Category Archives: Food and Drink

Brewing up a Great North East Book

Award-winning beer writer ALASTAIR GILMOUR has just published The Great North East Brewery Guide, a book that celebrates the region’s proud tradition of brewing and those who contribute to its fine reputation for great beer. Those people are what make the drinks we enjoy so special, he writes…

People talk about gardeners having “green fingers” but it’s a description that could readily be applied to brewers. Leek-growers rear their plants like their children, dahlia experts talk to their blooms, and carrots don’t perform unless their rosettes are fondled regularly.

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It’s the same with beer, it has to be treated with devotion at every stage. Brew it from the finest ingredients possible on the best equipment available with heaps of inventive muscle and brains and the results will speak for themselves. Craft brewers are fanatical about their choice of hops, the malt they order, the mashing-in regime, the conditioning, the ageing and attention to every detail. It’s what makes great beer – and here in the North East of England we have some of the most inventive, knowledgeable and skilful brewers in the nation, working on gleaming kit that wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi movie.

Our breweries range from cramped units such as shipping containers to huge and impressive structures lined with Italian marble. The process of making beer is much the same in all of them but honesty and flamboyance come out at the other end – and that’s beer’s beauty. The region’s brewers are a dedicated lot, a set of charismatic people with individual traits that influence the beer they brew. And we don’t half brew good beer here – which is what The Great North East Brewery Guide celebrates.

Latest figures tell us that there are now more than 2,000 breweries operating in the UK, taking growth rate over the past five years to 64%. The North East has enjoyed a similar percentage rise in craft brewery start-ups, many of them by former home-brewers inspired by a public demand for adventurous flavours and the realisation that now is the time.

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We’re all reaping the benefit of better quality beer and more choice, plus the altruistic notion that we’re in our small way contributing to a fiercely independent movement and doing our bit in the growth of the local economy.

Beer can be as simple or as sophisticated as we wish it to be. Breweries produce it, but never forget, it’s people who make it and people who drink it. Cheers!

ALASTAIR GILMOUR is a freelance writer who previously worked for The Journal and The Northern Echo. His work has also featured in national and international media, such as The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, The Observer, Prague Post, Brewers’ Guardian, Eastern Airways in-flight magazine, Food & Travel magazine and – once – The Church Times. He founded and edits Cheers, an award-winning pub and drinks publication (www.cheersnortheast.co.uk), as well as having contributed to several books.

The Great North East Brewery Guide is published by Offstone Publishing.

Follow Alastair on Twitter @CheersPal

Crafting The Entrepreneurial Spirit

Beer blogger, PAUL WHITE doffs his cap to the entrepreneurial spirit of the region’s micro-brewers as he visits a new micro-pub and beer shop in Bishop Auckland.

Caps off to the region's micro brewers, photo: Paul White

One of the interesting by-products of the craft beer boom of recent years has been the entrepreneurial spirit it has unleashed in people.

Perhaps it is the relatability of the product, alongside a clamour from punters, that has made people feel more comfortable taking a leap and setting up a micro-brewery or bottle shop.

Whatever the cause, it’s great to see.

What’s really pleasing is how this has taken off in my home region, North East England. This week, I called in at the opening day of a brand new beer shop/micro-pub, Caps Off, in Bishop Auckland, County Durham.

Making use of a unit attached to the town’s train station, three young entrepreneurs have gone from selling beer on market stalls to opening their own place.

And it’s not just bottles. Caps Off has keg and cask beer, too, as well as gins and ciders.

All of this and they are focusing strongly on local producers. Local entrepreneurs supporting others in their local market is something to be applauded.

Alongside a selection from Brewdog – a smart move, as it will give newbies a brand they recognise, from which they can move on to trying the local ales – are beers from Rocket Town, Sonnet 43Allendale BreweryWylam Brewery and more, mostly from across the North East.

This is something that’s pretty much brand new to Bishop Auckland, which sadly lost its local Black Paw Brewery earlier this year, so it’s a brave move in a town where pub footfall has dropped considerably in the last couple of decades.

By selling bottles for consumption on site, or to take away, and mixing it with the opportunity to have a pint from the keg or cask as well, it stands a chance, because it caters to both the pub and home drinker markets.

Caps Off is open from Wednesdays to Sundays, 11am to 10pm.

*This blog originally appeared on Poets Day Pint

“I’ll boo your team, but drink your beer.”

Sunderland fan and beer blogger PAUL WHITE swallows his pride, a glass of Shearer and a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale but does it leave a bitter taste?

Shearer and Newcastle Brown Ale
Shearer and Newcastle Brown Ae. Photo: Paul White

Well, my football team, Sunderland, got hammered and my fantasy league side had a pretty low-scoring day. Our rival football team, Newcastle, won. Ireland won in the rugby (that’s a good thing in our house). All round, yesterday was a pretty mixed bag, in terms of sports.

So, what better way to wind down than with a couple of beers, and I thought I would look at the relationship between beer and sport. In particular, beers that one might associate with a rival team. In my case, that means Newcastle United.

I guess the question I’m asking myself is, should you ever be put off a good beer because its association with the “other side” of a sporting rivalry leaves a bitter taste before the first drop has been tasted? Or, is it tantamount to a chance to get one over on the opposition: “I’ll boo your team, but drink your beer.” I’m sure other analogies can be found.

Now, Tyneside has its fair share of excellent breweries, but I have gone for one beer that is indelibly associated with the football team, and one that is, well, only linked by virtue of an unfortunate name.

Let’s start with that one and ease myself into it.

Shearer, from Black Sheep, is actually named in honour of sheep shearers, as opposed to being a tribute to Alan. Still, I thought twice, only half-heartedly, about whether I could bring myself to drink a beer that carries the name of the hero – legend, even – for those up the road.

As far as I recall, despite being the all-time Premier League goalscoring record holder, Shearer the player only ever scored three times against Sunderland (Gary Rowell managed that many against Newcastle in one game). He is also very fair about Sunderland in his punditry on Match of the Day, even quite vocal in his praise on the rare occasion it is warranted (not tonight, definitely not tonight). Plus, you have to admire a player who will choose to reject a move to a big club where he might achieve his true potential in order to fulfil the dream of joining the team he supported from childhood*.

So, actually, I don’t have any issue with the man himself, and as I take my first taste of the beer, I realise that I can put the loose link to Newcastle to one side and enjoy a really fresh, citrusy, pale ale. It’s probably more a summer ale, being so light and fruity, rather than a drink for a cold February night with a good chance of waking up to a snowy scene in the morning.

This is probably lighter than anything I’ve tasted from Black Sheep and I’ve had pretty much everything they’ve had on offer in the last five years or so. It goes down really well and you could drink it all afternoon on a good beer garden day, especially as it’s a nice steady 4.1%. Probably not in a Sunderland beer garden, though.

So, yes, this very loosely affiliated beer is a winner, but I won’t be shouting its name in bars any time soon.

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Now, onto the second of the beers. Newcastle Brown Ale takes me back to the days when the iconic Blue Star adorned not only the label of its bottles, but also the shirts of Newcastle United. However, it’s also a beer I’ve enjoyed many times in the past, as far afield as New York. As someone who is proud of the North East as a whole, it’s great to see a beer from the region finding its way into bars around the world.

However, as I’ve historically considered it a strong beer, I’ve often only turned to Newcastle Brown Ale once I’ve been well into a night out. Nowadays, 4.7% doesn’t seem that strong, with many of the beers on the market going much higher.

In reality, it is probably my North East roots and the cultural identity that Newcastle Brown Ale has, stretching much further than the association with the football team, that make me feel more than comfortable about enjoying a bottle of Dog.

The nickname alone says something about life in the North East in days gone by, with “I’m gannin’ to see a man about a Dog” often being an excuse to get out of the house and down to the pub.

There’s something about Newcastle Brown Ale that makes it far more a part of the North East than purely being a Newcastle United-related drink. And that’s before I even talk about the beer itself. Few beers achieve such iconic status without being good. Dog is good. Very good.

Smooth and full of flavour and aroma, one can forgive the fact it’s now brewed in Yorkshire if it means keeping a great beer alive.

Having enjoyed bottles of Sunderland’s Double Maxim and Guinness Original XX last Saturday, while Sunderland were enjoying their 0-4 smash and grab raid at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park and Ireland were narrowly being beaten by Scotland in an RBS Six Nations classic, I can say that great beers go with sport and it’s nice to have that association. However, why deny your tastebuds a treat simply because of sporting allegiances?

*Tongue firmly in cheek. You won’t get many footballers making that sort of choice these days.

This blog post originally appeared on www.poetsdaypint.weebly.com