Which pubs are in line for the title of East Anglian Pub of the Year?
The Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle (CAMRA), Friday, August 9, 2019
The West Norfolk CAMRA choice for Pub of the Year fell at the first hurdle, losing out to the Leopard in Norwich in its bid to be crowned Norfolk Pub of the Year.
The next step was for the county champions in six counties to battle it out for the title of East Anglian Pub of the Year, and over the last few weeks we have been on the road to enter our scores in this epic contest.
We started with the Leopard. A modern upgrade on the street corner local, with bright decoration, a fine welcome both from the staff and the pub dog, and great beer.
Full of knowing little touches such as the Watney’s Red Barrel font which now dispenses achingly hip craft beer, this was a pub for the modern gentrified city suburb.
By contrast the Suffolk offering, the Rose and Crown in Bury St Edmunds, was a traditional old-fashioned local with dark wood, and where the games were more likely to be darts than Pictionary.
Given that it is a Greene King pub, a brewery that has not always been in favour with some CAMRA members, the standards need to be high, and this was reflected in the pint of the hard-to-find XX mild that I tried.
Next stop was Preston, near Hitchin, where the Red Lion claims to be the first community-owned pub in the country, having been taken over by the locals around 35 years ago.
Is it fair to mark it down because a guy was watching cricket on his mobile phone propped up on the bar while impeding our view of the pumps and access to our drinks?
It is a small point, but when you are dealing with the best, little things need to come into play.
From there, we drove south to Colchester where the New Inn was holding a ‘dark beer and scotch egg’ festival. Six of the eight beers on sale were stout or porter, while the other two were also dark.
A brave and interesting move, but for those who don’t want a dark beer, it was cider or nothing.
The top two on my scoresheet were yet to come. In Peterborough there is an area to the north of the city called Werrington where the old village core was expanded by new housing.
A small parade of shops stands here, and between the Indian takeaway and the small Tesco is a unit that has been converted into a micropub. With a fabulous selection of cider and half a dozen cask ales, this was a most unexpected find.
Full of all kinds of customers spilling out on to the pavement tables taking advantage of the sun. We soon fell into conversation and had a very enjoyable hour or two.
Last was an old friend, the Engineers Arms at Henlow. On our first visit many years ago, I remember a customer proudly showing how he had taught his dog to lie on its back and kick its leg out in the same way as David Beckham did when he was sent off in a World Cup game against Argentina.
The landlord of the time is still there and on the day of our visit he was celebrating 30 years behind the bar with a free pint for CAMRA members alongside a buffet.
I have made my choice, but they were six great pubs and I would be happy to see any of them take the crown.
In the days of pub closures, it was great to find these excellent examples of what pubs should be.