Newcastle Beer Weekend
Our Beer Man’s Verdict
A January jaunt to Newcastle has been a regular fixture for a while now and this annual pick-me-up seemed particularly necessary after 2016 rained down a shit storm of global and personal bad news.
The usual team was joined on this occasion by Blythe – although that didn’t particularly mean the focus was any more on food than it normally is on beer.
There’s only really one place to start a trip to Newcastle – and that’s the legendary Free Trade Inn. It’s not much to look at – the toilets would rival those in Trainspotting – but it’s got personality: that intangible chemistry magically colliding to create a perfect pub. There can’t be many better places to have a pint in the UK.
The beer is always excellent – on our visit, there was a New Zealand tap takeover which complemented the usual North Eastern and Scottish focus. The mighty Orkney Porter was even on draught too, which seemed like the ideal beer on a cold evening. The welcome – and roaring fire – is warm. There’s a house cat called Craig David. And Jimi Hendrix is believed to have written Stone Free here. Really, what more could you ever want in a pub?
The Free Trade feels a little incongruous in that quiet area of Newcastle. However, curiously, there’s another gem a short walk away. Perched on the edge of a hill above an urban farm is the Cumberland Arms. Like its near neighbour, it offers a warm welcome: a cosy cottage that feels like a refuge. Again, the beer selection is strong, with Northern Alchemy well-represented – from a tasty oatmeal IPA to more outré offerings like the Kombucha soured Yuzu and Himalayan pink sea salt gose.
We return to the centre of town fortified and ready for the adventures ahead. A pleasant pint in Alvino’s – which is right next to Bierrex, which usually boasts a wide selection of European and British beers – steels us for the Bigg Market.
The next morning, Blythe and I head to the Wylam Brewery on the fringes of the town. It is an astonishing venue – a redeveloped arts palace from the 1929 North East Exhibition – nestled in a country park beside a lake. An investment of such quality represents a remarkable leap of faith from Wylam – and it’s certainly busy when we arrive. The beer – cask and keg – is all in perfect condition, and very reasonably priced despite the magnificent surroundings. The pale ales are all terrific and slip down a treat – the only misstep is the Le Saisonnier, which is so perfumed with lemon balm and rosemary it’s almost undrinkable.
Back in town, we spend a leisurely afternoon at Bodega. It’s an old-school boozer with a focus on well-kept cask. The football is on the big screen, we play darts and work our way through their range – with local brewer Almasty probably the pick of the bunch. We briefly stop off in Tilley’s – I love the Blueberry Maple Stout from Saugatuck, but it divides opinion – and the Head of Steam.
The next day, we need some food with our beer so head to the Bottle Shop. The location – on pedestrianised area with a car park above – and slightly sterile setting are odd, but service is a strength and the beer selection if impressive. Again, the pale ales are good – but the latte stout from Odyssey is the highlight for me, deep, roasted and sweet.
Then – after a quick one in the Head of Steam again – we’re on the train home. The journey back is understandably quiet – but, as always, the pubs and beer of Newcastle boosted our spirits at the start of a New Year.