My first column was published on the last Friday in November four years ago, so I reckon that this is around my fourth anniversary, and that I am up to around 120,000 words, so I hope that at least some of them have entertained, amused or informed you.
Looking back, what’s changed? The popularity of real ale continues to grow, with around 1,300 breweries in Britain, which is around one for every 50,000 of the population, and the highest number since the 40s. In the last three months, 52 new producers were added to the list at Beermad, the definitive online database for real ale producers. However, here in West Norfolk, you would be pushed to notice. Of the 44 current producers in Norfolk, only Two Rivers down at Denver has joined Fox of Heacham in the West Norfolk area. I had hoped by now that King’s Lynn might boast a brewery once again, but so far the nearest we have come as far as I am aware is the project in development at the rear of the Crown and Mitre.
Whilst there is no shortage of choice of beer, the number of places to drink it continues to diminish. Villages continue to lose their pubs, with the Rampant Horse at Gayton seemingly lost to housing despite an initially successful appeal against the conversion, a fate which was also shared by the Albert Victor in Castle Acre. Other than Terrington St Clement, I am struggling to think of a village in this part of Norfolk with more than one pub.
There are some success stories, with the Kings Arms at Shouldham now being owned by the community and pubs such as the Victory in Clenchwarton and the Rathskellar in Lynn demonstrating that in the right hands, there is a great future for pubs and bars.
So what would I like to see happen in the next four years? If we can’t have a brewery, perhaps the time is right for a micro pub. In Manchester’s Arndale there is one run from a market stall. In Ely, the Liberty Belle is an old shop on the High Street, while in Westfield shopping centre, one of the units opposite Stratford International Station is the award winning Tap East. As traditional pubs decline, new forms spring up and its time Lynn had its share. We are also an area that has been neglected by local breweries. We suffered from the Watneys Red Revolution, and even the remaining tied houses have largely gone, with Greene King disposing of the Porterhouse, Crossways and Wenns, and Elgoods closing the Queens Arms. I was contacted recently by a local councillor asking how we could encourage a brewery to open a new pub in his area. I don’t have any magic answer, but wouldn’t it be great if I could celebrate a future anniversary of the column by going for a pint in the local Batemans, Woodfordes or even Castle Rock pub?