Alongside the publication of the 2017 Good Beer Guide in mid-September the shortlist for the CAMRA National Pub of the Year award is announced. Currently held by the Sandford Park Ale House in Cheltenham, we are now down to the last 16 regional winners in the quest to take the crown next February. Our choice of West Norfolk CAMRA Pub of the Year, the Kings Arms at Shouldham fell at the first hurdle and the Norfolk representative was the Fat Cat Brewery Tap in Norwich, sister pub of the more famous Fat Cat which has won the national award on two occasions. We went around helping judge the six country winners in the East Anglia area and I was slightly surprised to find that the overall winner for the region is the Stanford Arms in Lowestoft, the Suffolk selection. It is an excellent pub with great beer as you might expect, but my impressions were coloured by the fact that when we entered and I tried to buy a pint, the locals clustered round the bar made it impossible to get served without politely asking a couple of them to move. There were plenty of empty seats around, and I find this arrangement excludes newcomers to the pub, especially non regulars and gives the impression that it is an exclusive and unwelcoming establishment. Other people clearly felt different, so my choices of the Black Lion in Leighton Buzzard or the Half Moon in Hitchin were unfortunately unsuccessful. Still there is always next year and if you think that your local has what it takes to progress in the competition and you are a CAMRA member let me know your nomination for next year’s Branch Pub of the Year by October 11th. We will compile a short list of the four pubs nominated with the best beer scores over the year as entered on Whatpub (https://whatpub.com/), and members will be encouraged to go and judge them.
There is better news for the two other categories that the branch awards each year. Our Cider Pub of the Year is once again the Railway Arms on Downham station and it has progressed to the regional round. It is hard to see a challenger for the Branch Award as things stand – plenty of pubs sell cider, but we don’t have another that specialises to such an extent and appeals to the judges due to its quirky nature and situation. However I am happy to be proved wrong and if you think another pub deserves the cider award, get in touch. Our choice of the Club of the Year has also made it through to the regional round. The Ouse Amateur Sailing Club is, like the Railway, a past winner of the national award in its category and is on the way hopefully to more glory. Being selfish, I hope it makes the next round and we can have another presentation evening similar to the last one, where the beer and Nicky’s buffet were greatly enjoyed by the large numbers who made the effort to attend. I think the competition in this category is far tougher, with Runcton Holme always welcoming and lively when we deliver our newsletters, Flitcham Social Club who stepped into the breach when we needed an emergency meeting venue due to the closure of the Lord Nelson and Narborough Social Club all worthy of consideration. You may have your own idea – clubs are harder to keep tabs on with their membership policies – so if your club is a contender and is willing to let judges in, drop me a line.