The Barman, by Jeff Hoyle, February 22, 2019
It is the time for the West Norfolk CAMRA branch awards again. As usual we open up the nominations to all our members and allow any of them to take part in the judging process.
I was one of those who went and had a look at the pubs nominated for both the Cider Pub of the Year and the main award, our Branch Pub of the Year.
Obviously, top quality beer and cider is a requirement, but other factors are also considered. The friendliness and welcome, the atmosphere and décor and the engagement with the local community all play a part in the final decision.
I am no expert on the cider but I would quite happily have consumed far more than my allotted glass in all of our competing outlets.
The pubs in question were the Live and Let Live and the Nip and Growler in King’s Lynn, and The Blackstone Engine Bar in Denver, at the Windmill.
None of the places could be faulted for their commitment to the local community and their championing of various causes, but in the end what swung my vote was the landlord at the Blackstone Engine Bar insisting that I have a sample of all the ciders and perry on offer, which may have been due to my indecision and hesitation when ordering.
It seems that my fellow judges concurred with my choice as the Blackstone Engine Bar is a worthy winner for our 2019 award.
The Pub of the Year proved a much more difficult challenge. True, we only had three pubs on the shortlist rather than the more usual four, but they are all of the highest standard.
The Kings Arms at Shouldham was our current champion, achieving a hat trick of victories in 2018, and continues to go from strength to strength.
The Angel at Larling is another multiple past winner and it remains in the safe hands of Andy, whose family have been in charge for, I think, over 100 years.
The unknown quantity was the Rose and Crown at Harpley, the first time it had featured in the final stages – perhaps a testament to the good impression it made when we held a branch meeting there.
I can reveal that at least one judge awarded a first place to all of the pubs on the list and that the scores were as close as they have ever been. If my experience was typical, this is no surprise.
When we visited the Kings Arms I tried three beers and every one was of the highest quality. The service was, as ever, great and given that it is a community-owned pub, there can be no doubt as to their role in the life of the village.
In Larling at the Angel our unannounced visit did not remain secret for long, as we were served by Andy and, as I hesitated over his fine selection of beers, he told me that he had just had a pallet load of casks from the Swannay brewery on Orkney in the cellar, some of which were ready to go. Superb.
How could the Rose and Crown compete? Quite well as it turned out.
We went over for steak night, where our food was complemented by wonderful beer from the local Boudicca brewery and an offering from Woodfordes, Tundra, which was new to me.
Once again, the service was great and it is clear that the pub is at the heart of the village. So our winner this year is the Rose and Crown at Harpley, and well deserved it is, too.