Festival could make Norwich a real ale Mecca

Norwich can become a world-renowned Mecca for real ale – that is the message from a group which has unveiled plans for a major new beer festival in Norwich next summer.

It is hoped the festival, which if it takes off is set to run in late May until early June, would attract people from across the country and beyond to sample the best beer Norfolk and Norwich has to offer.

Organisers say the festival will complement rather than compete with Norwich's traditional beer festival held every October and together show that Norwich is a city of ale envied by beer drinkers from not only the rest of the country, but the rest of the world too.

Dawn Leeder, chairman of the Norwich City of Ale steering group, said: 'There's been an idea floated to make Norwich the UK City of Ale and have a city-wide celebration of real ale with a test event in 2011 becoming more established over the coming years, involving around 30 of the real ale pubs in the city and as many Norfolk breweries as possible.

'We want to promote it to a national audience, really selling Norwich as a mecca of real ale. What we want to promote is this unparalleled celebration between local brewers and local pubs to really showcase Norwich and Norfolk as a centre for real ale as part of one city-wide celebration.'

The group, which is made up of publicans, brewery representatives, members of the Norfolk branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and community leaders, is looking to target European funding to try to make the festival a reality by the end of May next year.

Providing they secure the funding, they hope to make the festival an annual event which would become as important as any other anywhere else in the world.

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It is still in the early planning stages, but it is understood the festival will be supported by as many as 30 pubs, all selling beer which has been produced by many local brewers.

Early ideas include a charabanc to transport festival-goers from pub to pub and a map as part of the event programme, which would show every pub and brewery taking part together with a history of each and of the pub industry in Norwich as a whole.

As well as the beer, it is hoped the festival will have a strong emphasis on how the ale is produced and made, with some of the brewers possibly providing tours or educational visits.

Phil Cutter, landlord of the Murderers pub on Timberhill, Norwich, and a member of the steering group, said: 'Norwich has a great heritage of beer brewing and pubs, and it would be nice to celebrate that fact.

'We've got a beautiful pub history, a beautiful city and live in a big culture of people brewing, and its about trying to pull all these threads together.'

The group is looking at creating a logo and website to promote the festival and, if it does take off, would like to explore promoting it to travellers at airports, including Norwich and Amsterdam, and on the train.

Warren Wordsworth, branch secretary of the Norfolk branch of CAMRA, said: 'We would be quite pleased to help promote this as it could be a platform to promote our own beer festival and fits in excellently with our LocAle scheme idea.'

The CAMRA LocAle scheme, which was launched in Nottingham in 2007, is an initiative which promotes pubs stocking locally-brewed real ale to support the tradition of brewing.

Mike Baldwin, a member of the Norfolk branch of CAMRA and editor of the Norfolk Nips newsletter, said: 'It fits in well with LocAle and the feeling that we've had for some considerable time that Norwich is the real ale capital of the UK.'

Julian Foster, chairman of the Central Norwich Citizens Forum and of the City Centre Safer Neighbourhood Action Panel (SNAP), said he would happily support the idea of a festival.

He said: 'I'm keen to do it because the pub ought to be the heart of the community. We've got lots and lots of bars and clubs, but the genuine pub should be the heart of the community and that's why the community should be involved, and why I want to be involved. It's something which helps community life in the city.'

Mr Cutter has called on any landlords, brewers or publicans who want to get involved in the festival to get in contact with him directly.

Rupert Farquharson, director of sales and marketing at Woodforde's Norfolk Ales, based in Woodbastwick, said: 'I think it's great to be celebrating real ales in some fantastic pubs in Norwich.'

He said it would also be a great opportunity to highlight the quality of Norfolk barley and get people interested in the whole brewing process.'

John Smith, from Attleborough-based Wolf Brewery, said: 'I just think Norwich is quite unique with the amount of small breweries we've got and I think this is going to build on what we've already got with the heritage.'

The idea for the festival fits in with the Evening News's Love Your Local campaign. The campaign was launched to highlight the role pubs play in the community and warned punters to either use them or lose them.

To find out more about the campaign log onto www.eveningnews24.co.uk and click on campaigns and then Love Your Local.

Have you got a story for the campaign? Call reporter Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email peter.walsh@archant,co.uk

If you are a landlord or brewer interested in finding out more about plans for the festival call Mr Cutter on 01603 621447.