Newcastle Brown Yankee-Style

I put some notes on Twitter (with image) commenting on the American-brewed Newcastle Brown Ale.

The English original is still brewed in Britain, at John Smith’s in Tadcaster, Yorkshire.  We get that one in Ontario. I taste it occasionally and always want to like it more than I do.

A similar version is brewed in the Netherlands by the brand owner, Heineken. I have not tried this one. The American one replaced the import some years ago, i.e., for the U.S. market. Heineken’s subsidiary Lagunitas Brewery brews the beer at its Petaluma, CA facility, with some made in Chicago as well.

The American brew is all-malt and uses U.S. hop varieties, see Kyle Swartz’ discussion in Beverage Dynamics in 2019. While not an assertive brew, it has a pleasing flavour especially when drunk at cellar temperature. A hard chill will remove much of the taste it started with.

The American Newcastle is a clear improvement on the British one as currently brewed. Newcastle Brown started off in the 1920s as an emulation, per its ads at the time, of audit ale, a strongish, traditional English type associated to the Oxbridge colleges.

The Northern Culture site in 2013 reproduced a 1927 ad that mentions the audit ale association. Over the years the beer lost some abv – currently 4.7% – and probably some character. In my own memory, Newcastle in pint bottles was a good drop 40 years ago, pubbing say in Camden Lock, London.

Carrying the glass bottle for “necking” was an accepted pub swagger, an option to a pint pour – in plastic glasses in those corner music pubs, which tells you something.

This is not nostalgic suggestibility; I remember the malty-sweetish taste well. The current English one seems rather dull in comparison. The American version, even as shaded by U.S. hop flavour, brought to mind more how Newcastle Brown used to taste.

Perhaps that is a capsule of the craft story, or one part of it – it simply restored a dimension of brewing Britain always had.

There is an odd aptness to “Newkie Brown” being brewed in California, accidental though the association is (Lagunitas happens to be there). Due to the film and music industries and despite the great distance, there have always been close connections between rainy Britain and brilliant southern California.

Rock royalty of both countries congregated in L.A. especially in the 70s and 80s – Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, John Lennon, Alice Cooper, it just goes on. To refresh the British side in music and film circles, liquor retailers offered plenty of British goodies.

In 1983 craft beer was an infant development even in northern California, where it started. In L.A., imports was where it was at for beer time. The Desert Sun in Palm Springs that year had a splashy ad for all things bibulous and Britannic (via California Digital Newspaper Connection):



The bobbies and the Guards… international symbols of Britain (but are they still?). Note how the “Commonwealth” was lumped in, including Canada, N.Z., and Australia – fair enough for the time – but Scotland?  Got to love those blithe Americans. It’s all good, man.*

Note re image: source of image identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property in source belongs solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*Belhaven beer is from Scotland. Scotland was part of the English Commonwealth in the republican period, but that ended with the Restoration in 1660. Perhaps the copywriter was being playful though. Check out how “wines from the Colonies” are handled. And for what it’s worth I do love Americans.



1 thought on “Newcastle Brown Yankee-Style”

  1. Text originally stated the American Newcastle Brown Ale is brewed in Petaluma, CA at Lagunitas. But some is also brewed in Chicago (at Lagunitas’ plant there on West 17th Street). Text now adjusted to reflect.


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