Thursday, 21 July 2016

Walking in Norfolk - Never Turn Back and Jolly Farmers

I was in Norfolk last week for a few days, staying in a cottage in the Scratby area with the wife's family. I enjoy it there - the beaches are quiet, the walks are flat, and the weather was on my side. The only bad thing about the area is that there isn't much beer variety in the many pubs - I was usually stuck with a choice between Adnams or Woodforde's. Even at the Wetherspoons in Great Yarmouth, the aptly named Troll Cart, I ended up having a pint of Woodforde's Nog, a straight forward old ale from the reliable if dull Norfolk brewer.

One pub highlight of the trip was the Never Turn Back, nestled between two holiday home parks in Caister-On-Sea. My father-in-law and I enjoyed a pleasant hour long walk along the beach to enjoy a refreshing pint here. The fun begins outside the pub, which is built in the typical 1930's style of pubs owned by the Lacons Brewery who were (and now thanks to a recent resurrection, are) based in Great Yarmouth. The striking building looks more like the control centre for some ominous 50's British technology than a pub, although it is has a certain charm about it and there's a lovely large beer garden out the front.

The landlord was busy on the lawnmower when we arrived at 12pm, and told us he'd open up at 12:30pm, so we had a look around the caravan parks, playing on the two penny pushers inside the on site arcade, where I failed to win any additional beer tokens. We duly popped back at 12:30pm and the pub was ready for business. It's in the Good Beer Guide and the pint of Adnams (sigh) Bitter was in excellent form, and very much needed after the long walk along the beach in the hot sun. Still feeling a bit thirsty I had probably my sixth pint of Adnams Ghost Ship of the trip, which again was in very good nick. When it's well kept Ghost Ship is an refreshing, hoppy pint that I have a bit of a fondness for.

A selection of food and bar snacks was available and we settled for a hot dog and cheesy chips - it ain't fine dining but it fills a gap. The interior of the pub is very cosy, with plenty of comfortable bench seating, nick nacks scattered about the place, and a small exhibit on how the pub got its somewhat unique name. On reporting on a botched lifeboat rescue in 1906, where nine men from the Caister lifeboat team lost their lives, the phrase "Caister men never turn back" was coined. Model lifeboats scattered around the pub set the theme, and the lifeboat station is only a five minute walk away from the pub. This excellent seaside boozer is well worth seeking out if you're in the area.

Another pub to get an honorable mention is the Jolly Farmers, an Enterprise tied house in picturesque Ormesby St Margaret. With a traditional wood paneled interior, selection of well kept ales (including the inevitable Adnams Ghost Ship and Woodforde's Wherry) and decent food, this would be an excellent stop for refreshment if enjoying a walk through the area. There's even a pool table.

There may not be all that much to do in this area of England, but sometimes fresh air, a long walk and welcoming pubs is just what is required from a short break. Looking forward to returning to Norfolk next year.

Friday, 3 June 2016

My top five craft beers

Craft beer - everybody wants some. Well everybody inside the M25, and in some pockets of the area outside the London Orbital called "The North" (south of London is just a wasteland of cider and cocktails.) Living in London I'm lucky enough to be in the epicentre of beardie brewed overly hopped beer enjoyed by folks with more money than sense. In no particular order here are my favourite craft beers of the ones I've tried.

Gumphreys Belfry - Hopless. I must admit I was skeptical when I first tried this. As Rupert Gumphrey, head brewer and part time uni-cyclist explains from his East London brewery "Hopless is a natural rebellion against the mega hopped beers so beloved by the craft scene. We were fed up with beers that tasted like tropical fruit juice, so we've created a well balanced beer made with absolutely no hops whatever. Just malt, water and yeast. Technically we're not allowed to call it beer but our marketing managers dad is chairman of the Advertising Standards Agency so we're getting away with it."

I must admit it took a while to get used to the flavour, it was like drinking a very bitter bread. But after a few sips and being coerced by the beer bloggers I was sharing this with at some craft ale festival I couldn't help but agree that it was pretty good, even while I was pouring it down the sink in the bogs.

Greenfingers - Asparagus IPA. If the fetching green colour doesn't make this beer stand out, the smell of your wee the morning after drinking it certainly will. As brewer Robert Smith explains "my son Giles kept visiting me on my allotment going on and on about the latest craft beer he'd tried. They all sounded like the brewers had found whatever they could get their hands on and shoved it into their beer. Well I had a bumper crop of asparagus this year and rather than flogging it off down the boot sale I thought I'd have a go of making it into a beer. To be honest it was a bit of a disaster but early thirties men with well trimmed beers kept showing up at my shed offering me £10 a bottle so I couldn't say no. I'm looking forward to see what they make of my Runner Bean Pale Ale."

Craft Beer Toadies - This Will be Rated Number One on Ratebeer. A 12% ABV Imperial Stout brewed in the USA.

Brouwerij Verhaeghe/Bros - When Will I Be Flemish? - Eyebrows were raised when Bros announced that they were following the example of other forgotten bands Iron Maiden and Status Quo by releasing their own beer. Nobody expected it be a Flemish Red, and a good one at that. Beloved by those who insist that Belgium beer was "the original craft beer" while being ignored by absolutely everybody.

Marstons - Crafty Growler Hoppy Artisan IPA. Out of all the attempts of "big brewing" to enter the craft scene this is probably the best. As head brewer Martin Moneybags explains "we just shoved every trendy craft buzzword into the name of this beer in the desperate hope that some confused hipster will order it by accident when they see it in one of our tied houses in the arse end of nowhere"

That's it! Join me next week for my "Top Five Boring Brown Bitters." Actually I may as well just tell you now - it's everything Harvey's brew.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Micropubs - The Door Hinge and The Broken Drum

The Micropub - a small licensed premises selling real ale and not much else, with no music or fruit machines to be seen or heard. They are basically a CAMRA members wet dream come to life. The micropub movement has been moving along quite happily now over the past few years. I've managed to visit a few of them. I have always enjoyed my time at them, even if the small rooms means they usually feel very busy, filled with men of a certain age (old.)

I recently had the pleasure of visiting two micropubs in Welling, a suburb in South East London where the most noticeable feature is that there is a Tesco's and a Morrisons directly across the road from each other, like two cowboys having a show down to see who's going to leave town first. A few minutes walk away from the superstores is The Door Hinge, the first micropub of my visit. It fit the micropub template to a tee - a very small room with cosy bench furnishings and plenty of random tat plastered all over the walls, with a well chosen selection of ales on offer. The clientele was older and it turned out a fair few of them were CAMRA members. Unsurprising as micropubs may as well have signs plastered on the front saying "CAMRA members come drink in here - it's all your pub dreams come to life!"

I realise I'm sounding a bit snarky about CAMRA but I do quite like them, and I'm even a member. They still seem to be struggling a bit with this whole craft beer thing though. Some want to dismiss it, some want to embrace, personally I don't mind if bearded hipsters are making the beer as long as it is tasty. The Door Hinge certainly serves a decent pint and the friendly landlord handed me a half of Iceberg from the Titanic brewery, a hoppy treat that I always enjoy. Perching on the end of a bench I had a chat with other punters about the (rather good) Wetherspoons up the road and what local real ale festivals were coming up. Soon it was time to move on to the next micro.

The Broken Drum hasn't been around as long as the Door Hinge, and it's in a rather awkward location off a main road and near to a very popular local pub (The George Staples.) With it also being a Tuesday afternoon it was very quiet when I walked in, with a young couple and child being the only other customer. The beer selection was tempting though and I settled on another bench with a tasty pint of Goachers Best Dark Ale which went down very well.

Despite the lack of customers it was nice having a drink in here, and I had a second drink, the excellent Blue Top from the Old Diary brewery, whose beers are well made and very enjoyable. I had a pleasant chat with the landlord about the do's and dont's of opening a micropub, as it's something I'd be interested in doing once I have the funds. He was more than happy to have a chat. I think that's what I like best about micros, it's nice just sitting down among strangers and having a chat. Beer is a social lubricant after all. It may not be for everyone, but I enjoy it.