Mordue's Workie Ticket this week claimed the crown at Camra’s Great British Beer Festival in London – with managing director Garry Fawson saying he was proud to fly the flag for the region.
But despite great beer being made in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and County Durham, the North Shields-based firm was among the few who could – as just nine of the North East’s near 40 breweries were represented at “Britain’s biggest pub”.
“I’m very pleased,” said Garry, who runs the brewery on the Tyne Tunnel Industrial Estate with brother Matt, “and very pleased for the North East.
“I think we’re the only brewer that’s ever won a Great British Beer Festival gold – I think a few like Jarrow have had bronzes and a few others have won here and there but it’s nice to be able to put the region in the spotlight.”
To mark their place in the final, the brewery was closed for the day, with all its staff in London for the festival’s trade session on Tuesday afternoon.
“Getting to the final is very difficult because you have to win a beer festival, then be named regional champion, then super regional winner – which when it’s Sheffield to the Borders, where the majority of the breweries in the country are based, is hard enough,” said Garry, who saw Mordue’s X2 win the Battle of the Beers at Newcastle Beer and Cider Festival earlier in the year.
“But we were over the moon just to get there, and especially with Workie Ticket, because right now it’s a very unfashionable sort of beer. Everyone seems to want to brew beers that are like a hammer to your mouth – so we were very surprised that something that is 4.5% ABV, accounts for practically 50% of our produce and is mass market did so well.
“Going down to the festival we wanted to say thanks to our staff for all the effort everyone has put in this year. They have been working very hard and we wanted to share the experience of being at the GBBF with them.
“Winning was particulalrly great for Rob (Millichamp) who’s only been head brewer for two years. It again proves that it’s not just new recipes that he’s great at, but that he can handle beers that have a history and heritage of their own.”
Yet even Garry was baffled as to why the North East seemed to have so few representatives at the 149,000-member organisation’s annual celebration of the nation’s beer.
“There’s a lot of great breweries up here,” he said. “It’s very odd – I’ve no idea how the selection process works. But we’re really proud to fly the flag for the North East because I think the region brews some of the best beer in the world, and I hope that if this can encourage more people to try our beers then they can go on to try other people’s too.”
Among more than 800 cask and bottled beers, ciders and perries at this year’s event, which finishes tomorrow at London’s Olympia, just five – Paw’s Gold (Black Paw), Citra Nova (The Durham Brewery), Darkest Moment (Just a Minute) and Copy Lane (The Stables Brewery) – came from County Durham. Four – Tyneside Blonde (Hadrian Border Brewery), Isis (Jarrow Brewery), Workie Ticket (Mordue) and Southern Star (Tyne Bank) – came from Tyne and Wear and one – Matfen Magic (High House Farm) – from Northumberland.
By comparison, of Cornwall’s 13 breweries, eight were represented by 13 different beers, with a further 13 hailing from a third of the 29 breweries in Devon.
Maybe it’s just a north/south bias as Cumbria’s 36 breweries saw just nine beers featured as well.
However, more surprisingly perhaps, is that despite the lack of North East breweries, another of the region’s beverage makers was to be found amid the bars, tombolas, beer book shops and food stalls.
Hexham-based Fentimans had its own stall offering soft drinks and promoting its Hollows alcoholic ginger beer.
Callum Wright, son of the firm’s marketing director Geoff, said while most drinkers had been ignoring what they thought of merely as soft drinks, many designated drivers and people looking to break up their ale consumption with a lower ABV alternative had been stopping to have a chat.
“Unfortunately a lot of people just walked past,” he said. “But of those that stopped, quite a lot of people knew the brand, and just being at an event like the GBBF is a great way of raising awareness.”
So congratulations to the Mordue team. Anyone looking to try a pint of the winning brew outside a pub, it’s apparently to appear at the Warkworth Cricket Club Beer Festival, Northumberland from August 24 to 26.