A truly Noble brew on a journey back home

A century separates a Scottish beer from one of Newcastle's most lauded industries, but the association remains stout.

A century separates a Scottish beer from one of Newcastle's most lauded industries, but the association remains stout.

A one-off brew from Fyne Ales in Argyll makes its debut at next week's Newcastle Beer Festival, in what could be regarded as the return leg of a 100-year-old journey. Noble 100 has been brewed to commemorate Sir Andrew Noble, Tyneside tycoon and business partner of Sir William (later Lord) Armstrong who formed the company that in 1928 became Vickers-Armstrong.

Sir Andrew, once of Jesmond Dene House in Newcastle, built a holiday home called Ardkinglas on the shores of Loch Fyne in 1907. The Noble family has tended the estate since, so it is somewhat inevitable that his great-granddaughter, Tuggy Delap, would be instrumental in setting up an enterprise on site.

The Fyne Ales brewery sits right at the end of Loch Fyne - the longest sea loch in Scotland - coddled in a former farm milking parlour amongst magnificent mountain majesty and spectacular shoreline scenery.

The view is breathtaking; the beers live up to their surroundings. The world-renowned Loch Fyne mussel and oyster fishery is close by - and the tastiest, juiciest kippers, caught as herring in cold clear waters and cured for 16 hours over smouldering oak fires (no colourings or flavourings), are a taste of heaven when taken straight out of a medium oven, brushed with butter, sprinkled with parsley and chased by something fine.

Noble 100 (3.9% alcohol by volume) is a copper-coloured hoppy ale brewed using "noble" hops in a limited edition of 100 numbered casks. Noble hops come in four different types - high in aroma but low in bitterness - and include Saaz, Spalter, Tettnanger and Hallertau, named in honour of their Central European origins.

"Andrew Noble was sitting in Newcastle looking for somewhere to build a holiday home," says Tuggy Delap.

"Ardkinglas is now 100-years-old. He built it as a weekend cottage for the family and a few friends - and employed a skeleton staff of 27. My father came up here when he was five-years-old, though my cousin lives in the house now and we have a farm at the top end of the estate.

"The brewery is in the old milking parlour. In 1992 we decided we'd have to do something with it; we thought again in 1998 when someone wanted to use it as a smokehouse, but that didn't happen. Then in 2000 we thought we'd really better do something before it fell down.

"My husband Jonny and the boys - we have two sons - were sitting having a pint when I said `let's make it into a brewery,' but they thought at first it was mummy having another of her `funny 10 minutes.' Eventually the idea stuck.

"We were in Hampshire at the time where there were 11 breweries, so we had plenty to have a look at. We got some great help from the Cheriton Brewery - they couldn't have been more friendly. The brewing industry is notoriously friendly and cheery and you can always find something you're looking for.

"We started to brew in 2001 and got gold medals in the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) awards for Highlander (4.8% ABV) and Maverick (4.2% ABV) after only two months."

More awards plus expansion of personnel and plant followed swiftly - the Delaps luring Wil Wood from Oakham Brewery in Peterborough, producer of Jeffrey Hudson Bitter (JHB), Champion Beer of Britain in 2005 and 2006, and Malcolm Downie, a graduate in brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

"Our aim is to find people who are happy to work in a small team," says Tuggy.

"The farm had taken on a new lease of life now. We have Highland cattle to eat the draff - the solid residue of the grain left after fermentation - we have some sheep and we're looking at having some pigs. We also have holiday cottages for people who don't want to walk far for a pint." A sign on the brewery confirms the area's close-knittedness by inviting visitors to knock at the house door if they can't get an answer at the brewery.

Tuggy says that when she was growing up she was surrounded by photographs of people from Newcastle - Jesmond Dene House in particular. It is now a magnificent hotel and restaurant operated by Terry Laybourne, the North-East's premier chef - and was designed by the eminent Newcastle architect John Dobson in 1822 for physician Thomas Emerson Headlam, leader of the Whig party and Mayor of Newcastle in 1837 and 1857.

Andrew Noble purchased the property in 1871. From the early 1900s, the house hosted several international business meetings through the Armstrong-Noble connection. In 1905 the Japanese defence minister, representing the Imperial Japanese Navy, stayed there for the launch on the Tyne of the battleship Kashima.

Six years later, Japanese naval hero Admiral Heihachiro Togo was a guest. Rumour has it that during dinner in the Great Hall, local businessmen listened in on the Togo party's conversation from the secluded balcony above.

Tuggy (originally Anastasia) says: "Jonny and the boys have always been enthusiastic about ale. When he took early retirement - he has Parkinson's - he was told not to do anything too strenuous or stressful, so what do we do? Open a brewery."

Tuggy's tenacity and resolve seems to have descended the bloodline very much intact. Sir Andrew Noble was regularly criticised for his autocratic business approach (though very much in private), which led one Armstrong Whitworth board member, Henry Whitehead, to report that his fellow members "are treated like the fifth wheel of a one-horse coach".

She says: "I'm number three of four daughters and I had to fight my corner. I was elected to SIBA's Scottish council three years ago and am enjoying it enormously - and I hope they think I'm doing something worthwhile in return."

The children's game of tag is known as "tig" in Scotland and "tuggy" in the North-East. It would appear the folks at Loch Fyne Ales - Tuggy, Jonny, Wil, Malcolm and "the boys" - are thoroughly enjoying being "it."

* The 31st Newcastle Beer Festival takes place at Newcastle University Students' Union from April 18 (6pm-10.30pm); Thursday 19 and Friday 20, 12pm-10.30pm; Saturday April 21 (12noon-7pm). Admission £3 (free to card-carrying Camra members), includes souvenir glass and programme. Details and beer list: www.cannybevvy.co.uk

alastair.gilmour@ncjmedia.co.uk

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