Published on December 6, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour


Ready to order

If licensed trade experience is anything to go by, Caps Off Bottle Shop should do very well indeed. Situated in the former ticket office at Bishop Auckland Station, it’s run by Alastair Wild and his partner Chloe Sudders. Alastair’s background in beer and pubs is impeccable, having managed Wetherspoons’ outlets throughout the North East from Richmond to Alnwick, following hospitatlity management at Anfield, home of Liverpool FC.

“I got myself around,” he says. “We opened Caps Off in the summer with a temporary events licence and have just got the full licence now. That was a fun experience.

“The premises had been lying empty for 18 months, since the ticket office moved, and had to be completely rewired and thoroughly refurbished. We’ll eventually turn the bottle-shop into a micropub as well. We’ve been concentrating on North East beers since we opened, but aim to have a 50-50 split between local and national and international beers – the bigger the variety the better. It’s been brilliant so far, nice and steady business.”

The couple are also looking at inviting street food traders outside on Fridays and Saturdays as the station end of town apparently goes quite quiet in the evenings.

The shop/micropub features an open bar with five keg lines and two cask ales, a display fridge, 10 vodkas and 30-plus gins. Three high-topped tables, one in each window, supply the comfort. “There’s a lot crammed into a little space,” says Alastair. “We also have a little room at the back with a banqueting-style table seating 20-25.”

Graphic designers like to get noticed – after all, it’s what they do for clients. Vicky Luciano’s company, Bishop Auckland-based Vixel Designs, is part vixen, part Vicky and a chunk of pixel, which is rather clever. And designers have to be clever to stand out. Vicky is looking to break into the pub and brewery market, offering full branding services, logos, brochures and leaflets, plus a lot more in bespoke print and digital services. She has previously worked with Lanchester Wines and Greencroft Bottling in Co Durham as a packaging designer and is looking to build a good, local client base. “At Vixel Designs we provide the glasses to see your branding vision through,” says Vicky.

Glasses and beer are what pubs and breweries are about, so she is already halfway there.

What do Luke Rowe (Team Sky 2017) and Pink Lane Coffee Shop have in common? The answer is Lanterne Rouge (Red Light), the award given to the competitor who finishes last in a cycle race, such as the Tour de France – and also a Belgian beer café popping up in Newcastle in December.

Following a hugely successful event at Flat Caps Coffee Shop in 2016, this year Lanterne Rouge will be based in the stylish Pink Lane Coffee Shop.

“The space will be transformed each night into a fully working Belgian-style bar completed with draught and bottled beers, and Belgian-style bar snacks,” says Mick Potts, landlord of the award-winning Free Trade Inn, whose idea this is.

The beer selection includes revered Belgian classics such as Chimay, Duvel, Boon and Westvleteren, alongside modern Belgian brewers like Fantome, De la Senne and Alvinne. There will be British-brewed Belgian-style beers that include Aberdeen’s Six Degrees North and Burning Sky from Sussex and even Belgian-style beers from Denmark and the US.

Mick says: “We’ve been working with Newcastle University’s Stu Brew, which has brewed a house beer for the event – a Belgian-style saison using a classic Belgian yeast strain. Food comes in the style of classic Belgian tapas and light snacks, including boudin noir (blood sausage), cured sausages and of course, gouda with celery salt. The Lanterne Rouge will be open 7pm-11.30pm Thursday-Saturday from December 1-23.

Wylam in Northumberland has a range of brilliant pubs that’s difficult to top in any village. But that doesn’t faze Patsy Schroeder and Nigel Shell, the new(ish) licensees of The Fox & Hounds – in fact, it spurs them on.

“We’re doing very well,” says Patsy. “We’ve been here for five months after working in Bamburgh at The Lord Crewe Arms and the Castle Hotel. We always intended to have our own place, though.”

On the counter are Marstons 61 Deep, Jennings Cumberland Ale and Thwaites Wainwright with a fourth handpull going on at weekends.

“They’re great beers,” says Patsy, “and so popular in the pub. We’ve also just installed Warsteiner Premium Lager and are building up our gin and rum selection.

“For the moment we offer Sunday lunches which are going well and eventually we hope to expand on that, but there’s been so much to sort out since we took over – lots to do behind the scenes – and there are only the two of us at the moment.”

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Alastair Gilmour

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