Monday, 14 November 2011

A Day in the Life of Newcastle Beer


It felt like an absolute eternity waiting for the next instalment of Twissup to come around since the last one in York. But, boy was it worth it.

For the uninitiated, a Twissup is the coming together of like minded souls who share a duality of interests: drinking lovely beer and using the medium of Twitter to communicate their appreciation of all things hop related. Put Twitter and piss up together and you get Twissup. Put the Twissupers together for a session, one Saturday, in a city serving a sublime smorgasbord of some smashing beer and you get a session that will be difficult to surpass.

How could it be any different?

The city in question hosting the lastest Twissup was to be Newcastle. It had been chosen via an online vote on Andy Mogg's Beer Reviews Blog. I had expected Edinburgh to be a clear winner as host city  but was pleasantly surprised when Newcastle was announced as the location for our late Autumn libations. It's easy enough to get to from Glasgow and, with the train snaking parallel to the stunning distraction that is the breathtaking North East English coastline, we were there in no time.

The meet up pub for everyone was to be The Bacchus in the heart of the city centre. It's a strangely enigmatic place. It's won the local Camra Pub of the Year for the last three years but it has a stylish and elegant wine bar ambience rather than traditional pub vibe. It's all about the beers, though, and Bacchus had great beers in abundance. Tall fonts, hand pulls and bottles. Loads of lovely beer.

As soon as the doors opened, thirty thirsty twissheads swarmed round the bar and began to frantically order beer, beer and more beer.

And the beer flowed, as did the conversation as old friendships were renewed and new ones made. Putting faces to twitter names is an enjoyable yet unusual pastime. It normally follows the same routine in which you exchange first names swiftly followed by your twitter moniker or blog name. And then the penny drops. "Ah, that's who you are? Pleased to meet you. What's that you are drinking? Is it nice?"

I was drinking some nice stuff in The Bacchus. I started off with Tempest's Canyonero - as nice as it was the last time I tried it in Edinburgh's Bow Bar. Followed by a Yorkshire Dales beer, Bacchus V Zeus, a very hoppy, zesty pint. Bitter and rather nice.

Next up was a Glastonbury beer called Thriller, a cappuchino porter. It was roasty, smooth and mellow with some slight coffee notes. Bad pumpclip but not a bad beer. The Black Isle Porter also hit the spot but then again Black Isle beers normally do.

I could have stayed in The Bacchus all day but there were other ale escapades to be had elsewhere.

Filtering out into the early afternoon sunshine we made our way to our next destination. It was time for a piss up in a brewery. Not just any brewery, but a brewery that I was very keen to get to know better, Tyne Bank Brewery.

I had met the brewery's acquaintance once before, at the recent Carlisle Beer Festival when I had a taste of their German inspired Alt Bier. It was one of my beers of the festival and one of the best Alt's I've tasted in a long time.

The brewery was a short Twissbus ride away that took us along the banks of the Tyne up to a small nondescript industrial unit in the Byker area of Newcastle. The industrial unit where Tyne Bank brew their beer has some ale pedigree, having previously been home to Hadrian and Border Brewery.

We were welcomed by Mark the brewer, given a glass and pointed in the direction of the five casks of beer proudly lined up and just waiting to be poured. It was my kind of welcome.

Tyne Bank Brewery are Newcastle's newest brewery having been on the go a mere six months. They have a 20 barrel plant and they have increased production, steadily since they opened to it's current level of 10 barrels per week. I got the impression that they are building up a solid and appreciative fan base drawn to their well made and rather lovely beers.

They have a stable of seven beers, with two regulars - Monument Bitter and Newcastle Gold. However, as Brewer Mark explained, they are keen to experiment with new beers and have just bought a 100 litres test kit that will allow Tyne Bank to play around with recipes and try new things.

What I tasted at the brewery, I was mightily impressed with. Their 3.5% Single Blonde packed a lovely bitter punch and a tender, lingering dryness. The Southern Star was packed full of fruity Nelson Sauvin New Zealand hops and was a delightful distant cousin of Hawkhead's NZPA. It was that good.

Time marched on and we quickly did the same, leaving the brewery and briskly making our way the short distance to The Free Trade Inn.

In no time we were indulging ourselves in some elegant slumming in the shabby genteel surroundings of a truly great pub. My head didn't know where to look as it was torn between the stunning view, out the huge glass windows, of the Tyne and the stunning view that greeted me as I scoped the beer selection on the bar.

Summer Wine, Hardknott, Brodies, Durham and on and on. Landlord, Mick has turned the Free Trade into the beating heart of a thriving Geordie beer scene and he knows what hot and what's not as he  strives to bring some of the most exciting and innovative beers and brewers to the pub. I made a pretty good effort of trying most of the beers they had on the bar.

The standouts for me were Summer Wine's 'Cohort', a double black Belgian IPA, Hardknott's, Vittesse Noir, a triple imperial vanilla mocha stout and something a bit simpler and less complex, Brodie's London Field's. The bottle selection is top notch too and I picked up a mixed bag of some Summer Wine bottles to take up the road.

Toon Twissup had found it's spiritual home in The Free Trade as we spend several very enjoyable hours in the pub, soaking up the beers and lapping up the beery chat and ale soaked atmosphere.

It was nearly time to head back to the station and catch the train home but there was still time for a final pint or two in a pub not far from The Free Trade. The pub is the Cumberland Arms, and it was a very pleasant surprise; warm  and welcoming with dark wood interiors and a decent range of beers. I'd tell you what beers I had at the Cumberland Arms, if I could remember.

I guess it had been a long day.


read the beer cast's review of toon twissup here

1 comment:

  1. Nice one, glad you had fun!! the end got litte bit blurry for me too