The arc of Brewing in North-east England, or “Class of ’72”
The 1972 price list discussed below illustrates a number of points for British brewing and beer c. 1970. The beers are classic Scottish & Newcastle brewings of 45 years ago. Some were made in Newcastle at the Tyne Brewery, others in 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 their branding. So we see really a reasonable regional 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 in Hanover Square, Newcastle in the early 1980s for 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 a free-house or perhaps a hotel.
None of the breweries, I mean the actual brewing facilities, exists today.
The first listing is for traditional draught beer (real ale), however, each was also available in “tank” form: chilled, brewery-conditioned, and 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 almost surely were pasteurized and chilled, and probably had lower hop impact, maybe less malt too, than traditional draught. Note the prices: all higher than for draught except Starbrite, which was the weakest, I’d think.
A point of contention then for real ale fans was that often, well-advertised keg fetched a higher price than draught, despite being weaker in taste or alcohol or both. Yet, it was the “new thing” and gained 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 sweet Jubilee Stout from Bass Charrington, and yet 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 prime pales, or duo: Brian Glover states Bass Blue Triangle and Worthington Green Shield were the same! 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 Britain, it made a brave showing here. Younger’s Special likely was the stronger of the two. The Americans have re-invented IPA, but beer of that name in draught form in North England and Scotland would have been worthy descendants of the London, Scottish, and Burton IPA 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; aptly named Big Lamp is the well-known pioneer (1982). This is fewer than existed in 1869 (152), but more than in 1970 (5) and even 1939 (15), see p. 334 and appendices in Brian Bennison’s superb 1992 doctoral study of NE brewing history, here.
Gateshead once had six breweries on its own. But given mobility today and distribution capabilities of breweries, wholesalers, and supermarkets, the average Geordie probably has more choice available than in his/her parental line going back generations.
The North East is emblematic of the revival of 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 was inferior is questionable.
Of course it depends how you define quality. I have a feeling if I sampled 25 representative beers of NE craft brewing and put them against the class of ’72 I’d choose the old-school.
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.