ONE of Napoleon’s more memorable quotes was: “An army marches on its stomach”. Emperor Hadrian’s maxim went something like: “Get that wall finished by AD122 and I’ll buy you a pint.”
A nice thought, but unlikely. “That wall”, however, forms the backdrop to an initiative by Hadrian’s Wall Heritage to encourage businesses and visitors to buy locally-produced products and to offer business support to its members. Locally Produced is one of a “family” of brands under the Hadrian’s Wall Country “umbrella” which promotes the Hadrian’s Wall Bus, Train Line and the National Trail for cycling and walking. And, a handful of micro-breweries along its length lend themselves remarkably well to the strategy.
Maria Hindmarsh, sustainable development assistant at Hadrian’s Wall Heritage, says: “We have four breweries in the scheme so we felt it was valuable to focus on them for a ‘meet the producer’ tour.
“To raise awareness we invited publicans, restaurateurs and hoteliers and hopefully enable new business relationships to develop.”
Raise awareness it certainly did with representatives from the likes of The Black Bull at Haltwhistle; The Bairns at Chopwell and Vintage Inns, plus Jesmond Dene House Hotel and Blackfriars Restaurant in Newcastle having their eyes opened in varying degrees to a range of fine, cask-conditioned beers.
Tom Hick at Allendale Brewery in Northumberland has been brewing for only four years but has established a reputation for outstanding ales that have gained awards for their consistency along with personal commendations for entrepreneurship. Expansion has been like an exercise in perpetual motion with bigger plant and more elbow room constant companions.
“We have the capacity to brew 40 barrels (1,440 gallons), four times a week,” he says. “Our Adder Lager won the overall beer at the Newcastle Beer Festival last year and we’ve just had a northern award from the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) for our most popular ale, Golden Plover.
“Our chilli beer is doing well and we’ll call it Beacon Fire to celebrate the Illuminating Hadrian’s Wall event that takes place next month. Each batch has two kilos of dried pasilla chillis added which were chosen because of their interesting flavours.”
Around 500 individual points of light placed at 250-metre intervals will create Illuminating Hadrian’s Wall on Saturday, March 13. The spectacular line of light will follow the 84-mile route from Segedunum Roman Fort at Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway in Cumbria, lit over the course of an hour.
Allendale’s Beacon Fire chilli beer might be the perfect accompaniment – its fresh vegetable and spicy flavours leave a long-lingering, pleasantly warm glow at the back of the throat. But it’s not only innovation in taste that today’s micro-brewers are dabbling in, they have recognised that different markets require different approaches. “Bottled beers have been brilliant for us and they’re selling really well,” says Tom. “We’re doing more and more beer in boxes – they’re excellent for smaller outlets. They work like a wine box and keep for about six weeks after opening.
“At our pub, the Crown at Catton, we use 18-gallon casks for Golden Plover and boxes for Wolf, a stronger beer which people don’t have so much of.”
The clue to Wylam Brewery’s membership of the Locally Produced scheme is in its address – Heddon-on-the-Wall. Of the micros set up in the last decade, it’s the benchmark. Much extended from its farm milking-parlour beginnings, Wylam is brewing to its capacity of 70 barrels (2,520 gallons) a week.
“That’s one, 20-barrel brew and five, 10-barrel brews,” says managing director John Boyle. “We trebled capacity in 2006 and thought that would do us for a few years. But here we are already.
“At the year end we were 40% up on 2008 production.”
No cause for complaint there, then – but there’s no room for complacency, either. A new beer developed by young brewers Ben Wilkinson and Lee Howourth is proving particularly popular. Collingwood Festival Ale marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Admiral Lord Collingwood, hero of the Battle of Trafalgar.
The 4.1% alcohol by volume pale ale is described as honey-soaked in colour with a sweet tangerine aroma from the finishing hop; light and soft-bodied with a citrus zest and fresh pinewood flavour and an appetisingly dry and bitter finish.
“Demand was so strong we sold most of the first batch in a couple of days,” says John. “We had a report from the Central Bar in Gateshead that their first 72-pint cask sold out in two or three hours, when a popular cask ale would normally last two or three days.
“Ben and Lee have really excelled themselves with this. They used two relatively new American hybrid hops to give the beer its distinct character and aroma.”
Julie Sloan, sustainable development officer at Hadrian’s Wall Heritage, says: “The meet-the-producer tour was demand-led; people were asking to be involved and we wanted to show them how easy it is to get local ales.”
They also had an insight into geography, history, innovation, business acumen, determination and unusual flavour sensations. There was also a dash of humour.
It was Emperor Hadrian’s foreman who said: “OK lads, that’s enough wall for one day. It’s XXX past V.”
Part two – Geltsdale and High House Farm breweries – next week.