Beer and breweries, whisky and distilleries, wine and vineyards
Beer and brewing have been synonymous with Norfolk and Suffolk for many years. Indeed it is said that Norwich once had a public house for every day of the year and a church for every week. This was certainly true in the 19th century as, in 1845, there were 505 pubs in the city of Norwich alone. Supplying beer to these pubs has been a stable and economically important industry in Norwich with a history stretching over two hundred years.
That Norfolk has such a long beer brewing tradition is not surprising when you bear in mind that the climate (Norfolk is one of the driest counties in England, with warm summers and an average annual rainfall of less than 25 inches (630 millimetres) is very conducive to the growing of malting barley, which has been produced in Norfolk for over 400 years. Much of the barley used in the micro breweries comes from Branthill Farm, Wells-Next-The-Sea and is malted at Crisp Maltings in Great Ryburgh, just outside Fakenham. But the barley quality is only part of the story - the groundwater in Norfolk is also ideal for brewing beer and whisky making.
Whilst many of the larger breweries have long since ceased their operations, a number of of micro- and small-scale breweries have come to join the likes of Adnams, which still brews in the lovely seaside town of Southwold, and Greene King, based in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.
One of the most recent, and more unusual, developments, however, is the establishment in Norfolk of The English Whisky Co., the first and only registered whisky distilling company in England. Situated near Larling, St.George's Distillery is just a few miles from White Lodge Farm Cottages. Although it will not be until the end of 2009 that Norfolk-distilled whisky will be available for sale the distillery is already open to visitors on most days.
Less than 10 minutes' drive from White Lodge Farm Cottages is the Cherry Tree Public House at Wicklewood, selling home made, freshly cooked food and Buffy's beer, brewed at the 15th Century Mardle Hall, gaining its name since brewing began in 1993 from a former resident in the 1950s who was known to all locals as Buffy. Visitors are, we're told, welcome at the brewery at Tivetshall St. Mary by prior arrangement throughout the year except December. There is a small charge for a tour of the brewery, on which disabled visitors and children are welcome.
Also offering brewery tours, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, is the brewery at Woodforde's Norfolk Ales, named after the reknowned Parson Woodforde. Woodforde's have been brewing beer since 1981 and at the Broadland Brewery in the delightful village of Woodbastwick, just on the Broads to the north of Norwich, there's also a shop and visitor centre. As well as beerboxes, bottled beers - hand bottled in the brewery, and exclusive to the shop - there's home brew kits, brewery clothing and memorabilia. The visitors' centre also has a display of the malting and brewing processes and items of brewing interest.
Woodforde's ales can be enjoyed at a number of outlets, including the The Fur and Feather Inn, which is next to the brewery in Woodbastwick.
Also within easy reach of White Lodge Farm Cottages, the Wolf Brewery at Rookery Farm, Besthorpe, near Attleborough, offers tours by prior arrangement for groups from 5 to 25 people. There's also a shop open on weekdays.
A little farther afield, at Heacham, is the Fox Brewery. Situated in outbuildings of the Fox and Hounds Public House, the brewery produced its first beer in 2002 using barley from Branthill Farm, Wells-Next-The-Sea. Brewery tours, which are followed by a meal in the pub, are available for parties of 10 or more by prior arrangement.
Closer to home, on the edge of the Thetford Forest, in the Brecklands, the Iceni Brewery at Ickburgh also uses barley from Branthill Farm in some of its wide range of brews, but has its own hop garden on the premises. Visitors to the brewery can, by prior arrangement, view the brewing process and see how the beers are produced as cask ales and bottle-conditioned drinks.
The Real Ale Shop is a unique off-licence offering a special collection of over 50 Norfolk-brewed ales, all bottle-conditioned, from 14 local Norfolk brewers who use the farm's malting barley as their prime ingredient.
The Little Beer Shop is a family owned business, run alongside 'Uncle Stuart's' micro brewery . It offers a large selection of real ales from many of the Norfolk breweries, along with some from Essex.
Whilst on the subject of beer shops, Tipples Brewery, which is situated in Acle, also has a shop on the picturesque Elm Hill, in Norwich, after which its Elm Hill Gold bitter is named. Whisky drinkers might also want to visit The Whisky Shop whilst exploring Norwich.
Other, smaller, local breweries with beers available in Norfolk include:
with sellers of Elmtree's products including The Angel Inn at nearby Larling, with Adnams Bitter always on pump and with at least four guest ales from both Norfolk and around the British Isles.
Also worth a mention for its food and beer is The Cock Inn at Barford which is the home of the Blue Moon Brewery.
With so many local beers to sample and celebrate, its not surprising that the Norwich Beer Festival, organised by the Norwich & Norfolk Branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and generally held at the end of October in St Andrews Hall, Norwich, runs for a week.
We should not close this page without also mentioning a couple of the local vineyards.
Chilford Hall, just off the A11 to the south of Newmarket, is home to one of the largest vineyard in East Anglia and is one of the region's most respected wine producers, earning numerous awards.
Also, look out for the very distinctively flavoured fruit and country wines produced by Broadland Wineries from Cawston.
Guests say ...
“Woodforde Brewery - Fur & Feather Pub, Salhouse Road - definitely worth a visit. Excellent food and ales.”