Bar Man, Friday, May 10, 2019, by Jeff Hoyle
It was a tough choice.
Head down to Newport in South Wales to see the Mighty Shakers throw away their chances for promotion in the weeks before the club looked like it was going broke, or stay closer to home and survey the winners of the Pubs of the Year competing in the Norfolk round.
Given that we had recently been to Rodney Parade to see the Newport Dragons we decided on the latter.
First up was the Cider Pub of the Year, where our own Blackstone Engine Bar at Denver was up against the Mariners Tavern in Great Yarmouth, the Fox at Garboldisham and the White Lion in Norwich.
It seemed like this came down largely to a choice of pubs where cider is king, the Blackstone and the White Lion against good pubs which happen to sell cider, the Fox and Mariners.
The weighting of the score sheet favoured the former and I think that for me the deciding factor was the helpfulness of Andy, the barman at the Blackstone who offered me a sample of all the ciders on sale before I chose which one to try.
This was before he knew that I was surveying the pub and established the place for me as being friendly and proud of their products.
The CAMRA Norfolk Pub of the Year also had a clear divide. On one side were country pubs which serve villages and made much of their income from food.
The Old Kings Head at Brockdish, south Norfolk, specialises in pizza and has a real artistic feel, but also nowhere to sit for a casual drink early Friday evening.
The Lion at Thurne on the Broads was the destination of choice for lots of families wanting lunch, while our own Rose and Crown at Harpley serves great food and puts on its theme nights such as Mexican Thursdays.
Up against them was the Leopard, a pub in the terraced streets of north Norwich, sympathetically refurbished, but still much more of a drinker’s pub.
Here the score sheets were less likely to sway the decision towards a particular type of establishment. True, community involvement is a large component of the total and this might be very different in a close-knit urban area compared with a village which attracts diners from a greater area, and I think that was reflected in my scores with The Leopard very narrowly behind the Rose and Crown.
Other things I learned from our mini trip are that Harleston, where we spent a night, is a lovely Norfolk town which I had barely heard of, and certainly could not have placed on a map.
Also, all the pubs we surveyed had dogs in them.
I know some people don’t like dogs in pubs, but perhaps it shows that pubs that welcome dogs also welcome people.
Everywhere we went had great beer and cider, and slightly worryingly, I liked it so much in one pub that I had another one instead of reverting to beer.
The place that impressed me the most was the Fox at Garboldisham.
This was bought by the community in December 2016 and is run totally by volunteers, with a great welcome, super beer and lots of lovely cakes on sale.
It was only up for the cider award, but would have pushed the Rose and Crown close in the main competition.