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How City of Ale’s Norfolk brewers adapted to coronavirus lockdown

PUBLISHED: 15:34 25 May 2020 | UPDATED: 15:34 25 May 2020

Norwich City of Ale 2019 launch at The Waterfront, Norwich. Picture: Simon Finlay Photography

Norwich City of Ale 2019 launch at The Waterfront, Norwich. Picture: Simon Finlay Photography

Copyright Simon Finlay 2019

Were it not for the coronavirus lockdown, the Norwich City of Ale Festival would now be in full swing.

How are City fo Ale brewers doing despite the festival's cancellation this year? Left from top, Grain Brewery owner Phil Halls, Ampersand Brew Company owners Andy and Amy Hipwell and Poppyland Brewery owner Dave Cornell. Right from top, Wildcraft Brewery owner Mike Deal, Panther Brewery owner Martin James and Humpty Dumpty Brewery partner Lesley George. Pictures: SuppliedHow are City fo Ale brewers doing despite the festival's cancellation this year? Left from top, Grain Brewery owner Phil Halls, Ampersand Brew Company owners Andy and Amy Hipwell and Poppyland Brewery owner Dave Cornell. Right from top, Wildcraft Brewery owner Mike Deal, Panther Brewery owner Martin James and Humpty Dumpty Brewery partner Lesley George. Pictures: Supplied

The launch party would have taken place at the Waterfront last Thursday, with beer writers from all over the country descending upon the city to sample the amazing beers produced in the region and to visit some of Norwich’s wonderful pubs.

Pubs would be hosting festivals, quizzes, music nights, beer tastings and food and beer pairings.

Beer lovers would be working their way round the pubs on the Ale Trails and trying out new brews.

But social restrictions forced organisers to put their 10th anniversary special on hold – it will now take place next year instead, between May 27 and June 6.

City of Ale joint-founder and Murderers Pub landlord Phil Cutter at the 2019 festival launch. Picture: Simon Finlay PhotographyCity of Ale joint-founder and Murderers Pub landlord Phil Cutter at the 2019 festival launch. Picture: Simon Finlay Photography

City of Ale joint founder and Murderers Pub landlord Phil Cutter said: “The hospitality and brewing sectors have been really hard hit. Even those who are still buying beer have often ended up reverting to buying national brands of beer from supermarkets.

“But it’s still possible to support the region’s craft brewers, and if they are going to survive, it’s really important to do your best to find their beers and buy them.

“If you can also support the pubs that have found ways to offer some kind of service during lockdown, that will also provide a lifeline to great independent businesses that otherwise risk going under.”

Like most businesses, breweries and pubs have been forced to adapt the way they operate to deal with the sudden change of circumstances caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

From left, Poppyland Brewery owner Dave Cornell, City of Ale co-chair Dawn Leeder and Panther Brewery owner Martin James, pictured together before the virus outbreak. Picture: City of AleFrom left, Poppyland Brewery owner Dave Cornell, City of Ale co-chair Dawn Leeder and Panther Brewery owner Martin James, pictured together before the virus outbreak. Picture: City of Ale

Here are examples of what some City of Ale breweries said about how they had changed and what they are doing:

• David Holliday, owner of Norfolk Brewhouse, Hindringham

“Our whole business had to be repositioned overnight, which was hard, but we’ve have been overwhelmed by the support of local shops.

“Working with other local drinks producers such as Whin Hill Cider and Black Shuck Gin means we can sell each other’s products, share deliveries and help spread the ‘buy local’ word.

Partner and business manager Lesley George brewing at Humpty Dumpty Brewery. Picture: Humpty Dumpty BreweryPartner and business manager Lesley George brewing at Humpty Dumpty Brewery. Picture: Humpty Dumpty Brewery

“We are also working as a community with other brewers, again sharing deliveries if we can, but also buying things together to make purchasing more cost effective. Fellow City of Ale brewers Wolf Brewery have been really supportive by continuing to bottle our beers for us.

“We really miss the pubs and people, but thankfully some are offering takeaway ale, and we’re working with them.

“We are collaborating with Smartmouth Brewery in Norfolk, Virginia, USA as well as the Hof Ten Dormaal Brewery in Flanders, Belgium, who had produced a special Apple Saison ale for this year’s City of Ale. We are now on a mission to make sure that the Apple Saison can be imported and enjoyed in Norfolk.”

• Dave Cornell, owner and brewer at Poppyland Brewery, Cromer

Grain Brewery owner and director Phil Halls. Picture: Phil HallsGrain Brewery owner and director Phil Halls. Picture: Phil Halls

Poppyland have brewed only once since lockdown began, to produce a specialist beer using the herb Yerba mate.

“Last year, we decided to branch out beyond brewing and on January 2 ordered distilling equipment. This was delivered and installed one week before lockdown. We had a full order book for beer and looked to complement this with East Coast Cromer Gin.

“One week after lockdown started, every email coming in was a cancellation of a festival or event, and our beer production was totally destroyed in a fortnight. Our gin launch date has been put back and back and back.

“But we are still here and when it starts to get back to normal, we will bounce back.”

Wildcraft Brewery is still brewing at around 90pc of what it normally would this time of year. Picture: Wildcraft BreweryWildcraft Brewery is still brewing at around 90pc of what it normally would this time of year. Picture: Wildcraft Brewery

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• Lesley George, partner and business manager at Humpty Dumpty Brewery, Reedham

“With staff furloughed, I’ve become the unexpected ‘Jack of all trades’ and cellarwoman at the brewery. I have traded the gym for beer barrels and Pimms for pints.

“We are very lucky to be located in one of the most beautiful villages in the Norfolk Broads, where neighbours look out for each other. They are even ordering beer parcels for doorstep delivery for one another.

Andy and Amy Hipwell of Ampersand Brew Company. Picture: Andy and Amy HipwellAndy and Amy Hipwell of Ampersand Brew Company. Picture: Andy and Amy Hipwell

“We’ve become a donation hub for the Great Yarmouth Food Bank, which is being hugely supported by our customers.

“We are truly thankful to the locals who are supporting us in the shop – and to the wider community for their orders too.”

• Phil Halls, owner and director at Grain Brewery, Alburgh

The brewery is running a drive-through service where customers can order, pay and collect beer without having to leave their car. Customers can pay via contactless card using a machine strapped to the end of a three-metre stick.

“The local response has been overwhelming with the drive-thru becoming the safest way to pick up a few pints to take home in the area.

“We have seen everything from cyclists and tractors to quad bikes and Bentleys coming through the drive-thru. It’s a slick, but very Norfolk operation.

“The drive-thru has so far allowed us to avoid the awful prospect of pouring all our beer down the drain, and is paying our rent and overheads until we can return to more familiar times. We have also gained new regular customers who, despite living in the same village, had never tried Grain beer before. I believe lockdown has opened people’s eyes and taste buds to the great suppliers within their local area.”

• Mike Deal, director and head brewer at Wildcraft Brewery, Buxton

Despite lockdown causing the closure of pubs and the mass cancellation of events, Wildcraft are still brewing around 90pc of what they would normally be producing this time of year.

Staff are finding it hard to keep up with demand for their new beer, Wild Caribbean.

“We are now working crazy hours to ensure brewery stuff is done before heading out on the road to deliver beer. We’ve taken on other companies’ products and even some food to ensure a more rounded delivery can be made.

“We are a brewery that has always been focussed on our community so have offered free local delivery on everything. We have also offered to get other items if vulnerable people or those self-isolating are in need.”

• Martin James, owner and head brewer at Panther Brewery, Reepham

“The brewery shop remains open – simply beep your horn or ring the bell and we will sort your order for you. We continue to do home deliveries within the county and those out of county are delivered through our delivery partners.

“As a brewery we are missing our brilliant pubs, but have been genuinely touched by how supportive the general public has been at this tough time for the industry. We will always remember this when we reach ‘the other side’ and we return to something approaching normal.”

• Amy Hipwell, owner of Ampersand Brew Company, Earsham

After a few weeks taking a break, Ampersand are brewing once again. They have decided to make changes to their packaging and most of their beer now comes in cans.

“We have been very lucky and have had lots of support from the local community near the brewery and our pub in Harleston but we have also received support from all over the country and we want to thank people for helping us to keep going.

“Now more than ever it is important to support local companies whether it’s a brewery, beer shop or pub. Everyone is having to work twice as hard to adapt and survive which is both mentally and physically draining. We also need to remember to support those who aren’t able to open at this time and be there for them when they can.”


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