Published on February 7, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour0
New base for brewing sorcerers
There could be no more fitting finale for the Tryanuary pub and beer campaign than the news that a new brewery is set to open. Northern Alchemy has been gathering plaudits for its innovative approach to brewing since it set up in a shipping container next door to the Cumberland Arms in Byker, Newcastle, in 2014. At the end of this month, brewing will take place at a site near the eastern end of Byker Bridge which will form a whole new community of artisans.
Northern Alchemy consists of brothers-in-law Carl Kennedy and Andy Aitchison, along with “our little pit pony” Jamie Hall. Cheers put a few questions to Carl.
What started you thinking about brewing beer?
“About 12 years ago we were standing outside the pub having a beer – this is when the beer market was completely different to what it is now – and talking about how to take the pub forward. Andy went out into the world of brewing for eight years working for different breweries, cleaning casks, helping to brew, delivering, and basically learning his craft.”
Then did you do more talking?
“We decided to start our own brewery and called it Northern Alchemy because it describes who we are and where we are – alchemy is the act of changing base ingredients into something greater than the sum of its parts.”
So you bought a 30-foot shipping container and set up in that?
“We thought the container would be here (at the pub) for the foreseeable future. It had been all around the world from Tokyo to Boston and then to Byker. We converted it into ‘The Lab’ and started brewing in 90-litre stocks pots that the Army uses for cooking potatoes. Local brewing consultant Ken Oliver built our first kit and it did us really well, working 18-hour days sometimes brewing twice a day. After nine months, we realised the kit was nowhere big enough and scaled up to 300-litre vessels to enable us to brew 200 litres at a time.”
And it kept on developing?
“Two years ago we were ready to be bigger again and did some ‘cuckoo’ brewing at Brinkburn St and Flash House breweries. Working with other people with new ideas is brilliant. It makes you think of things you normally wouldn’t dream of on your own. Anyway, we had got a bit stir crazy with three guys in a shipping container.”
Had you looked at an extension to the pub to house a brewery?
“It proved prohibitively expensive to build onto the side of the Cumberland Arms, so we started looking at other properties within a two-mile radius. We looked at a few then struck gold within 100 metres of the pub at The Old Coal Yard – also known as Potts Yard – a building where coal was dumped from railway wagons onto carts pulled by horses to be sold locally. It’s a massive site, cavernous – and it’s our new home.”
Did things moved quickly after that?
“We’ve got a 10-barrel brewery built by Oban Ales in Scotland – Three Kings, Almasty and Box Social breweries all had there’s built there. We’ll even start canning ourselves. The entire flooring was cobbled, so we got them lifted and are using them all around the building. We take great pride in doing everything ourselves – and properly. Most breweries will tell you ‘get your floor sorted first’ because once you’ve got your kit in, making changes is very, very expensive.
Architects Steve and Jane Miller at Miller partnership have been brilliant and local graphic designer Colin Hagan has done all our artwork which we’re really pleased with.
“We want to keep the shipping container theme going, so we’re moving ours in for an office and will gradually fill up the extra space with others made into ingredients preparation store, hop store and casking area with more stacked up for other businesses to create a community.
“They could be anything from a café to T-shirt printers or a bike shop or anything all producing stuff. It’s all very exciting.”