Published on May 4th, 2016 | by Alastair Gilmour0
An audience at The Palace
The moorhens, swans and ducks on the lake at Newcastle Exhibition Park are being joined this month by a craft brewing centre. It’s all the same to them but enormously exciting for the rest of us, writes Alastair Gilmour.
The North East takes a huge step into the future this month by acknowledging the past. Wylam Brewery is locating to The Palace of Arts in Newcastle’s Exhibition Park, the sole surviving building from the five-month long 1929 North East Coast Exhibition.
It was Newcastle’s answer to the 1926 British Empire Exhibition in London and billed as “a gesture to the world” that would show how the region was on top of its game when it came to industry and engineering. Now it’s brewing’s turn to give a gesture to the world and show what riches we have in a sector that reaches beyond beer into tourism opportunities, inward investment, culture, entertainment, leisure and job creation.
In latter years, The Palace of Arts had been leased by Shepherd Offshore Limited to house its classic car collection, but plans to create a microbrewery, weekend brewery tap, brewing education facility and visitor centre have been recognised as a more attractive proposition for Newcastle’s appetite for vibrant, indigenous enterprises.
“It’s all come together after three years of hard work to reach the finished article,” says Wylam Brewery director Dave Stone. He and business partner Rob Cameron invested in the company three years ago because they saw its huge potential in a developing beer market. They also genuinely loved the end product.
“We were looking for somewhere to expand the business and where we could also have a brewery tap and visitor centre. We looked for inspiration and learned a lot about what’s happening in global beer movement.
“We went to Portland in Oregon, to San Francisco, Santa Rosa, New York – Manhattan, Brooklyn and Williamsburg – and soaked it all up. We had a few beers too; it was all part of the journey.”
Dave Stone also took a start-up brewing course at Brewlab in Sunderland to broaden his background and get to grips with a few technical terms.
As far as brewing equipment goes, Wylam commissioned the same 30-barrel capacity vessels as Beavertown Brewery in London after collaborating on several brews last year and being hugely impressed. Its head brewer Jenn Merrick has been graced with a Brewer of the Year title and Wylam’s brewers have produced beer on the kit, so there’s a pedigree built in and nothing will be entirely new when the first boil takes place.
The brewery will open its doors to the public on the May Bank Holiday Weekend (27/28/29) with The Happenings, a sumptuous street food and craft beer pop-up event, followed by a top-class live music programme.
Wylam has invested £1.8m into The Palace of Arts building since planning permission was granted in September last year. There will be a brewery tap on site (open Thursday to Saturday) that will pour brews and blends exclusive to the premises. Brewery tours will also be held on Saturdays.
“We look forward to opening the doors to this incredible and historically important building,” says Dave Stone. “It has been almost a decade since anyone has had the opportunity to visit The Palace of Arts and we have taken great pride and care in bringing the building back to life.”
First confirmed live performances include local legends Lindisfarne, soul sensation Michael Kiwanuka, and the irrepressible Mystery Jets. Local music magazine NARC. will curate a number of summer shows under the banner NaARC. In The Park with the likes of Smoove & Turrell and The Lake Poets confirmed to perform.
The Palace of Arts will also host The North East Brewers Market, curated by Craft Beer Calling (the region’s international craft beer festival) which brings together the region’s brewing community under one roof.
Dave Stone says: “There are some incredible microbreweries in the North East and the quality and diversity of beers being produced is at an all-time high. We feel it’s important for the region’s talented brewers to have a collaborative platform in which to present their beers.
“We were at full capacity at our site in Heddon on the Wall and there is a real thirst for our beers across the UK. The new brewhouse will give us the opportunity to quench that thirst while maintaining our ethos of quality over quantity.”
Inevitably – and understandably – when the brewery proposal was first made public it was met with some local opposition. Exhibition Park and all it stands for are sacred to many resident’s groups. But Dave Stone is adamant that the Palace of Arts project will proceed with sensitivity and respect for the city. It’s in Wylam Brewery’s best interests to bring a centre of excellence to Newcastle and to deliver a programme that is acceptable to all.
As one tiny example of the care that has been invested in the development, during a visit while the place was like a building site I felt the weight of some solid brass lamp fittings and remarked that because they’d be sited quite high up they could easily have got away with brass-effect plastic – and saved a bit of money. The reply came: “We don’t do imitation”.
“We’ll do it properly as we do everything else,” says Dave Stone. “We’ll do it carefully and organically because we only want to make proper beer.
“We will be keeping the residents’ groups informed about what we’re doing. We want to attract people from all over the world because now we’re competing on a world stage. It’ll benefit the whole region as the North East will be recognised as one of the go-to places for great beer.
“We we feel the regional brewing scene will benefit en masse from this development. It’s a brother and sisterhood; we share all the ideals and we are very pleased that the city has understood and engaged with our vision.”
The main buildings at the 1929 North East Coast Exhibition were the Palace of Engineering, the Palace of Industry, the Palace of Arts, the Festival Hall, Garden Club, a stadium of 20,000 capacity and the Women’s and Artisans’ sections. There was also an Empire Marketing Board Pavilion.
Eighty-seven years ago, a local newspaper reporter wrote: “The great industries which have made us famous are still a virile force and we have many lighter industries which deserve to be increasingly and more widely known.”
He could have been describing Wylam Brewery today.