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Saturday, 27 April 2013

Norwich AGM ~ the pubs

The Fat Cat
I knew very little about Norwich before the CAMRA AGM: the insurance company formerly known as Norwich Union, Colman's Mustard and that's it. It is a very picturesque city with a mediaeval castle and cathedral, winding streets, and lots of excellent pubs, causing it to be described as (if you're from CAMRA Liverpool Branch, look away now) the City of Ale. I visited 14 pubs during my stay, along with the temporary members bar for the AGM, which is less than 10% of the total of real ale pubs in the city. I'll describe just a few.

The Fat Cat, 49 West End Street, was by far my favourite, and I went there twice: once with Ken and Carol and once with Graham and Peter. It is compact and cosy pub with many interesting pieces of brewery memorabilia on the walls, and a choice of up to 30 real ales, many on handpump and many others on gravity. I tried beers from the Fat Cat Brewery: the bitter (3.8%) was a very pleasant golden beer, and at £2.40 a pint, very reasonable for Norwich. Fat Cat Honey (4.3%) and IPA (6.4%) were also very good. The pub also has plenty of guest beers, and I discovered I'm no longer particularly keen on Kelham Island beer (I had Pale Rider, 5.2%), which was clearly outshone by the house beers. Crouch Vale Yakima Gold (4.2%) won praise from all of us (Graham, Peter and me). We drew attention to ourselves by a hearty rendition of Bandiera Rossa; I noticed the line "every propeller is turning in defence of the USSR" turned a few heads, but we decided to call it a day before we got thrown out.

The Ribs of Beef
The Ribs of Beef, 24 Wensum Street, is a pleasant, comfortable old riverside pub. We sat for a while on its small terrace which overlooks the River Wensum. I particularly enjoyed the Woodforde's Bure (sic) Gold (4.3%) and the Oakham Ales Scarlet Macaw (4.4%).

The Murderers, 2-8 Timber Hill, is properly known as the Gardeners Arms, but got its nickname after a landlord was convicted of murdering his wife in the 19th century. A genuine old world pub with nooks and crannies and several real ales; I had something that the pumpclip described as Heritage Imperial Ale (5.2%). I was only after closing time that I noticed they had a small beer festival on the go. The friendly bar staff agreed it wasn't well signposted.

Ketts Tavern, 29 Ketts Hill, has a large beamed pub, a garden and a combined pool room and conservatory. It was the first pub I went into after parking my car for the weekend, and is one of two outlets for the Norwich Bear Brewery; I had their NPA (Norwich Pale Ale) 4.1%, which I found to be pleasant.

The Kings Head
The Kings Head, 42 Magdalen Street, proudly boasts outside that it "a keg free house", so I asked whether that meant it was a house free of keg, or a free house with keg; they hadn't realised the ambiguity. I suggested a hyphen in "keg free", but they probably won't bother. There's no ambiguity when you get in as the pub has no keg beers at all, not even Guinness. It has 14 handpumps; I enjoyed a couple of pints of Woodforde's Nelson's Revenge (4.5%). The rear room has a bar billiards table, which is rare enough nowadays, but it had four pins instead of the three I've seen previously; it must be a local variant of the game.

The Reindeer, 10 Dereham Road, is a large one-roomed, food-based pub serving a selection of real ales. We had the Oakham Citra (4.2%), and all agreed it was a fine beer on excellent form.

The Earlham Arms, 41 Earlham Road, a large pub-restaurant, obviously recently refurbished, with several real ales on. The first pint we had was flat as a pancake, so Peter took them back and obtained replacements. The young woman in charge invited him to see the cellars, and she won Peters' approval by her standards cellarmanship and of cleanliness, although her looks probably helped too. She was very keen to show us (apparently) knowledgeable drinkers that she did keep the beer well, and different pints began to appear for our approval. All were fine, so the first one must have been flat from the brewery, as can happen. Kiwi Norfolk 3.8% was the beer initially flat, but was fine from a different cask; she was anxious to show us it can be all right, especially as it's brewed by the boss's wife. I also had a Humpty Dumpty Reedham Gold (3.6%), and tasters of several others.

Coach and Horses
The Coach and Horses, 82 Thorpe Road, is home to the Chalk Hill Brewery. I went there with Ken and Carol for a meal and a couple of beers. The food was fine, although Ken's was late as they'd missed it off the order. Ken and I had pints of Chalk Hill Brewery Tap (3.6%) which neither of us liked particularly; it seemed to have an unpleasant burnt flavour. The beers have won awards, so perhaps it's only a matter of personal preference.

The Fat Cat and Canary, 101 Thorpe Road, is another outlet for Fat Cat ales. A nice pub, it has a similar decor to the Fat Cat, with five handpumps and up to a dozen beers and real ciders on gravity in the tap room. I enjoyed my pints of Fat Cat Wild Cat (5%) and Dark Star APA (4.7%). This pub was very welcome after the disappointment of the previous pub, and was our last pub before we departed from Norwich the next morning.

There were several other pubs I went to, but these are the ones that have stuck in my mind. It's not a "best of" list, as there was a random element to our choice of pubs, but I hope it gives some idea of the range of great pubs in Norwich. Definitely worth a visit.

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