The Arc of Brewing in North East England, or The Class of ’72
The 1972 price list below illustrates a number of points on British brewing and beer c. 1970. The beers are classic Scottish & Newcastle brewings of 45 years ago, some made in Newcastle at the Tyne Brewery, others 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 an individuality, as shown by the branding for each. So we see really a reasonable regional beer selection from that era.
Gateshead, over the river from Newcastle, had its own brewery in Dunston, the Federation Brewery. Founded by workingmens’ clubs to get better 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 an S&N account though, unless it was a free-house or perhaps a hotel.
None of the breweries mentioned, I mean the actual brewing facilities, exists today.
The first listing is for traditional draught beers (real ale), however, each was also available in “tank” form: chilled, brewery-conditioned beer stored in large tanks in the pub cellar. Perhaps it was not pasteurized, or not always. See Martyn Cornell here on some cellar tank history.
The keg beers and lager offered almost surely were pasteurized and chilled, and probably had less hop impact, possibly less malt too, than traditional draught. Note the prices: all higher than for draught real ale except for Starbrite, which was the weakest, I’d think.
A point of contention in that era for real ale fans was that often, well-advertised keg beers fetched a higher price than for 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 by S&N, the same for the filtered and pasteurized Worthington Green Shield, and Ind Coope 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 did sell for the same price here.
And IPA! Two of them, both cask beers. Even though the IPA nomenclature had largely died out by that period in most of Britain, it made a brave showing here. Younger’s Special likely was the stronger of the two. The Americans have re-invented IPA, but the beer of that name in draught form in NE England and Scotland would have been worthy beers, descendants of the London, Scottish, and Burton IPAs of the 1800s.
And there are 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 Newcastle Brown.
Finally, there are 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, then 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 with 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 that. Perhaps the average alcohol level was rather 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 of 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.
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.