04 January 2010

Newcastle Brown Ale

As you might expect, Newcastle Brown Ale is brewed in Newcastle, said to be the oldest beer-making city in England. The beer is actually a mixture of two ales - a stronger, dark brew and a lighter blend. It's certainly well known, and a glass of 'Newkie Broon' goes down nicely if it's ice-cold and carefully poured so that the glass is always half full. Indeed the makers of Newcastle Brown Ale are so concerned about the temperature their beer is served at that a temperature-sensitive blue star is placed on the back label. Newcastle Brown Ale is a serious business...

Newcastle's first commercial brewery, John Barras And Company Of Gateshead was established in 1770, successfully expanding in 1890 to form (with some other smaller breweries) The Newcastle Breweries Ltd. It was in 1913, however, that the blue star was adopted as the company's trademark, and it was 1927 before Newcastle Brown Ale was first brewed, by the nearly-appropriately-named Jim Porter, who had already devoted three years to the development of his special brew.

The beer is produced from selected barley, soaked in water, spread on wide floors to germinate and is, at the right time, cured in a kiln. Before kegging, bottling or canning, however, the beer is pasteurized, ensuring high consistency as well as freedom from bacteria. The yeast strains used have not changed for many generations and this helps to give the beer a consistent flavour.

Upon its revelation to the world, Newcastle Brown Ale was quickly recognised as a superlative ale, winning gold medals at the 1928 International Brewers' Exhibition in London. Keen to capitalise on the success, the oval label on the original bottle was modified to carry the details of Newcastle Brown's success, and the vague figure-8 shape, now familiar to Newcastle Brown drinkers everywhere, was born. The blue star emblem, too, became part of the bottle's new design.

Newcastle Brown Ale was quickly established as a favourite beer in the North East of England, and sales were still climbing at the beginning of the Second World War. Despite the shortage of staff, raw materials and drastic Government restrictions, Newcastle Brown Ale was hardly changed during the war years.

The eighties saw further changes to the bottle design, and a new slogan - The One and Only - was adopted. New advertising campaigns were produced, based around the Northern habit of proclaiming oneself to be walking the dog, which in reality declares an intention to spend a couple of hours in the pub with the dog underneath your bar stool. By 1990, Newcastle Brown Ale had become the best-selling bottled beer in the UK, as well as Europe.

Newcastle Brown Ale is also available in America, and while I'm assured it is far better than the Budweiser over there, it has yet to achieve the same popularity. The American labelling is somewhat different. The main label, around the wide part of the bottle, remains the same, but the mini-label on the neck contains details of its origins: IMPORTED FROM ENGLAND. The bottle tells us that the product is distributed by Scottish & Newcastle Importers Co., San Rafael, California.

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