Monday 30 January 2012

How to do Norwich City of Ale in a weekend, 2013 style

The beautiful Adam & Eve
First of all, The Vine, part of the medieval patchwork of streets, Lilliputian in character, we are the smallest pub in town I’m told, within one room just capacious enough to swing a Manx cat within. The Friday night swell of custom heaves against the bar, in search of winter ales, of which there is a festival. A strong mild, from a local brewery, soothing, a calming hand on the fevered brow induced by the crowd. And it’s on to the…

White Lion, run by Ben and Becky, young, beer-centric, alternative. Milton Brewery own the joint and so Pegasus is crème brulee on the nose with a green apple snappiness on the palate. Favourite is Marcus Aurelius, strong and potent, balsamic vinegar and dark soy sauce notes, with treacle, coffee, and a plum richness filling the mouth. A superb foil to pan fried duck with crushed potatoes and red cabbage — I could be in the Czech lands, but I’m really in the White Lion, comfy, cosy, collected and quite a treat.

There’s a swirl of people in the Plough and who says pubs are dying. Grain Brewery own the place and their beers are dispensed into beautifully stemmed half-pint glasses. I’ll have the Blackwood Stout, a big mouthful of vanilla, chocolate and creamy oats. Are you in tomorrow asks a woman to a man at the bar, I should be comes the answer. And I would be if I lived in Norwich, but I don’t.

Rockabilly hillbilly dudes stand on the small stage at the Walnut Tree Shades. I see DAs, quiffs and the singer’s arms sleeved with a multitude of tattoos as his reverb-heavy hiccupping voice belts out a Jim Reeves song. Around me, Ted-types, Friday night pub-goers, scowlers, Fred Wests, all nursing their pints of Wherry stand about and experience the music. Meanwhile a couple — she in a big skirt that spreads out like a well-manicured hedge, he in motorcycle boots and a red plaid jacket, hair combed back, push to the front. Are they going to jive? I never find out as we go to…

The Gardeners Arms, or maybe it’s the Murderers? In the town centre it stands. Phil the landlord has nine beers on, one of which is a porter from a local brewery, whose name I forget to note, but nice and chocolaty it is. Ah I see the Gardeners is the pubby bit, while the Murderers has more of a café bar feel. As Friday night takes hold, the out of tune voices in the bar area generate several levels of sound, while the son et lumière of fruit machines attract the eye and two drinking friends mimic a boxing move beers to hand. There are nooks and crannies, regular beer festivals and as I enjoy my beer I espie a man with a short gait sloping off home — to an empty room or a lonely sleeping wife or a raucous party where he will be greeted with whoops and hollers? Maybe not the latter, but he will be back I guarantee.

For Saturday for sure, there are a dozen pubs to be seen, starting with the fabulous Adam & Eve, sitting in the shadow of the Cathedral, for whose builders the pub was built a long time ago. Southwold Bitter cracks the code that I have been trying to solve since getting the bug of asking the question — why am I on this earth? And I will write about the Adam more, it’s a gorgeous place that I would have put in Great British Pubs if I’d visited.

The Wig & Pen is close by and from its name you would be right about its legal provenance; it was once called something else (the King’s Head below is the only Norwich pub that has kept the same name apparently) but the nearness of the Law Courts offers a clue to its nomenclature. Inside a couple of TVs show the football, the Southwold Bitter once more says good morning to me and a couple of mates enjoy their late breakfast or early lunch with a pint.

Take 5 is a curious amalgam of slightly bo-ho eaterie, coffee house and bar. We enjoy a beer in the vaulted undercroft and wonder what a band would sound like down here. Meanwhile the landlord at the Ribs of Beef has been at the helm for donkeys’ years and runs a well-measured ship that sits alongside the river in a scene oddly reminiscent of Bruges (the Belgian connection continues with the pub’s luscious beef in ale). In the King’s Head, Green Jack brewer Tim is taking his time to enjoy a beer or two out of Lowestoft. His smoked Red Herring is on and I enjoy it. Then it’s across the road to the Plasterers Arms, a backstreet pub, recently reopened, refurbished and renewed in its place in the world Ten beers on, Oakham’s Preacher pleases and I spot that the pub is next to what was once a Victorian era Sunday school. The righteous shall inherit the earth.

More pubs more pubs more pubs, all rammed with folk, Adnams’ Rumsey Wells has Sole Star on — fine and fabulous. The Trafford Arms has couples and friends out for a night, though I enjoyed their vintage beer bottle collection with a Southwold Bitter to hand. Ketts Tavern is the tap for the Norwich Bear brewery, their Norwich Pale Ale is smooth and spicy and peppery — bet this looks good on the chilli-influenced dance-floor. The Pawter is chocolate and more smoothness. I like this gaff. And over at the Fat Cat it is jumping and jiving as hearties and their girls play noisy games, while young guys tweet about the beer they’ve just tried for the first time. In the Duke of Wellington men are eating a brought in curry and the Whalebone is crusted with folk, all sorts of pub goers, a heartening sight, with a landlord who has been there for a long time (seemingly a fact of life in Norwich as many of the licensees I met over this weekend all had long roots in their pubs). 

And so what was this odyssey all for — think of the Norwich City of Ale festival that runs from 23 May-2 June 2013. I used to think little of Norwich but after this weekend, I think it’s become part of me


  1. Thanks for a great write up of our fine city. Glad you got to visit so many pubs over the 2 days you were here.
    If you do come back may i suggest 3 more pubs for your visit? Fat Cat Brewery tap show casing all of the Fat Beer Range plus guest, The Cottage run by Mauldons has roughly 10 beers on at any one time. Plus the sister pub to the Ketts and that is the Rose which has Norwich Bear on sale and will hopefully, house the brewery in there soon as well. All 3 pubs have an excellent range of beers and top landlords/ladies too :)

  2. I wish my writeup of Manchester pubs had been even 5% as good as this post! Norwich duly added to the "future trips" memory list

  3. Neil - The Cottage & Fat Cat Brewery Tap were on the itinerary too, but unfortunately Adrian had to leave early on Sunday & missed these delights! And I didn't think the 'missing microbrewery' at The Rose would be too interesting! I'm sure we will tempt him back...

  4. Cheers Neil, I will be back
    Thanks Steve, it really is fabulous
    Dawn, as I say I will be back and look forward to trying Ketts’ fabulous beer tapas again plus the NPA and maybe spend some more time in the bar

  5. Brilliant to see Norwich pubs getting such a good write up. Lucky you can still write after the crush in The Vine on Friday night!
    The Dawns and the rest of City of Ale folk are doing a great job of showing off Norwich as a top beer destination. I'd encourage anyone with a spare weekend to get on the train to Norwich. If you've got longer, try adding a day hopping on and off the Wherry Line out to Lowestoft. At Lowestoft there's Green Jack's The Triangle (as featured in Great British Pubs),at Somerleyton there's The Duke's Head (for Adnams, Green Jack and Woodforde's) at Reedham there's the brilliant Humpty Dumpty Brewery and The Lord Nelson, and at Cantley there's The Reedcutters.

  6. Lovely write up on so many nice pubs ... shame you didnt get to THE KINGS ARMS hall road next time we hope

  7. As Anonymous said, The Kings Arms, also know as the Pub of Dreams to a certain section of Norwich fans is a must.

  8. Thanks Lorraine, Anon and Andy, plenty more for me to see next time