Paul Bailey mentioned in his blog recently about cask beer cellarmanship. His thoughts are worth reading. Despite what some would have you believe, it isn't that difficult, though like most things, it requires a bit of basic understanding of what goes, or should go on, a lot of attention to detail and a temperature controlled cellar - turned to the correct temperature obviously. Thus I had my worries when we arrived in Norwich. This is in the domain of Southern beer keeping practices, where the beer has a bias to warmness and flatness. Would it be so in this lovely city? Well the picture was mixed, with highs and lows as you'd expect. though in fairness, I didn't try that every recommended pub. Probably around a dozen or so.
In the main I won't be naming and shaming either, not because I've turned over a new leaf, but because I didn't take a single note of where we were, so it would not be fair to rely on a memory which could at times have been afflicted by alcohol. Suffice to say there were some stinkers and some highlights. I'll name the highlights later, because they have stuck in my mind. And in fairness many pubs didn't get a visit as I and my friends applied the principle of having found the silk purse, no point of risking a sow's ear elsewhere. So what did I find?
- Over-vented beer on the point of oxidisation -some.
- Flat beer - that is beer with almost no condition - not so much
- Warm beer - that is beer above around 14C - lots
- Headless beer - beer that either had no head or lost it pronto - lots
- Undrinkable beer - one horror - infected
- Acceptable beer - mostly
- Great beer - three pubs
- Surprisingly good beer - one venue
There is probably little surprise to learn that the best beer and best pub by a country mile was the Fat Cat, which has won numerous awards and boy can you see how. Apart from being a great boozer - clean, warm and welcoming, with lots of distinct drinking areas, it made great use of limited space, but still felt roomy, despite being bursting at the seams. Great old stuff from defunct breweries on the walls added atmosphere and a fantastic local clientèle occupied their usual spots. It kept its beers superbly, had a great "feel "about it and tremendous staff. Hardly a difficult formula when you think about it Get these basics right and you have a business.
Others of note that I do remember for great beer quality were the Reindeer (owned by Elgoods) and the Ribs of Beef. I may be biased here though. The Ribs sold Oakham Scarlet Macaw as our last Norwich beer, which was strikingly good. The Reindeer provided us with excellent pints of something golden, hoppy, bitter and delicious, which I think was either from Oakham again, or somewhere else in my circle of trust - possibly Crouch Vale. Or was that the Fat Cat? See what I mean? In one pub, our beer was so flat, we complained and the smashing manager not only replaced it with a fresh cask, but showed me, unbidded, her immaculate cellar and how she looked after the beer. (The cellar was also on CCTV for all to see). She was spot on. The beer wasn't and therein lies a tale. Her hands are pretty well tied in getting better stuff in. A lovely lass though, a great manager and a good pub with a warm welcome and customer first ethos. Impressive.
What about the surprise venue I hear you ask? Well, it was the CAMRA AGM Beer Festival.. All the beers, were properly cooled using CAMRA kit and were tip top until the end. The festival was drunk dry. Quality does count.
CAMRA - Walking the Walk. Pure dead brilliant.
Norwich has some smashing pubs. The city is a friendly delight too. It is recommended strongly. Next. The proceedings.