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Newcastle real ale festival matures with age

ACCORDING to a study, the average Briton believes that youth ends at 35 and old age begins at 58.

Camra barstaff, Beer Festival

ACCORDING to a study, the average Briton believes that youth ends at 35 and old age begins at 58. Oh, dear. In between – all 23 years – is your middle age.

The survey, by the University of Kent and revealed to a meeting of the Economic and Social Research Council in London, asked: “When does youth end and old age begin?” The average response was that you stop being young at 35, and start being old at 58.

So, the grandly-titled Campaign For Real Ale 35th Newcastle Beer and Cider Festival opening at Northumbria University Students’ Union next week loses its “youth” tag for good.

Festival middle-age starts to spread from 2012, so it might be an idea to make the most of the ale celebration’s juvenility while it can still stand upright without artificial aids, personal support or stimulants of around 7.0% alcohol by volume.

The festival’s long-term home at Newcastle University is being refurbished – hence the new venue at Northumbria University – and it’s refreshing to have a preview of a space where the word “dungeon” isn’t the first word into the notebook.

Possibly reading the runes, two of the region’s breweries are presenting ales which celebrate a modern approach to their craft. Swedish Blonde from Houghton-le Spring-based Maxim Brewery created such an interest on its launch last year as a summer seasonal beer that it has been retained as a permanent fixture in the company’s portfolio.

And, Jill Holyoak from Washington is the personification of Mordue Brewery’s Northumbrian Blonde. She’s busy promoting the new beer that Mordue managing director Garry Fawson describes as “filling a gap in our range”.

“We wanted to do a blonde beer in bottle and cask simply because of customer demand,” he says. “People were interested in us creating a permanent beer around the 4.0% abv range because we’ve only ever brewed seasonal ones at that strength.”

Mordue will be showing three beers at the Newcastle Beer Festival – Blonde, Ginger and IPA, which sounds rather like a female band.

Swedish Blonde was named after Maxim saleswoman Anna Goransdotter-Bell, who was born in Västerås, a town between Gothenburg and Stockholm and, incidentally, the birthplace of Swedish actor and director Mai Zetterling.

“Swedish Blonde has turned out to be one of the most popular beers we’ve ever brewed,” says Maxim director Mark Anderson. “Last year, it sold out within three hours of being released.”

The beer is pale gold in colour, with a grapefruit-like aroma and a complex yet refreshing flavour drawn from the use of Cascade and First Gold hops.

“I was very proud when they said they wanted to name it after me,” says Anna, who has worked with Maxim for more than two years.

The Campaign For Real Ale (Camra) 35th Newcastle Beer and Cider Festival represents much more than blonde beers, however. Organisers Gordon Heal and Ian Lee have been working almost non-stop over the last six months to make sure all bases are covered, particularly at an unfamiliar site.

“We’re also celebrating Camra at 40 years old,” says Gordon, probably unaware that the organisation is – by the University of Kent’s findings – well over its adolescence.

“It’s our biggest venue yet and it gives us a lot more scope. It can hold 2,000 at a time rather than the previous 1,250. I reckon we’ll get 5,000 people through the door next week.

“We’ve got all different sorts of ales – 132 at the last count – which works out at 170-plus casks, and 125 of cider. New for this year is a fast-track entry system, meaning people won’t have to queue outside.”

Ian Lee adds: “There’s a bit of a theme to the beers in that a third of them are from Yorkshire, a third local – for the LocAle bar – and a third from elsewhere in the country.

“There are also some ‘tickers’ beers never brewed before. We’ve got the best we can get: the beers are all of better quality than ever, which is better for everyone. The likes of Thornbridge Jaipur and Fyne Ales Avalanche are big sellers.”

Adam White, Northumbria University Student Union president, is delighted that the festival will take place on his patch. He says: “For us to attract such a prestigious community event onto campus is great. There used to be a real ale society at Northumbria – it’s a very British drink, isn’t it? – so a lot of the foreign students will enjoy the experience.”

We have to emphasise that the beer festival is not exclusively a student event – it’s a very public affair organised by the Tyneside & Northumberland branch of Camra.

“Surprisingly, we don’t get a lot of Camra members visiting the festival,” says Ian Lee. “The vast majority is general public. If Camra dropped down tomorrow, people would still come and we’d still get great support.”

The news that 58 is “over the hill” will come as a depressing thought to anyone who is hovering around the milestone. The sight of a Swedish Blonde – or Northumbrian equivalent – may just be the required tonic.

The 35th Newcastle Beer and Cider Festival is at Northumbria University Students’ Union from Wednesday April 13 (4pm for Camra members, 6pm for the general public) until Saturday, April 16. Visit www.cannybevvy.co.uk for full details.

Elsewhere in town

TWO spin-off beer events will also take place next week. Mordue Brewery has decided to continue a mini-festival it started at The Hotspur in Newcastle last year. A full range of eight beers is available for a full week from tomorrow.

Similarly, at the Newcastle Arms, landlord Neil Amos is complementing the Newcastle Beer Festival by introducing some new ales into the St Andrew’s Street pub.

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