This last week I’ve spent in a caravan in the tiny village of West Runton in Norfolk.
It’s the place that my wife’s family has been going on holiday to ever since they were children and the place that her mother wanted to visit one last time this year.
Sadly that was something that she was unable to manage.
Knowing how much she’d wanted to go my Father-In-Law decided that we should go and have the holiday that his wife had wanted and celebrate her life by doing so.
It was a week mixed with some lovely and some terrible weather, and some very good times and one or two moments of deep sadness and reflection.
It was a week for realising just how special my children are to me and just how short life really is.
A week for retracing old footsteps, bumping into (mainly happy) family ghosts and, hopefully, taking another few steps nearer to moving on with life for my wife and her dad.
It was also a week for beer and pubs.
It started in The Village Inn, West Runton’s only pub which is handily situated at the end of the lane from the the caravan park and so only a five minute walk away.
The pub is Olde Worlde and comfortable, boasts a good food menu and generally delivers decent beer.
They have a pretty much fixed beer list that includes Adnams Bitter and Broadside along with Grain Brewery’s Oak Pale Ale and Wolf Brewery’s Golden Jackal.
I began with an Oak from Grain which is a decent 3.7% and is full of honey and dry biscuits.
It’s got a good dry hop bite at the end too and is an all round easy drinker.
I’d taken a bunch of beers with me just in case I was unable to find anything interesting locally, a couple from Durham Brewery, Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo and a Dupont Saison amongst them, but by Monday I was getting concerned that all I’d have in the evenings were bottles from the local supermarket.
During the daytime I knew I’d probably get a pint or two in some of the local pubs but I was all too aware that with the kids to look after I’d not be venturing far after 6pm.
And so with this in mind I sent out a call to the CAMRGB Twitterati and within an hour or so I’d got a list of possible places to find local bottles.
Cromer’s Farm & Health Shop was the best of the bunch with a wide range of locally produced beers – Including Ole Slewfoot, Humpty Dumpty, Woodforde’s, Wolf and Elmtree – and I filled up a bottle bag or two and readied myself for the nights of fun ahead.
We visited Sheringham several times during our stay.
It’s probably the closest town to where we were staying, it’s compact enough to walk around comfortably, and it provides plenty of decent shops to mooch around along with a lovely seafront on which to be beaten to a pulp by the high winds off the North Sea.
Our first pub was The Crown.
Once a decent pub, it has sadly turned into a typical high street boozer aimed at tourists with an extortionately priced menu and some unimaginative beers.
I tried a Woodforde’s Wherry (3.8%) and was totally nonplussed by it making a note that it was unfortunately remarkably like Greene King‘s infernal IPA.
A couple of days later we were in the same place and I tried their Fuller’s London Pride (a rather incongruous beer for the Norfolk coast) and it was badly kept and flaccid.
My first evening of bottled beers began with Humpty Dumpty Brewery’s Double W (7.4%).
The kind of double IPA that I’m a sucker for, juicy and rich, with a big fat malty body that underscored the Centennial and Simcoe hops as they hit me with resinous green leafy goodness.
A tongue slicing grapefruit bitterness at the end was only spoiled by a slight flatness to the beer.
On finishing it I wished I’d left it until the end of the week as I couldn’t imagine many of the other beers I’d bought coming anywhere close.
On the whole I was right.
That said, Norfolk Square Brewery’s Wincklepicker (5%) was a really decent Porter.
A deep dark brown with smells of bran flakes and chocolate, the malts were all raisins and malted milk biscuits, along with a good helping of burned sugar.
There’s a gently spiced black pepper infused English woodland hop thing going on too, and a finish that’s nice and dry and rather more-ish.
During the week I spent a couple of late afternoons in The Village Inn cradling more pints of Grain Brewery’s Oak, though I did try an Adnam’s Broadside which I usually enjoy but found it was all alcoholic burn and a bit unpleasant.
I put it down to either being badly looked after or the end of the cask.
To give them their due, Adnams were immediately interested in putting it right.
I also tried Wolf Brewery’s Golden Jackal (3.7%) which was a decent golden ale.
A crunchy toffee coated biscuit malt gives way to a light and crisp garden flower pretty hopping full of summer lemonade and peppercorns.
Wednesday saw us visiting Wells which is a lovely town to wander about in.
We started with big tubs of fresh seafood on the quayside, mine involving whole baby octopus which is a delicacy I got into when I was living in Italy.
As we started to look around the heavens opened and torrential rain ensued and so with the roads looking ever more treacherous, we curtailed our visit and drove back to the caravan meaning I couldn’t try any of the pubs of the town.
Instead I took the children down to the beach and we jumped into the rather cold ocean, splashing about and having a whale of a time.
That evening began with a Torpedo followed by a bottle of Wolf Brewery’s Prairie Gold (5%).
Pouring a nice golden amber with only the merest hint of a head, the aroma is a very pleasant honeyed caramel.
This is a very easy drinking beer with a round sweet malt speckled with pepper and a soft sensuous caramel.
Brewed with American hops this ought to be super dry and crisp but I fear they simply haven’t used enough.
There’s a decent citrus pith but none of the kick that you might expect, and the result is a finish that’s not dry enough and a little too sugary.
The second bottle of the evening was a real treat.
Woodforde’s Head Cracker (7%) could probably be named better but that’s the only fault I could find.
It’s a nice marmalade orange with the smell of boozy red fruits and some dry grain.
While many cooler breweries are creating “White Stouts”, Woodforde’s have quietly got on and made one of their own.
The malts are deep toffee with a big shortcake biscuit soaked in white rum that warms and excites.
And there are hops here too!
They’re herbal, resinous, full of white flower petals, bitter and dry.
This is a terrific strong ale.
I just wish they’d called it something else.
The next pub to visit was The Two Lifeboats in Sheringham.
Standing right on the waterfront you’re treated to a super view of the sea with the enormous and to my mind at least, rather ghostly and beautiful wind farm on the horizon.
We had a very good lunch and to go with it I first had a quick glass of Nethergate’s Growler (3.9%) which was a beautifully spicy take on a traditional bitter, followed by a pint of what was to become one of the beer highlights of the week.
Adnams’ Ghost Ship (4.5%) is a superb light ale made with American hops for a lovely dry citrus finish full of grapefruits and limes.
From the bottle this is a good beer, but from cask and kept as well as it was in this pub it’s simply brilliant.
Later on and after a wonderful bottle of Victory HopDevil, my beer for the evening wasn’t great.
Elmtree Beers Golden Pale Ale (5%) was definitely a golden pale ale.
It poured very flat and had a smell that was an odd mix of caramel and English mustard.
The flavour was decent though unremarkable, with soft and light caramels, a feint whiff of honey and then some subtle spiciness in the hops that gave a pleasant if underwhelming tang to the finish.
I followed the Elmtree with a bottle of Ole Slewfoot’s Devil’s Dream (5%) which was the cheapest beer I could find in their range and I couldn’t fathom out why some of them were as expensive as they were.
Around a fiver for a bottle of beer with an ABV of around 5% seems a little steep to me, even if they are covered in fancy paper wrapping.
Anyway, the beer.
Devil’s Dream is a pretty good bitter.
It pours a warm amber and has a nice marmalade aroma with a hint of yeast, while the flavours are good enough to hold your interest right down the glass.
The malting is all drippy toffee on a shortcake biscuit that melts in your mouth leaving behind a runny honey afterthought.
And then the hops go to work with peppery apple orchard pithiness,m a wash of light citrus and an elderflower snap that leaves a good dry finish.
On the final day of our stay we returned to Sheringham once more, this time via an hour long walk along the coastal path instead of the ten minute drive we’d ben making, and after the kids spent the last of their pocket money we headed for the pub.
I managed to steer the family away from the Robin Hood as it looked rather too much like a Greene King pub to me with its line of IPA, Abbot’s Ale and Old Sepckled Hen on the counter, and instead we visited the Windham Arms in Wyndham Street.
This was my favourite pub of the whole stay, with it’s low ceiling and cosy atmosphere.
No jukeboxes or TVs to get in the way of a pint and a chat.
I started with a Grain Brewery Porter (5%) which was absolutely super.
A big chocolate bar of a beer, but packed with plums and damsons and a good alcohol warmth that gave way to a crisp dry, slightly herbal finish.
While drinking I had a natter to the Landlady who was very interested in CAMRGB and took details of the web address to investigate further that evening.
The Windham Arms is North Norfolk’s CAMRA pub of the year, and with good reason, its atmosphere is friendly and its beers are kept superbly, but that didn’t stop the people running the place being interested in beer other than cask.
My next drink was a Winter’s Storm Force (5.3%).
It poured a liquid marmalade and smelled strongly of bruised apple juice and digestive biscuits.
The flavour was big and bolshy, with toffee fuelled malts that kept on coming at you, pricked with all spice and peppercorns.
The apple pulp of the aroma got into the drink too lending the beer a good thick meaty feeling while the hops were zingy and crisp with citrus and mown lawns.
Aside from the hefty ABV for an afternoon pint I could happily have sat and drunk this all day.
Or at least until I fell off my chair.
Later in the afternoon I popped back into the Village Inn for one last pint of Grain’s Oak and then back at the caravan and while packing I opened a bottle of Woodforde’s Sundew (4.1%).
I know I did, I have the photo to prove it.
Unfortunately I can’t find my notes on it, but I distinctly remember it being completely underwhelming, limp and lifeless.
A pale ale that tasted pale.
So maybe I needn’t worry about writing a proper review of it.
As I’ve more or less summed it up from memory.
And so the week in Norfolk came to an end.
We ad some decent weather and some bloody awful weather.
We laughed a lot and cried a little bit.
The children loved it and we got home safe and sound.
Go and visit the north Norfolk coast if you’ve not already.
The people are nice, the scenery beautiful, the water bloody freezing and the beer, on the whole very nice indeed.
Thanks very much to @Palate4Hire, @thornbridgematt and @GaryDickenson for their assistance in finding decent local beer retailers.