Published on September 6th, 2016 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Great. North Eastern. Brewing
The sight of a new brewery under construction never fails to excite, as Alastair Gilmour discovers
Brewing has returned to a corner of Tyneside that was, for an all-too brief period, the home of one of the world’s most iconic beers. The doors have opened and the boilers fired up at the Great North Eastern Brewing Company (GNEBC) based at Dunston, Gateshead, where Newcastle Brown Ale was produced between 2005 and 2010.
Brewing left Dunston when Scottish & Newcastle Breweries decamped to the John Smith’s site at Tadcaster in North Yorkshire, taking the production of Newcastle Brown Ale with them. The Federation Brewery had previously occupied the Lancaster Road site, having themselves moved from Hedley Street, Newcastle, in 1980.
Today, however, it’s Rivet Catcher, Red Ellen and Victory IPA that will pour from the 10-barrel capacity brewhouse sitting close to the former Brown Ale site, brewed on equipment originally used at Jarrow Brewery which sadly ceased trading in 2015. Recipes, yeast strain, kit and casks were also purchased and GNEBC has spent most of this year – and some £200,000 – putting it all back together again.
Some essential building work has been delayed to allow a family of swallows – or swifts or house martins – to get their house in order and fly south in the autumn and GNEBC managing director Paul Minnikin has enlisted the skills of Sam Sampson at Borders-based Scotia Welding & Fabricating to fit boilers, fermentation vessels and conditioning tanks into the hygienically plastic-clad brewhouse. It is a particularly impressive sight.
Paul Minnikin says: “I’ve always been interested in beer and brewing and this opportunity was an ideal way of getting into it. We’re doing things right, such as going for a Safe And Local Supplier Approval (SALSA) accreditation (the food safety certification scheme for the UK’s small producers) and a Hazard and Operational Ability Study (HAZOP) inspection. A SIBA (the Society of Independent Brewers) audit has also found everything to its satisfaction.
“We’ve even got a recent yeast culture condition report from Brewlab in Sunderland who look after it for us.”
Rivet Catcher was one of the North East’s most popular and award-winning beers when it was produced by Jarrow Brewery and Paul Minnikin says the new version has been “flying out” in the pubs that have taken it. To add a further twist to a fairly complex story, Rivet Catcher has been produced under contract by Hadrian Border Brewery until GNEBC gets fully up to speed.
“Some casks have just lasted two hours and we’re getting lots of good reports,” says Paul. “We’ve also got ideas for new beers with new recipes and to introduce seasonals.
“We’re at phase one of the brewery at the moment, but the plan – phase two – is to eventually install a 30-barrel plant in adjacent buildings with bottling, kegging and canning facilities.”
The project has been self-financed up till now but Paul Minnikin and his team – which includes brewer John Stubbs and Brian Cameron – are currently looking at what business grants are available, such is their belief in the products. John Stubbs spent nearly 20 years looking after Vaux Brewery’s managed houses and latterly worked at Jarrow Brewery for more than five years while helping run The Isis in Sunderland with his partner Carol Graham. Now called The Ship Isis and operated by Camerons Brewery, it won two consecutive Pub of the Year awards from its local Camra branch.
John says: “I pride myself at looking after beer from beginning to end, so we’re building on that.”
Brian Cameron was also employed at Jarrow in a distribution and maintenance capacity and is a key element in driving the GNBC business forward.
Sam Sampson has “stretched” old Grundy tanks to accommodate double their capacity. Grundy tanks – those vessels that look like R2-D2 – were used in big pubs and club cellars to hold large volumes of beer, delivered by tanker from the likes of Scottish and Newcastle and Vaux. When they became redundant, most of them were shipped to the US where home-brewers eagerly snapped them up.
Those homebrewers were the leaders of the craft beer movement that has been exported back to Britain and these days, Grundy tanks are like hen’s teeth.
Sam Sampson has been constructing brewery equipment for the past six years at Scotia Welding – mash tuns, fermenters, conditioning tanks, cask washers, you name it. Breweries he has been involved with – either full kit installations, part-works, or remedial – include Allendale in Northumberland, Tempest in Kelso, Fyne Ales, Argyll; Ushers, Edinburgh; Stonehouse, Shropshire, and The Old Potting Shed in High Spen, Tyne & Wear. His order book bulges to the extent that he’s had to take on extra pairs of metalworking hands. And he can now add Dunston to his brewkit passport.
The sight of him driving yet another rivet into a gleaming tank seems to be a good omen for the future of the Great North Eastern Brewing Company, Rivet Catcher, Red Ellen and all.
*To assist in the production of this article, Cheers North East has been given access to paperwork relating to the purchase of recipes, names and equipment from Jarrow Brewing Company which includes notification from HMRC, the Intellectual Property Office (trade marks), Deeds of Assignment and Asset Sale documents.