I have a confession to make. I am the proud owner of a man-bag. A man-bag in fine green hemp. But when I toddled off to Norwich Beer Festival with my friend John just over a week ago in a repeat of last year's trip, I forsook the said bag for my trusty haversack. Most people's stereotypical beer festival attendees are old blokes with beards and woolly jumpers. But at St Andrews Hall, home of the quirky Norwich festival the man-bag was very much in evidence sported by trendy young, earnest looking men, supping their ale and probably talking bollocks.
This was the 30th Norwich beer festival, and St Andrews Hall is such a great venue. Pubs have oft' been described as "churches with handles on the prayer books." Norwich Beer Festival goes one better - it is actually held in a redundant church. It adds credence to the saying that "beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy". The festival had made the news earlier in the week because of an unusual visitor. A sparrowhawk had gained free access, without CAMRA membership, and it wasn’t keen on leaving. Sadly when we arrived this magnificent bird was not in evidence. Never mind - we were not here for birdwatching. We were here to drink beer.
The festival is split into three areas. The main hall, the local hall and the foreign bottled beer marquee. The local hall can best be described as having a cosy atmosphere. So much so that I gave up venturing in there after sampling one Norfolk ale. Heaving multitudes are not my scene. The bottled beer marquee was spacious and not overpopulated but we don’t go to festivals to drink bottled beer. Thankfully the main hall was just about navigable, so a selection of beers from the rest of the UK was our oyster. Here is what I was mostly drinking:
- St. Peters Mild, 3.7% - not a bad beer, but not exactly a mild due to it’s bitter aftertaste.
- Theakston Mild, 3.5% - a good example of a mild. Smooth, light, velvety, with hop and carob taste.
- Fullers Chiswick, 3.5% - it had to be done, my favourite of last year’s festival, and as good as ever. The best session ale around in my estimation.
- Waveney Brewing Thritig, 4.1% an okay bitter with a noticeably bitter aftertaste. The only Norfolk beer I sampled.
- Olde Swan Entire, 4.4% - tasty dark golden bitter ale. A good mix of maltiness and bitterness.
- Fullers Vintage, 8.5% - I wasn’t aware that this barley wine was available on cask. It was fruity, malty and well rounded. Even nicer than the bottle conditioned version.
We were lucky enough to find a table in the cloisters to sit and taste our ale. How often have you, dear readers, drunk beer in cloisters ? I doubt corn has been exchanged in those hallowed aisles. Norwich festival also produces a really good programme. Well put together and most informative. A good read.
Now the moans. I love music and I love beer, but why oh why do so many beer festivals insist on providing entertainment? The din is usually high decibel, so why add to it with local musicians giving it what for? Our treat for Saturday lunchtime was the Sheringham Shantymen. Okay in their own way, but not really necessary whilst doing a spot of serious imbibing. Last but not least, I must mention the new gent's toilets. I hope that they are still work in progress, unless they have adopted a continental approach. Over the Channel, some of our European cousins have quite a relaxed view of matters lavatorial, not worrying too much about segregation of the sexes. Norwich's take on this was not having installed a door, thus exposing the urinals and goodness knows what else to any inquisitive passer-by. Hopefully I will be there next year when it might well be my local beer festival. And who knows there might even be some privacy in the gents next time.