This is the story of how a declining brand underwent an export-led revival, and its gradual dissociation from its namesake city.
The Tyne Brewery on Bath Lane, Newcastle. was the largest in the North of England by 1867. It was acquired by John Barras & Co in 1884.
John Barras merged with W H Allison of North Shields, J J & W H Allison of Sunderland, Swinburne of Gateshead and Carr Brothers & Carr of North Shields to form Newcastle Breweries in 1890.
The Tyne Brewery was one of the largest and best equipped in the North of England. Brewing was centralised there and production was expanded from 900 to 1,800 barrels a week.
Newcastle Breweries opened a new bottling plant to satisfy the increasing demand for bottled beers in June 1925. It was one of the largest and best-equipped bottling plants in Britain.
Assistant brewer Lieutenant-Colonel James Herbert Porter (1891 – 1973) and Archdale Mercer Jones (1881 – 1954), manager of the bottling works, laboured for three years to perfect the recipe for Newcastle Brown Ale.
Newcastle Brown Ale was launched in April 1927, produced by blending a strong aged stock ale with a light pale ale. The beer originally had an ABV of 6.25 percent, Originally it was filtered but was not subject to pasteurisation.
Newcastle Brown Ale was an instant success, and Colonel Porter had been promoted to head brewer by September 1927. The product was named as the best bottled beer in Britain at the Brewers Exhibition of 1928 in London.
ABV had been reduced to around 5.5 percent by 1931.
300 million bottles had been produced by 1952, but sales remained confined to the North East of England.
Colonel Porter was appointed chairman of Newcastle Breweries in 1955.
The Tyne Brewery occupied 6.5 acres by 1956. Production of Newcastle Brown Ale had continued to grow and the brewer’s bottling facility had reached capacity. A new bottling plant entered production from 1959.
Newcastle Breweries merged with Scottish Brewers to form Scottish & Newcastle in 1960. Colonel Porter was appointed vice chairman of the new company. Newcastle Brown Ale was a leading product alongside McEwan’s Export and Younger’s Tartan Special. The merger afforded Newcastle Brown Ale a wider network for distribution.
Newcastle Brown Ale was approaching national distribution by 1973, and domestic sales peaked the following year.
The brand underwent a resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s when distribution through student unions afforded the brand cult status. Newcastle Brown Ale was the highest selling bottled beer in Britain by 1990.
Scottish & Newcastle acquired Courage in 1995 to become the largest brewer in Britain. Newcastle Brown Ale was the most widely available alcoholic product in Britain by 1997.
Scottish & Newcastle took direct control of distribution of its products in the United States from 1990. Based in San Francisco, by the mid-1990s the brand had gained significant traction in the United States.
230,000 hectolitres of Newcastle Brown Ale were shipped to the United States in 1998. The majority of Newcastle Brown Ale production was shipped to the United States by 2001.
The Tyne Brewery was closed in May 2005. Production of Newcastle Brown Ale was relocated to the Federation Brewery in nearby Dunston, Gateshead.
Newcastle Brown Ale was among the top fifty highest-selling beers in the United States by 2006.
Bottling of Newcastle Brown Ale was relocated to the John Smith’s Brewery in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, from 2007.
The Federation Brewery was closed in May 2010, and Newcastle Brown Ale production was relocated to the John Smith’s Brewery.
Caramel colouring was replaced with roasted malt from 2015.
Production of Newcastle Brown Ale was relocated to the Zouterwoude Brewery in the Netherlands from 2017.