’s the one of the first really sunny days and it’s warm and just perfect for lazing about in a pub beer garden all afternoon. I got to thinking as to which are my favourite summer beers.

I want something light, at least in taste, crisp and refreshing, and preferably something that I can have a couple of pints of. Nothing too strong then, there’s something about drinking in the sun that seems to make you merry at a much more alarming rate than in the evening. Not sure why, or if it’s just my perception, but it seems that way.

Anyway to the beers:

Green Jack Summer Dream 4%  From their website: ‘The Summer Dream is a pale summer ale, floral, dry and hoppy brewed with hand picked elderflowers from the hedgerows of Norfolk and Suffolk. Our most popular seasonal brew can be ready in May if we have a warm spring or June if its cold and is available till the end of September. Huge aroma of Summertime!’

It’s a lovely brew, nicely aromatic and delicate taste. The only thing is that obviously, it’s not available all year round, sadly, so I wont be enjoying a pint this afternoon.

 

Oakham Ales JHB 3.8% From their website ‘A golden beer whose aroma is dominated by hops that give characteristic citrus notes. Hops and fruit on the palate are balanced by malt and a bitter base. Dry, hoppy finish with soft fruit flavours.’

Nice and crisp, refreshing too. It’s a permanent line, so no waiting until June to get my sticky mitts on this one.

 

Fyne Ales Jarl 3.8% ‘A full-on citrus experience. Light and golden, a perfect ale for whiling away the hours at any time.’

Lovely aroma, well balanced, refreshing grapefruit tang.

 

Hop Back Summer Lightning 5.0% ‘A trendsetter in the brewing industry; the original Summer ale brewed all year round. An extremely pleasant bitter, straw coloured beer with a terrific fresh, hoppy aroma. This, coupled with an intense bitterness, leads to an excellent long, dry finish. Probably the beer to receive the most awards in Britain!’

Probably on the strong side for a few in the sun, but one of the beers I enjoy at any time really. Taiphoon is also a great beer, and with the lemongrass and coriander hints, perfect for beer garden weather.

 

I’m still searching for the perfect wheat beer to enjoy in the sun, we made a one-off raspberry wheat beer that was dry and delicious, I find some too sweet if they have fruit, or a bit too similar to Hoegaarden to be very original. I like wheat beer to be cloudy, I don’t know why, I find the clear ones to be a bit of a cop out really. What’s the point in calling your beer a wheat one if it’s not the main grain (or at least a good % in it)?

I’d like to know what your favourite summer beers are, whether they’re ones your brew yourself, from a tiny micro near you, or something so mainstream that you can pick it up in any supermarket.

Happy sunshine drinking!

Don’t snuff out the green shoots

As you probably realise, brewing is pretty close to my heart. I love the beers that this country produces. What I don’t love, is the way that this vibrant and growing industry (yes one of the few we have left) is being taxed out of existence by this and previous governments. Contrary to popular belief, brewers do not make a lot of money. Even those who produce high ABV beers that are more expensive aren’t making much, such is the duty and taxation system in place.

There are many e-petitions around at the moment, this one urging you to sign up to stop the Beer Duty Escalator, and here another one urging the government to drop the higher rate of tax on beers brewed at 7.5% ABV or higher. Why so many? Well, simply put, the government needs money. We all know that. Brewing is seen to be doing well. Even though pubs are still struggling, more and more breweries are opening around the UK, over 840 exist already. (according to Quaffale there are 30 or so opening soon), anecdotally I have heard of 6 in Norfolk alone planned for this year. So, easy target? Maybe.

Northcote isn’t the only brewery to have closed this year. I am damn sure we wont be the last. The existing breweries and the pubs they serve will end up being squeezed out of existence with all these hikes in duty and taxation, the duty escalator will not stop. And let’s not forget, duty isn’t the only extra cost faced. The raw ingredient costs are rising, not to mention energy and transport. These can’t be that easily absorbed in an already stretched brewery, small or otherwise. Pubs are having a hard time, they don’t want to pay more for beer, and have to put that costs onto their customers. The consumer doesn’t want to pay more for their pint  – many are pushing £3 as it is for a ~3.8%. And let’s be honest, there are only so many free houses and beer bars that can support local breweries or those that produce stronger or different from the norm beers. The larger and regional breweries are struggling, having to discount so heavily as to make their beer virtually profitless. This simply can not carry on.

I know this is all painting a very grim picture of the future. I’m trying not to come across as a panic merchant. Perhaps being an armchair warrior isn’t going to make a jot of difference. But signing these petitions is a start. Nothing will change either if we scoff at them, and least you will have given the matter more than a few seconds thought. By signing them you’re showing your support for the vibrant and diverse brewing industry that exists in this country. Don’t let it be taxed out of existence. Let these new and existing breweries have a chance, let’s have an industry to be proud of and that is truly supported by those in power. Let those tiny green shoot grow. Please.

Stop the Beer Duty Escalator.

Drop the 7.5% Duty Rate (although this one was designed to prevent the duty hike coming in, if there’s enough support it could help revert it).

The untrendy pint

Last night, I went to one of my local pubs, they do a great tapas night on the first Thursday of the month. The food was great, as it always is, Sally has lived in Spain, and creates some lovely authentic dishes at very reasonably. But that’s not really the point of this post. I was struck by a couple of beers that were available. First was Adnams Oyster Stout, it was in great condition, and was tasting fantastic. It has everything I enjoy in a stout, the rich coffee flavours, the creamy thick mouthfeel, just a superb pint. The second was Crouch Vale Brewers Gold which again was perfect, crystal clear and with a fabulous aroma. I tweeted that it had a lovely ‘nose’ and then that it made me sound such a beer snob using that kind of phrase.

It sparked an interesting conversation that Crouch Vale weren’t really trendy enough to make me sound like a beer snob. We don’t really get that many ‘trendy’ breweries beers available in Norfolk, it’s quite a conservative brewing county. That’s not to say the beers aren’t good, they can be great, but they’re just not setting the beer geek world alight. We get a few offerings from Thornbridge and Dark Star, but nothing from the likes of Hardknott, Magic Rock or Kernel at any rate. I do love trying new beers, and the ones I’ve tried elsewhere from these  breweries have been fantastic. However, when at home if I want a consistently great pint, then I know I’ll get that from breweries such as Crouch Vale, certainly in the pubs I drink in.

When it comes to a thirst quenching pint of something golden in the beer garden, a dark and rich beer next to the open fire, or something bitter to go with a pack of pork scratchings, quite often the untrendy pint suits me just fine.