You'll never go thirsty in Norfolk
Most people enjoy a tipple while they’re on holiday. A nice Beaujolais in France; a glass of ouzo in Greece; a warming grappa in Italy...But what of Norfolk? What can you have to really get a taste of the place?
We may not have a regional speciality, but we are home to some amazing local gins, some award-winning beers and a wine which was voted the best in the world. We also have our own whisky. The English Whisky Company was set up at East Harling, just off the A11, in 2006 – the first distillery in England for more than 120 years.
Norfolk is recognised as growing the best barley – its farmers and maltings send it all over the world – so the decision was not as random as it might first appear. From a first run of 29 barrels (there were queues when the first bottles were put on sale), they have produced 3,000 casks which are released for sale as they mature. Why not book a tour and see how it’s done?
Gin is very much the drink of the moment, and Norfolk is leading the charge for local versions. There are many types – from commercial brands to pubs producing batches specifically for their customers – but three in particular are making waves. Norwich Gin was first produced on a kitchen table as an experiment a couple of years ago, and now people can’t get enough of the cardamom-tinged spirit – and it comes in a gorgeous bottle, if that sways you.
Black Shuck gin started from equally humble beginnings, when the family who founded it decided to make and market sloe gin after a particularly fruitful weekend of picking. They soon expanded from sloe gin and truffles to a pure gin, the first 1,000 bottles of which sold out in just four weeks. You might also come across Bullards gin on your travels, which is made at The Ten Bells pub in Norwich. This one has a hint of vanilla which comes from tonka beans – they’re not native to Norfolk but they do add a lovely, warm taste.
If you fancy having a go at making your own gin, Adnams (strictly speaking they are in Southwold, just over the border in Suffolk, but they have two popular shops in Norwich and it’s a great day out...) offer a session tweaking and concocting your own personal favourite.
When it comes to beers, we are spoiled for choice and we couldn’t even begin to list the amazing microbreweries as we couldn’t decide who to leave out. Operations which started out in pubs, producing a few barrels for customers, turned into micro-breweries and then larger enterprises sending Norfolk brewed beers all over the world.
As mentioned before, it’s the barley which is key to the county’s success. We grow the best right here so historically we have had a lot of breweries. Sadly, many of these have vanished but others have been reborn, such as Lacons in Great Yarmouth. Founded in 1760, at its peak it produced 25 million pints of beer a year for 300 public houses in East Anglia and a further 50 in London. Sold to Whitbread in the 1960s, it closed in 1968, and a big part of the town (not to mention jobs) was lost.
But in 2013 it rose from the ashes. The name was brought back and a new brewing operation was started after careful research into the old ways. The new beers use some of the original recipes – and even the original Lacons yeast, which had been preserved in the National Yeast Bank since 1959. The visitor centre and museum are open at limited times so visit www.lacons.co.uk before popping in. You’ll find Lacons beers in many local pubs. The Lacon family came from nearby Ormesby St Margaret and the falcon symbol can be spotted on pubs and various landmarks around the area, so keep a look out.
Great Yarmouth is also home to the Tombstone brewery with a wide reputation for its range of 13 beers and porter. You can pop along and try them on St George’s Street in the town.
If wine is your choice, you may be surprised to learn that Norfolk is an excellent region for growing grapes. We have quite a few vineyards and their success is down to our soil and low rainfall.
Winbirri vineyard is in Surlingham – about 20 miles from Winterton – and their red, white and sparkling wine has received worldwide acclaim. Its Bacchus 2015 was awarded a Platinum Best in Show medal in last year’s Decanter World Wine Awards – one of only 34 winners in a field of more than 17,200 entries. You can buy some of the Winbirri wines in our local Poppy's store in Winterton. Wine experts say the Bacchus 2016 is even better, so watch this space. They offer tours of the vineyard and tasting events so you could pop along during your holiday and stock up
The Chet and Waveney Valley Vineyard, not far from Norwich, is known for its sparkling wine and also welcomes visitors. Flint Vineyard, near Bungay, boasts East Anglia’s wine of the year for 2017; and Humbleyard Vineyard at Mulbarton has self-guided tours and a very good farm shop.
You can also look out for local wines in independent shops around the area. Take a bottle or two of your favourite discovery home and raise a glass to us as you sip and remember your fabulous time in our lovely county.