East Anglian Young Members visit the National Winter Ales Festival

Written by Tom Blakemore

Saturday 24th February 2017

This time last year there was barely a concept of an East Anglian Young Members group, but thanks to Chris Stone, Young Members Officer for North East Suffolk CAMRA and Regional Young Members Coordinator, a core group from across the region now regularly meet up for meetings and socials. This was the second planned social of 2017.

Every few years the National Winter Ales Festival changes venue and a different region plays host. This year’s festival in Norwich marks the first of a three-year term in East.

If you’ve never been to Norwich before, it’s a must! Norwich is fascinating city bursting with history and quirky features – it’s also filled to the brim with a superb range of traditional and new pubs serving excellent quality real ale, cider and perry.

The festival venue in nothing short of stunning. St Andrews & Blackfriars Hall – which is the same venue that the 40th annual Norwich Beer Festival will be held in 23-28th October 2017 – is a magnificent medieval friary complex located in the heart of the city. The festival made use of every inch by splitting the bars, seating areas and stage between the rooms.

We started our day in the Champion Winter Beers bar. As this is the National Winter Ales Festival the Champion Winter Beer of Britain competition is judged here – this is the bar where you’ll find nominees – those that are left anyway! This year’s overall winner was Old Freddie Walker from Moor Brewery, Bristol. As you’d expect this had run out come the last day of the festival, but it didn’t matter – still plenty of choice including my favourite beer of all time, Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild – a complex, fruity and strong mild and was in excellent form!

After a few stouts, porters, old ales and milds we ventured down to the main room, which has a central bar serving from two sides back-to-back. Here the beers are laid out alphabetically by brewery with additional brewery bars to the side serving real ale from hand pumps. Some excellent beers still available including two particularly memorable ones – Monty’s Dark Secret, a gluten-free Stout, and Lymm Chirotherium, a strong and very leathery old ale. Both in top notch condition and in plentiful supply.

Before leaving we also sampled the food on offer. It was of a very high standard. Between us we tried the pork rolls, sausage rolls and chilli cheese fries – all hitting the just the right spot!

The festival’s charity was On The Ball – a local testicular cancer awareness and support charity. An excellent cause and clearly well supported by the customers and the local CAMRA branch.

With a few hours remaining before people’s trains home we decided to venture out to a couple of the town’s pubs. The Plasterers Arms on Cowgate was the first stop, about 10 minutes walk from the festival. A well-known pub in the city serving up to 15 real ales, ciders and perries on handpump. The pub was pleasantly busy with a great atmosphere and the beer excellent to match! The beer I tried was The People’s Brewery Ruby Mild – an excellent strong mild on a par with the Sarah Hughes I had earlier.

The final stop for me was The Glass House on Wensum Street – a large and inviting JD Wetherspoon pub which is well-reputed for its quality real ales. With the CAMRA vouchers you receive when you sign up you can get a pint for a very reasonable price. One of the two beers I tried was particularly good – a beer called Village Idiot from the White Horse brewery, a hoppy English Bitter was just the ticket after a day of sampling some stronger winter beers.

An all-round excellent social that hopefully marks the beginning of an increase in Young Member activation in our branch, county and region.

Look out for future socials on our website. A write-up of the March social to Ely and Cambridge will be available in the next edition of Pints of View.

Tom Blakemore
South Herts Young Members Officer

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