*Our tickets were complimentary to this event but all views are my own
The last time we were in Newcastle Castle was to watch Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which blog regulars will know is one of my favourite films. It feels more poignant that that’s the last event we went to after the awful news last week that the iconic tree at Sycamore Gap has been moronically felled in an act of mindless vandalism. Needless to say we were in the market for some cheering up in one of our favourite local landmarks whilst mourning the loss of another one so the inaugural Geordie Beer off was the perfect distraction.
Newcastle city centre is no stranger to beer festivals but the Geordie Beer off came with a bit of a twist; several local breweries going head to head in a friendly competition, showcasing their best beer, and us, playing judge and jury by tasting and rating.
After a couple of false starts (the event was supposed to happen in early September but had to be rescheduled due to some licencing issues) it was great to finally be there, indulging in what the local breweries had to offer on the roof of the castle with the River Tyne and iconic bridges providing the perfect backdrop. Music was provided by Steven Wilson; an extremely talented acoustic covers singer who provided the perfect Geordie soundtrack to the occasion, think Dire Straits, The Police and Sam Fender to name just a few.
For the entry fee of £12, you get entry to the castle and a beer token for money off your first drink. The token system is essentially busying ‘cash’ tokens in multiples of £5, £2 and 50p that you use to buy your drinks and the majority of the drinks were priced at £5 for a pint and £2.50 for a half. There was also a small amount of wine and cider available for those who too much beer really isn’t their thing.
The local breweries were spread across multiple floors in the castle which meant that you really got to see a lot of the castle. I think it’s safe to say that everyone, guests and the brewers were all in awe of the venue.
The breweries to choose from were:
First and Last
Full Circle Brew
Great North East Brewery
And upon arrival we were presented with a score sheet to rate what we had. Being the absolute professional scientists that we are, we made sure to try them all in the interests of fair competition if nothing else. Suffice to say there really is something for everyone. Each brewery had two beers to try from and I know from talking to some of the brewers that it’s hard for them to decide which two showcase their style the best. There was a decent mix of IPAs, Porters and standard ales as well as varying strengths. I personally would have liked to see some more adventurous beers on offer, something fruity or citrusy perhaps but I completely understand that people want to show off their best sellers.
You’re also given a score sheet when you arrive. The scoring system wasn’t the most straightforward in the beginning, I think it might have been more simple to rate each category out of 5 and then just an overall score but, i’m a word girl not a numbers girl so any kind of scoring system is probably always going to go over my head. Having the competition element really does spark conversation and makes you pay a little more attention to what you’re drinking than perhaps you ordinarily would.
We were really pleased for Sam at First & Last being the over all winner of the night as their Equinox was our highest rated. I also want to shout out Backlash’s Big in Japan though which is a red ale and had a very slight hint of red wine in it – so naturally something that appealed to me!
I know it’s easy to write a glowing review for something that you’ve been invited along to, but anyone who reads this blog regularly will know how much this kind of event is right up out street so unless something went horribly wrong, it’s unlikely we’re not going to have a good time.
In the interest of balance and fairness though I will be nit picky if I absolutely have to. Due to the castle regulations and the fact that the breweries were spread out throughout the castle, it meant that the 100 people were quite well spread out, so the best atmosphere was in the main hall where the music was. I’m not the biggest beer drinker in the world so I definitely think more wine, prosecco was needed as by the time I’d had a few beers and fancied a change, it was all sold out. These are all very small teething issues though that Luke, who almost single-handedly put the event together knows about and was nothing that ruined our experience in any way, shape or form.
I really, really hope that this is the first of what is going to become and annual event that just grows and grows. I know Luke is always planning a Durham beer off, the details of which will be published shortly so keep an eye out on socials for that. The competition element certainly put an interesting twist on the standard beer festival and it was a unique experience for sure. The location was perfect and was a great way to celebrate independent breweries and try some beer you possibly wouldn’t normally get to try.