Somehow at the ripe old age of 28, the North had escaped me. There’s no excuse for it – I have a car and enough money to fuel it, so why had I never travelled further than Harrogate? I couldn’t let this embarrassment sit any longer and hastily booked a set of trips – Northern Adventure 1 in Newcastle, and Northern Adventure: The Sequel, in Edinburgh. This is the documentation of the former, picking out some of my favourite locations and experiences from my time upon Tyne.
Beer Twitter showing its community spirit
Before haphazardly driving up the M1 and stumbling around Quayside, I reached out to Daisy Turnell, baroness of Craft Beer Newcastle, with a cry for help. Despite Daisy being whisked around Copenhagen on an open aired tour-bus, I still heard back in minutes, and my entire weekend was sorted. Seriously, if you do not have the foggiest of where to check out in a new city, you should track down the local experts on social media and plead with them to impart their knowledge.
— Craft Beer Newcastle (@CraftBeerNCL) April 17, 2018
It would be a disservice to visit Newcastle and not visit Wylam. They produce some of the UK’s (and arguably the world’s) finest beers; I can’t say I’ve ever had one of their brews and been disappointed. The company oozes style, which comes as no surprise when you see their premises. You’ll find Wylam inside the Palace of Arts, nestled serenely inside Exhibition Park, just north of the city centre. An unsurprisingly grand structure, the home of Wylam was originally part of the 1929 North East Exhibition, established to celebrate and encourage craft, art and industry at the start of the Great Depression.
It’s a joyous stroll to the brewery through the park. We had come from the east side, taking in our surroundings as we sluggishly walked off some sourdough pizza from the punnily brilliant Cal’s Own (which of course happened to have Wylam on tap). When the trees dissipate and you glimpse Wylam over the water, it’s a moment comparable to Charlie Bucket seeing the Chocolate Factory for the first time.
The atmosphere inside and out of the taproom was absolutely buzzing, as you could imagine following a scorchio Friday. The sun was still out and the people of Newcastle were going to bloody well enjoy it. Sadly, part of the brewery was occupied by a wedding party. Bad luck of the draw for me, perfect conditions for them. As I peered around, glancing at group after group, it was so incredibly encouraging to see such a wide range of people enjoying what we call craft. There were also plenty of doggos running around, which only a monster would not smile about. The bar itself was a beauty to behold – 14 taps, 4 cask hand pumps, and fridges that were stocked to the brim. Literally spoilt for choice. It’s fair to say a number of beverages were consumed, including the freshly batched (and perfectly named) ‘Who Unfollowed Me?’ collab with Verdant. Flawless.
If you like your bars to have no regard for English capitalisation rules, dAt bAr is the place for you. The name isn’t where the fun stops with dAt bAr; inside you will find a moody red, white and black venue which could have been decorated by Jack White himself. Directly opposite the entrance is the ominously named “Wall of Death”, plastered with murals depicting some familiar faces.
Proudly displayed to the right of the bar, is the aptly named “booze board” which draws your attention to the impressive range of kegs on offer. With 20 taps on, you are guaranteed to find a beer that takes your fancy. From Wild Beer to Pressure Drop, Burning Sky to Burnt Mill, dAt bAr are stocking some mighty fine breweries. The staff were super friendly and very happy to talk about the beers on offer (although I may have been too much of a distraction for the young barkeep, who through our chatter accidentally poured me a pint of Sleeping Lemons Export).
If nothing on draft takes your fancy, the bar stocks an equally impressive beer fridge; you could come back day after day and not be bored. If beer isn’t your poison, the staff can fix you up all of your other standard alcoholic beverages, from wine and spirits to cocktails. I can’t expand too much on this – you will have to wait for the follow up blog, Wednesday Cocktails.
Just a hop, skip and a jump away from the station lies The Box Social, the acting tap room for Box Social Brewing, found just a few miles down the road in Newburn. The Social satisfyingly slots under one of the railway arches round the back of the station, with a big ol’ glass front allowing you to spy on both decks. As you’re inside sipping on your beer you’ll hear the satisfying rumble of trains chugging over-top. Combined with the music of Funkadelic, Fatima Yamaha, and The Cardigans, the sounds resonating around Box Social were euphoric.
It may be only a tiny bar, but Box Social are still packing 10 keg taps and 4 cask pumps. The choice is predominantly the brewery’s own offerings (it is their acting tap room after all), but there were also a few guest beers scattered between. This was my first time trying anything from Box Social, and my God, they did not disappoint. First up was Big Beak, an NE style IPA, which uses copious amounts of Aussie hops to mask its 7.2% ABV. Full of flavour and as opaque as they come, this was truly refreshing stuff. The second tasted was Campfire Porter, which from the name you may have figured involves toasted marshmallows. Perhaps not the most fitting drink to be having during a heatwave, but Box Social have done something magical here and captured that quintessential campfire essence inside a keg.
Hey Newcastle, can you stop hogging all the Box Social beers and let some come further south? Thanks.
Before facing the arduous journey back, I convinced myself that a piece of the north must come with me, and so I took it upon myself to track down a source of local takeaway beers. One bottle shop that had come recommended was CentrAle, who could apparently be found near the ticket office on platform 2 in Central Station. This didn’t properly sink in till I was facing the shop front, positioned right inside Newcastle station itself. Let’s take a step back and remember this isn’t a gigantic, bank-rolled corporate chain; but rather a small independent craft beer bottle shop, somehow nuzzled into the heart of the city’s travel hub!
The interior of CentrAle is extremely charming; luggage tags with prices hang from rustic wooden shelves, hefty brown barrels form display units, and handwritten chalk slates divide each section. Two walls of beer dominate the shop, with one purely dedicated to local produce. A real sense of local pride could be felt here – it’s a wonderful sight to see the owners displaying the home-grown stuff and not just buying into ‘buzz’ beers. Speaking of the owners, CentrAle is run by husband and wife, Bruce and Donna Renwick, who were more than happy to help me with my beery needs. They also assembled for me a wonderful gift set which I was able to customise with my own selection of bottles. As Donna gently ribbed Bruce for his gift box assembly skills, I couldn’t help but smile; their love for craft beer and each other was flowing outward and it was warming the cockles of my heart. If you are ever in need of train beers CentrAle have also got you covered with a brace of fridges stocking a variety of breweries and styles – I know if I was a frequent rail traveller I wouldn’t be able to stay away.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the awesome things about Newcastle, but I hope this post gives you a little insight as to why its gaining a reputation as one of the best craft beer destinations – I’m already planning my return trip there. I hope you’ve enjoyed my beery ramblings about my recent adventure – stay tuned for the Edinburgh follow-up.