Posted on 02/07/20
It’s grim up north, so they say. So when lockdown eased recently, I did something odd.
I left behind my small beer shop down in Penge for a quick pilgrimage north. Y’know, just to check. And the rumours are false!
There are plenty of delightful open spaces up north, many of which prove the perfect backdrop for idling. You can chat to passers-by without being reported for harassment. Most important of all, the north is choc-full of wonderful breweries churning out some outstanding beer right now.
Tucked up in the North East, By The River Brew Co. is one such example. It’s part of an amazing and brave concept. The brewery is actually part of the company’s independent container settlement beneath the iconic Tyne Bridge (on the Gateshead side). And that makes it quite a bit more than a brewery. Amongst the fermentation tanks you’ll find Backyard Bike Shop fulfilling many an idler’s custom-built two-wheeled dreams. You’ll find Träkol, a restaurant serving up seasonal grub cooked over an open fire. You’ll find a trendy coffee house. There’s a cocktail bar. At weekends, there’s even a vibrant hawkers market going on. The locals will surely have missed the fun during lockdown – and I’d imagine the brewery most of all.
Fortunately, you don’t need to head to Gateshead to get hold of By The River beer. The brewery distributes its wares pretty much nationwide. Treat yourself to one of their Heedbanger IPAs. The monster can’s bold design houses a classy and clean IPA that’s double-dry-hopped with futuristic-sounding hops like Citra Cryo and Amarillo T90. They could be a new Terminator. Heedbanger is all the better for it.
Wylam Brewery is another great example. The brewery occupies the Palace of Arts in Exhibition Park, Newcastle. It’s a Grade II listed building Wylam rescued back in 2010 in an effort to get more Wylam beer into the hands of beer fans nationwide. Ten years on, it’s safe to say the plan worked. You may well have tried Wylam’s flagship beer Jakehead IPA at some point or another. It’s their mainstay, and fast becoming a stalwart in the craft beer scene. But if you ask me, it’s their seasonal brews that are really worth looking into. Geordie Beer Geek Coffee Oatmeal Stout is a collaboration with Copenhagen-based giants Mikkeller, and it’s a clean-roasted cold-brew coffee in a can. Fans of lager can also do no wrong with Wylam’s Cold Condition Lagerbier, a lager with notes of white grape, gooseberry and lemongrass that the brewers conditioned at 0°C for 12 weeks straight.
Over in Manchester, Track has long been one of my favourite breweries. The brewery focuses on pale and hoppy numbers and Track’s passion for adventure runs through everything the brewery puts out.
If you’ve heard of Track, you probably know of their Sonoma Pale Ale – widely regarded in the craft beer scene as one of the best pale ales out there, especially when served on cask. The brewery’s work and reputation is starting to seep into mainstream consciousness. Track won’t be a secret for long.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, tuck into their amazing range of sours. Track’s IPAs, too, are something to behold. Intrinsic Space is one such incarnation; a single-hop IPA that highlights ‘it’ hop of the moment Strata. If you want to seem clued-up at dinner parties (even if they are on Zoom and you’re all eating different things), it’s one to try. Smacks of grapefruit and ripe orange. Insanely drinkable.
Manchester’s Pomona Island Brewery is also of note. The team here seem to spend less time telling their backstory than most, which presumably frees them up to think up evermore outlandish names for their brews. My Toe Hurts Betty. Style, Control, Damage & Aggression. Strong Men Also Cry. Bonbonbonbons. They’re all fantastic, of course, but my personal favourite is the DDH Session IPA named Pigs…..In There? A glass full of soft, tropical fruits. What’s not to like?
Each Pomona Island brew has a hidden story and all come cloaked in a minimalistic, purposely naive can design. You’ll know a Pomona Island brew when you see one. Or taste one, for that matter. And I recommend you do.
My final hat tip goes to a Leeds-based brewery that’s cemented itself as a master of both hoppy beers and sours. But really, it’s a lot more than that. North Brew Co. claims to have created the UK’s first ever craft beer bar, North Bar, back in ’97. Either way, as one of the Founding Fathers, the brewery has indisputably had a staggering influence on modern beer. Trailblazers since before ‘craft’ was trendy (or anyone was even buying it), it took North nearly two decades to move from their first bar to their current brewery… and a few years further on knocking out aromatic sours and murky pales has become second nature. If you get a chance, try their latest mango and passionfruit triple-fruited sour. This has so much zing and pulp it’s almost a smoothie – but it’s light enough to sink in record time.
You can, of course, order many of the above online in our Northern Beast Box. But before you do, consider a northern outing. None of us needs a real excuse to head north. See the lockdown escapades of political aides.
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