The Arc of Brewing in North East England, or The Class of ’72
The 1972 price list below is illustrative of a number of points of British brewing and beer c. 1970. The beers are classic Scottish & Newcastle of 45 years ago, some made in Newcastle at Tyne Brewery, some from the two Scottish components, William Younger’s and McEwan’s.
S&N was fully-merged by 1972 but the three breweries in many ways retained individuality, as shown by the branding for each. So really this can be seen as a reasonable regional beer selection of that era.
Gateshead, over the river from Newcastle, had its own brewery in Dunston, Federation Brewery. Founded by workingmens clubs to get a better handle on pricing, it departed its handsome brick pile on Hanover Square, Newcastle in the early 1980s to occupy an anonymous industrial cube, but the beers carried on.
The pub whence this list was saved would have been a S&N account though, unless it was a free-house or perhaps a hotel.
None of the breweries mentioned, the actual brewing facilities, exists today.
The first listing is of traditional draught beers (real ale), however each was also available in “tank” form, which was chilled, brewery-conditioned beer stored in large tanks in the pub cellars. Perhaps it was not pasteurized, or not always. See Martyn Cornell here on some cellar tank history.
The keg beers and lagers offered almost surely were pasteurized and chilled and probably had less hop impact, possibly less malt too, than the traditional draught. Note the prices: all higher than draught (real ale) except for Starbrite which was the weakest, I’d guess.
A point of contention in this era for real ale fans was that (often) well-advertised keg beer fetched a higher price than draught despite being weaker in taste, alcohol, or both. Yet it was the “new thing” and attracted a large following.
Guinness draft was available too, probably brewed in Dublin, not Park Royal, London which supplied only the south and some central parts of the country. But there was also the sweet Jubilee Stout from Bass Charrington, and sweeter Mackeson.
Bass Blue Label pale ale (filtered, pasteurized) was also distributed in the area by S&N, ditto the filtered and pasteurized Worthington Green Shield, and Ind Coope’s Double Diamond. Still, a trio of primo pales, or duo: Brian Glover states that Bass Blue Triangle and Worthington Green Shield were the same beer. They do sell for the same price here.
And IPA! Two of them, both cask beers. Even though the IPA nomenclature had largely died out in most of Britain, it makes a brave showing here. Younger’s Special likely was the stronger of the two. The Americans have re-invented IPA but the beers of those names in draught form in NE England and Scotland would have been excellent beers, descendants of the London, Scottish, and Burton IPAs of the 1800s.
And Scotch ales, note the variations of strength and probably colour. And of course Newcastle Brown Ale (denominated strong) but also its stablemate the amber ale, the one blended with an aged beer to form Newkie Brown.
Finally, two lagers, Guinness’s Harp and Ind Coope’s Long Life.
When this list was used, the NE region had, I believe, five surviving breweries, the two mentioned in Newcastle, Cameron’s in Hartlepool, Vaux in Sunderland, and Nimmo’s/Whitbread (Castle Eden) in Durham. Only Cameron’s remains today of that group.
Despite that, one conglomerate alone offered an enviable luxury of choice, its own and a few sourced beers tacked on. There was no wheat beer, no Gose, no saison, no Black IPA (although you could mix your own at the bar and some did). They did have session though – they invented it. Anyhow, there was a deal of good beer there, no one could complain about it. Perhaps the average alcohol level was too low, but I’m not even sure of that.
Today, the NE counts over 50 breweries, the aptly named Big Lamp is the well-known pioneer (1982). This is less than what existed in 1869 (152), but more than in 1970 (5) and even 1939 (15), see p. 334 and the appendices in Brian Bennison’s superb 1992 doctoral study of NE brewing history, 1869-1939, here.
Gateshead once had six breweries just on its own. But given the mobility of people today and the distribution capabilities of breweries, wholesalers, and the supermarkets, the average Geordie probably has much more choice available than in his/her parental line going back four generations or more.
The North East is emblematic of the recovery in the beer culture of England, but even in 1972, and even as listed by one brewery company, you had an excellent range of beers. It’s more diverse today, but in sheer quality terms, whether the S&N ’72 list is inferior is questionable. Of course it depends how you define quality. I have a feeling if I ran through 25 representative beers of NE craft brewing and put them against the class of ’72, I’d choose the latter.
Or maybe I just like the auld days, bonny lads.
Note re images: The first two images are from a historical Newcastle pub images gallery in ChronicleLive, see here. The third is from a pub history discussion forum, here. The last three are from Big Lamp’s website, linked above. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.