As this is my first dabble as a contributor to The Session and I have to confess to nearly backing out waiting for an easier topic as picked this month by Rueben from The Tale of the Ale, as despite racking my brains (no comments required) nothing was forthcoming.
Then last night it hit me as I was trying to drop off to sleep, which of course prevented me from doing so for at least five minutes, Scottish & Newcastle Breweries and in particular The Dog, Newcastle Brown Ale. Here’s a chance to say “Thanks To The Big Boys“.
Now I’m not going to go into the history of the many breweries mergers and acquisitions and more mergers, current ownership or indeed the merits of any of the beers they have produced over the years. This is more about my journey in beer and what I’d consider my “gateway beer” in my formative years.
As a young “pretend” drinker I did as a good majority of folk I suspect, try to get into pubs long before I ought to. My first ever self bought pint was in the Crown and Anchor where some sort of keg dark mild was sold, from there I gravitated to a pub called The Clough in my home town as my regular haunt. Mild was normally the order of the day as it was the weakest (long before the real ale explosion, from memory at least), I’d drink some, get chips and succumb to the swirling pit and ultimately the great white telephone..”Nuff Said”? ;)
There was always one pub though that I wanted to visit but never could, it was a real old fashioned “mans pub” and as really being only a boy in drinking terms, I would have stood out a mile. I can’t remember whether it was owned by Scottish & Newcastle (I think it was), but it had a lone Newcastle Brown style blue star in neon outside the door.
The Blue Bell stood and stands to this day on the Trent and Mersey canal side. As there was very little housing around it at the time it was a pretty dark place, so that sign stood out like a beacon for miles around, drawing people in. It was a place of mystery to me and I wanted to explore what it had to offer.
Ironically I only ever got to see inside the old pub as it was once as a drinker, it was a true old fashioned place all tiny rooms and corridors. The next time I went in it had been bought out, knocked through and turned into a completely different animal, open plan and at the time, modern.
The beers though remained the same there and at my other regular watering hole Kidsgrove Working Mens Club (aka The Geordie Embassy), so named as Kidsgrove was a mining town where folks moved to from the North East, (rarely was a Potteries ascent heard in that place). We were “treated” to the likes of Newcastle Exhibition, Federation Keg and McEwans Lager and of course Newcastle Brown.
I suppose being a Newcastle United supporter (for my sins) only helped affirm my affiliation to the dog, especially once that famous blue star adorned the hallowed black and white stripes. So gradually towards my late teens to early twenties it became my only real drink of choice, despite the excruciating hangovers that inevitably followed.
As years went by and real ale started to be available more readily in ever increasing guises it became less of a draw. To be honest I’m not sure whether it changed for the worse as it became more commercial or whether the quality of everything else passed it by leaving it for dead.
The thing is though regardless of the reason for change Newcastle Brown will always have a place in my heart, I can close my eyes and still see the distant blue glow from that iconic star although it’s long since gone from it’s place at the pub front, it plays a part in so many memories of my growing up.
Even now though in the present day, beer geek, enthusiast, blogger whatever you want to call me, Newcastle Brown Ale has it’s place. I refer to it as my lifesaver.
I can’t count the amount of times I’ve walked into a bar be that in a big chain pub with mates, a hotel or even in more recent circumstances for me a whole town, where I’ve looked across the bar bemused at the beer selection or lack of it.
I then take a quick glance at the normally equally sparse bottle fridges in the hope that I’ll see that beacon of sanctuary, the blue star of The Dog… So thanks for that.
History of The Dog
Footnote: It’s worth mentioning that both The Clough Hall and The Blue Bell have both since become great CAMRA award winning pubs, The Blue Bell in particular has won local branch pub of the month and year several times. Drop in to see them if you are in the area, Kidsgrove is about ten miles from both Stoke On Trent and Crewe, the pub is five minutes walk from the railway station.