One year ago – February 2011 and I am supping beer at yet another craft brew extravaganza at the Free Trade Inn. I turn to my friend Chris and say ‘we are so lucky, an event every weekend, god knows how long this can carry on…’. Almost exactly a year later I am in the same pub sampling beers from two of our shining local breweries discussing a year where the beer renaissance did not stop.
The Newcastle beer scene has been great for a number of years. But in 2011 , it really stepped up a gear. Pubs really raised their games, the usual suspects Bacchus, Free Trade, Bodega, Brandling Villa and Newcastle Arms continued to be excellent. Striving to find new beers from the UK and further afield on a weekly basis and using events and festivals to educate the masses. Bars which had been generally ok, suddenly increased beer quality and started to catch those at the top. We even found bars with no reputation for beer, having one or two hand pulls. There was also an influx of new Real Ale pubs with Lady Greys leading the way with quality ale. Dedicated Brewery Handpulls became commonplace whilst other dispensary methods such as bottles and keg took off. Local shops (Rehills and Coppers 8til8) also had a big part to play getting previously unavailable bottles of beer and offering them at competitive prices.
New Breweries appeared Tyne Bank, Ouseburn Valley, Brew Star and Cullercoats to name a few. These new breweries were still in development but through the quality of their beer have shown not only how to make decent quaffable ale but also (in some cases) how to be creative and push boundaries. Tyne Bank Cherry Stout and Ouseburn Milk Stout jump to mind. Some older established breweries took up the challenge with both Durham and Allendale reinventing recipes and creating imaginative beers.
Events every month become part of the experience. Beer Food matches, meet the brewer events, bottle clubs and craft beer festivals fitted in around the traditional Beer festival programmes. A highlight being Newcastle staging a prestigious Twissup where beer bloggers, twitterers, authors, journalists, brewers and publicans enjoyed the many craft ale pubs in the city, with many specially acquired beers being sampled.
The beer punters also became more Savvy and a lot more of a community. On the day of the Feb festival we had met a fellow beer twitterer @Tuff86, quickly followed by @Sheriffmitchell and @Minkewales at the Top Arms festival. Week on week we met more fellow beery twitterers and in no time at all we had an active group of social networkers who enjoyed meeting up for a beer and peer educating each other about the ales we drank. All of us started making connections to pubs and brewers through our twittering. We started organising events bottle clubs and later would be instrumental in establishing Hopaganda, an independent craft ale fanzine. But most of all we became good friends who enjoyed meeting up for a drink. Outside of our little group, in general more people seemed to be trying good beer and getting involved in events and festivals. Even people started taking a more active interest in our local CAMRA branch, who valiantly continued to support the local beer industry and festivals.
The beermat timeline below shows a snapshot of some of the key beery events that took place
So forward again to Tuesday 6th February 2012, a large crowd of beery folk had turned up at the Free Trade Inn for the launch of Piccolo Black Beer. A good mixture of local drinkers, brewers, publicans with a smattering of CAMRA membership enjoying an unusual and excellent ale. Brewed by the exciting Tyne Bank Brewery in partnership with local Coffee emporium Piccolo, they had come up with the idea of producing a black pale ale, where coffee would take some attributes usually attributed to a hop. Magnum, Cascade & Galaxy provided the hop background whilst Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee provided a subtle citrriusness to the mix.
The smell starts with an intense coffee hit then a wave of subtle lime citrus. On taste, Roast coffee upfront that continues subtley throughout the sip (the test brew I remember had more coffee punch) slowly mixing with a most gently defined lime flavor. Later as it warms and more notes of vanilla join the party. It has a great mouth feel, silky smooth that adds to the sensation of a special beer. The chatter within the crowd tries to dissect its parts, pondering each element in turn. The additional fab idea of a cup of coffee with the beer adds even more discussion. Taking a sip of beer then coffee, gives a massive roast coffee kick, reversing the process gives an intense lime flavor along the back of the tongue. Really fascinating and very very clever. It also has a big caffeine hit, I had 3 pints and was up till 3am wired.
By Thursday 8th February, I had just about climbed down from the ceiling and returned to the Free Trade for the launch of Durham White Stout in bottles. A similar crowd had arrived for the second tasting of the week but the community for this event was a lot larger. A clever twitter campaign had been carried out encouraging people around the country to open a bottle of White Stout at exactly 8:30pm. So a virtual beer tasting with a few points around the country where people were meeting. Luckerly this was one, and we had Ellie and Shaun from Durham Brewery to share our thoughts with. As the big hand finally reached the six, with anticipation we opened the bottles….
Pouring into a Durham Brewery brandy like glass showed off the beer to its full extent. Golden Pale with a creamy white head, bubbles throughout with carbonation. The aroma was of an expensive fruit bowl, we desperately try to name the fruit (Mango? Peach? Pineapple? Papaya?…).Whatever it is, it smells fab. When I had tried this on draft the mouth feel was oily syrupy but now a real smoothness had replaced it. The taste is Peaches and cream, a deep malt sweetness with a Slight bitter hop finish. The previous version had a bigger bitter kick and I wonder if the slight carbonation has lessen this aspect. Im not complaining I prefer this version much more. Great flavours abound and far too drinkable for its ABV.
We all took an initial sip, then twitter madness took over. I was instantly taken aback by the online response, seeing so many fellow beery social media fans using the assigned hashtag. Trying to convey the above 720 word review in blocks of 140 character tweets was something of a challenge. But looking at everyone else’s tweets we were all saying vaguely similar glowing reviews, so a couple of RT’s and a couple of short sentences and I had became part of this fabulous twitter experiment. A great innovative evening of drinking.
There are many similarities that made these tasting nights a success and in turn pushed along the Toon Beer Renaissance. Here we have two breweries (one new one traditional) taking risks by brewing innovative beers. This Innovation could be seen throughout the year not only with our excellent brewers have created different challenging beers, but with how they were dispensed, presented and how festivals evolved. The knowledgeable crowds at both events were essential in giving feedback but also making a fun enjoyable evening. The idea of the Community is essential to what happened in the year. Beer drinkers seemed to increase, more people seemed to be engaging more with pubs and breweries and started to have some influence. This was in person and on social media sites. The terms used for beers, White Stout and Black Pale are meant to challenge our perceptions. This year we have been Challenged by quality new beer from around the country, we have looked at traditional structures and helped support change and found new ways to engage with the community. Finally there was a lot of support from the Free Trade for these two evenings. The Support and guidance of our local publicans has made this year what it was. Finding quality ales and delivering them on a weekly basis, setting up exciting events and taking time to talk/discuss with punters has made Newcastle a credible rival to some of our other fine craft ale cities.
The Newcastle Beer Renaissance continues apace. Long may it continue. Cheers all
The two pop-ups are in Place cards (9cm x 8.5cm folded out). All diary entries had been on an A4 scale but I wanted these to be small. I planned to complete the reviews at the events, so I needed something discreet so I didn’t look too much more of a beer geek/pop-up weirdo. In the end I didn’t get a chance to complete at the tasting and these were done after (Yeah… I bottled it). These place cards were bought especially, I loved the brown paper look (very Kernel label like). The Tyne Bank pop-up is a simple support column leaning at approximately 45 degrees. On top is a sizeable platform on which the Pumpclip Label sits. When opened the Label sits parallel to the card. The Durham Brewery bottle is a simple V-fold. To support the tabs attached at the base, a circle of the same place card was used giving stability and giving a good finish. When this card is opened wide the bottle stands to its full extent. On both cards a spider diagram is used to convey the tasting notes and front and back plates added