Tour de Food and Drink

Hello, I’m Andrew. I used to write on this site. But recently I’ve been busy. Very busy. A few weeks ago I started working at a brewery, so I’ve cunningly transitioned from writing about beer to getting paid to market it. I never imagined that, four years ago that when I started this blog, I’d end up working in the industry. It’s pretty cool.

Outside of working hours I’m managing to cram in some additional work. And yes, that’s beer-related too.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to team up with the wonderful and multi-award winning  Feathers Inn for the inaugural Adventures In Ale. It was an incredibly well-received night, where we showcased some of the best British beers, alongside six mouth-watering courses.

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On 8th July we’re back with the Tour de Food and Drink to celebrate, you guessed it, the Tour de France. Hot on the heels of the Grand Depart, Rhian and I will be guiding people through eight stages of food and beer. We’ll be drawing inspiration from regions of France, Belgium, Corsica and the UK and raising several glasses to the oldest of the Grand Tours.

I’m super excited to be talking beers and bikes. And bugger me, Rhian’s menu is amazing. Check it out.

Stage One - Black Sheep Le Tour Velo 4.2% - Roast Dexter beef, Yorkshire pudding, fresh horseradish and watercress

Stage Two - Camden Town Hells Lager Helles 4.6% - Anguilles au vert – freshwater eel, braised in white wine with herbs and shallots.

Stage Three - Pietra Amber Ale 6% - Pate de Merle - Corsican blackbird pate made with woodpigeon

Stage Four -St. Sylvestre 3 Monts 8.5% - Waterloozi – Flemish style freshwater fish soup

Stage Five - Brasserie des Sources Bellerose 6.5% – Moules frites - crispy fried mussels and straw potatoes and curried mayo

Stage Six - Dupont Saison Dupont Amber Saison 6.5% - Pot au feu- Chicken, beef and salted pork casserole with Jersey royals, baby carrots and turnips and Dijon mustard

Stage Seven - Duchesse de Bourgogne Dark Flemish Red Sour Ale 6.2% - Gigot D’angeau au flageolet- Leg of Hebridean lamb, flageolet beans, herb sauce

Stage Eight- Orval Trappist beer 6.2% - Coq a la biere- spring chicken braised in beer with glazed onions, button mushrooms and bacon

I’m starving just writing about it. If you’re in the North East, get booked up. Beers, bikes and belta food. What’s not to love?  You can book your places by calling  01661843607. You know it makes sense.

A Night At The Feathers

[An edited version of this appeared in The Journal newspaper a few days ago but sadly didn’t include the wonderful photos taken by my good friend PJ. So I thought I’d remedy that here.]

The UK has seen an explosion of innovative breweries opening their doors over the last five years. I’ve followed this fantastic journey for equally as long on my blog and there’s never been a better time to start sampling the amazing range on offer. And one person who’s just as keen to champion the versatility of beer is Rhian Cradock, chef and owner of the multi award-winning Feathers Inn in Hedley on the Hill.

We joined forces this week to front the first in a series of food and beer nights called Adventures in Ale, where we showcased some of the best beers Britain currently has to offer.

It was incredibly difficult to arrive at a list of just six beers that best typified the 1200 or so breweries we currently have in this country. From fruit-infused farmhouse ales and lip-puckering West Coast IPAs, to decadent barley wines, our aim was to demonstrate there’s a lot more to beer than bitters and nut brown ales.

I guided diners through the selection of breweries and beer styles on offer at the event, as Rhian served up six delicious courses, each created to pair perfectly with their beery accompaniments.  

Rhian said ahead of the event: “This is a wonderful opportunity to be part of something exciting and new. The international growth in microbreweries has seen the creation of something incredibly interesting.

“Pairing the beers to flavours in food has been a really fun challenge. As you can see from the menu I want to ensure the food is every bit as much of an experience as the beer.”

And he wasn’t wrong. It’s safe to say the menu delivered on all fronts.

North Yorkshire’s Ilkley Brewery opened proceedings with their Rhubarb Saison. The earthy spices and fresh vanilla in this traditional Belgian ale were a fine match for Rhian’s salt and vinegar North Sea herring, pickled rhubarb and pink fir heritage potato salad.

The Wild Beer Company of Somerset wowed the packed dining room with their delicious Ninkasi. This champagne-like beer offered up copious amounts of New Zealand hops, Somerset apple juice and wild yeast. Its zestiness perfectly complimented the steamed West Coast razor clams, wild fennel and three corned leek.

Up next was London’s Kernel Brewery, who puckered palates with an unapologetically hop-charged IPA. Ripe mango and grapefruit flavours cut through the decadent butter-poached English asparagus, which was crowned with a rich Wylam duck egg and garden sorrel.

The north east was represented by the mighty Sublime Chaos from Morpeth’s Anarchy Brew Co. Their viscous Breakfast Stout worked beautifully alongside melt-in-the-mouth braised ox cheek, wild garlic and barley pilaf and malted onions.

Thornbridge Brewery’s award-winning Wild Raven Black IPA, with its juicy citrus flavours provided perfect balance to the luxurious Middle White pig’s blood and bitter chocolate dessert. The ingredients might have raised an eyebrow or two on paper but it proved to be an absolute knockout.

The night rounded off with Cumbria’s Hardknott Brewery and their sumptuous barley wine Granite. The beer’s rich molasses and juniper flavours were a fine bedfellow for the sharp five-year old Doddington’s cheese, air-dried Hedley roe deer and homemade quince jelly. I was both stuffed and just a little squiffy.

We’re currently putting the finishing touches on our next event. On the 8 July we’ll be guiding guests through a whirlwind food and beer outing around the sites of this year’s Tour de France. Find out more by calling The Feathers Inn on 01661 843607.

Adventures in Ale

Beer blogging has very much been on the back burner of late, despite the impressive range of beer coming into and out of the north east recently. The list of eclectic bars where you can drink it is growing by the week too. But sitting down and hammering out a post or two has been the furthest thing from my mind.

I’ve been far more occupied with getting other people’s laughing gear around these great beers. Beer blogging often feels like an echo chamber and, as fun as it is to preach to the converted, I think I’ve found my calling in trying to baptize newbies into the great church of beer.

In February I held court over my first Beers and Bites event at the Baltic Art Gallery on the banks of the Tyne. Over two hours I took one hundred people on a whistle-stop tour of brewing history in the north east and treated them to six of the best local beers, each paired with a tasty bite-sized dish.

Incredibly Beers and Bites turned out to be the fastest selling ticketed event in the Baltic’s twelve-year history. It also opened guests’ eyes to some of the fantastic local beers available. Speaking to a self-confessed “Foster’s man” from Jarrow, he admitted that Allendale’s Sauvin Saison was quite simply the best beer he’d ever had.

Many other attendees told me that they had no idea of the range of strengths and styles of beers being brewed right on their doorstep. Regardless of my former prolific blogging output, I’ve realised that physically getting people together to share and explore beer is the way forward. In short, I was hungry for more.

I’m fortunate to count owners of the nationally-lauded Feathers Inn, Rhian and Helen Cradock, as friends. Over the past seven years Rhian and Helen have picked up every culinary award going for their incredible and sustainably-sourced menus.

The Feathers is featured in the Times Top 20 Gastro Pubs; they’ve received gold in the North East Tourism Awards; came runner up in the Observer Food Monthly Best Sunday Lunch 2012 category; scooped Great British Pub of the Year 2011, as well as receiving countless others accolades. It’s safe to say the Feathers is a culinary gem in the north of England.

Rhian and I go way back, since infant school to be precise. I’ve long wanted to work with him on an event and bugger me, we’ve only gone and pencilled in a whole series of nights to make up for lost time. Let me introduce you to Adventures in Ale…

These bi-monthly events will offer up tasty evenings of discovery, showcasing the pioneers of brewing. Guests will be able to sample some of the most interesting beers available, matched with tempting canapés and an exquisite dinner.

The first event, British Beers, takes place on Tuesday 13 May at 7.30pm and I’m pleased to say it’s already sold out.

It’s been difficult to whittle down the incredible range of British beers to just a handful. However I believe we have hand-picked six different breweries whose beers highlight the amazing range of styles and flavours around. I’ll be talking to diners about each of the breweries and the styles of beers on show, while Rhian will be on hand to explain the finer points of food and beer pairing.

I genuinely can’t wait. The menu looks absolutely fantastic and I’m starving just writing about it. Here’s what the lucky thirty ticket holders will be treated to next Tuesday:

Ilkley Rhubarb Saison - Served with salt and vinegar North Sea herring, pickled Yorkshire rhubarb, pink fir heritage potato salad, sweet mustard dressing

Kernel Citra - Served with butter-poached English asparagus, Wylam duck egg and garden sorrel

Thornbridge Wild Raven - Served with Middle White pig’s blood, bitter chocolate mousse and almond biscotti

Anarchy Sublime Chaos - Served with 24-hour braised ox cheek, wild garlic and barley pilaf, and malted onions, served with a Sublime Chaos jelly

Wild Beer Co Ninkasi 9% - Served with steamed West Coast razor clams with, wild fennel, three-corned leek and meadowsweet

Hardknott Granite 2013 - Served with 5-year-old Doddington’s cheese, air-dried Hedley roe deer, crisp rye bread, homemade quince cheese

It’s going to be a fantastic night and a real honour to be working with Rhian and his team.

I’ve also helped The Feathers pick some fantastic beers for their forthcoming American BBQ over the next Bank Holiday weekend. There can’t be many pubs with such beautiful country vistas as the Feathers who are serving up Founder’s All Day IPA and Anchor Breckle’s Brown, alongside a smorgasbord of pulled pork, burgers and smoked meats.

Our Adventures in Ale series will be back on 8 July with our Tour De Food & Beer event taking in the beers and cuisines of  this year’s Tour De France. Pack your Musette bags now – I’ll get details of times and prices up on that Twitter soon.

Gateshead Beer Festival Preview

It’s almost a year to the day since I was holed up Copenhagen’s Jernbane Cafe, rounding off a heroic day on the beer. Me and Emma spent several hours there with a lovely Danish couple, chatting in broken English and hand gestures. Needless to say their English became way better than ours as the beers continued to flow. They, however, didn’t have to get up early doors the next day to go to the all-you-can-drink Copenhagen Beer Celebration. Smooth move Mitchell. My three days in Copenhagen easily account for some of my most fearless drinking.

My time in Denmark was met with a pang of guilt though, as it meant I couldn’t attend the Gateshead Beer Festival. Now before you start banging on about your barrel-aged this and your super-hyper-mega collaboration that, it’s not unreasonable for me to hold Gateshead and CBC in the same regard. GBF is undeniably the best boozy event in the north east. Fact.

It’s truly a festival born out of a genuine passion for great local music and tasty beer. This isn’t a CAMRA do, so there’s no daft competition to see which local brewery can make the blandest beer known to man, and thank the lord, no silly hat day.

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GBF is held every May at Low Fell Rugby Club. It’s put together by club members who, like all good rugby club members should, enjoy a pint or ten. The site is in a leafy residential part of town and it’s full of punters who perhaps wouldn’t normally come to such a festival. It’s always a real pleasure to see the uninitiated taking their first steps into the wonderful world of beer and GBF encapsulates everything that a good beer festival should be all about.

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Head of beer selection Jon Aslet dropped me a line earlier in the year to ask if I’d like to lend a hand in choosing a few drops for their list and their programme. Naturally I jumped at the chance, especially when I heard they were setting up a keg bar. This year Gateshead will have an amazing line up of forty kegged beers from the likes of Magic Rock, Siren and Buxton, along with the biggest and best local beauties from outfits including Anarchy and Allendale.

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Oh and let’s not forget the 140 or so cask beers and 40 ciders and perries too. And a shit-hot line up of bands providing the weekend’s entertainment. Friday night will be kicked off by Northern Funk supremos Smoove and Turrell, fresh off the back of their latest tour. It’s quite the line up, and seeing a local festival embrace both cask and keg makes it even better.

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I popped in to see how preparation was going. Handpulls are in place, beer is racked, kegs at the standby and the marquee and stage all in place. However, it’s rained its arse off today and it’s looking pretty muddy. So if you’re coming along I’d recommend footwear you don’t mind writing off.

I’ll be there on Saturday, attempting to consume my own bodyweight in booze. If you’re in the north east do your damnedest to get along  Full details can be found on the GBF website. And although my tweets this weekend won’t have the hashtag #CBC they will proudly display #GBF.

Anarchy in Barcelona

My office overlooks Hadrian Yard, a grim recycling plant, situated on a particularly un-picturesque stretch of the River Tyne. The drab grey building has a permanent mumble of seagulls hovering of the corrugated roof, desperate to get to the stinky spoils inside. It’s disheartening to say the least. Staring out of the smog-covered river often gets me thinking of warming climes like the South of France or sunny Spain.

Only this week Pete Brown wrote about his recent visit and the burgeoning beer scene in Barcelona. It’s been well over a year since I last spent a long weekend there with friends drinking our way through this wonderful city.

Two other pals are Barcelona-bound soon, armed with my top tips on where to seek out the best Spanish cerveza. Simon and Dawn from Anarchy Brew Co. are pitching up in the Catalonian capital as part of the third annual Barcelona Beer Festival.

The festival is housed Barcelona’s Maritime Museum, located on the city’s seafront at the foot of Montjuïc Mountain. The perfect setting for a beer induced sea leg-esque stagger I think you’ll all agree.

Their visit marks the first time Barca-based boys and girls will be able to get their hands on Anarchy’s beers. They’ll also get to sup a few pints with Simon and Dawn who are kicking off the festival’s three days of Meet the Brewer events. The duo will certainly be in esteemed company, with the likes of De Molen, Emelisse, Alvinne Picobrouwerij and BrewFist also taking to the stage.

The festival comes at a busy time for Anarchy who, after just two years in the business, have started a series of European exports. Anarchy’s range of big tasting beers have set them apart from many other local breweries. You only have to look at their recent gold for Sublime Chaos Breakfast Stout at the SIBA awards, or sample their bonkers 100 Minute IPA Warhead, to understand why.

For those lucky enough to be attending the festival make sure you wrap your taste buds around Anarchy’s CitraStar, Urban Assault, Smoke Bomb and Knuckle Dragger. The full beer list is ridiculous, with ales available from the four corners of the world.

Anarchy have already got irons in the fire with other international exporters and will be showcasing their beers at several festivals around Europe. I, however, will for now have to settle for my dreary river view. I think an early finish and trip to the pub is in order.

The Free Trade Inn London Beer Festival

Much like house prices and earning potential, beery events are undoubtedly another sign of the north/south divide. Sure, there’s a cavalcade of CAMRA festivals turning out the occasional gem and the odd interesting keg-centric event up north, and I’m very much looking forward to the Hawkshead festival this summer. However, it’s undeniable that the south has us beat on must-visit events. And one place in particular seems to always draw the first boozy blood; that London.

From bottle shops to meet-the-brewer events, rebrand launches to the Bermondsey mile, London has the beer scene pretty much sewn up. Even the breweries seem to get along. The capital is a taste talisman, an olfactory oasis and I can’t help feeling a pang of jealousy from time to time.

I’m not the most prolific of bloggers but I subscribe to many of the best out there, and it only takes an event like last week’s Craft Beer Rising to make me more of a Jealous Guy than Bryan Ferry. However, this weekend London is heading north, bringing its boozy wares with it courtesy of The Free Trade Inn.

It will come as no surprise that The Free Trade Inn holds a special place in my heart. For those lefties amongst you, I’m sure you saw the recent coverage of the Newcastle beer scene in the Guardian last week. Tony Naylor opened his paragraph of praise with: “How could you not love a pub which, on its Facebook page, describes itself as “an absolute dump”?” And he’s right; The Free Trade Inn is certainly a little down at heel. I’ve been coming here since my formative drinking years, when it was more about Stella and Silk Cut rather than IBUs and ABVs.

However over the last four years manager Michael Potts has transformed the pub with the best view in Newcastle from a lager and Guinness-schilling boozer to the award-winning, hop-slinging, imperial stout-serving beer HQ of the north east, all without disturbing the hilarious graffiti in the gents. It’s been a hell of a turnaround.

We are blessed with a fantastic array of pubs in Newcastle; from the historic Crown Posada and its ornate glass work and snug, through to new kid on the block Lane7 for boutique beers, bites and bowling. Brewdog, the Bacchus and many more equally fantastic pubs are also on hand to cater to every boozy whim. Due to Newcastle’s small geographic footprint I reckon we’ve got the majority of destinations beat when it comes to awesome boozers within a square mile of the city centre. In fact I know that @thealetrail and his fantastic OpenSideways blog is working on telling that very tale.

However, none of these bars can hold a candle to the Free Trade. I class it as my local even though it’s a four mile stroll from my front door to the bar. They sell pickled eggs (now available in deluxe “craft” varieties); they’ve wonderful, knowledgeable staff and the world famous CraigDavid pub cat. It’s dickhead-free and you’re always guaranteed amazing ales. What’s not to love?

Starting this Thursday (27 February), The Free Trade is kicking off its biggest ever beer festival. Michael has pulled together an incredible London-centric list featuring beers from all the railway arches, ex-City traders and more. From Thursday to Sunday you’ll be able to sample over sixty different beers; nine cask and 15 keg lines from the likes of Beavertown, Brodies, Camden, Kernel, Brew by Numbers, 5 Points, Hackney, Four Pure, Head in a Hat, Alpha State, Pressure Drop and Redchurch. There’ll also be a range of Fuller’s Vintage bottles to get stuck into. The beers will rotate throughout the weekend, so that second (or third) visit you undoubtedly make will be a completely different affair. You can find the full list here.

And it’s not just beer; there’ll be London coffees from Square Mile and Nude Espresso served up by guest baristas; Anth from Pink Lane Coffee and Joe from Flat Caps Coffee. Would that be the self same Joe who just scooped the Best Espresso award in the UK Barista Championships? Yes, yes it would.

But wait, there’s more! Gin. Loads and loads of London gins. It turns out that not everyone is hip to beer’s groove. But that won’t stop them getting absolutely sauced on London’s finest mother’s ruin.

You’ll be able to stave off the worst hangover you’ve ever had thanks to the likes Riley’s Fish Shack, Papa Ganoush and Fat Hippo. Michael has pulled together a riot of beers for us to enjoy and I can’t wait to get stuck into them. London beers without having to put up with East Coast Mainline? Yes please.

Hope to see plenty of you there. I’ll be the one drunkenly ranting about something or other.


DAT bar

Newcastle is an amazing place. In fact, it’s better than that; it’s fucking tremendous. The city’s home to thousands of years of history, amazing architecture and engineering prowess. When we weren’t showcasing the first incandescent light bulb or building the first ever rail and road bridge we were brewing Newcastle Brown Ale goddammit. Today, the town is a melting pot of cultures, cuisines and quality bars.

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One family in particular has been working tirelessly as a cultural catalyst for the best part of forty years; the De Giorgis. This Geordie-Italian family opened their first restaurant, Don Vitos, back in 1976, kick-starting their entrepreneurial masterclass in making Newcastle better.

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Today, Joseph, Cristina and Aldo De Giorgi are the trio behind Gusto UK, who have helped shape some of the city’s best-loved bars, bistros and bodegas. With the opening of Paradiso’s they turned the tide on antiquated licensing regulations in the mid nineties, helping to change Newcastle from a PubCo controlled enclave to vibrant independent friendly city, while with Secco they offered up delicious regional Italian dining.

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Their cocktail bar Popolo’s captured me with a student loan cheque in my hand well over a decade ago. The suave surroundings and exquisite top shelf spirits were the cause of one too many hangovers over the years. Alvino’s taught many Geordies that lager didn’t have to mean Fosters and Carling and their cafe Intermezzo made a post-cinema Negroni as commonplace as pre-film trailer.

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However in 2011 they truly staked their claim on the town with their partnership with the Theatre Royal. The theatre is a Grade I listed building situated on the magnificently curved Grey Street. Designed by local architects John and Benjamin Green it opened back in 1837 and has long been an architectural jewel in the town’s design. Not only is the theatre a neo-classical monument but also a cultural driving force, with more than 350,000 visitors a year. In 2009 the modern great Sir Ian McKellen described the Theatre Royal Newcastle as his favourite theatre. That’s fucking Magneto talking right there people.

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Following £4.5 million worth of renovations in 2011, the theatre reopened with the De Giorgis transforming the former box office into the fantastic 9 Bar; a tiny oasis of excellent coffee and home to arguably the world’s best cheese toastie. 9 Bar makes it easy for me and many others to get my coffee fix slap bang in the city centre. And not just any cup of Joe either but Square Mile. Beans from the gourmet London roastery are a rare treat outside the capital and come courtesy of Aldo’s longstanding friendship with owner James Hoffman.

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At the same time as launching 9 Bar they also opened Pasqualino’s, a contemporary destination bar and pizzeria. They offered local and continental beers, as well as authentic imaginative Italian food on their daily changing specials. However, as of 14th March, Pasqualino’s is being reimagined as DAT bar.

Joseph and Aldo came down to my Beer and Bites event at the Baltic earlier this month. Once I wrapped up the afternoon we chatted about their plans for their new bar, hoping to do for small batch beer what they have did for New World Wine in their restaurants over the years.

They invited me down to DAT bar to take a look around and hear what they have planned, as it emerged from its construction chrysalis.

It’s currently pretty noisy and dusty but the scene is almost set for a riotous opening. The huge oval bar will see twenty keg lines offering up a rotating fifty keg beer list. Everything from Kernel, Summer Wine, Magic Rock, Burning Sky, Siren, Beavertown and more. The bar will be set off by a huge hand drawn mural of punk and rock and roll iconography. Forget your clinical clean lines and subdued colour palette. Dat bar is undeniably in your face.

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Circle the bar and you’ll see everything from super sessionable low ABV pale ales, through to smokey porters, succulent saisons, walloping stouts and IPAs. Around the bar in fifty beers if you will. Precise temperature controlled fridges will see both your super fresh IPAs and imperial stouts and porters served up at the correct temperature. Correctly cellared bottles? Count me in!

The rear area of the bar sees sumptuous leather booths overlooking the open kitchen. Needing quality sustenance to stave off that hangover? Not a problem. Freshly made sourdough pizzas will be in abundance, along with what Aldo hopes to be the world’s best hamburger. A lofty claim but when you hear the brioche will come courtesy of the Great Northumberland Bread Company and filling from the award winning meat merchant Peter Hannan I have little fear this will be realised.

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Even in the midst of its creation you can see the De Giorgis’ individuality stamped throughout. Much like with the screen printed decor of 9 Bar, DAT bar is very much its own beast. From a fifties jukebox, sixties motorcycle, and seventies car doors, the bar is perfect collage of sights and sounds.

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I’ve mentioned on countless occassions the reviliatised beer scene in Newcastle, with bars like The Free Trade, the Bacchus, Lady Grey’s, BrewDog, The Bridge Tavern and Red House all consistently challenging expectations with an ever-changing range of local, national and international beauties. However, from March a whole new audience will get to experience fantastic beer.

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Grey Street is currently undergoing its own resurgence, with the arrival of Jamie’s Italian, Carluccio’s, Brown’s and more.  In 2002 it was voted ‘Best street in the UK’ by BBC Radio 4 listeners. National treasure Sir John Betjeman said:

“As for the curve of Grey Street, I shall never forget seeing it to perfection, traffic-less on a misty Sunday morning. Not even Regent Street, even old Regent Street London, can compare with that descending subtle curve.”

However these new openings are doing little more than clearing out the rows of recruitment consultancies, replacing them with soulless identikit chain eateries. DAT bar is the big “fuck you” to all of that and will undoubtedly usher many onto the road of beery rebirth.

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This vibrant, visible and voluminous destination bar will help to see a new crowd treading the beer boards, which can only be a good thing. For those of us already indoctrinated into the ways of great beer, DAT bar will serve up an obscene range of kegged and bottled delights all via table service.

DAT bar is the second act twist that no one saw coming for the Theatre Royal. Rehearsals are well underway, but already the scenery and players are already looking and sounding pitch perfect. There’s less than a month till the curtain goes up and I can’t wait for opening night.

Come March 14, I’ll be at that bar. Which bar? DAT bar.


Beer and Bites

Jesus wept it’s February and I’ve yet to post anything on here this year. Well, I’ve been pretty busy! On Sunday I hosted the first Beer and Bites event at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art on the Gateshead Quayside. And it went amazingly well.

I was contacted by the Baltic in May last year to discuss the possibility of pulling together a beer tasting event in their Riverside Terrace Bar. I agreed with let or hindrance and promptly put it to the back of my mind. Being a huge cultural institution they have pretty long lead in times and February 2014 seemed like ages away.

But just like that exam you feel woefully under-prepared for, it came around faster than Uma Thurman with an adrenaline shot to the heart. And before I knew it I was stood in front 100 paying punters, mic in hand, giving a talk about the history of brewing on Tyneside.

For the event, the chefs at the Baltic had created small dishes to match my six selected beers from three of our best local breweries; Anarchy Brew Co, Allendale Brewery and Tyne Bank. I’m not going to lie, the beer choices were great.

The crisp and bitter Citra Star from Anarchy opened proceedings, followed by the delicious Cherry Stout from Tyne Bank, before the remarkable Saison Sauvin from Allendale closed the opening round. These were followed by Anarchy’s world class Sublime Chaos Breakfast Stout and the sensational Southern Star from Tyne Bank. Allendale brought the event to a close with their limited edition Bourbon Barrel Aged Export Stout.

For two hours I held court, giving the audience the back story to these three fantastic breweries and explaining the different beer styles and flavours. Now I won’t pretend I wasn’t nervous, despite plenty of preparation. The Baltic regularly plays host to wine tastings from vintners and sommeliers beyond reproach. So to have hundred people parting with their hard earned to listen to a beer blogger was an intimidating as it was exhilarating.

I needn’t have worried though; the audience really enjoyed the event. It was fantastic to get see the audience tying completely new styles of beer. Pushing people slightly out of their comfort zone and challenging any preconceived notions of strength and flavour was great fun. The feedback I received was truly humbling.

I’d like to thank Emma Jackson and Sheila Brownlee from the Baltic for organising such a great afternoon, the wonderful chefs for working their culinary mad skills, the fantastic serving staff who served out hundreds of bottles of beer with aplomb, the breweries for supporting the event and everyone who came down for a great Sunday afternoon of drinking.

Another Beer and Bites event will take place later this year. I can’t wait!


Golden Pints 2013

Well, 2013 has certainly gone over quickly, and my beer blogging has been less than stellar. Without a beer to review every day, I took my foot of the gas and coasted through the last eleven and a bit months. The majority of my writing has been for magazines and Tyne and Beer Metro, my beer journey around the north east’s light railway system. I must finish that next year.

Anyway, I’ve still managed to sneak in some epic drinking this year, from the outstanding Copenhagen Beer Celebration to the wonderful Bristol Beer Week, Brodies #HaggisBasher in Edinburgh to Craft’s birthday knees up in London. I might not have been taking beers on board with the frantic pace of 2012 but I still feel confident in my beery endeavours. 2014 is already shaping up to be a pretty big year beer-wise. I’m hosting a beer and food pairing event at the Baltic Art Gallery on the banks of the Tyne, showcasing some of the best north east beers from three of the best breweries. You can buy tickets here if you fancy. If not, I still love you.

Anyway here are my Golden Pints for 2013; a brilliant way to remind yourself of the damage you’ve done to your liver over the last twelve months.

Best UK Cask Beer – Do they still do that?

Best UK Keg Beer – We all know keg is king and this year there were oodles of beers itching to get their boozy paws on the crown. However for me it wasn’t a barrel aged, triple-hoped, 20%er that really caught my eye. It was Summer Wine’s Pacer, the session beer of the summer.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer – Magic Rock’s Un-Human Cannonball was a revelatory beer; a brute made to be drank super fresh. The best DIPA to come out of the UK by miles.

Best Overseas Draught Beer - Jester King’s FunkMetal at CBC. There simply aren’t enough superlatives for this beer. As I wrote here, “This stout was Saudi Sheik-rich and Tangfastically sour.” Amazing stuff

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer – Thanks to intrepid beer explorers @TheAleTrail and @DassieGirl1 I have been lucky enough to sample some pretty unreal examples this year. Their most recent jaunt was to Chicago and Grand Rapids from where they brought the most remarkable haul of canned goodies. Four day old Founders All Day IPA was fantastic, but the award has to go to the hop monster, Anti Hero from Revolution. Incredible artwork and unbelievable beer.

Best Collaboration Brew – Wild Beer Co’s Shnoodlepip. Made by Kelly Ryan from Good George Beer in NZ, Brett Ellis (originally from the US) from the Wild Beer Co, and Mark Tranter from Burning Sky Brewery. Utterly bonkers and absolutely fantastic.

Best Overall Beer – Boak and Bailey nailed their choice with Magic Rock’s Salty Kiss (Grapefruit). My goodness, my goze. A scintillating sub-4%er. Delicious.

Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label – Anything by Magic Rock or Wild Beer Co. No one else comes close.

Best UK Brewery – Siren Craft for their non-stop series beery hits. From Näcken to Liquid Mistress, Limoncello IPA to Even More Jesus; they are the brewing equivalent to the truck in Duel. Unstoppable.

Best Overseas Brewery – Cantillon

Pub/Bar of the Year – I wrote this for Living North Magazine to sum up my pub of the year, the Free Trade Inn, Byker.

“Regularly noted as being the bar with the finest views in the UK, in recent years the Free Trade Inn has transformed into an imaginative, progressive boozer, whilst still retaining the well-worn feel of a traditional north east hostelry. Jimi Hendrix reportedly spent time here while living locally with his manager, former Animal Chas Chandler. According to local legend he wrote ‘Stone Free’ in this very boozer.

“Coming complete with a very friendly pub cat, hilariously named Craig David, the bar is always a showcase of the best the UK beer scene has to offer, with a bottle list to keep you amused for hours. As you while away the hours drinking the likes of Summer Wine’s Diablo or Kernel’s Table Beer, be sure to also sink a pint of the house beer Peloton. This delicately hopped easy drinker was brewed exclusively for the bar by Tyne Bank Brewery, and is the perfect accompaniment for an afternoon spent taking in the majesty of the Tyne and the rejuvenated Quayside.”

There is no better bar. Fact.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013Newcastle has done well this year with our own take on NYC’s Brooklyn Bowl in Lane 7 and the microbrewery within the Bridge Tavern, but Pleased to Meet You on Newcastle’s High Bridge is this year’s most welcome addition. The former Turk’s Head has had a sumptuous makeover and now serves up over 20 innovative ales, an extensive bottle menu and a spirit range to bring you to your knees.

This, the latest offering from the Ladhar Leisure group features floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, which bring the outside in, letting patrons take in the fresh air and late evening sun from the comfort of the their seat. Distinctly American in feel, Pleased to Meet You specialises in gin. However their soulful soundtrack of late 70s funk helps patrons deftly sidestep the melancholy of mother’s ruin.

Beer Festival of the Year – While Copenhagen Beer Celebration probably edges it, I loved Bristol Beer Week. A seven day celebration of the best brewing action in the region. I doff my cap to organisers extraordinaire @BlueGiantBeer and @Hoptopia

Supermarket of the Year – Undoubtedly most will say Sainsbury’s from the Great British Beer Hunt. I’m saying my local Tesco store. Why? Sierra Nevada for £2 a bottle, that’s why.

Independent Retailer of the Year – We are spoiled in Newcastle with the likes of Rehill’s, Coppers and Glug. Despites Rehill’s shelf-busting ranges and Glug’s city centre location, I’m pinning my rosette on Coppers. Their amazing range of naughty beers and eagerness to embrace their audience is second-to-none.

Online Retailer of the Year BeerBods - Matt Lane and his beer subscription service is a joy. With slick design, great customer service and Thursday Twitter tastings, BeerBods is opening up beer to a whole new audience.

Best Beer Book or Magazine - It’s got to be Leigh Linley’s Great Yorkshire Beer. A passionate and informative ode to the best breweries and beers his neck of the woods. Tremendous.

Best Beer Blog or Website – Am I allowed to say Tyne and Beer Metro? Probably not so I’m going with the ever awesome The Evening Brews. The best looking, best written beery website going. Fact.

Best Beer App – Don’t use them.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer@Landells, his constitution for beers and boozy bollocks is unparalleled.

Best Brewery Website/Social media – Say what you will about their bullshittery, Brewdog have this social media thing locked. That’s Beavertown collaboration was fucking unforgivable though.

Looking forward to reading everyone elses nominations.


Allendale Brewery

While many people’s New Year’s Eves are now spent pissed, in front of the TV watching Jools Holland’s pre-recorded Hootenanny, there’s one place that does it very differently. The sleepy town of Allendale in the heart of Northumberland celebrates the coming of the New Year raising a burning tar barrel rather than a glass.   

The origins of the Tar Barl festival are unclear; there are claims for both Pagan and Christian roots. It can definitely be dated back to the mid 1800s, though some say it harks from the Middle Ages. Regardless, come New Year’s Eve, the village heaves with locals and visitors who watch as the barrel-carrying, fancy dress-wearing ‘guisers’ parade through the centre of the town where the barrels are placed atop a giant bonfire. In today’s modern climate, it’s a health and safety minefield, yet every year it goes off with a hitch, regardless of the weather.

I’ve only been the once, when I was thirteen, owing to the fact Allendale can be an absolute swine to get to from Newcastle, especially in winter. However, it’s a unique way to welcome in the New Year. I’d like to think that the revellers will this year be raising a glass of Allendale’s Brewery’s fantastic Tar Barl stout; a rich velvety beer, perfect for the winter months. If they are really sensible they’ll have the keg dispensed version, which is absolutely tremendous.

For over 200 years Allendale was a bustling town famous for its lead mining industry and the Allen Mill was at the heart of the economy. Since the collapse of the industry and the closure of the Smelt Mill in 1896, the Mill building has had many uses, including storage of munitions during the war. Today it’s home to Allendale Brewery, a staple in the North East.

Their hugely sessionable Golden Plover, Wolf and APA can be found all over the region. However, in the last eighteen months they’ve turned their output up to eleven with their fantastic END range of beers. These ever-changing, experimental ales showcase fantastic and wildly different styles and ingredients.

It’s always a treat to spot an END pump clip on the bar. These must try beers have turned out some truly remarkable results. Last year I reviewed their Sauvin 600, brewed to celebrate their 600th brew. I wrote: “sticky grapefruit is lip puckeringly bitter, while the pale malt adds a thin layer of cream to the proceedings. Being quite lightly bodied I could quite easily see pints of this being sunk in the summer months, like an overzealous game of Battleship”.

The END range has taken in everything from a gin tinged botanic ale, the hugely hopped behemoth C4, an American Brown Ale, chilli chocolate milk stout, single hopped pale ale and more. It’s testament to the brewing prowess of Neil Thomas, the man in charge of Allendale’s hot liquor tank, mash tun and copper. The former chef and chilli sauce impresario first met Allendale’s owner Tom Hick at the market in Hexham. This chance meeting turned into a job offer and Neil has never looked back.

I’ve been trying to get up to Allendale for the best part of six months, and although we’ve exchanged countless emails and tweets I’d never actually met any of the Allendale armada. Last week I took a day of work and remedied this sorry state of affairs.

The brewery has been up and running since 2006. It’s a family affair, run by husband and wife team, Tom and Lucy Hick. It became the first brewery in the small village since 1887 when the original brewery closed to due to rural depopulation. They have grown year-on-year in their almost decade in operation, becoming firm favourites in bars as far afield as Edinburgh. They’ve picked up a clutch of awards along the way, including a number of CAMRA and SIBA plaudits.  

As the UK beer explosion marches on, Allendale are growing to accommodate their demand. There are plans afoot for more vessels to increase capacity to help quench the north’s raging thirst for their beers. Neil is assisted by Ric and Rikki who help to keep the boozy cogs in motion.

The brew of the day was a Black IPA. The END range has already seen two trial brew iterations but today was a five barrel batch and Neil was determined to make this the best version yet. As a thick layer of Carafa malt worked its magic, imparting the deep colour and hint of roast to the liquor, Neil and I shot the shit about all things beer.

Now, I’ll make no bones about my job; it doesn’t exactly make me happy. I’m well aware that in this current economic climate I’m very lucky to even have a job, but getting to speak to Neil, I couldn’t help but feel a stinging pang of jealousy. Here is someone truly happy in their work. His years as a chef have served him well, and the big flavours of Allendale’s beers are undoubtedly down to his finely tuned palette.

Like so many bloggers before me, my input into the beer was limited. I wasn’t even treated to digging out the mash tun. Admittedly, this is blessing in disguise, but I was convinced proper work was par for the bloggers course. To be honest, I’m still glad I somehow managed to dodge this back breaking bullet. I did get to play a part in the ingredients and with four separate hop additions, this BIPA is going to be blisteringly hoppy.

Weighing out and breaking up blocks of Columbus, Chinook, Citra, Centennial, Summit and Chinook was a pleasure. The sticky, piney hops filled the brewery with a sumptuous, resinous smell. All that was missing was a tape of Creedance and a White Russian. As the beer bubbled away I was treated to a number of bottles that I’ll be reviewing on the blog soon. Any brewery playing around with Brett just for fun ranks highly in my estimation.

Towards the end of the afternoon Ric decided it was time to sample quite unique beer, a pin of Wolf conditioned on Christmas pudding. No, really.

Obviously this beer isn’t going to make it to market anytime soon but take it from me the resultant tidal wave of beer that spewed forth from the cask was truly remarkable. This one-off 4.5 gallon experiment might only have left half a pint glass of beer following the big beery bang as it was tapped, but bloody hell, it didn’t half work. Sweet and sticky, all it was missing was a gaudy Christmas jumper.

However, this completely sums up Allendale; good natured and experimental. Their END range has been one of the most exciting things to come out of the region in years. I would personally love their beers to go further afield so more people can bask in their boozy brilliance.

Hearing that their Sauvin Saison will be making a reappearance made me grin from ear to ear. Easily one of my beers of year, this saison is truly world class. As tart as a slaggy receptionist, this vinous beauty needs to be stocked by sommeliers to showcase the style to as many people as possible.

It was fantastic to finally meet up with Neil and the rest of the team; people genuinely passionate about their product. I was lucky enough to spy their new branding which will be making its debut in early January. Fellow north easterners will be able to see the lot for themselves at a tap takeover at The Free Trade in January. I can safely say it’s beautifully designed, with subtle typography and a tasteful colour palette. Easily the best looking labelling of any of the local breweries.

So with the yeast added, and working its magic on the BIPA, we are just three weeks and a dry hop away from release. Hopefully it will be hitting the bar pre-Christmas. I’ll be getting torn up on it. You should too if you get the chance.

Thanks again to everyone at Allendale for tolerating me for the day, it was a pleasure. I’ll be showcasing two of Allendale’s beers at my Booze and Bites at the Baltic art gallery on the 2nd February; both are absolute pearlers, as well as one other doozy which will be receiving its public debut at the event. It’s an absolute stormer, get excited.

Fantastic to see my good friends Gary and Jill taking over US TV on their trip to Grand Rapids. Would have preferred to see Gary in a Toon top though, naturally. Check it out. 

Bristol Day One

Autumn: the season of big coats and the permanent need for an umbrella. It’s also the time of year for two of Europe’s go-to beer festivals; Borefts and IndyMan. The windmill/swimming baths double act serve as the high watermarks in the European beer calendar and provide a heavy-going fortnight for even the seasoned drinker. Twitter was ablaze with tweets from friends and acquaintances, as they laid their livers to waste on barrel-aged beauties and hyper-hopped harlots, as the rest of us non-attendees reached for the unfollow button.

I was at neither Borefts nor IndyMan. Instead Emma and I chose another beery destination; the inaugural Bristol Beer Week. The brainchild of @BlueGiantBeer (Stephen) and @Hoptopia (Lee). Bristol Beer Week was a seven-day celebration of the best beers, bars, brewers and brewsters from Bristol and the surrounding areas. You can read about the backstory here.

I have been to Bristol once before. Flying into Bristol airport I was ferried straight to Temple Meads station and beyond to take part in a course in Weston Super Mare on how to interview people correctly under police caution. I’ve had a varied career. Bristol passed by in a blur and, if I’m honest, never troubled me again. However after seeing tweets from Stephen about four months ago, when Bristol Beer Week was just a twinkle in his eye, I knew I had to go. Bristol had become what Devil Tower was to Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters. The beer beacon was reeling me in.

After a short fifty minute flight we were aboard the airport transfer coach service heading to the city centre. Or we would have been, if it weren’t for the gridlocked traffic. The glacial pace of the coach was bewildering. Do Bristolians spend the hours of nine to five in their cars? This was Bangkok levels of traffic craziness.

One hour and six miles later we alighted, catching one final lung full of burning clutch. We’d made it and coffee was required. Stat. Thankfully Bristol has a wonderful caffeine emporium in Full Court Press, which serves up all manner of black gold. This delightful shop is run by Mat who rustles up some truly fantastic coffees while the premises are bathed in Scandinavian chic design. It reminded me a lot of Copenhagen’s Coffee Collective; clean lines and fucking tremendous drinks.

Two superb coffees later and we were on our way, with a complimentary bottle of cold drip to boot. Bristol was already proving to be a class act. We plumped for a four night stay in the Travelodge to free up cash for beverages. Of course, just the one night in a Travelodge can test the most patient of travellers. The omission of anything other than a child size cake of soap is disheartening, while the handprint high up on the wall offered more questions than answers. Regardless, it was well placed and unfeasibly cheap.

With all manner of events taking place across the city it was apparent from the off that we weren’t going to be able to get to everything on the list. Instead of racing over the city we decided to see this more as pleasure ride, than a last minute commute. And our visit was much better for it.

The Three Tuns, which comes complete with the incredible offerings of Meat and Bread, was located just moments from our penthouse suite. Serving as an Arbor Ales tap, I was able to quench my thirst with an incredible Breakfast Stout, whose rich and creamy magnificence was the perfect aperitif for Bristol Beer Week… and with which to be interviewed by the BBC.

Somehow, within minutes of sitting down I was being interviewed for Points West about minimum unit pricing. Pretty standard. Once my fifteen minutes were up, the Breakfast Stout proved the perfect accompaniment to a mammoth belly pork sandwich, which set us up for meeting up with Mark Landells.

Mark was gracious enough to send me some beers for my Beer 366 quest last year and we have kept in touch ever since. We first met in person at the beerpocalypse that was the mighty Copenhagen Beer Celebration and we had made plans to meet at the Famous Royal Naval Volunteer, a boozer stocked to the rafters with Summer Wine beers for Friday night’s tap takeover. Mark is quite simply one of the nicest people you could ever hope to share a beer with so we were excited to meet up. 

Now let it be said, we don’t do things by halves (or thirds) and what followed was a magnificent twelve hour drinking adventure. Having cut down dramatically on my beer intake in recent months, this little adventure probably should have landed me in hospital. But it was Bristol Beer Week and Bacchus and her mates were smiling on us favourably.

After several of Holmfirth’s finest we popped next door to the vaulted ceilings of The Beer Emporium.  The heaving racks of bottles more than made up for the sparse decoration and with beers like Brooklyn’s There Will Be Black on keg it was obvious their name wasn’t an empty promise. After dropping our bags back at the doss, house Mark took us on a whistle stop tour of the town by foot. The night began with another round of Meat and Bread at the Tuns before heading to the Hare on the Hill for the Bristol Beer Week Launch event.

Brewers from Beerd Brewery, Wiper and True, Rocket Science Craft Ales, Arbor Ales and Art Brew had created a range of beers brewed especially for the week. As the brewers worked the bustling crowd, we three intrepid drinkers worked our way through each of the auspicious ales. The Wiper and True / Beerd Bristol Cream Stout was particularly tasty as was the Arbor Sauvin Non-Blanc (although it was crying out to be kegged). Lee and Stephen rocked up later on in time for a brief hello before we headed back into town for even more beer.

Bristol’s Brewdog was first on our list. Unlike the mezzanine floors of Newcastle, Bristol is a compact bar. It might have similar decor, but Bristol seems a more welcoming affair, selling a range of Bristol Beer Week cocktails and a solid range of sours. Two halves of Blitz and a split bottle of Mixtape 8 later and we are off,  heading down river to the Apple. It was time to drink cider…on a boat.

Like Newcastle, Bristol is a former industrial town which once had a heavy reliance on its waterways. Newcastle chose to celebrate this history with a floating nightclub; a former passenger ferry converted into the world’s worst water hole, complete with a revolving dance floor ors. Thankfully, the Tuxedo made its final voyage out of the city several years ago. Hopefully to international waters where it was scuttled with all of the regulars still on-board.

Bristol however makes better use of its rivers, as can be seen by the number of small bars and eateries installed aboard barges. One of these is the Apple, which specialises in selling incredibly strong scrumpy to incredibly drunk youngsters. Mark, Emma and I sipped our pints of old Bristolian, knocked ever so bandy by the nautical undulation while tables of freshers screamed “Chug! Chug! Chug!” We may have been too old for the Apple, but it was certainly fun.

Bars seem to shut early in Bristol and our choices for post midnight drinking were limited, so it was back to the underground sanctum of the Beer Emporium. We opened more bottles. We drank more beer. It was the perfect way to toast day one of Bristol Beer Week. And this was just the start.

Pumphreys

OK, I’ll level with you. Over the past six months I’ve gotten a touch bored with beer. Last year’s Beer366 kind of burned me out and writing about beer grew pretty tiresome. I got sick of trying to come up with witty descriptors; bored with reading about the latest and greatest bars and brewpubs; fed up with spending hundreds of pounds of bottles and bombers.

Don’t get me wrong I’ve continued to drink some world class stuff, attended some great festivals at home and abroad, and even bashed out the odd magazine article or two, but the passion just isn’t there at the moment. I have two Tyne and Beer Metro posts almost ready to go yet can’t find the words to finish them.

I’m hoping Bristol Beer Week will re-ignite my boozy fire which, at the moment, is barely clinging to life. Instead of hitting the bar with alarming regularity I’ve cut back the boozing to a bare minimum, dramatically improved my diet, and got myself a personal trainer.

However one thing I have missed as my beer levels have dropped is flavour; the subtle nuances of a stout or the balanced bite of a double IPA. But I’ve found a replacement beverage to keep my palate more than ticking over: coffee. And this week I found time to take it one step further thanks to the wonderful north east coffee merchant Pumphrey’s.

Pumphrey’s has a long history in my home town, first established by a gentleman named Leigh Smith in Newcastle’s creepily named Flesh Market, opposite the Bigg Market, in 1750. It was sold to George Richardson in 1800. Richardson was described as a “Quaker, businessman, tanner, grocer and dealer in tea.”

After 35 years in the game he was succeeded by his son Henry and the street which had previously been renamed Union Street now became the Cloth Market as it is today. Henry Richardson had two nephews - Thomas Pumphrey and George Richardson Pumphrey. See where this is going?

In 1853 George, aged just 23, purchased a grocery business in Blackett Street, Newcastle with Thomas as his shop assistant.

A year later Thomas joined his uncle Henry in the Cloth Market business as Henry Richardson & Co. until uncle Henry retired in 1858. Thomas formed a partnership with his friend T. Carrick Watson who would run the Blackett Street business as Pumphrey & Watson for seven years until 1869 when Watson became sole proprietor. Following years of hard graft, Thomas Pumphrey died aged 78. His business continued to thrive and ‘Pumphreys Coffee’ became a household name throughout the north east.

Pumphrey’s remained a dominant force in the north east for years. Their store in the Cloth Market, with its very busy roasting department and coffee rooms above, continued to flourish. My mother has often mentioned her frequent trips to the coffee rooms while working in the city.

In 1974 the grocery side of the business had to close and a decision was taken to move the coffee side of the business into the Old George Yard (behind the shop) and continue to supply the catering trade from there. This would free the main building for sale, which was in great demand for use as a public bar. Sadly this went on to become one of the many god awful boozers occupying the Bigg Market. However, there’s talk of a huge overhaul in that area. In fairness a Sarin gas attack would sort it out in the short term, but it would appear there are plans afoot for a boutique hotel and new bars. I’ll believe it when I see it.

In 1983 Pumphrey’s Coffee Ltd. was purchased by the Archer family and its place of business was moved out of the Cloth Market for the first time in over 230 years. The business moved to Blaydon on Tyne, home of the Blaydon Race, where a new 40,000 sq ft factory has provided warehousing and roasting facilities with excellent positioning for distribution.

The firm went on to offer more than 80 different coffees and teas all freshly prepared with the traditional Pumphrey’s care and attention to detail. In 2002 Stuart’s son (Stuart Lee) joined the business and introduced a vastly improved range, along with all relevant up to date training.

They have since extended their showroom at Blaydon giving customers a one-stop-shop for not only their coffee but also all the various associated products such as crockery, glasses, disposables, sugars and chocolates. They stock a fantastic range of high-end coffee machines to give even coffee enthusiasts like me the caffeine-infused horn. From Aeropresses to V60s, Chemex to Syphons; their Blaydon base of operation is the perfect base for all your brew methods.

Upstairs they have a dedicated training centre where they provide City and Guilds-accredited courses on coffee, coffee making and machine maintenance. For the past ten years Stuart Lee Archer has trained countless baristas before they have gone on to set up their coffee shops. He has played in a part in helping to train Newcastle’s Joe Meagher, the man behind the wonderful Flat Cap Joe’s on Ridley Place. Joe is one of the shining examples of Newcastle’s burgeoning coffee cultures and was a finalist in this year’s UK Barista Championships; a hell of an achievement.

On Monday I visited their Blaydon base to take part in their introductory Barista Training. The course was lead by Stuart Lee Archer who, over the day long course, took me on a whistle stop history of coffee, including bean selection, coffee storage, espresso extraction, milk texturing, drink presentation, grinder maintenance and cleaning and much much more. 

Getting to spend a couple of hours playing with super expensive Italian espresso machines was a hoot and while my cappuccinos would undoubtedly be sent back  (looking more like they were served up by someone with chronic vibration white finger) they still tasted pretty damn good.

Getting to learn what goes into make a perfect espresso was fascinating, with Stuart splitting the drink into its constituent parts and illustrating the massive variances in aroma, mouthfeel and flavour that under and over extraction can cause. The course was hugely beneficial in helping to understand how subtle changes in preparation can dramatically affect your coffee.

Stuart remained on hand to talk you through lighter and dark roast coffees and explain the types of flavours you could expect to experience. It was like a beer tasting but, you know, with coffee.

Another treat of the day was the tour of the roasting room, where I got to see the equipment used to make Pumphrey’s signature roasts. This was about as far from super high tech, lab conditions as you could get. Instead it was old school pulleys, gears, cables and fire. Fantastic! Seeing the changes from green beans to the finished product was fascinating and learning about the variances you can experience from farm to farm, season to season, stoked my interest even further.

It was a superb day and I can’t recommend it highly enough. While it’s unlikely that Emma will allow me to drop big money on a top-of-the-line espresso machine I’m now all too aware that a new grinder is on the horizon to help improve the flavour of my home brews. I fear my coffee consumption is about to increase exponentially.

Next time you’re in central Newcastle be sure to pop into Pumphrey’s Brewing Emporium in the Grainger Market where you can pick up your supplies and have a have a coffee in the UK’s first covered market to boot. Or, like me, pony up the entrance fee to learn more at their Blaydon headquarters. You won’t be disappointed.

Living North

I recently had an article published in Living North magazine highlighting the best places to get pissed in the sun in the north east. Living North is chock full of the best the north has to offer and does it in damn swanky fashion. It was great to be able to be write for them.

You can check out my article below.

I’ll be contributing another beer related article in their September issue. I suggest you take out a subscription and you can do just that by visiting www.livingnorth.com

In other writing news, I’d encourage you to visit my other site Tyne and Beer Metro as new content with be getting posted early next week. I’ll be visiting the beer desert that is Newcastle Airport, Callerton Parkway and a few other disparate stations. Just shy of forty stations still to go. Bloody hell. 

Re-release the Pressure

Back in late March I was lucky enough to get my hands on four bottles from London’s Pressure Drop Brewery. My wonderful beer donkey girlfriend Emma (her words not mine) dutifully hauls a selection of bottles from Sourced Market back to the north east whenever she’s in London for work.

Their size - a tiny 0.5hl - amazed me. In such a small time and on a fantastically tiny kit they’d managed to create four completely different beers, all of which were chock full of foraged herbs, berries and other goodies. Pressure Drop aren’t brewing simple milds and bitters like all too many breweries, far from it.

On my recent visit to London to drink myself draft at Craft’s second birthday party, Emma and I decided to do our damndest to visit a couple of breweries too. Pressure Drop were high on my list but we weren’t sure we’d manage it in our forty eight hour flying visit to the city.

We had arranged to visit our friend Kai, who is currently at Howling Hops in the Cock Tavern in Hackney. While we caught up with him and head brewer Ed Taylor we discussed a recent collaboration they’d done with Pressure Drop; Wallbanger Wit, a tasty sounding wheat beer loaded with foraged elderberries.

“Well they’re just across the road,” Ed informed me. What?!

It so transpires that Pressure Drop have had a growth spurt. Gone is their miniature industrial unit in Stoke Newington, to be replaced with the quintessential brewery base - a railway arch. Capacity has grown to, now up to 800 litres. A hop, skip and tweet later and we were squeezing past rows of Metrocabs waiting to be serviced and on our way to visit Pressure Drop’s new homestead.

We were lucky enough to be shown around by Sam and Ben, two thirds of the Pressure Drop triptych. The new kit was less than a week old and by their own admission they were still finding their way around it. The pilot kit responsible for their brews up to this point was still going strong too. For me, it was their uniquely small size that initially caught my eye, along with their simple yet assured branding. But it was their agility and inventiveness that really made them shine.

Their Pale Fire is a quintessential summer supper, packed with a showcase of juicy hops but they are much more than Pale Ale peddlers. Delicious featherweight brown ales pack a heavyweight punch, while they season dunkels and wits like gourmet French chefs.

We were also lucky to meet Jonathan Cook, better known as Jon the Poacher.  Previously featured in National Geographic, Jon is a key component of the Pressure Drop magic and often vanishes into parts of urban London to pick the wild roots, herbs and berries that help shape Pressure Drop’s botanical beauties. But Jon keeps the exact whereabouts of his foraging a closely guarded secret.

A week or so before our visit they’d tweeted about a new beer that was en route, a dandelion and burdock porter. Fuck me, I needed that in life. A traditional favourite flavour meets a dark and characterful beer. After a small sample it’s already on my top ten beers of the year. The guys shared a bottle and, although very young, the character of the botanicals shone through. In a couple of months it will be incredible. I urge you all to try it; several times.

At present they’re unable to sell beers from the premises but fear not, that’s coming soon. Before too long you’ll be able to sit outside, sampling beers brewed just metres away. I can’t wait and it will undoubtedly become a must visit every time I make it down south.

To round off a stellar trip, the guys generously loaded us up with some bottles to take home, each one as delicious sounding as the next.

Having previously sampled their Pale Fire with Amarillo & Citra, I couldn’t wait to get stuck into the two most recent variants. I made it through the first day back at work before the call of the bottle opener was just too strong.

Pale Fire (Nelson Sauvin & Mosaic) (4.5%)

It has a lightly golden pour with a waif like white bubbly head. The aroma was fruitier than a pack of Opal Fruits and equally mouth watering. Orange and grapefruit with a twist of lemon and lime. The flavour was just as good; a light biscuit base carried the fresh citrus filling perfectly. Gone in three gulps. I think that says everything.

Pale Fire (Nelson Sauvin & Topaz) (4.7%)

The Nelson Sauvin and Topaz variant looked exactly the same, but served up a richer fruitier aroma. The plumped up ABV drew more attention to the booze but offered up a fruit platter finish than would make Gillian McKeith proud. Take aim, Pale Fire!

Crystal Myth

Following up our visit to Howling Hops it’s only right to open their most recent collaboration with the Hackney hopslingers. Hand labelled and yet to be released, it’s a red pour with a sweet and heady aroma. I was convinced this was a berry laden beer but clarification came via Twitter that it’s just malt, hops, water and yeast. An intriguingly moreish beer with a juicy bitter finish.

Builder’s Tea Porter (4.6%)

The fourth and final bottle of the night brought a pairing that couldn’t help but make me prick up my ears. Tea and porter. The hilariously named Builder’s was a favourite before I even opened it. With an aroma of richly roasted malt and liquorice, the nose also carried hints of strong black tea. Get in! It’s even more evident in the flavour, dry as a bone with a medium bitterness. It’s a velvety smooth beverage, perfect for elevenses, twelveses or anythingses. Fabulous.

I have a few bottles left that I’m looking forward to splitting with friends on the train as we hightail it to Brodies’ HaggisBasher event in Edinburgh next week. One of these is the Stokey Brown Bourbon Barrel edition. I can tell from the bottle it’s the perfect breakfast beer.

Thanks again to Pressure Drop gents for taking the time to show us around and let us sample your beers. Now brew more and send it all to Newcastle! Cheers.