Keeping it real … Real Ale
Way back earlier in the year some regulars to the SX Bottleshare all made a trip up to Norwich, I never got around to doing the blog post so thought it would be a good addition to the Beer Blogging Advent. We all met up early doors, the morning after a bit of a drinking session round mine which included half the group traveling. It was safe to say a few of us was slightly groggy and the train time table boards greeting us informing our train had been cancelled didn’t help. We popped into The Plough till the next train which was delayed, half of the group opted for hot drinks whereas Tom and myself went for a half of cask ale (back in the game!). A few cans of 40FT and Magic Rock on the journey up and we are all back with it and ready for a day of boozing ahead of us.
I had been to Norwich twice before, both for football reasons and neither of the visits did I go anywhere further than the Wetherspoons, so I was looking forward to seeing the many pubs and bars of Norwich first hand. We arrived at Norwich with half a plan, there was a few pubs that I had on my list and half way through we had planned to meet Norwich beer blogger Nate (Booze, Beats & Bites), who was going to show us around his home town. First stop was off the plan, Dan one of our group suggested going to Virtuoso first. It was a bit of a walk from the station and away from town but the beer selection made it worth the walk. You can’t miss the pub as you walk up to it, it is bright purple! Walking in it is a little less purple and more like a local community pub, classic bar tables, stalls pool table and a few silent TV screens showing the sports results. The beer menu is on TV screens above the bar, all with the beer name, who it was brewed by, where the brewery is from, ABV and style. The selection was good and the bottled selection was extremely good. The beer was kept well. Not only is it a pub but Virtuoso also provides smoked BBQ food. Also, if my memory is correct I am sure the bar staff was talking about it becoming a brewpub too but I didn’t see any sign of any beer being made on the bar on our visit. I can’t help but think that maybe the location is just stopping Virtuoso from being one of the top names on a Norwich beer crawl, the beer selection is right up there though. *EDIT – This pub sadly is not open no more!
We had to get a cab to the next venue on our list, Fat Cat. One of a couple different pubs they run (and brewery) in Norwich the one we visited was the one in West End Street. Walking in you are instantly hit with “CAMRA” in your mind, not in a bad way but it just screams traditional pub. There is loads of old pub memorabilia hanging everywhere, small round tables with stalls surrounding them, benches and little nooks and crannies provides lots of space for people to sit and enjoy the beer. The beer list is long, beers on gravity, handpumps and even La Chouffe on draught. As we walked in it was rammo, we must have walked into a CAMRA pub crawl as the crowds disappeared with a blink of an eye, one minute you couldn’t move then it was practically empty (maybe it was us!). We wasn’t here long which is a shame as it is somewhere I would like to go back to and give real justice, as there was so many great beers and things to look at.
The next stop was about a 15-minute walk away, the Reindeer. Leaning towards gastro pub/modern pub, The Reindeer is all wooden flooring, a very big L shape bar, lots of standing spaces, tables for meals surrounding the windows and again a great selection of modern cask beers, keg beers and bottles. Magic Rock, Almasty Brewing Co Cloudwater and Five Points Brewing Co. There was an Oyster festival going on at the time so there was lots of fantastic stouts available, a pint of Magic Rock Dart Arts was the choice for me. It was here that we picked up our tour guide Nate, after he had finished a shift behind the bar.
With our tour guide leading the way we then went to the Plough, which is run by local brewery Grain Brewery. It is a lovely pub, walking through the old building doors it feels like a small cottage style pub but with modern wooden interior. The bar is in the middle and is over two levels, the first then the back room which is a few steps higher. The beers are all beers from the brewery and the couple drinks we had were both great, especially the mild. Hidden behind the pub is one hell of a big beer garden, I can imagine in the summer this garden being mobbed out, with a lovely BBQ area and plenty of seats I stood looking with a bit of jealousy that it wasn’t an easy walk from my house!
The Mash Tun was a few doors down and next on the list, owned by Norwich’s Redwell Brewery so obviously having a large selection of their beers. I hadn’t ever had any Redwell beers before but I was impressed, I need to check more out in the future. The bar was nice and bright, lots of large windows allowing the lovely Spring daylight to flood in. The bar had an interesting tap infusion, which of course I went for the Redwell lager with all the fruit infusion! Certain member of the pack was also hitting some up some whiskey at this spot, I thought we were all in for some extra trouble but thankfully he behaved himself (there is a gin palace upstairs but luckily he didn’t notice that!). A large map of the UK was painted on the wall with different breweries tagged to their locations, also in the toilet walls had the brewery logos painted around which was really cool. The Mash Tun had a really nice feel about it, it was empty on our visit but I can imagine this place getting really packed. Our visit was a fairly short one but again The Mash Tun is a place I would love to return to again.
Now the next two pubs may have been in reverse order (memory fading by this point!) but I think we went to the Plasterers first. The Plasterers was a bit of a walk away through some estate shopping centre, a few residential houses but trust me it is well worth the 10 minute walk, it is the definition of hidden gem. As soon as I walked in I knew I loved the pub, warm, cosy, everything I want from a cracking local, before even mention the amazing beer selection they had. Again a running theme of the day seemed to be that all forms of beer was happily sitting together in unity being enjoyed by everyone in the pub. The beer selection was one of the finest selections I have seen anywhere all year, bottles of Brussels Beer Project, Cloudwater cask, German lagers, De Molen are just to name a few. Then there is the pizza, my lord, amazing! With an interesting and fun menu, I opted for the Polish pizza, which was made up of garlic sausage, dill, gherkins and garlic sauce, it was incredible and we were all in need of some munch to soak up the beer we had been drinking. I would have more than happily stayed there all day, with screens for football, a fireplace, lots of happy faces and the great beer list who wouldn’t, in fact it was everything I would want out of a local. The bar staff were great, really friendly and knew their shit about the beers. Hopefully it won’t be long before I am again propped upon a bar stall next to the bar.
Possibly before or after the Plasterers was The Kings Head, a traditional pub split into two rooms, a front bar and the larger back bar. It had a great selection of local cask ale and a very decent Belgian bottle list. We had some deep chats and was putting the world to rights while sampling some Dancing Duck cask beer, time was getting on and we still had a few other spots we wanted to check out so the crawl continued.
We tried to get in St Andrews Brewhosue but you couldn’t move in there, which is a shame as it looked lovely and had an interesting selection of beers as well as their own brews. One for next time. So the last point of call was Norwich’s first craft beer bar, The Norwich Tap House. Shit started to get a bit crazy by this point, a day of drinking and our dinner going down resulted in a bit of raving, lots of laughs and just a bit of 10% beer silliness! The Tap House is very Brewdog bar-esque, a huge old cinema screening type menu was above the bar, featuring beers from Beavertown, White Hag and Redwell. Lots of neon lights lit the dark bar, groups of people were on their nights out and it was good to see 20 taps of quality beer being enjoyed by so many people. It was about 10pm and time to make a move.
It was a certainly a party atmosphere on the way home, I think we may have even popped in the Alehouse when we got back to Chelmsford for a few after! Norwich is such a good beer destination. A place where traditional cask beer, new cask beer, keg beer, bottled beer and foreign beer all sits perfectly side by side, no labelling, no putting in a box, just all to be enjoyed by everyone. There is more than enough to do for an entire weekend and it is place that I would love Chelmsford to eventually grow into. Norwich beer city is on my to-do list next year as I was gutted to not be able to this year. A massive thanks for Norwich’s top dog Nate for making sure us visiting beer geeks from Essex was well watered and made it home safe, beers soon mate…
Disclaimer – All beers, food and drunkenness was paid for by us. Some others may have bought me drinks, but I don’t think this changed my opinion on them… They are still twats!