Norwich Amateur Brewers Festival 2018

Festival Guide - does exactly what it says on the tin
I had heard about the Norwich Amateur Brewers Festival several weeks before it was due to take place. As a bit of a homebrewer myself, I was definitely interested in it. The ticket price of £12 for 12 thirds sounded very reasonable, especially as proceeds from the festival were going to the East Anglian Air Ambulance. Only the practicalities of getting to Norwich were putting me off. I finally made the decision to go just a couple of days before the event, with my wife, Fi, deciding to join me just the day before. At first I had assumed that this was part of the City of Ale festival that ran for 10 days. Apparently though the timing was purely coincidental, and was simply down to the availability of the courtyard bar.

The Coachmakers Arms - no Bass I'm afraid
The festival was taking place at The Coachmakers Arms, a pub that I had never been to before. A quick look at Untappd showed that they serve a decent range of local beers, as well as the usual macro offerings; although I hoped that the festival beers would be good enough to keep me happy.

Arriving at the pub we saw a reassuring poster for the festival on the door. I was soon glad of that, as I couldn't see any sign of where to go once we stepped into the bar. To be fair though, it didn't take too much exploring to find the courtyard and the festival bar. We were directed to the end of the bar where Ashley, the festival organiser, introduced himself, handed us guides and glasses, and explained the token system.

Agreed with Matt Curtis - Joy Division are a NEIPA
After consulting the festival guide I went to get our first beers from the bar. Just a couple of days before I had been debating with Matt Curtis (shameless name drop I know!) on Twitter whether Joy Division are a NEIPA. Seeing that shirt I had to ask James, the bar volunteer, his opinion - sad to say he agreed with Matt Curtis.

Our first beers were 'Mild in the Country', a well balanced light mild, and 'Sunnyside Best Bitter', quite a light bitter with a slight citrus aroma and flavour from the Amarillo hops. Both of them were very drinkable and, like most of the beers we had at the festival, would stand up well against many a commercial beer. As first drinks of the afternoon, and being just thirds, they didn't last long. Next up were 'Comet Smash', a pale ale which combined quite a sweet aroma with a rather bitter flavour, and 'Tivoli', another best bitter with a rather delicious coffee and honey flavour. At this point we decided to partake of the buffet that had been very kindly laid on by the pub, and was included in our festival ticket price. Then there was just time to squeeze in a 'Californian Magnum Blonde' which I wasn't so keen on although I couldn't put my finger on why, and Wymondham White Shield, another very decent bitter.

Norwich Ukeleles
While we drank those first three beers, and nibbled on the buffet, we were entertained by the Norwich Ukeleles. They played a few songs that I knew, and enjoyed well enough at the time. I have to say that they didn't make a great impression, but actually I am quite happy with that. They were unobtrusive, but added something pleasant to the atmosphere, and that is just perfect for a beer festival in my mind.

At this point it was time for the tutored tasting in the function room upsatirs, led by Alan Edwards, Chair of the Norfolk CAMRA Taste Panel. The first part of Alan's session would have been very familiar to anyone who has done a brewery tour, as he talked about the four basic ingredients of beer, and showed us three different types of malt and a couple of different hops. Then he got onto the four criteria that are considered in beer tasting: appearance, aroma, taste and aftertaste. After this introduction, we got onto actually tasting some beer, and discussing it.

First was 'Duke of Jarl'. I presumed that this was based on Jarl by Fyne Ales; a beer that I have heard and read about an awful lot, but never actually drunk (shameful admission I know!). It had a rather unusual, but strangely attractive, blush colour, and flavours of grapefruit and peach. The only slight downside was that I felt it was slightly flat. Talking to the brewer later, I heard that it was possibly past it's best, having been brewed a good six weeks earlier. Then we moved onto 'Norwich Surprise'. This was a delicious, red-brown, best bitter, with flavours of malt loaf and plums, and a slight alcohol warmth. This was one of my favourite beers of the day, although a fellow panel member was concerned that it was rather strong at 5.1%. 

Festival goers enjoy their beer in the courtyard
All the beer we had drunk so far had been brewed from malted grain, but then we had a kit beer. It wasn't announced as such, part of the tasting session fun was to identify the kit. I have to say that it stuck out like a sore thumb to me, although an earlier group had been convinced that the 'Duke of Jarl' was kit beer. The 'Mangrove Jack Pink Grapefruit' was supposed to be based on 'Elvis Juice'. To me it was more reminiscent of TCP and burnt rubber, and it was the only beer at the festival that I didn't finish.

The final beer of the tasting session was 'Station Porter', which was another firm favourite for me. It had a succession of flavours and aromas, including coffee, chocolate, and an unlit cigar straight out of the humidor. Another strong beer at 5.6%, but I wold have been happy to sip slowly at a few glasses of this, and in fact did exactly that towards the end of the evening.

The tasting session was very enjoyable. Alan was clearly very knowledgeable, but it was also really good to share ideas with all of the participants, and to talk about beer in depth in a way that I don't often get the chance to. I certainly wouldn't want to do that every time I have a drink, despite what my wife might think, but it's nice to do sometimes.

Going back downstairs to the courtyard, we were immediately approached by Martin, who had brewed the kit beer and seemed impressed that I had picked it out so quickly. He said himself that it was a flawed beer, and we had a bit of a discussion of the merits of malt extract kits these days. He also talked to me about another of his beers on the festival list - 'Flat Out White', a milk stout with Fairtrade Columbian coffee. Martin was quite self deprecating, saying that he felt this was also not quite as he had intended it. For me, it was a fine milk stout with a good balance between the sweetness and body of the lactose, and the bitterness of the coffee.

Ashley and Martin poring over the festival recipe folder

While Martin and I talked homebrewing technicalities, Fi discovered her beer of the festival. 'Totally Tropical' was very much in the mould of 'Elvis Juice', which is one of Fi's all time favourite beers. In fact, she said that it might even be better than BrewDog's real deal! It was certainly very good, and it would have been interesting to do a blind taste test of the two. Unfortunately, this was the only beer which wasn't included in the festival recipe folder; I will have to see if I can get hold of its brewer through the Norwich Amateur Brewer's Club.

Martin then introduced me to Ray Ashworth, who founded the very successful Woodforde's brewery in 1981. Having retired some time ago Ray is now a keen amateur brewer and had one of his beers on the festival list. Obviously starting to feel the effects of what I had already drunk, I gave Ray a detailed critique of his 'Oatcake Stout', which I felt was a little too bitter, and maybe suffered from too much roasted barley. Fi did her best to save me from myself, but I was oblivious to her hints, elbow nudges, and kicks on the shin. Ray was very gracious, presumably accepting my point of view at face value, or else deciding that I was the kind of drunken idiot that it is best to ignore!

Ray Ashworth chats to a festival goer as he serves at the bar
After being given some unused tokens by a very generous fellow festival goer, I think I managed to sample all 16 beers on the list. My tasting notes by this stage had become increasingly scant and incomprehensible, but I know that I enjoyed both the wheat beers and the NEIPA, before returning to the 'Norwich Surprise' and the 'Station Porter' to finish the evening.

As the evening drew towards a close we fell into conversation with Kevin Tweedy, of the Golden Triangle Brewery. Fi was most interested in his use of coconut oil as a skin conditioner, but I think we also talked about how he came to set up his brewery in Norwich after a background as an amateur brewer himself. Much of the conversation is lost in the haze of an afternoon and evening of drinking fine beer, but I am sure that he seemed a great chap and I would very much like to chat to him again in a more sober state.

I also spoke to Cheryl, of Thirst Consultants, and another member of the CAMRA Taste Panel whose name I didn't catch. From them I learnt that there were a couple of beers that had stood out form the rest in the judging of the panel, although they gave me no more than a hint as to which they were. The top three beers of the festival, as judged by the CAMRA Taste Panel and the festival goers, will be brewed by some of Norfolk's commercial breweries for the Norwich Beer Festival in October. There will then be a public vote to decide Norwich's Champion Amateur Beer of 2018. I look forward to finding out which beers will be available at the the Norwich Beer Festival.

All together I had a really great time at the Norwich Amateur Brewers Festival. No doubt that was partly because I am a homebrewer myself, and enjoyed talking about brewing to people who are also passionate about their hobby. However, I am sure that anyone who appreciates good beer would also have enjoyed this festival just as much as many others where all the beers would have been professionally produced. I hope that the festival happens again in future; I would certainly be interested in a return visit.

This blog has been edited, following a clarification received from CAMRA, to show that three beers will be commercially produced for the Norwich Beer Festival, not one as I had originally believed.


  1. Thanks for the review. I really enjoyed talking to you and Fi. The Club meet Tuesday to decide on future events so watch this space. Cheers Ashley.

    1. I will definitely keep an eye on what you are up to. You're quite a way from home for me but I might come along to a meeting sometime. I would definitely come to another Amateur Brewers Festival if you run it again. And I owe you a pint for the honour of making the first comment on my blog!

    2. The good news Sean is we will be holding it again next year on June 8th. We are already planning an Open Meeting for anyone interested in learning how to brew in the next few months. Anyone interested can get in touch and I will let them know the date when agreed.

    3. P.S.

      I forgot to let you know the results of "The Peoples Champion", The festival goers voted Steve Bennet's Station Porter as the champion Beer, with Jake Thorogood's Totally Tropical second and James Tonkin's Indian Summer Whit third.


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