Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Why Can't They All Keep the Beer Properly?

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
I did miss out quite a few Good Beer Guide (GBG) pubs.  Only one GBG pub sold what I'd call "Not up to GBG standard."  Most pubs weren't in the current issue, but were chosen for convenience.  Two of the pubs with the best beer weren't in the GBG either.

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.


Cooking Lager said...

I thought this was a serious meeting of committed practitioners of the one true faith deciding how best to protect us against the perils of red barrel. You make it sound like a jolly old boys piss up of consuming more than 3-4 units a day? WTF?

Tandleman said...

Well I was there for every second of the AGM. In the hall contributing. As for the jolly old boys piss up? That's exactly what it was. For some of the time for me. For most of the time for some.

Nate Dawg said...

I thought some of my favourite beers at the AGM really weren't in the best condition to be honest.

Tandleman said...

You'd have to name them for me to comment. Most of the ones I had were rather good.

Anonymous said...

Poor beer could be down to the brewer not the landlord ?

Nate Dawg said...

Thought of that afterwards, ha.

Grain IPA wasn't as good as usual. It was severely lacking the juicy hoppiness (It's definitely not the batch that's at fault as I've had it elsewhere recently).

Also Tipples Moonrocket wasn't how I remember it.

Tandleman said...

The Grain beers were bobbins in the Plough (see blog post). Didn't try the other one.

No. I was happy overall.

Darren Turpin said...

Is the Fat Cat in Norwich part of the Fat Cat Group that's just gone into administration? Or os that another outfit?

Sounds like it'd be a real shame if it disappears before I get down to Norwich later in the year.

Paul Bailey said...

"Headless beer - beer that either had no head or lost it pronto - lots". I remember us having this conversation in the bar on Friday evening, TM.

I also came across some infected beer, and whilst I won't name and shame either, this was definitely a brewery fault. The beer I am referring to is brewed in premises behind the pub and kept in tanks. All the brewery's beers on offer had a distinct, and definitely off, "woodiness" about them. I wasn't sure whether it was just me at first, but colleagues who also visited the pub confirmed the same thing.

A shame really, as it was a nice pub, with nice people behind the bar.

ps. A local CAMRA member told me the pub was dropped from the GBG some years ago.

Stono said...

Darren, nono fear not, the Fat Cats of Norwich (there are 3), have nothing to do with that other group you posted to, so youll be fine :)

and the Ipswich Fat Cat, run by the brother of the landlord of the Fat Cat in Norwich, so is very similarly styled, was the Ipswich branch pub of the year again this year.

also you didnt mention the Plough in your post, though I avoided the Grain beers at the AGM as I knew Id be visiting the Plough later anyway, and I didnt try the Tipples either so cant help on those, but everything else I had I was happy with, would have liked to stay longer.

Rob Nicholson said...

I thought the beer in the member's bar were excellent. I'm useless when it comes remembering beers but I think I had something called Black Rat which was very good.

The pub scene was also top notch with bars like That 5 showing that real ale *can* appeal to the under 30s.

The only downside was the return along Prince of Wales Road at 1am which made me feel most uneasy and a little sad. There was a coach for the young revellers to collapse in :-(

Darren Turpin said...

Cheers Stono - I'll put them top of the 'Norwich Pubs - Must Try' list, then.

RedNev said...

"The Reindeer provided us with excellent pints of something golden, hoppy, bitter and delicious ..."

It was Oakham Citra 4.2%.

Ian S said...

Darren / Stono, there's also the Colchester Fat Cat, run by other family members.

Rob, the Black Rat was from Old Chimneys - it was the second beer to run out, after the Panther Brewery 'Black Panther'. Sorry you had to suffer PoW Road - we all hate it as well, but at least it keeps it all in one place.