Fans of real local ales will be delighted to discover that an exciting new range is making its way onto the scene in Northumberland and the Borders. Coquetdale Brewery, run by Rothbury-based father and daughter Owen and Caroline Jackson, was set up in 2010 to revive a centuries-old tradition of brewing in the valley and now boasts three brews Thrum, Snitter Bitter, and Simonside Blonde; three brews that are getting the thumbs up in pubs around Northumberland.
Coquetdale Brewery creates its recipes from mainly locally-sourced ingredients and their ales have found a home in pubs such as The Fleece (Alnwick), The Fishing Boat Inn (Boulmer), the Tankerville Arms (Wooler) and recently at Clennel Hall. Snitter Bitter is their most traditional brew, named for a hamlet to the north of Rothbury. Thrum is an Indian Pale Ale, named after the famous Thrum Mill, recently restored, near Rothbury. Coquet Ale has a hint of cinder toffee, with a long, bitter-sweet finish and Simonside Blonde is a single hop blonde, smooth in colour and refreshing.
The brewery was set up in Rothbury Industrial Park after the Jacksons had successfully applied for a grant to equip the brewhouse from the Northumberland Uplands Leader Local Action Group, whose remit is to nurture rural enterprise.
“We were thrilled to get the grant,” said Owen, “It meant the fulfilment of a dream and the support we have received helped us to keep our business plans on track.
“We want to keep the business local. We use local ingredients to provide ale that people in the area can enjoy, and we feel that it will add to the character of some already great pubs in upper Northumberland.
‘Snitter Bitter is the flagship in our range but we try to cater for all tastes.”
The brewers believe that water from the Rothbury area gives the Ales their distinctive flavour. The malted barley is from Simpsons, the Northumberland-based maltsters and hops are the only product bought in.
In the past, Beer, Ale and Whisky have been made in North Northumberland. Some of the legendary whisky stills of Black Rory have been found in the corners and valleys around Cheviot and much has been written about him and his activities.
In a fascinating report of Northumberland’s brewing history, The Archaeological Practice wrote that Ale has been brewed here by ordinary people for centuries; a lot more than in other parts of England due to the mountainous terrain. Originally the making of beer was limited to a simple water and barley mix called ‘small ale’ which was made every few days as it did not keep. Hops were introduced at a later date. People in the medieval period drank ale instead of water because the brewing process sterilised the liquid making it safer than untreated water. Even after the industrial revolution domestic brewing of beer began to disappear except in remote places like Northumberland where it was likely to have continued well into the 18thCentury.
The 1830 Beer Act meant any rate payer in the country could apply for a 2 Guinea license to sell beer on or off their premises and the report mentions long forgotten hostelries such as The Half Moon at Snitter and The Sun at Rothbury. The Star at Alwinton had a “brewhouse” attached to the pub.Brewery Cottages indeed used to brew beer and there is very old brewing apparatus, including a metal cauldron, clearly visible inside the buildings.
Getting beer from Newcastle to Rothbury would never have been easy before the railway link was established. And it was links such as this that caused home brewing and local ale companies to dissipate and die. Hotels were built, businesses bought out, commercialisation began and with Victorian zeal the taste of beer brewed in upper Coquetdale became a memory, as the report concludes, ‘…by 1886 there was no brewery listed in the directory for Rothbury’.
Commenting on the on the new ales which are carrying on a noble traditions after 100 years, Peter Munro from The Fleece in Alnwick said: “We sell three ales from the Coquetale Brewery in Rothbury; Snitter Bitter, Thrum and Simonside Blonde. They are cracking and good sellers.”
Shaun Moyle, Landlord at The Railway Hotel in Rothbury added: “Coquet beers are local products, which is always a good thing. ‘We have been selling Simonside Blonde, Thrum and Snitter Bitter for six months now. I have often found that real ale drinkers tend to be particular, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about these ales. A group of walkers got a taste of Snitter Bitter and ended up drinking the whole keg! We certainly plan to work with the brewery in the future. After eleven years in the trade this is the best-selling real ale I’ve seen!”
Speaking for the Northumberland Uplands Local Action Group, Chair, Dagmar Winter, said: “We were delighted to support Owen and Caroline and the Coquetdale Brewery in reviving a centuries-old tradition of brewing in the Coquet valley. It is fantastic to see a new business establish itself with very local credentials. We look forward to working with Owen and supporting the Brewery as it establishes itself as one of Northumberland’s quality food and drink brands.”
Northumberland Uplands Local Action Group was established by Northumberland National Park Authority with the aim of directing European Leader funds into the North East upland rural economy through an independent panel of community champions – the Local Action Group. The NU Leader area covers 3,042 km2 of Northumberland from the River South Tyne to the River Till. Since its inception, NULAG has aided 77 community and business enterprises with £2,035,000 of grant funding, helping to bring £2.3 million of match funding into the region and creating 40 new jobs.