Published on October 2, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour


Beer inspiration bridges the decades

Ninety years ago on October 10, the first vehicle crossed the Tyne Bridge in an official capacity. Nestled inside were King George V and Queen Mary, along with a royal entourage of ladies-in-waiting, gentlemen-at-arms, local council officers, bridge-building bosses, dignitaries and various interested parties.

Ever since, the structure has become a world-renowned icon of Newcastle upon Tyne; shorthand for strength, dignity and hardy working-class values. Millions of coffee mugs, tee-shirts, tea towels etc, have been produced over the years as a display of civic pride.

North East brewers have also cottoned on to its association, not least because of the bridge’s instant recognisability but its shape which in silhouette in particular translates well into graphic forms – and none more so than Newcastle Brown Ale which incorporated it into its new “blue star” logo in 1928, a year after the beer was introduced to the market.

The five points of the star represented the five founding breweries of Newcastle. For the last decade or so, the Brown Ale label has featured the Gateshead Millennium Bridge prominently with the Tyne Bridge playing a supporting background role.

Newcastle Brown Ale was from its inception perceived in the UK as a working-man’s beer with a long association to heavy industry, an image it has never really shaken off. However, in export markets, it is seen as a trendy, premium import and is consumed predominantly by younger people.

The brand is now owned by Heineken. A company spokesperson says: “We are incredibly proud of Newcastle Brown Ale’s roots in the North-East. We also take great pride in the fact that our beer is as synonymous with the region as the Tyne Bridge or the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. These two iconic sites epitomise the strength of the region and so were a natural choice to feature on our labels throughout the ages.”

Hadrian Border Brewery has been using the Tyne Bridge on its Tyneside Blonde pumpclips and bottle labels since 2007 – first brought about by a challenge to sales staff to find out in the trade what style, strength and colour of beer was lacking in the brewery’s range and what landlords would buy.

“The answer came back as a 3.9% pale beer,” says Andy Burrows, Hadrian Border’s co-owner (along with his wife Shona. “The name didn’t take too much thinking about as at the time the brewery was only a couple of hundred yards from the Tyne and just down-river from the iconic image you see on the badge.

“Tyneside Blonde very quickly became our best seller – and is still is with sometimes half of all production dedicated to it.”

The Tyne Bridge’s inspirational values weren’t lost on Julia Austin, either. The Tyne Bank Brewery she operates originally occupied Hadrian Border’s old premises in Byker, so the name alone didn’t really take much thinking about. Two-and-a-half years ago, it moved a few hundred metres into a fabulous brewhouse, taproom and events space and a rebranding exercise also took the company and its beers onto another level.

The DNA “helix” has an uncanny resemblance to the Tyne Bridge and its arches, so Julia’s brief to designers was to incorporate the two, using letterforms and images to depict the view of the Tyne and its magnificent structures.

“Our tagline, It’s What’s Inside That Counts, also forms part of the DNA element of our branding,” says Julia.

A recent Newcastle Brown Ale development led The Strawberry pub on Newcastle’s Gallowgate to understand it was the only pub in the country to be offering “Geordie Champagne” in keg dispense. Landlord Michael Hill bought enough to see the pub into October. The beer flew out and at the time of writing there was only a 30-litre keg left. So, at time of reading it’s gone. Heinken has confirmed that the keg version was a trial and that results are being analysed.

“Newcastle Brown Ale is the number one premium bottled ale in the UK – selling more than £40m worth every year,” says Heineken.. “Whilst many new beers have entered the market, it is always comforting to know that it remains a fabric of the UK beer market and continues to appeal to millions of drinkers across the country.”


Information panels from Tyne Wear Museums and Archive read:

10th October 1928: The opening day has arrived. A guard of honour parades beside the covered stage from which King George V, accompanied by Queen Mary, performs the opening ceremony. It is a joyful, festive occasion.

As the royal party arrived “…the air was rent with the cheering of the people, above which were heard the shrieking of the sirens of the ships on the river all in carnival dress, the factory ‘buzzers’, the opening boom of the Royal Salute of 21 guns … and the drone of a Moth aeroplane as it flew low over the bridge.” Thus the RAF began the tradition of flypasts maintained so spectacularly today by the Red Arrows.

*Quotes are from the Newcastle Daily Journal. 


The Tyne Bridge was officially opened on October 10 1928 although work was not finally completed until the end of the year.

The total cost of the bridge, including associated road improvements, was £1.2m, of which about one third was for the purchase of land.

It contains more than 7,000 tons of steel and more than three-quarters-of-a-million rivets (some of which can be examined through special viewing panels at the Bridge Tavern in Newcastle).

The Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Tyne Bridge were designed independently though they were built by the same contractor, Dorman, Long & Co. Ltd. of Middlesbrough. The top of the bridge can be 200 feet above river level, depending on the tide. The minimum clearance for shipping is 84 feet 6 inches.

The span of the Tyne Bridge is 531 feet (the largest single span bridge in the country at the time of completion).

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Alastair Gilmour

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