I noticed some strange drinking habits whilst in Norfolk over the weekend, which set me thinking back to my post last year about mixing drinks. I was in the county for family reasons, visiting my mother who is in hospital recovering from a chest infection. She seems on the mend, so hopefully will be discharged soon, but whilst I was in the area I had the opportunity to visit a couple of local hostelries, and it was in both of these that I couldn’t help noticing some strange requests.
The first of these was a large family pub, built to cater for visitors to a busy retail park, close to the Norfolk Showground. Called the Copper Beech, this Marstons’ owned establishment reminded me at first of a 1970’s estate pub; except it was much better built and a lot more comfortable. As far as I know the Copper Beech has only been open a couple of years, but given its large size, and convenient location, it is obviously very popular. My parents took me there for lunch, when I visited last March, and on this occasion I was able to return the favour by taking my father there to dine, prior to calling in to check on my mother at the nearby Norfolk & Norwich Hospital.
As on our previous visit we opted for the carvery. At just under £6.00 a head, this offered excellent value, especially in view of the amount of meat, plus the help-yourself vegetables. Not only was the food good value, the quality was also there, with the beef amongst the most tender and flavoursome I have had in a long time. Whilst waiting at the bar to order our food, I noticed a lad in front of me returning a virtually full pint of lager; Peroni as it happened, and his request for it to be changed was the strangest I have heard in a long time.
His pint apparently was too flat, and he wanted it changed. Now “flat” can mean a variety of things; to a Northerner it usually means there is no head on the beer (for head read an inch or two of shaving foam!). To us, more sensible Southerners, “flat” normally means a lack of condition in the beer ie, “there’s not enough fizz”. I’m not sure what the issue was with this gentleman’s pint, as whilst the exchange Peroni was being poured it was our turn to be served. Dad and I both opted for the Boon Doggle, from Ringwood to go with our food, and we were pleased to find it nicely conditioned and certainly not flat in the southern sense of the word; although for a southern beer it was incorrectly pulled through a sparkler! I was still left wondering though what the problem was with the Peroni, especially as I didn’t realise big-brand, lager drinkers were so fussy! Was it the lack of a head, caused by a dirty glass, or a line that hadn’t been cleaned properly? Or was it a lack of carbonation in the beer, possibly caused by the gas regulator being set too low? Obviously we will never know, but it was interesting to see that it’s not solely real ale drinkers who return pints they are unhappy with.
The second pub I visited was the Mermaid in the tiny village of Elsing. The pub is next door to the Bed & Breakfast place I have been using on my trips to Norfolk, and is the pub I wrote about here. After returning from the hospital, and dropping dad off back at the parental bungalow, I drove the short distance to Elsing, checked in at the B&B, and then an hour or so later wandered down to the pub. I arrived shortly after 8pm, to find the place buzzing. The first sitting of diners was just finishing, and people were starting to leave to make room for the second sitting. After asking whether any of the tables were reserved, the landlord told me I could sit at one of the smaller ones close to the half-height wall dividing the dining section of the pub from what still functions as the public bar area.
There was a couple playing pool, and after a while they were joined by several other locals who to a tee all ordered pints of Draught Guinness. Later, several more obviously local people came in, and all ordered the same thing. One couple requested a shot of blackcurrant in with their Guinness; a strange combination if ever there was one!
I’ve never seen so much Guinness being drunk anywhere, although admittedly were I to venture across the Irish Sea then things would undoubtedly be different; but what was even more puzzling was that the pub had three cask ales on offer, and no-one, apart from myself, was drinking them! The choice was Adnams Broadside and Old Ale, plus Woodforde’s Wherry. Being a fan of darker beers, I stuck with the Old Ale and am pleased to report it was in fine form. I don’t know what the other two cask beers were like, but I imagine that as both were bitters they would have been more popular than the old.
The main point of this post though isn't really about strange drinks and strange requests, instead it's about pubs doing well. In these times when pubs are closing at an alarming rate, it is especially pleasing to report that both pubs I visited over the weekend were pulling in a good trade. They obviously cater for different markets, with the Copper Beech targeting shoppers looking for a spot of decently priced, but good quality lunch, and the Mermaid playing to its strengths as a village local, which also offers a range of slightly more expensive, but top quality meals. It all goes to prove that if you give the public what they really want, rather than what you think they might want, you are more than halfway there on the road to success.