NEWCASTLE Brown Ale inspires strong passions, good or bad. Distress at the move of brewing to Tadcaster or pride at the Newcastle name being seen around the world. A refusal to drink it or a refusal to drink anything else. Broon continues to be a beer linked to emotions ... the way beer should be.
“If you go back to the roots, when the North East was heavily industrialised, you had many things – shipbuilding and steelworks,” says Gavin.
“Beer and pubs was very much part of the social community. The iconic beer in the North East of England became Newcastle Brown Ale.Related content
“People became proud about it and it gained nicknames, such as Dog, because it was well-known the man of the house was going to ‘walk the dog’.
“The brewery’s not there any more but I can’t help feeling the history and traditions of the brand gives it an affection. It’s much-loved.
“And we shouldn’t forget the brewery here was involved in every aspect of the community. It was respected as a corporation; we supported all sorts of community activities and that brought respect.”
It was a relationship that developed over many years, from the city’s pubs to the shirts of its football players. And it was this affection that may have also saved Newcastle Brown Ale through seismic shifts in the beer industry which started in the 1960s.
The rise of lager from the 1960s onwards was one of the biggest changes ever to hit the British beer world, the pretender earning an unrightful place as Britain’s national drink over the next 40 or so years.
The consumers’ story has been well documented, from the infectious spread of keg lager, to the demise of many ale breweries, to the formation of CAMRA to counteract and lead the fightback of ale. But it was also a tale of tough choices for the larger brewers.
Gavin, who began work in 1958 becoming Newcastle Breweries’ chairman and vice chairman of Scottish and Newcastle before retiring in 1994, says: “During my career there was the emergence of lager beer, and darker, more traditional ales gave way to the growth of lager. But there were still big brands on the ale side, like us.
“When you’re in a fast-moving consumer world there are always stronger and weaker brands, always movement in portfolios, and you have to make difficult choices as to which brands to support. But Newcastle Brown Ale was always a terrific brand, resilient in its home North East; and we succeeded in convincing every brewery that they couldn’t have a successful pub without Newcastle Brown Ale.”
There were, however, other moves within Scottish and Newcastle to ensure they received some share of the emerging lager market.
“Also, in the early days we didn’t have our own lager beer so we were part of the Harp Lager Consortium, with Guinness, Courage, and smaller regional brewers. It was very successful but it never had the power of the big international brands.
“Tastes were changing; but there was always a nucleus of Newcastle Brown Ale drinkers.”
In the final part of The Journal’s chat with Gavin next week, he talks about how Newcastle Brown Ale began the journey to becoming an internationally recognised brand and do what many people have not managed ... crack America.