Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, May 19, 2017

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How do you become a ‘City of Ale’? Maybe there are lots of pubs. Perhaps it’s the range of different beers available, or maybe it reflects the number of breweries in the city.

However it is defined, Norwich has decided that they qualify and style themselves as Britain’s City of Ale, with only the merest protest from places such as Sheffield and Derby. To celebrate, May 24 sees the start of a 10-day festival celebrating all things beery.

Over that period, Norwich will host around 200 special events, ranging from pie and a pint suppers to live music, comedy, Meet the Brewer events, quizzes and exhibitions.

The event will involve 43 local pubs, 36 local brewers and at least 236 different ales on sale around the city. One of the things to look out for is a new beer created especially for the festival, the result of a collaboration between Poppyland brewery from Cromer and the Norfolk Brewhouse from Hindringham, well-known for their Moongazer range.

The special beer is made from a rare type of malt known as Chevallier, developed by Dr John Chevallier in 1824 and which was last grown commercially in the 1930’s. However, the John Innes Centre in Norwich has teamed up with Crisps Maltings at Great Ryburgh to resurrect the strain. The hops being used are also making a comeback.

The variety called Ernest was first selected in 1921 and trialled at Wye Valley College in Kent in 1957. At that time, it was rejected as being too ‘American’, that is too aromatic and full of flavour for British drinkers.

Tastes have changed and with American hops in short supply and very expensive, Ernest is now being grown commercially for Charles Faram Hop Merchants of Worcestershire, who supply Britain’s largest range of hops.

Two versions of the beer will be produced. The cask version, available during the City of Ale event, will be brewed at the Norfolk Brewhouse and will be golden in colour, with an abv of 5%, whilst Poppyland will produce a bottled version, stronger at 6%. This will include some coloured malts to create an American Red ale and will also use a resurrected Norwegian yeast called kveik, and be called ‘Back from the Dead’.

It is clear that a lot of people have invested a great deal of time and effort into the event, so will it be a success? This is the 7th year of the City of Ale, so it is clearly working.

My experience is if people are presented with a reason to visit this area, they stay for a while, and will therefore support the hotels and restaurants as well as the pubs. The National CAMRA weekend a couple of years ago which was held in Norwich was the best attended ever, and most people I spoke to were staying in the area for much longer than a couple of days.

It is a lesson that seems to have been learned by Lynn, which seems to be positioning itself as the festival town, with the Hanse event, 40’s days, classic cars, heritage open days and the others supplementing the traditional music festival to bring visitors to the area over the whole summer.

I don’t think we can compete with Norwich on the beer front, but it would be good if a guide to the best and most historic pubs could be produced for the use of visitors. Perhaps even a real ale trail, where participating pubs could stamp a ‘passport’ with a small token (free T-shirt?) for those who complete it.