Setting out as an artisan producer some three years ago, my wife Rachel, and I, were driven by passion to share our love of beer and to translate that passion into finely hand-crafted ales and lagers.
A key driver was also to proudly convey our Norfolk heritage on each and every product which we sell; I guess the clue is in the name – The Norfolk Brewhouse. We wanted the county name to be a by word for quality, consistency, local ingredients and great taste. Brewing on a farm we see first-hand the treasures of ingredients we have on our doorstep – and in specific relation to Maris Otter barley the unique climate conditions which Norfolk has to provide the perfect growing environment, in fact an environment considered to be one of the very best in the world.
However, I guess what we hadn’t fully appreciated, when starting out, was just how many other producers share exactly the same passion and objectives, albeit across other products – from bread to cheese, from chutney to gin and oil to cordials – there’s a whole community of artisan producers driven by quality and local provenance and all seeking to wrap that proudly under the banner – Norfolk.
I use the word community advisedly and with pride because that’s what we are – and Norfolk Food and Drink provides this merry band of producers with flagship events to allow us to meet with the public.
Such events are often made to look effortless – but a huge amount of time and effort goes into them. One of my enduring memories of such events will always be this mini army of ‘gazebo gurus’ who arrive – usually at the crack of dawn – and jollily create a temporary showcase. OK, admittedly you hear the odd curse, a short-lived domestic or a crash of a table falling over, but by the time we’re ready to welcome the public an Aladdin’s Cave of hand-crafted goodies awaits.
The great thing to me is that under the banner of Norfolk Food and Drink each key event brings a little twist, and is able to welcome new and wider audiences – from the Battle of the Bangers which showcases the skills of farmers and butchers alike, to the North Norfolk Food Festival which delivers a fabulous food fair in the simply stunning Holkham Estate. It is also testament to the work of the organisers that visitor numbers to their events keep growing – and that I increasingly myself chatting to visitors from outside of the county who are attracted to Norfolk in search of its artisan produce.
However, it’s not just the flagship events mentioned – attracting thousands of visitors – which are important. The team at Norfolk Food and Drink organise or support countless other events throughout the year. Last year, for example saw the introduction of a delightful Christmas Fair at The Great Hospital, in Norwich. I had the pleasure of been part of a group of Norfolk brewers who together, I think had just about every beer style imaginable in a stunning indoor setting of one of Norwich’s most fantastic buildings, which I suspect, if it wasn’t for the fair, would never have been experienced by the majority of the visitors.
And that’s the point – the Norfolk Food and Drink activity encourages engagement in the physical aspects of the county – not just its produce.
But for me, I guess the one thing which I have been made to realise is that what makes Norfolk as much as anything is the people – passionate about a county and passionate about sharing it.
Hopefully, we won’t be packing our gazebo away any time soon, and can continue to support Norfolk Food and Drink in putting the county firmly on the national stage.