Newcastle is home to a booming craft-beer scene that offers a range of great real-ale pubs and canny new-wave beer bars
Pleased To Meet You
It specialises in gin cocktails and looks like a colonial-era country club, but Pleased To Meet You (PTMY) is one of Newcastle’s foremost hotspots for craft beers. Fifteen craft keg and six cask pumps run the gamut of cutting-edge breweries from Flying Dog to Thornbridge, with local outfits, such as Tyne Bank, Mordue and Anarchy Brewing well represented (look out for the latter’s sherbety, gooseberry-sharp Citra Star). A vast bottled beer list reads like a Who’s Who of new-wave UK microbreweries: Kernel, Partizan, Red Willow, Wild Beer but includes clear, intelligent definitions of obscure beer styles for the novice drinker. Naturally, the price of some of the keg and rarer bottled beers will make your eyes water, as much as your mouth. PTMY has two sister bars in Newcastle: Redhouse and Lady Grey’s, both of which provide plenty of boozy entertainment for beer snobs.
• 41-45 High Bridge, 0191 340 5137, ptmy-newcastle.co.uk. Open daily 11am-1am, pint from £3.10
Under the stanchions of the Tyne bridge, this smart brewpub feels part gentlemen’s club, part New York beer bar. Obviously, the ales brewed in the pub’s 360-pint kit – the gleaming copper tuns are visible at one end of the room – are the main attraction. A sample half of Gold Dust (£1.70, a sweet, melon-tinged, crisply bitter pale ale, made with Pacific Gem hops) was A1. Outside of its house beers, the Tavern’s 10 cask pumps feature a UK-wide selection of new-wave breweries, from Bristol Beer Factory to Manchester’s Blackjack. It also carries a few keg beers and a less interesting selection of bottled world beers. Food is as important as ale here, and the menu includes excellent beer snacks, such as pig’s head croquettes with a sharp, caper-spiked mayo (£3). On a freezing day, all of it – food, good beer, warmth from the newly-stoked woodburner – was very welcome.
• 7 Akenside Hill, 0191 261 9966, thebridgetavern.com. Open Mon-Thurs midday-midnight, Fri-Sat midday-1am, Sun midday-11pm, pint from £3.20
The Head of Steam group owns several top-ranking ale houses in Newcastle, including the Cluny. There’s the group’s eponymous bar (The Head of Steam) that you’ll find opposite the train station and Tilley’s Bar on Westgate Road, whose 150-strong bottled beer menu is, reputedly, a real page-turner. However, the Head of Steam pubs were recently sold to Camerons Brewery, a big regional pub company and brewer, based in Hartlepool. Camerons is promising that there will be no radical changes at the Head of Steam sites. Apparently, buying them is part of its strategy to acquire a larger estate of pubs that will focus on selling quality cask ales and craft beers. We will have to wait to see how that pans out but, judging by the wishy-washy Cameron’s IPA (half, £1.45) that I tasted in the Cluny, it will have to seriously up its game if it hopes that its beers are going to be taken seriously in establishments like this.
Tucked away amid the creative industries that have sprung up in the Ouseburn valley, the boho Cluny – also a live music, comedy and theatre venue – is a bit of a bind to get to from town, particularly on foot. But it is worth the effort. It serves seven cask ales and a raft of keg and bottled craft beers, many of them from US breweries (for instance, Fordham, Rogue, Old Dominion), which have yet to gain widespread exposure in the UK. Look out, also, for frequent in-house beer festivals, which have previously included a Black Sheep Week and a Northern Irish beer showcase.
• 36 Lime Street, Ouseburn, 0191 230 4474, thecluny.com. Open Mon-Thurs 11.30am-11pm, Fri 11.30am-midnight, Sat midday-midnight, Sun midday-10.30pm, pint from £2.85
If you want twinkling, minimal techno and a game of pinball with your pint (and who doesn’t?), then this late-night Pilgrim Street bar will hit the spot. It is big on cocktails, but also committed to craft beer in the shape of draught Brooklyn lager; a guest keg pump that features hip British micros such as Magic Rock and Camden Town; and a small, evolving range of bottles and cans that features transatlantic trendsetters as geographically diverse as San Francisco’s Anchor Steam and Buxton Brewery. A half of Beavertown’s American pale ale, Gamma Ray, was, as ever, brilliant – full of tropical fruit flavours, unapologetically bitter – and very bloody expensive (£2.80). Erdinger and Timmermans fruit beers are also available on draught.
• 88 Pilgrim Street, 0191 261 5656, alvinosbar.co.uk. Open Mon-Tues 10am-midnight, Wed-Thurs 10am-1am, Fri-Sat 10am-2am, Sun 5pm-midnight, pint from £3.80
Inspired by the grand ocean liners that were once built in Newcastle’s shipyards, Bacchus aims for 1930s art-deco glamour but, ultimately, looks a bit naff. Its beer range, however (16 cask and craft keg lines, as well as treats such as Budvar’s yeast beer and La Chouffe), is bang up to date. The bottled menu is packed with interesting, on-trend ales, be it five choices from a mainstay like Brooklyn Brewery, or beers from the lesser-spotted Dutch outfit, Emelisse, or Norwegian Haand. If you want to explore all this in depth, best bring your credit card: £4.50 for a half of the Brodie-Mikkeller collaboration, Big Mofo Stout, is an example of how crazy the prices can get. Not that you have to spend that much; Anarchy’s pale and invigoratingly bitter Blonde Star was a very refreshing £2.85 a pint.
Bacchus is part of the Sir John Fitzgerald group, which owns a couple of other notable Newcastle pubs. The Grade II-listed Crown Posada is a historic local landmark, whose cask-ale range focuses on north-east breweries. At Bodega, one of its many pumps is set aside for special and/or limited beers from Peterborough’s excellent Oakham Ales.
• 42-48 High Bridge, 0191 261 1008, thebacchusnewcastle.co.uk. Open Mon-Sat 11.30am-midnight, Sun midday-11pm, pint from £2.85
The Tyne Bar
Established in 2000, Northumberland brewery Wylam is light on its feet. Its range of established, traditional English bitters please an older crowd while, in beers such as its new Jakehead IPA, it warmly embraces the big, punchy flavours, heavy-hopping and keg dispense that the craft beer scene has ushered in. Bar/ live music venue the Tyne is Wylam’s Newcastle “brewery tap”. It also serves two Samuel Smith lagers and Blue Moon wheat beer on draught. Prices are keen, the vibe easy-going and, on cask, Wylam’s Tyne Craft pale ale was in fine form. Its caramel body gives way to exotic fruit flavours and it tops-out with a satisfying bitterness.
• Maling Street, 0191 265 2550, thetyne.com. Open Mon-Thurs midday-11pm, Fri-Sat midday-midnight, Sun midday-10.30pm, pint from £2.85
This is a brewpub that, unfortunately, was out of its own Leazes Lane Brewery beers, on this visit. But no fear, this student-friendly bar (arty murals on the stairs, pool table on the first floor, decent music), has five cask pumps that rotate beers from local breweries, many of these newer, smaller outfits such as Firebrick, Black Hill and Three Kings. The friendly staff are at the ready with tasters and recommendations, and cash-strapped beer-lovers note: at the time of writing, cask beers are £2 a pint, 8pm-9pm daily, and just £1 a pint on the first Sunday of each month. Newcastle United’s St James’ Park looms over the streets opposite and, obviously, the Trent is hammered on match days.
• 1-2 Leazes Lane, 0191 261 2154, facebook.com/TheTrent1861. Open Mon-Sat 1pm-11pm, Sun 6pm-11pm, pint from £2.90
The Cumberland Arms
The Cumberland Arms caters to several generations of ale drinkers with, seemingly, effortless ease. With its stained-glass windows, open fires and back-room folk nights, it is sure to please traditionalists. Yet, its craft keg beers and upstairs gig space ensure that it is down with “the kids”. Or, certainly, thirtysomething blokes who like guitar bands and hoppy beers. Its seven cask pumps tend to feature regional breweries (for example, Hadrian & Border, Allendale, Big Lamp, Jarrow), while its keg lines are devoted to taste-making breweries from further afield, such as Moor, Magic Rock and Berkshire’s Siren. As if that wasn’t enough, behind the Cumberland Arms, a shipping container is being converted into a microbrewery, which will produce contemporary keg and bottled beers for the pub. It also has an excellent real cider selection; it is dog-friendly; and, in summer, it is a great place to watch the sun set. The pub even provides “snugglepacks”, for when it gets a bit chilly out in the beer garden. How’s that for service?
• James Place Street, Ouseburn, 0191 265 6151, thecumberlandarms.co.uk. Open Mon, Tues, Thurs 3pm-11pm, Wed and Fri 3pm-midnight, Sat midday-midnight, Sun midday-11pm, pint from £2.80
Free Trade Inn
How could you not love a pub which, on its Facebook page, describes itself as “an absolute dump”? True, it’s pretty bare bones in here: distressed wood, peeling walls, several layers of graffiti in the toilets, but the kind of prissy drinkers who might be put off by that will miss out on fine views down the Tyne; tasty pies from the Amble Butcher (from £2.50); and – certainly on the Friday afternoon that I visited – a welcome, crunching soundtrack of hard-hitting hip-hop. The pub’s 13 beer pumps (it is big on real cider, too) are split between keg and cask, and among the familiar breweries listed, you may well find a few that you don’t recognise. Crewe’s Off Beat, East Sussex brewery, Burning Sky, and Kelso’s Tempest were all new names to me. The Free Trade hosts “tap takeovers” by individual breweries and also mini-beer festivals, such as its London event (27 February-2 March), which will feature all the capital’s key micros, including Redchurch, Pressure Drop, Weird Beard et al.
• St Lawrence Road, Ouseburn valley, 0191 265 5764, facebook.com/TheFreeTradeInn. Open Mon-Thurs, Sun 11am-11pm, Fri-Sat 11am-midnight, pint from £3.10
The Broad Chare
Oddly, the cask board at this handsome gastropub lists 10 beers. At a glance, on a busy Friday lunch time, not noticing that some are marked “on” and some not, you might assume that all of them are available. In fact, only four are served at one time. Any disappointment will evaporate the moment you open the bottled-beer menu, an idiosyncratic tome that mixes many groundbreaking or unusual beers – barrel-aged stout from Mikkeller; various unfiltered Bernard lagers; Brooklyn’s 750ml sharing “Local” beers; bottles from relatively obscure breweries, such as Founder’s, and Italian company Gjulia – with enduring favourites, such as Black Sheep, Worthington’s White Shield and, of course, Newcastle Brown Ale. In the same way, the cask list nods to tradition (Bass, Taylor’s Landlord), while showcasing new names such as Late Knights and its promising, bittersweet Wormcatcher IPA (half, £1.75). Owned by Newcastle’s best known chef, Terry Laybourne, food is the primary draw at the Broad Chare but the bar area is very much a drinking space. Walking back up into town from the Tyne quayside, dedicated hop-heads may also want to pop into Brewdog on Dean Street.
• 25 Broad Chare, 0191 211 2144, thebroadchare.co.uk. Open daily 11am-11pm, pint from £3.40
Train travel between Manchester and Newcastle was provided by First TransPennine Express (tpexpress.co.uk). Thanks to Alastair Gilmour, editor of Cheers North East, for various tips and pointers. Gilmour also organises bespoke beer tours of the region and beyond, email: email@example.com. For Newcastle visitor information, see newcastlegateshead.com