I recently had a weekend trip to Newcastle where I discovered local brewers Northern Alchemy in a bottle shop called Mmm and Glug (worth a visit if you are there, they are in the Grainger Arcade). The beers were all intriguing flavours that I just couldn’t pass up. Yes, I am that friend that always orders the strangest beer at the bar. Why have an everyday pale ale or IPA when I can have that anytime? I plunged for four bottles (Marmalade and Assam IPA, Continuously hopped Pilsner, Mango, Lime and Cracked Black Pepper Oatmeal Pale and the Pineapple and Passion fruit Sour). Sadly I could not have the Dark Chocolate and Mint Milk Stout due to being lactose intolerant (yes folks, the milk stout struggle is real, sad times).
I tucked them into my bag and off I went to my next stop. Specifically my next stop was the Bridge Tavern which has great food and a wide selection of beers including some brewed on the premises (some of my slightly hung over friends were appreciating the Easy Beer, a low ABV lager with a honey twang to it) and then I went to Brewdog where I had a Sculpin IPA due to literally everybody on my twitter feed having it at the Brewdog AGM. Beer FOMO.
Overall I enjoyed my time in Newcastle; architecturally it is a stunning place.
The Northern Alchemy beers sat in my fridge for a few days looking at me so I gave in and started to pour.
First up was the Pineapple and Passion Fruit sour. It pours like a cloudy apple juice. You can definitely smell the pineapple as well as a hint of barnyard. Northern Alchemy brewed this in the Berliner Weisse style, they add unmilled grain to unboiled wort in the fermentation vessel and the lactobacillus naturally present on the husks of the malt ferment the beer and give the sour, puckering effect. They decided not to use Brett as this takes time to ferment and would take up much needed space within the 30ft shipping container that they brew in. They add their fruit at the conditioning stage, cold conditioning the beer on the pineapple and passion fruit allowing for a slow, natural infusion with the alcohol within the beer acting as a preservative. The result is a well-balanced, but tart beer. It kind of reminds me of a more grown up version of lilt. Perfect for summer and at only 3.1% I’d say this was a session sour, do they exist??? I could definitely drink more than one. Maybe I’ll try and make ice lollies with it. You can taste the pineapple, the passion fruit and the lactobacillus at the finish. Sadly, I’ve found some attempts to make fruit sours often miss the mark flavour wise and I feel they are getting a bit overdone but this is pretty bang on.
Next was the continuously hopped pilsner. Now, I’m not normally a pilsner fan. I’m not a lover of most Nobel hops, particularly Saaz, which are heavily used in pilsners so the thought of a Pilsner continuously hopped every minute for 60 minutes with something like Saaz filled me with dread until I tasted it and found not traditional Nobel hops but new world beauties. They hopped this pilsner with Styrian Bobek, Delta, Motueka, Amarillo and Simcoe Hops. They then dry hopped it with Motueka, Amarillo and Simcoe. The result is a smooth and fruity start and a bitter and grassy finish. It smells intensely floral. It’s not a traditional Pilsner but I applaud them for moving away from the norm. How can beer evolve without experimenting with new styles?
I then moved onto the Marmalade and Assam IPA. I have always wanted to brew with tea. I did try to make a jasmine tea saison once but the other half put the heating on not realising my brew was fermenting near a radiator and it got far too hot and smelt like nail varnish remover when I came to bottle it so I’ll never know the result until I try again. I troubled myself with when to put the tea in as stewing tea releases too many tannins which, I assume, would make a beer taste bad so I didn’t want to put the bags straight in the boil. Maybe an infusion of the tea in cold water could be added to the boil or could the teabags be added at flame out, or during conditioning? So many options. I asked Northern Alchemy how they made theirs. They proceed with a hot infusion of the tea which is added to the finished beer once it has cooled. This allows them to decide their tea-to-water ratios beforehand by taste testing as they infuse. Tea and marmalade beer, how very British. This should definitely be added to some afternoon tea menus. It packs a big marmalade flavor and a bitter, hoppy finish. It’s very drinkable considering it’s 7.4%.
The Lime, mango and cracked black pepper oatmeal pale (yes that is a mouthful) can be quite daunting at first as it overwhelms your palate a bit but after a few mouthfuls it soon settles down. It’s zesty then mellow mango and then the spicy pepper hit gets you at the end. It’s quite an experience. They add spices, like pepper, at the boiling stage to release their oils (much like hops). They cold conditioned this beer on mango and lime zest.
Overall, I have been very impressed by how well these guys have managed to marry flavours and produce the sort of beers I would love to make and drink.
They are Andy Aitchison and Carl Kennedy, two brothers-in-law who decided to set up in a shipping container behind a pub (The Cumberland Arms in The Ouseburn area of Newcastle) funded solely by personal loans from friends and family. They’ve started small and are planning to grow gradually, expanding container by container. The beauty of shipping containers is that they are easily converted for expansion unlike railway arches. They are proof that you don’t need to borrow ridiculous amounts from a bank or be run by a city boy which I find quite inspirational.
Their beers are not available here in London yet but they have started to distribute bottles to outside the Newcastle region so watch this space.
I’d like to thank Northern Alchemy for answering all of my pesky questions for this blog and wish them well for the future. For more information visit their website at http://wearenorthernalchemy.com/.