Northern Alchemy

We were introduced to brother-in-law brewing duo Andy Aitchison and Carl Kennedy - Northern Alchemy - the day after IMBC last year. 

Well, apparently we were introduced. You see, we were on the final leg of a twelve bar crawl with our pals Andrew Mitchell and Emma Wales at the time, who are also good friends of Andy and Carl. I seem to remember we held a reasonably coherent conversation with them, gently swaying pint in hand down at Font Bar. Looking back we were probably all quite refreshed after a solid day of sampling ales around town, so the conversation flowed very easily and (as I'm told) eventually turned to us paying them a visit for the blog.

Now these fellas love a collaboration. The inside of one of the cupboard doors in the brewery is given over to signatures of all those who have held a mash paddle in the name of brewing up beer with Northern Alchemy.

So our experience with them was to be no different. As we'd recently been up to Newcastle for the blog last year, we instead headed up this time for a brew day (and a few beers) in the heart of the Ouseburn Valley by The Cumberland Arms in Northern Alchemy's distinctive HQ:

Yep, their 200l kit is housed (very well housed in fact) inside a re-purposed shipping container at the side of the pub. It has to been seen to be believed. A brewery tour could be conducted in under a minute. It's a real testament to the way Andy and Carl work together, as with space at a premium inside there needs to be a rhythm and arrangement to the way the brew day flows.

Apart from today. With Andy holed up in bed with tonsilitis, Carl had to make do with two brewing numpties who regularly just got in the way. 

The brew for the day was to be a Marmalade and Assam Tea IPA. We wanted to do something which took a bit of Manchester up to Newcastle, so when Andy and Carl asked us to come up with an idea for the brew, I started by looking at some sort of ingredient we could bring with us from our patch. I landed on Duerr's Marmalade (still made locally - since 1881 don't you know), which we could base an IPA on. Lack of brewing knowledge on my part of course meant that we couldn't actually use the marmalade itself - too much refined sugar you see - but ahead of the brew day Andy set to work on a deconstructed version of the marmalade to reproduce the same characteristics (can't tell you what, that's a trade secret). To this basis, Andy suggested with a good toasty malt base and an infusion of tea, you'd end up with a breakfast in a bottle, so with some Assam tea from renowned Newcastle coffee and tea emporium Pumphreys we were set to go.

It was a superb brew day, and to see the kit in action was brilliant. What these two produce on what must be one of the smallest brewing set ups we've seen to date is nothing short of amazing.

We'll be having a small gathering on Sunday 19 April at Font Bar in Manchester, where Andy will be bringing a keg along so we can share the fruits of our labour. All proceeds raised on the sale of the beer will be going to our charity of choice, Forever Manchester. Watch this space for more details...

Now, over to half of Northern Alchemy, Carl, who in the dwindling light of the pub ably answered our questions over a pint of their superb Coffee and Orange Oatmeal Pale...


Good things come to those who wait. Or who are at the very least, patient. So thanks for hanging around and giving us time to get our act together for this next visit.

It's not so much of a secret now that we were the mischief makers behind #tryanuary and wow, did that go off with a considerable bang. We had no idea it would chime so well with everyone, and were blown away by all the support and involvement it got. It also consumed every spare moment we had, so unfortunately the blog visits had to go on the back burner. It'll be back bigger and considerably better next year, so keep your eye on goings on in the lead up to the end of 2015.

Anyway, January has come and gone and here we are back in the saddle, raring to get pedalling our way around some more great breweries this year. Suffice to say we have a very long list of new places and people to visit, so this year has all the markings of a bumper year.

We're hoping to do more 'collective' visits this year too - taking in a handful of breweries in one go. It works a lot better for us in terms of planning, timing and building up enough content for the blog to keep you folk interested. So watch this space!

So, onto our last visit. The turn of Brewsmith Beer.

And, guess what? No bikes involved again. Sorry.

You see, we were doing a full brew day with them and needed to be there at 6am, and it would have been a good two hour ride. We don't care what the blog might be called, we're not getting up at 3am on a cold, dark and rainy November morning and arriving soaking wet at a brewery no matter how much you protest. 

Anyway, arrive we did - 15 minutes later than advertised due to my poor navigation to be greeted by owner and brewer James Smith, as well as Dan and Gina from Wigan Central Bar. Dan was also joining in the day as another brew monkey, so once we'd had a quick brew on we cracked with cracking on with the brewing. Today's schedule was for Brewsmith Bitter, one of the breweries four main beers.

Brewsmith is a family run set-up (James, his wife Jennifer and dad Ted) brewing on their 10bbl kit tucked away next to the East Lancs Railway line on the outskirts of Ramsbottom. They hit the ground running last year with a small but very strong core range of beers - Pale, Bitter, IPA and Oatmeal Stout adding to that more recently Anvil Ale - a hoppy dark bitter. The Bitter won SIBA NW Regional Gold (not only in its category, but overall) within the first three months of them brewing which is testament to their hard work and commitment!

So onto our interview with James, which instead of footage of middle-aged men on bicycles has some more interesting clips of the brewery and brewing from the day!

Music - 'Rare Bird' by Anitek




Wilson Potter Brewery

OK, so there's a little admission to make regarding this visit. It wasn't on the bike.

Not that we weren't up for cycling to Middleton to see Wilson Potter, on the contrary, we were quite looking forward to it.

But fate was not to be on our side. My clumsiness was, however. 

Couple of nights before the visit I was servicing the brakes on my bike and, well, I managed to trap my finger in the front wheel breaking the tip of the bone and pulling off my fingernail in the process. Result was I ended up my middle finger in a rigid bandage rendering my left hand pretty useless.

So rather than postpone, we resorted to a (say it quietly) car to get to the brewery. Doubly frustrating as it was the monthly brew tap that day too - if public transport hadn't been so woeful, we could have made an afternoon of it.

Anyway, on arrival we were welcomed in by owners and brewers Amanda and Kathryn. The 6BBL brewery based on a small industrial estate on the outskirts of the town was set up by the former teachers in 2011, and they produce a wide array of full-flavoured session ales. Keep your eyes peeled for them on cask around Manchester, or grab yourselves some bottles - we recommend a visit to the brewery for a selection box!

Anyway, for the last time this year (more on that below), we'll hand over to Amanda (Kathryn went and hid!) to tell you more about Wilson Potter...

Music - Anitek 'Mannequins'

By the way...
Last video blog of the year this one folks. We have actually got our visit to Brewsmith in the bag as well, but with that being a brewday, it's going to be a little different (and longer than usual) to the regular videos, and being honest, we haven't got the time before the end of the year to edit it! Few other bits coming up on the blog before the year is out though...


The Big Hop Newcastle - Out There Brewing Co

Here's an interesting fact to kick off our last instalment of our Newcastle visit...

Owner and brewer of Out There Brewing, Steve Pickthall, set up Microbar in London with his brother Jeff* in 2001, specialising in imported craft beers before the term ever existed. That's right, Steve and Jeff can be said to have brought the term 'craft beer' to the UK whilst creating one of the first true bars in which to get it. So ask them what the definition of craft beer is - it'll probably be the most definitive answer you'll ever get...

Only a short run from Almasty, Out There is located in Ouseburn, just a stone's throw from The Free Trade Inn, so very easy for us as our last call on what had been an amazing visit to discover some of Newcastle's indie brewers.

Steve set up his 2.5bbl kit in a cosy little unit in 2012 after a deciding to make the move into small batch brewing. The brewing equipment almost has the same retro feel to it as the superb branding (courtesy of designer Ben Murden), with a very 50's early space exploration vibe - along with some of the choice of beer names. 

Steve told us that before we interviewed him that we were going to be interviewed. A new one on us. Was Steve wanting to turn the tables? A brewer turned blogger? 

No, as it turned out he had had a call from local publication Cheers North East enquiring as to whether he had any news for the next issue. Clearly seeing an easy side step, he mentioned that we were popping down and that we might be something of interest to their readership? So, not long after arriving, we met editor Alastair Gilmour, who was kind enough to feature us in the September issue - fame at last, eh!

After our interview, Steve packed us off with a couple of bottles each, as well as a taste of an unlabelled matured specimen that he'd had lurking in the cold store for a while. I forget the name (I don't think Steve was 100% sure either!), but it tasted sublime.

As ever, we'll leave the real detail to the video, and our questions posed to Steve!

Interview starts at 2:10 if you're not so bothered about us and the Byker scenery. 

Music is 'Disclosure' by Anitek

*Jeff is a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers, and there's not much he doesn't know about beer. Enjoy his blog over here, and also Pump Clip Parade - his exposure of the torrid world of sexist and tasteless pump clips!