FIZZING Wine business the Lanchester Group is popping corks after unveiling a boost in turnover and profit.
Despite the previous year’s poor global wine harvest and heavy investments, the County Durham-based business – which includes Lanchester Wines and Greencroft Bottling – said turnover has increased 20% from £68.3m to £81.8m, while earnings before interest and taxes etc almost trebled from £2.3m to £6.3m.
The figures follow successive years of inward investment in property, personnel and infrastructure, and directors Tony and Veronica Cleary said the strong performance is set to continue.
CHILLING Tyne Bank Brewery firmly believes that Sundays should be focused on chilling out.
The Walker Road, Newcastle, brewhouse, taproom and events space has installed bike racks and will open from 10am for coffee and cake (beer also available, of course), to relax with newspapers, or catch breath after a walk or a bike ride – then 12noon-6pm it’s street food with Nin’s Shack and live music for that relaxed, extended Sunday lunch (beer also available, of course).
GIVING The Gardeners’ Club which meets every Sunday at The Boathouse, Wylam, hosted its annual Tinned Fruit & Veg Show recently with raffles, an auction of produce (all in some sort of fancy dress) and a whole lot of fun.
The lunchtime session raised an astonishing £650 for Daft As A Brush, the charity that ferries cancer patients from all across Northumberland to hospital appointments.
CASKING Champion Bottles & Taps in Heaton, Newcastle, has been sold to a group of beers-from-the-wood enthusiasts, fronted by experienced landlord Rob Shacklock and is turning the premises into a micropub. Its former owner, James Andrews, is now working for a North East coffee roasting company.
The newly-named Heaton Tap subscribes to the aims and ambitions of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW). Visit www.spbw.com for society details.
STOP PRESS The North East’s own Cafe Amsterdam pop-up bar heads to North Yorkshire to join forces with Yorkshire Dales Brewery to host its Christmas open day at the brewery tap in Askrigg on December 29.
Seven of Yorkshire Dales’ seasonal cask beers will be on tap along with a fine selection of Dutch beers, genevers and gins from Cafe Amsterdam. Open 12noon-7pm, there will be music and food available throughout the day and an endless supply of Christmas cheer.
TRENT HOUSE CAMRA DISCOUNT
The Trent House in Newcastle city centre – closest pub to St James’ Park after The Strawberry – is offering CAMRA members pints for £1.95 between the hours of 11am and 5pm, Monday-Friday, on production of their members’ cards. That’s just got to be good!
It never ceases to amaze us what talent bubbles along in the pub world. We’ve got poets and playwrights and singers and panto performers to name but a tiny few.
The most recent highly creative character to come to our attention is Rachel Taylor (pictured right) marketing manager at the Sir John Fitzgerald group. When we enquired about a poster she had designed for The Bodega pub’s regular quiz night – which she designed – she sent us a little bit of career background, then quite modestly offered to show us some of her illustrations. And as we say, what an amazing talent!
Rachel graduated from Northumbria University with a degree in graphic design and marketing.
She says: “I started with the Sir John Fitzgerald group in 2015, part-time at first doing bits and bobs of marketing and design work. The Bodega quiz poster was one of the first things I did – it was a labour of love and has received loads of comments since. Then I got the job full-time and have less time to do illustration work.
“I do all of the marketing for SJF these days, however I have to admit that nothing has been quite so labour-intensive as that one.
“I’ve always been the independent sort, I’ve illustrated T-shirts and drawn pubs, but when you’re doing it for yourself and don’t have a real deadline, they can take a long time.”
Muckle Berry (4.5% abv)
A rich winter fireside red ale, brewed with Crystal malt and First Gold hops. Muckle Berry balances the dark fruit flavours of raisins and plums with hints of caramel and layers of bitter spiced oranges. www.mucklebrewing.co.uk
Christmas Ale (7.0% abv)
A variety of roasted malts give a sweet biscuity flavour with hints of cinder toffee. Generous amounts of English Goldings hops bring flavours of Seville orange marmalade and a floral aroma. www.allendalebrewery.com
Fireglow (4.1% abv)
A sweet spiced dark ale – black cardamom, allspice berries and cinnamon bark join a complex malt mix in the mash. British, German and Czech Republic hops complement the spice in this winter seasonal from Firebrick’s Year in Beer Mystical range. www.firebrickbrewery.com
Imperious (12% abv)
A limited-edition whisky cask-aged imperial stout, this features a strong bourbon aroma with oily coffee, liquorice and dark chocolate flavours in the massive vanilla body. Matured for over nine months in whisky hogsheads, creating a long rich and warming finish with a hint of brown sugar. Gift boxes also available. www.durhambrewery.com
Three French Hens – (3.9% abv)
Brewed using Cascade and Centennial hops and the addition of cinnamon and orange peel, Three French Hens is an amber-coloured beer with citrus-fruit flavours and a light, spicy finish. www.roosters.co.uk
Consett Ale Works
Santa’s Little Smelter (4.5% abv)
An exclusive ale available the first week in December, Santa’s Little Smelter is a lighter take on traditional dark Christmas ales – an amber coloured bitter with a floral aroma and smooth aftertaste. Limited edition casks. www.consettaleworks.co.uk
Tyne Bank Brewery
Vesuvius (6.0% abv)
This rich luxurious stout is inspired by the Neapolitan ice cream. A drink that definitely comes in layers; first the taste buds are treated to chocolate from the roast malts and cocoa additions, then the vanilla from the Madagascar Bourbon pure vanilla extract and finally the sweet taste of strawberries. Perfect for dark winter nights. www.tynebankbrewery.co.uk
Tyne Bank Brewery
Portrait of a Lady (7.4% abv)
Inspired by the rich creamy Italian desert, Portrait of a Lady is Tyne Bank Brewery’s take on a Panna Cotta white stout. A golden ale with a silky mouthfeel, carefully balanced malts and creamy rich undertones of vanilla and lemon. A fantastic desert in a glass. www.tynebankbrewery.co.uk
Snow Storm (abv 7.0%)
Created especially for the festive season, Snow Storm is a naturally hazy white stout with a good body and mouth feel from flaked oats and barley. Roast and chocolate flavours from smoked malt and vodka soaked cocoa nibs. Available exclusively on tap at Storm Cellar, 10 York Road, Whitley Bay. www.blackstormbrewery.com
Xmas Chaos (4.3% abv)
Rum Raisin Porter Anarchy’s Christmas special beer, mixing the tastes of raisins and vanilla, with added spices and a cheeky helping of rum. Sure to keep you warm on a winter’s night. www.anarchybrewco.com
50ml Durham Strawberry and Pink Pepper liquer, 25ml freshly squeezed lemon juice, 10ml grenadine syrup, soda water, lemon slices, cocktail cherries. Fill a large glass with plenty of ice, pour in your liqueur, lemon juice and syrup and top up with soda. Garnish with lemon and cherries. www.durhamdistillery.co.uk
Hadrian Border Brewery
Grýla (4.5% abv)
In Iceland, the hideous giantess comes down from the mountains on Christmas Eve to devour naughty children in a bubbling broth! A copper coloured ale with flavours of caramel and cinder toffee alongside notes of autumnal fruits and festive spices. A pleasant bitterness and smooth finish. A festive end to Hadrian Border’s Folklore series. www.hadrian-border-brewery.co.uk
Reece Hughill is a brewer who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “shortcut”. Some 90% of beer production at his Donzoko Brewing Co in Hartlepool is the Munich-inspired Northern Helles Lager which sits in conditioning tanks for anything up to six weeks.
It’s a long and slow process necessary for a cool secondary fermentation and a long way from mass produced lagers that see the light of day in less than a fortnight.
“Northern Helles is our version of a Bavarian style unfiltered lager,” says Reece, who studied chemistry Newcastle University and in Germany at LMU Munich where Bavarian styles and the rich beer culture became a big part of his life. “It’s inspired by lazy days by the River Eisbach for a sweet malt, subtle floral hop flavour and a crisp refreshing finish.
“Northern Helles is a really clean lager. People are moving into things like Pilsner Urquell (premium Czech lager), getting back to really crispy styles. They’re talking about it more and we let the beer talk for itself, although unfiltered beer is not an easy sell. Customers are paying for that maturation time – but some will pay five or six pounds for a beer but quibble at four for a lager.”
Customers are also paying for high quality German malts, New Zealand hops and Swiss yeast but the point is, would you rather sip a beautiful, home-grown, deeply traditional beer that maybe costs a pound more than normal, or slug a mass-produced bland brand for under three quid?
Reece also fills in with shifts at the Free Trade Inn, Newcastle. He says: “It’s great when I’m working there and you can see them really enjoying Northern Helles. It’s nice to have a little band of followers and they’ll say, ‘Did you brew this? Really? Fantastic’.”
Lager actually has a long history in Britain but it’s never been fully appreciated. Breweries in London, Wrexham and Edinburgh all have legitimate claims to having produced the first British lager in the late 19th Century but further research leads to William Younger & Co starting brewing lager at their Holyrood Brewery in Edinburgh in December 1879 using a yeast strain imported from Carlsberg in Copenhagen. Perhaps mass-produced Carling and Fosters have made life difficult for other lager producers, but the likes of Donzoko Northern Helles and Thornbridge Lukas are certainly helping people reassess their opinions. (Donzoko, by the way, is Japanese for “rock bottom”.)
Reece Hughill says: “Everything is going well, getting really good consistency with our beers. We brew off-site at the Lion’s Den microbrewery at Cameron’s in Hartlepool and transfer the beer in thousand-litre sterile containers – basically a bag in a box – to my own place which is basically full of fermenters.
“I’m trying to put his own spin on things but there’s a lot of tweaking before you get it right. Each village in Bavaria has its own brewery and everything is delivered super fresh, so that’s what we’re trying to do.
“We were invited to take our beer to the Indy Man Beer Convention in Manchester a couple of months ago. Just to be part of it was brilliant – being among some of the best beers in the world was just amazing. I just want to make good lager and if I can do that and sell it locally I’ll be happy.”
What happens when great pubs and great beer meet in the middle, asks Alastair Gilmour
It’s not easy to find Draught Bass these days. In a world of brewery collaborations and diverse ingredients, it has somehow slipped under the radar. But seek and ye shall find – and thankfully, a pint of Bass at the Railway Hotel in Birtley, Gateshead, is a reminder of what great English Pale Ale can aspire to.
It’s on the bar of the Durham Road pub along with Daleside Bitter, brewed in Harrogate along with other North Yorkshire classics such as Monkey Wrench, Ripon Jewel and Old Legover (which has somehow managed to escape the political correctness police for decades).
It’s appropriate that the Railway Hotel serves handpulled Bass – both are revelations; slips of mind that never deserved to fade in the first place.
The pub’s solid brown façade of Ionic pillars and picture windows is an imposing sight. Inside, it’s absolutely sparkling, from its deep-buttoned upholstered seating that ranges in colour from forest green to rich red, to the impressive island counter and glorious gantry that separate barroom from lounge and games area more effectively than any partition.
A highly-coloured, domed stained glass skylight depicting the points of the compass catches the eye (orientated correctly, too), as do the tartan carpet at one end and polished timber flooring at the other. It all seems to hang together well.
A dozen or so mirrors adorn the walls with several advertising McEwans, William Younger or Bass Ales. Also dotted around are framed adverts showing old Birtley retailers from the days when you could buy a three-piece suite for less than £10 (that’s suite, not suit), plus other town images and railway paraphernalia. At the rear, a delightfully-appointed beer garden is a stone-walled haven. Joining our Bass is a bit of juke-box reggae which invariably lightens up the soul: “Don’t worry ’bout a ’ting, cos every little ’ting gonna be alright”. Together they’re more than “alright”.
Manager Karen Timney (who apparently knows everybody in Birtley) reports that the Railway’s trade is building nicely. Owner John Brearley had invited tenants to run the pub but realised that a managed house with a well-regarded local character in charge was the way forward.
“Karen loves the place and is very enthusiastic to make it really fly,” says John, who has also taken on another project, the Grade II-listed Swan And Railway Hotel in Wigan. “Like the Railway Hotel, it’s a pub true to its history and culture, at the same time right for the modern age, not a museum piece but a living, thriving pub appealing to a wide customer base – the essence of the word ‘public house’.”