Recently topped the Hottest 100 beers poll on Twitter and by all accounts this was a sizeable victory for the lads from the Tyne Valley. This is a great story and a great victory for the North East as it shows the extent to which the craft beer bug has bitten on Tyneside.
As I’ve said in earlier posts, the North East has its own dynamics in most industries but in the beer market its local identity which holds most sway with the areas drinkers. I don’t actually think most people view beers as being craft or not craft, if they’re local they’ll give them a go. Wylam Brewery are a classic example of that North East base. Everything about them is heavily focussed on their identity and their roots. Obviously the brewery proudly carries the name of its birthplace and bold as brass takes that forward as a badge of honour. More than that though when you start delving into the beers and the styles that they produce, you soon find that it’s almost a plotted history of how the beer scene in the North East has developed.
They were founded in 2000 by two beer lovers John Boyle and Robin Leighton who were abit bored with the beers available at the time and started with the aim of developing beers with more flavour and more punch. Their Landlords choice beer was a roaring success and quickly gave the brewery a platform to spring off from. The following years saw steady growth in admiration and respect for the quality of the beers that they produced and in 2006 the decision was taken to move to larger premises, albeit just outside the village of Wylam but firmly planted in the Tyne Valley none the less. The lead characters have evolved, with the two founding members having passed the batten to younger charges, but again they’re very much linked to the heritage of the original brewers. Their range includes beers such as Rocket, named in reverence to George Stephenson’s Rocket built right here in the north east, another is Angel, named after the Gateshead angel which stands tall and proud and welcomes all A1 drivers to Tyneside with open arms and Collingwood, in reference to Lord Collingwood who supported Lord Nelson in many of his victories, but was born 26 September 1748, right here in Newcastle upon Tyne.
I guess all of those local stories really appeal to me as a proud Geordie. But aside from local chest beating, I also think that for anyone picking up a bottle of these beers and hearing about these things, may just make them more likely to want to come and visit the area. Local identity shouldn’t just be about the iconic Tyne Bridge, it needs to be each and every little tale and story from the area which has made up the rich tapestry of culture here.
But anyway, back to Jakehead. For those that don’t know Jakehead is a 6.3% IPA which is unashamedly bold. This is an IPA bursting with those fantastic American 3 C’s hops but also brimfull of some of the finest malts the country has to offer, namely Golden Promise. Here’s a malt which very few breweries in the UK are able to get hold of, the vast majority of it is sent off to service lucrative contracts in the US. Tellingly though, Wylam are able to buy this malt because they have a long standing credible working relationship with the supplier. And that’s something which is key here. Wylam are an established brewery. They’ve been brewing for 15 years and their inception was long before the craft wave started to grow its swell. I think this gives them a very strong position. They have all the experience of dealing with the supply of their produce and have all those years of knowledge in refining their brewing practices to be able to adapt their beers to whatever they want them to achieve.
Bizarrely enough those 15 years pretty much cover my being of drinking age. And I remember the beers which were available when I first started drinking. Not terribly fondly mind you, but I remember them all the same. There wasn’t much finesse to the beer styles back then, they were all very much of certain stock styles with very little variation within those styles. As Ive written about before larger breweries dominated the local scene with most public houses being owned and operated by the same breweries. Which meant you were getting the same beers wherever you went. Trouble was those standard beers where a dull as dishwater.
Jakeheads not. Jakehead packs a mighty punch. Few too many of these and your hungover self will be lodging a formal complaint against your previous night drinking self.
I consider myself very fortunate to have been invited to appear as a guest on an episode of the Beer O’Clock Show (episode 119, available on iTunes from Friday 18th September), and we will be reviewing Wylam’s Jakehead on the show. I’ve always tried to push North East beers to lads I know up and down the country, to help raise the profile of the great beers that are being produced in the North East. In advance of this I dropped the lads at the brewery a message seeing if I could pop up and get some info for the show. Their hospitality was overwhelming and both Dave and Matt went out of their way to give me some of their valuable time and bags of information. They also supplied the beers for the show so a big thank you to them for that! I will never forget that aroma as I walked into their kegging room! Amazing!
So on to Jakehead. Obviously I don’t want to give too much away ahead of the episode being released, but having had Jakehead several times its safe to assume that a) I’m well aware of the beer and how it tastes, and b) I’m clearly a fan. They use the big American 3 c’s for bitterness and aroma. Flavour/aroma wise this is very much on the mango end of the grapefruit to mango scale. The hops aren’t simply powerful bitter hops, they’re strong and dominant but the blend is incredibly juicy and the malts come through strongly too. It’s not just a background for the hops to shine, the whole jigsaw is balanced beautifully. I think that’s part of its appeal. It’s not yet another American style IPA with big bitter hops, the best way to describe it is as a mix of a good malty English IPA with those big bold beautiful American hops, but in perfect harmony. I imagine it’s a very delicate balance to strike but with this beer they’ve got it bang on.
The Hottest 100 Beers was a Twitter poll which asked people to vote for their favourite beer by tweeting in support of their favourite beer. For Jakehead to win that it has to be of broad appeal to a large number of drinkers. The lads were keen to express to me that they’re very much focussed on their roots and local drinkers and those local drinkers appreciate that and were motivated enough to get on their phones/laptops/however else you access Twitter, to vote. It’s one thing to ask someone a question and get a reply, it takes more motivation to get someone to take the steps required to vote.
Wylam are probably at a good point in their development. They have a firmly established reputation locally and have steadily increased that nationally. But key to their ideology is growing their quality and pushing themselves to develop as brewers, and experiment in different areas gaining as much knowledge as they can. They will continue to evolve their offerings but they don’t want exponential growth. The focus on quality rather than quantity is what we all want really. I want breweries to be profitable and survive but after that I want them to produce the best possible beers that they can. Wylam are a solid set up and are able to focus on that now.
I can’t do a blog post on Jakehead without relaying my favourite tale from the beer, the origins of its name. This is my paraphrased version but I hope to do it the justice it deserves! Back in the days of US prohibition in the 1700’s, the absence of liquor in the states led to a culture of certain medicine men touring round with what they described as invigorating tonics. One such medicine man, named Dr Jakes had an invigorating tonic that was very much sought after. However, it came at a price. The production methods were far from standard and frequently contained certain toxins which brought on a condition called ‘jake-leg’, best described as a partial paralysis brought on by drinking improperly distilled or contaminated liquor. The stagger as a result of this paralysis would bring folk to ask “whats up with him?”, to which folk would reply (adopt your best southern drawl accent) “oh, he’s a Jakehead”. And you can see the medicinal references to the ‘Invigorating tonic’ and ‘It cures’ on the bottles today. However, don’t be put off by this. I can attest to the high standard of brewing that goes into producing a beer of this magnitude!
But don’t just take my word for it, get yourselves out there and try it! Its Proper Beer!
And while you try it, give the show a listen. Its good craick (even if I did waffle on abit at times….)!
Link to the Beer O’Clock Show podcast will be inserted here:https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-beer-oclock-show-episodes/id550264875?mt=2#episodeGuid=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.beeroclockshow.co.uk%2F%3Fp%3D2042 and if you’re not already following them on Twitter (@BeerOClockShow) why not?!
Also, give Wylam Brewery a follow on Twitter: @wylambrewery and get yourselves along to Craft Beer Calling this year (23rd to 25th October).