Published on January 2nd, 2014 | by Alastair Gilmour0
2013 review – That was the year that was
We invited a selection of North East pub and beer businesses to tell us how their year has been and how they’re preparing for 2014. It all sounds very encouraging
Maxim, Houghton le Spring
We’ve been very busy all year, which is great. Unfortunately we didn’t win the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt but both the beers we entered – Swedish Blonde and American Pride – outsold the two winners. The judging was left to beer writers and “industry experts” so it shows that so-called beer experts don’t always get things right.
We have opened a brewery shop – Tuesdays to Fridays from noon-6pm. As well as a great range of bottled beer and cans of Double Maxim there are t-shirts, polos, caps, pens and mugs all in time for that thoughtful gift.
Recent Maxim sponsorship activity included Sunderland Mayor’s Ale and the Lumiere event in Durham – albeit as a small sponsor – but it got our beers advertised and sold across the city. Swedish Blonde is already a great beer in cask and we have developed this into a quality keg product that appeals to lager drinkers and ale drinkers who like something a little colder and fizzier. We have already had great reviews from specialist craft keg stockists in London and are starting to roll the beer out to a limited number of customers in the North East.
The Food Pub
Red Lion Inn, Milfield, Northumberland
Trade is still steady for us. We’ve just done our accounts and we’re up again on the previous year, so on the whole it’s pretty good. We’re doing some renovations in the pub without ruining the character of the place.
Our food trade is much better than the wet sales so we’re taking the little bar out of the room at the front which will give us more space for dining tables. We do get our tea-time drinkers, of course, but gone are the days when 20 lads would turn up about four o’clock after work.
The bed and breakfast side is flying and we’ve got plans to build a four-bedroom chalet out the back. We get a lot of fishermen come here regularly on the Tweed and the Till and we’ve started to take shooting parties, but we’ve only got the two rooms at the moment so we turn away more than we take in.
Cask ale is up from what it used to be – we’ve got Black Sheep as our stalwart on the bar with another two guest ales and a real cider, but we’re putting a fourth ale on next year. I always say Black Sheep is like having scampi on the menu – you know what you’re getting – but you can’t sell porter here. Our regulars like the lighter ales.
The New Pub Opening
The Schooner, Gateshead
Our plan was to have a traditional pub with great beer, good food and lots of live music. We think we’ve made a pretty good stab at it and hope we’re still improving.
The purchase of this lovely Victorian pub on the south bank of the Tyne went through on December 14 2012, so we’re a year in.
The first job was to change the product offering – six real ale hand-pulls installed where there had been none. Then with the help of lots of friends, the second job was to spruce up the bar and bring our own fun and music-based theme to the décor. On January 11 this year we held an official opening party with guests who included local MP Ian Mearns who had earlier that week managed to get us a mention in Parliament. We’ve got a copy of Hansard to prove it!
Our food offering started off small – but inventive – and this has increased beyond all expectations so we’ve published a great new menu and brought in extra staff.
And what can we say about the live music? Fantastic regular Saturday nights with loads of great local bands and a monthly Buskers’ afternoon on a Sunday. More recently, we managed to entice Daddy Long Legs, a great young blues band from New York, en route between gigs. It’s been bloody hard work and still loads to do – the damp and the toilets need some attention – but thanks to great staff, family, friends and not least the customers who’ve supported us, we’ve had a brilliant first year.
The City Centre Pub
Crown Posada, Newcastle
Great beer and the best customers have made 2013 a fantastic year for the Crown Posada and I am immeasurably grateful to the great North East public for their continued support.
I’d say that over the past few years the large sums of money invested in new bars and restaurants on Grey Street and the Quayside have made Newcastle city centre come to life again. I’m pleased to say Crown Posada trade is fantastic and heading quite healthily in the right direction. More people are being converted from mass produced beers to quality (often local) micro-brewed ales which can only be a good thing for local communities. Micro-brewed ales from fantastic producers are really hitting their stride and 2013 has been no exception. Established breweries have expanded and experimented while brand-new microbreweries seem to be emerging every month with great quality products of their own – which keep customers returning time and time again. Over 75% of everything the Posada sells are on the six handpulls and I take great pride in their upkeep. Working alongside fantastic microbreweries only makes my job more enjoyable and rewarding.
The Country Pub
Black Bull, Matfen, Northumberland
Here at the Black Bull we’re seemingly bucking the trend for rural closures. Since we reopened the place for the Easter weekend earlier this year, after a period of closure and uncertainty in the village, the pub has gone from strength to strength.
The big choice of ales from Wylam Brewery has kick-started a big interest in real ales, moving the Black Bull from one handpull to four in the first month. Starting tentatively with just four, 20-litre polypins on at a time, the cellar now turns over more than eight Wylam casks per week – well beyond all of our expectations.
We have introduced live music and an LP record player, which all adds to the lively atmosphere.
Food is kept simple and fresh but quality beers, ales and wines remain the main focus of this thriving little pub.
Nigel learned very quickly how to keep the cellar right; he always was a perfectionist and just transferred that to a different industry. We seem to have created a lovely place that people want to come back to. The feedback we get is fantastic which really makes the hard work worthwhile.