I’m sat writing this in the Hop Inn, Newcastle-under-Lyme, drinking Hopcraft’s delightful pale-and-hoppy Oceanic. A few years ago, finding a beer like this within the area would be unthinkable, but now it’s the norm. For those of you who haven’t had the chance to see the rapid development of a beer scene within Stoke-on-Trent & Newcastle-under-Lyme, let me give a quick account of just how quickly things can change.
Let me start by sketching the beer scene in this area a couple of years ago. There’s never been a shortage of pubs in Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme, but they mostly stocked the usual suspects from big national breweries. Cosmetic differences and locality were the key factors in who they attracted through the door. If you wanted something different to drink, your choice was the obvious Whetherspoons, a Titanic brewery pub (for local bitters served in a clean, traditional style of pub) or The Holy Inadequate. The Inadequate was the first pub in the area to embrace the new wave of more experimental small breweries and good beer from abroad - bottles of Schneider Weiss and Tiny Rebel NP10 stand out in my memory.
The Inadequate stood out for quite a while as the lone voice calling for exciting beer. This status quo was changed in 2013 as local small brewery Lymestone opened the Lymestone Vaults in Newcastle-under-Lyme. A beautifully fitted out cosy pub, they served the breweries range of good traditional beers - including my perennial favourite “Einstein” which uses European hops in a pale British bitter to great effect. No surprise really, as Head Brewer Brad was formerly of Titanic and shows all the best qualities of that brewery in his own business.
The following year, The Hop Inn opened, also in Newcastle. Clean, classic styling was paired with a range of predominantly pale-and-hoppy (sessionable strength) beers - Mallinson’s, Hopcraft, Oakham and Magic Rock proving regular favourites in a changing line up that frequently shows a love of Yorkshire beers).
The next shift in local beer was one you could see coming if you frequented the Hop, as the people behind it were mostly to be found drinking (and planning) in there. Within the last 6 months or so, four bottle shops have opened - first BottleCraft in Hanley, then Ten Green Bottles and The Hop Water Cellar in Newcastle, and last (but by no means least!) Otters Tears in Burslem.
2015 also saw the arrival of three micro-pubs to the area - first the Bridge Street Ale house in Newcastle, followed by the London Road Alehouse in Stoke & the Ale Corner in Hanley. Of these, the London Road Alehouse is my closest and seems to have gone for beers from more traditional small breweries, the kind of ones you will rarely see online buzz about and may well never come across again outside of their local CAMRA festivals.
Somewhere in the middle of all the change, we also saw the quiet arrival of Bert’s - a burger bar offering a nice selection of Belgian and German bottled beers.
Equally interesting to these new options was the changes to the existing pubs. The Lymestone Vaults remains a lovely, cosy spot, whilst Brad has begun to expand his range and to experiment further - a version of their Stout, Stone Dead, brewed using Saison yeast was a highlight for me. The Titanic pubs, too, have expanded their offerings, with increasingly interesting guests on the bar and a “craft beer” keg and bottle range that always holds something of interest. Meanwhile, the Hop has added a well curated bottle selection and expanded their range to include two keg lines (correction - 4 keg lines, thanks Phil!).
All in all, there’s now a good range of choices for those hunting good beer in Stoke and Newcastle - if you haven’t been to see it for yourself, you should. Anyway, I’m going to turn my mind to the weightier question of whether to have the Northern Monk/Weird Beard collab next, or the Magic Rock - it’s great to have such difficult quandaries to face!