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Published on April 5, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour


Take the bride-ale path

A pub and a brewery can make a happy couple – or a couple happy – when it comes to nuptials

Repeat after me: “I Hickey The Rake Limonata Pale 4.2% abv, take you, Sonnet 43 Bourbon Milk Stout 4.3% abv, to be my beer companion, to have and to hold from this day forward…”

Granted, it’s not the traditional marriage vow, but it illustrates a real move for beer to take the place of champagne at a wedding. And there’s a real trend toward the marriage ceremony and the reception to be held in a brewery or a pub – or both.

Many couples have realised the benefits of holding a bliss-up in a brewery. Heather and Gary Scott, owners of High House Farm brewery near Matfen in Northumberland, have been pleasantly surprised by the interest in holding wedding receptions – and ceremonies – in their visitor centre, a Grade II-listed set of farm buildings designed originally by John Dobson, the creator of much of Newcastle’s glorious architecture.

Beer and marriage are logical bedfellows – and the biggest beer festival in the world began as a wedding celebration. In 1810 when Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, the citizens of Munich were invited to celebrate in fields on the outskirts of the city and enjoy themselves horseracing, drinking and feasting. Two hundred years later they’re still at it – the Munich Beer Festival (Oktoberfest) is a 16-day celebration running from mid-September to early October.

Beer has been betrothed to the act of matrimony for centuries. The word “bridal” is believed to be a corruption of “bride-ale”, a special beer brewed for weddings, and wedding presents were traditionally given by guests in exchange for beer.

Without beer, there would be no “honeymoon” – 4,000 years ago in Babylon, it was common practice for the bride’s father to provide a month’s supply of mead, or honey beer, to his new son-in-law for a full lunar month. This was said to increase fertility and heighten the chance of producing a male heir. In fact, the bride would often be sent to bed on the night of the wedding to allow the groom to drink as much honey beer as he could. He would then be brought to his bride’s bedside, hell-bent on some honey hanky-panky and if, nine months later, a son was somehow sired, the brewer of the mead would take some of the credit.

Some people just don’t get it, though. Despite all the commemorative brews that celebrated the Kate and Wills royal wedding in 2011, they actually banned beer from their reception. A source told the Daily Mirror at the time: “There won’t be any beer. Let’s face it, it isn’t really an appropriate drink to be serving in the Queen’s presence at such an occasion.”

Fine by us, we weren’t invited anyway, but let’s take a look at what the region can offer.

Battlesteads Hotel & Restaurant

The multi award-winning hotel in Wark, Northumberland – famous for its “green” credentials – prides itself on creating unique and memorable weddings. The restaurant and conservatory are suitable for small and medium-sized weddings and functions for up to 100 guests.

The hotel is closed to the general public when weddings are taking place, affording privacy and tranquillity with the help of an experienced team. A wide range of menus is available, all freshly prepared, with a range of ingredients grown in polytunnels on-site. Evening wedding packages include overnight accommodation for the bride and groom with ample space for guests who wish to relax and stop over. And, with a bar serving five real ales – with a local focus – who wouldn’t want to?

Wylam Brewery

Imagine putting The Palace of Arts, Exhibition Park, on your wedding invitations. Talk about cool, if not utterly romantic. That’s what Newcastle’s Wylam Brewery can offer – along with a full wedding package to delight whether the happy couple are beer aficionados or not. But the guests will certainly appreciate it.

Dave Stone, director of Wylam Brewery, says: “It’s a real pleasure to host a couple’s ‘big day’ at Wylam Brewery. Naturally, the Palace of Arts and Exhibition Park lend themselves perfectly to weddings and it’s proved a really popular place for people to choose to get married.

“We also have a marriage license, so people can hold the ceremony here as well if they wish. If you are going to commit to a lifetime of devotion, a couple of pints of Jakehead IPA certainly helps.”

Gibside Estate

Gibside’s Chapel, gardens and landscape park near Rowlands Gill in Derwentside were created almost 300 years ago by one of the North East’s great families, the Bowes-Lyons. Today, the rich history of this architectural gem, now in the care of The National Trust, is the perfect place to share your wedding day with friends and family. Everything combines with timeless elegance to offer a memorable backdrop to your celebrations. Hold the wedding ceremony in the beautiful Palladian-style Chapel before enjoying a canapé reception in the sundial garden, where guests can enjoy a glass of sparkling wine or local Wylam ale as they toast the newly-married couple.

As the day draws in, head over to the classic white marquee set up in the newly-restored walled garden where, after a delicious locally-sourced hog roast or wedding breakfast provided by a dedicated team of external caterers, the happy couple and their guests can dance until the early hours.

Quayside Exchange

The Quayside Exchange is a historic, Grade II-listed banqueting venue close to Sunderland city centre – and the perfect venue for your special day. It is steeped in history and lovingly restored to its former glory. Dedicated staff understand that this day is full of personal touches, the day is your own.

For example, the elegantly-decorated Grand Room is situated on the second floor boasting fabulous views of the Sunderland riverfront through the beautiful Georgian windows, hardwood floors and elegant decoration. The largest suite accommodates between 120 and 220 guests.

The contemporary Quayside Suite is situated on the ground floor, has a nautical theme with a central island bar and capacity of up to 200 guests for a more informal event. The amazing Vaulted Suite (capacity 30-100 guests) is situated in the basement with exposed brick vaulted ceilings opening out onto a vast outdoor terrace which is ideal for al fresco dining and barbecues.

Tyneside Cinema

If you’re looking for a fun, stylish and original wedding, Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema could be perfect. In this beautiful Art-Deco cinema, you and your guests can enjoy the ultimate in happy endings. From a simple service on the beautifully illuminated Classic Cinema stage to a more adventurous ceremony incorporating film and music, there is a bespoke service to make the most perfect day.

All the cinema screen-rooms are licensed for civil ceremonies, whether it’s a lavish ceremony in the Classic Cinema – brimming with beautiful 1930s Art-Deco features – or the Electra Cinema with its enormous cinema screen for a wedding of truly cinematic proportions, or the Roxy Cinema which is packed with character.

The Tyneside Cinema’s private screening room, the Digital Lounge, is also licensed if the happy couple would prefer a more intimate ceremony for up to 30 guests.

The Plough, Burnopfield, And The Roker Hotel, Sunderland

The Sonnet 43 team offers everything wedding-wise from the conventional and captivating to the unusual and unique – and isn’t that what you want for you and your guests to remember for the rest of their lives?

The New Plough Inn at Burnopfield, County Durham, offers craft ales from Sonnet 43 Brewery and tempting soul food together in a contemporary-meets-country setting, plus outdoor tipis for a magical backdrop for weddings and special events.

And, have you ever thought about holding an outdoor ceremony? At The Roker Hotel in Sunderland, life’s a beach with the iconic and newly renovated Roker Pier curving into the backdrop. Al fresco can mean an intimate wedding on the sand right by the sea opposite the hotel, or perhaps in the bandstand within the beautiful Roker Park, followed by reception drinks, canapés and rides on a tuk-tuk.

Then it’s inside to a haven of inviting, warm and imaginative interiors, with a delicious and tempting array of food and drink, with a courteous, personable and memorable service.

Perhaps a church wedding isn’t for you, and you’d like a more personal and meaningful ceremony for you and your partner? A number of spaces in the hotel are licensed for ceremonies from the moment you walk down the aisle to the final “I do”.

St Mary’s Inn, Stannington

St Mary’s Inn is the bold and handsome former administration of the former St Mary’s Hospital. With its colourful red brick and contrasting window mouldings, handsome clock tower and arched doorway, it’s an unexpectedly striking building – and a wonderful introduction to any wedding party.

The hotel is tailor-made for intimate wedding parties; there’s a choice of two private rooms which can cater for up to about 50 guests and there are areas around the bar that can be used for much more intimate gatherings. Big and inviting or small and sociable, St Mary’s offers colourful spaces, cosy corners, brilliant food and drink and real fires – in fact, it’s a relaxed, informal Northumberland pub. A private room features a large table seating up to 20, open beams, wood-burning stove and huge windows, while 11 large and spacious en-suite rooms even include a dog-friendly one. It’s the perfect backdrop to a special day.

St Mary’s Inn’s sister hotel, Jesmond Dene House in Newcastle is also a favoured wedding venue (jesmonddenehouse.co.uk)

The Station House, Durham

The Station House isn’t the obvious choice for hosting a wedding party – but the beauty of weddings is that they reflect the character of the happy couple. Rather than blather on, we’ll let co-owner Susannah Mansfield explain what the real ale and cider pub can offer.

“Basically, there’s quite a lot we can do with our upstairs room,” says Susannah. “It’s flexible, we let people decorate it, they can bring their own food, or we can arrange a buffet from a local caterer. We usually charge a small fee for the room hire but if they’re going to be buying drinks all night we do it for £30.

“We’ve hosted an after-wedding after party for the daughter of one of our regulars daughters and another of our regulars is using the upstairs room as a pre-party venue the night before they get married. It’s a great venue for a really informal, low-key wedding up to 35 people – not one for live bands, sit-down dinners or dancing, though.

“The other string to our bow is that we could provide beer for weddings held elsewhere, from bag-in-a-box beer and cider for the party to serve themselves, right up to a full bar with staff and licensing.”

Close House Golf Club

Following a three-year break, Close House Golf Club will once again host winter weddings and celebrations from November 2017. A limited number of winter wedding dates (November to February 2018) are on offer for up to 70 day guests and up to 100 for an evening reception or party for couples holding their special day at Close House and using its fantastic facilities.

Private, intimate dinners are held in the Westwood Suite overlooking the valley and big party celebrations with friends and family are also welcome with facilities to suit everyone’s needs. Fantastic luxury bedrooms are available for guests should they wish to make the most of their time at Close House.


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Alastair Gilmour

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