Published on February 14, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour0
A toast to the coast
The pub and brewing scene along the stretch of North Tyneside between North Shields and Monkseaton has blossomed in recent months. Always a great place to drink and dine, the area has benefitted from new openings and old heads
THREE KINGS BREWERY, NORTH SHIELDS
Ewan McCann of Three Kings Brewery in North Shields is widely credited for his influence on other microbreweries in the area, such as Flash House and Whitley Bay Brewing Co and also through his contribution to Newcastle University’s Stu Brew programme. It demonstrates the camaraderie of the pub and beer sector – yes, they all want their slice of the cake, but doling out sound advice and helping others produce great beer to serve over the counter is the way to foster friendships and to develop reputations.
Three Kings has recently expanded into the unit next door to its original premises, so the signs are good for future plans to come to fruition, such as a new, one-off barley wine (9.0% abv), brewed in December. It is now slowly maturing in wooden casks, ready for November 2017 when it will be offered into the festive trade. Expect a big demand.
Ewan is inviting Cheers readers to come up with a name for the beer – and no doubt the prize will be something of a liquid nature.
Suggestions by Monday February 27, please, to email@example.com (put Three Kings Beer in the subject field).
LEFT LUGGAGE ROOM, MONKSEATON STATION
Railway stations seem just right for putting pubs on. Plush waiting rooms are a thing of the past and often lie empty and unloved, as do storage areas and first-class buffets, and there are nice, flat platforms outside to train-spot on if that’s your bag.
It’s something that excited Steve Buckley and Andrew Findlay when they scoured the area for premises to convert into a micropub. They saw there was something of a space at Monkseaton Station – a disused left luggage room and ticket office – and decided to go for it. Then after months of cleaning, building furniture and “industrial parquet”-style flooring, the Left Luggage Room opened last September to a fanfare of ten Metro cars an hour each way.
“We’d been looking for something like this for years,” says Steve. “Andrew took voluntary redundancy from his job as North Tyneside Council magistrates clerk and I was a consulting engineer not completely happy in my job.
“It was the textbook business start-up; conversations over beer in pubs. Then a few pints later an idea is born. It was used for storage and was advertised by Nexus as such. They thought it was a good idea to see the building in use again and now lots of locals come in straight off the Metro for a couple of pints on the way home.”
A sharp intake of breath accompanies first sight of the Left Luggage Room interior – the walls have been elbow-greased clean of 150-odd years of soot, grime and debris to expose brickwork and peeling cream paint which has been left to add atmosphere, and if you were building something like a left luggage office today you wouldn’t – couldn’t – put an extraordinary timber ceiling in like it has. Scaffolding boards make surprisingly comfortable pew-style seating, too.
Steve says: “The walls were blackened over the years, particularly around an old fireplace and some of it can still be seen. It took three scrubbings to get it right, almost back to the original and we’re very proud of our windows. A lot of them were bricked up and we’ve had to replace them as close to the original as possible – we’re in a conservation area – and painted them North Eastern Railway colours.
“It’s going really well and exceeding expectations. Our biggest challenge is the small cellar space which makes it difficult getting beer in and settled. We’re working with local and regional brewers and trying to have a good mix of both. Two By Two, Wylam, Bad Seed and Almasty beers are particularly popular and we’ve teamed up with he café next door to offer food.”
Complementing the beer, a large whisky range is topped only by more gins than any “gin palace”.
Plans for the spring include a seating area outside which is well covered by the station canopy, which should let more passing travellers realise there’s a pub there, which many don’t, as Steve remarks.
“We’ve actually had one old dear asking if she could leave her luggage here,” he says. “It was bound to happen.”
WHITLEY BAY BREWING CO and KING GEORGE PUB, WHITLEY BAY
It was an inspired idea for Whitley Bay Brewing Co to produce Ghost Ships, a beer that “commemorated” the five huge vessels that had lain, seemingly abandoned, off the town because their owners had gone out of business. But hardly had the beer been brewed than they had slipped their moorings and disappeared into the night.
“They were anchored there for an awful long time, but by the time we got the beer on the counter at the King George pub next door they had gone,” says brewery and pub owner Gary Harding. “We couldn’t believe it.
“Apparently they went to Gibraltar. One of the pub regulars had just gone there to live, so we messaged him to say they were coming after him.”
Gary and business partner Gavin Hattrick took on the beach-front 42nd Street bar in March 2013, developed it, and also revived the King George in December of that year, an intimate set of rooms attached to its bigger sister. It was another inspired decision, but this time one that really took off.
“We had the idea of brewing our own beer to put through the pub and to sell into the local trade,” says Gary. “Neither of us had ever brewed before – Gav is a builder – but Ewan McCann from Three Kings brewery helped us develop recipes and to source equipment.”
Two fermentation tanks, mash tun and hot liquor tank came from Fort William-based Oban Ales, a brewing equipment manufacturer.
“We’ve got a five-barrel plant and we do two about brews every ten days. We’ve got Jaime Cooper brewing who’s picked it up really well from never having done it before, either. She’s doing really well. Apart from great beer, the King George has got a great reputation for home-cooked food – Sunday dinners are lush – and we’ve also got a great relationship with Turknaz, the Turkish restaurant opposite where customers go between.”
The King George has recently “stolen” a fair bit of space from 42nd Street next door, but retains its quirky, “speakeasy” ambience. It’s cleverly divided into five separate areas, catering for couples, larger gatherings and those who prefer to stand at the counter with their pints.
Nooks, crannies and odd shaped “booths” add character to the mellow timbered interior, as does a wide range of seating options from padded chairs to high-backed benches and a couple of thrones that would feel at home in a royal household.
Three Kings Ancient Rune accompanies Whitley Bay Brewing Co Spanish City, Slow Joe Pilsner (named in honour of former Newcastle and Sunderland footballer Michael Bridges’ father, who’s a regular) and Ghost Ships Session IPA on the King George counter, while the bottled beer range is a joy to behold – and heavy on the Belgians – with such favourites as La Chouffe, Tripel Karmeliet and Kwak. The US and rest of the world are represented by Flying Bitch, Founders Centennial IPA Mythos and Beer Lao.
“People are interested in trying other things,” says Gary. “One of the best things about the King George is seeing how friendships have built between customers; people who never knew each other before. And the staff rapport is brilliant; it’s a great community of people.”
FLASH HOUSE BREWING, NORTH SHIELDS
When Jack O’Keefe went travelling with his girlfriend, first to Mexico, then to Honduras in Central America, he caught a bug. But this particular one was the germ of an idea, not an illness.
“I came across somebody brewing beer in the middle of the jungle,” he says. “I thought if he can do this here, it can’t be that hard.”
Back home in North Shields, Jack took up brewing with Three Kings Brewery where we helped out for about a year before setting up on his own. He had also worked in bars around Tyneside, so he knows where the end product is appreciated most – and in between times took a three-week Brewlab (Sunderland) course in start-up brewing.
Jack says: “Brewlab was great fun, but tough, and the course gave me different ideas.”
He still helps out Ewan McCann at Three Kings on occasion, but now he’s got Flash House well and truly up and running – with a view just round the corner on high over the twin piers at the mouth of the Tyne – gaining a fine reputation for his beers, he admits that the coming year should be less stressful.
“I’ve got my beer in pubs in Newcastle and along the coast – The Bridge Tavern, Bacchus, Hop & Cleaver in town and the Dog & Rabbit in Whitley Bay, Left Luggage Room, Monkseaton, and Barça and Lola Jeans in Tynemouth,” he says. “Plus when Ewan’s delivering to the likes of Darlington, I’ll often arrange a cask on the van.”
Flash House beers are also available in cans which are selling particularly well – American IPA (5.2% abv), Session IPA (4.4% abv) and Original Porter (4.5% abv).
“I wanted to get the core range of beers absolutely right before experimenting more later this year,” he says. My dad Phil and my uncle John (O’Keefe) have always owned pubs and had the Low Lights Tavern in North Shields for years. I had just got my first beer on the bar and they sold the place a month later. Luckily the new owners like the beers and have agreed to keep them on.”
No flash in the pan, this chap.