From A to Z: Brewing in Northumberland

Published on 31 Aug
14 min read

Learning our ABC’s is one of the first things we do when starting school. Check out the A-Z guide of brewing with our Northumberland brewery guide.

Northumberland, a county rich in history, with a vastly undisturbed wild landscape, is the perfect place to set up a brewery. Beer’s main ingredients, including barley, hops and fresh water are all easily available around Northumberland. Many local brewers take inspiration from the landscape, ranging from the heather-covered moorland near Simonside to the coastal scenes of castles and islands facing the North Sea.

The Sycamore Gap Tree at Hadrians Wall. One of the most iconic photographs of Northumberland.

Breweries, too, have been important in a national scheme to create social spaces, where the closure of local pubs has left scars in the community. Many local breweries offer ‘tap days’ where you can visit, enjoy the beer and the surroundings in a ‘times-gone-by’ atmosphere. Traditional pub games such as darts, dominoes and cards are sometimes found in these places. Micropubs, which have replaced the gaps left by the traditional local pub closures, have a no technology rule aiming to focus on the community.

Once again craft beers and real ales are at the forefront of a food and drink movement, propelled by the younger generation who are turning their backs on the mass-production of foodstuffs.

Beer drinking is and should be, a socially celebrated past-time.

When looking at the real ale and craft beer scene, there are many scientific terms, or words, that are not common in everyday speech. The A-Z guide of brewing on the foodful blog aims to decipher these terms as well as highlight the variety of local breweries we have around Northumberland. Become a beer aficionado and know your hops when it comes to the local craft beer scene.

“Milk is for babies. When you grow up you have to drink beer”
Arnold Schwarzenegger

A is for:

  • Alcohol
A man sitting in a pub with thumbs up, glad he has a half pint of beer.
Thumbs up! Pints down!

Most beers contain alcohol. It is used as an escape, a relaxant, and drank during social events and celebrations. It is also common to enjoy a pint at home!

  • Ale

Ale is a style of beer using a warm fermentation and brewed with a top-fermenting yeast[1].

Allendale Brewery is a multi-award winning, family run, brewing business which launched its first beer, Curlews Return in 2006. This ale coincides with the return of Spring and takes its name from the emblem of Northumberland National Park, the curlew bird. Recently, Allendale Brewery has developed a new range of ‘Wilderness’ beers that are so popular they can be found nationwide. There is a brewery shop which is open weekdays where you can purchase your beers.

Alnwick Brewery is a historic brewery, with brewing dating back to the mid-19th century.  More recently, it has been taking over by the Harry Hotspur Holdings which aims to preserve local food and history in the county. Alnwick Brewery has 4 key beers including the popular Alnwick Gold, a blonde, full-bodied ale. Recently, Alnwick Brewery teamed up with Alnwick Gardens to produce a special ale using nettles grown at the Gardens called Alnwick Treehouse APA.

B is for:

Bear Claw Brewery's Popular Beers
Bear Claw Brewery’s Popular Beers

Bear Claw Brewery is nano-brewery in Spittal, Berwick-upon-Tweed with a focus on brewing unfined, oak fermented beers and exploring homegrown yeasts, foraged fruits and plants to create an alternative view on classic beer styles. Bear Claw’s 2 main beers are The Fool, a 5% Saison, and Black Mage, an 8.2% Stout. Bear Claw also produce seasonal beers as well as one-off beers. The brewery is open for Tap Days on the first Wednesday of every month from 12 pm – 11 pm.

  • Beer

Beer is the generic term covering lagers, ales, stouts, porters and malts and their varying styles.

  • Brewery

A brewery is a commercial establishment; where beer is made to be sold. Many breweries offer tours or tap days where you can purchase and taste their wares.

C is for:


Stands for the Campaign for Real Ale. It started in the 1970s with an aim to highlight real ales, rather than mass-produced beers.

A beer dream turned brewery reality. Cheviot Brewery is the latest brewery to be established in Northumberland. The brewery is based in newly refurbished hunting kennels on the Ford and Etal estate and provides breath-taking views of the local countryside, including the famous Cheviot Hills. With already 4 beers under their belts, including the popular Flodden Thirst, a citrus, hoppy pale ale, the team at Cheviot Brewery are well on their way to become acclaimed brewers on the craft ale scene.

  • Cicerone

A beer expert. One who knows all about beer, the processes to make it and able to advise on food accompaniments.

  • Craft Beer

A craft beer is generally made in small establishments, known as craft breweries. A craft beer is made to be an art form of brewing.

D is for:

  • Draught Beer
A barman pulling pints in a bar. A draught pint.
Pulling pints in the pub

Simply, beer served from a keg or cask rather than bottles or cans.

  • Dry-hopping

Used for creating hoppy aromas and flavours in beers. Traditionally in beers such as pale ales.

E is for:

  • Enzyme

An enzyme is basically a protein that catalyses the fermentation process in beer-making. Enzymes enable organic materials to change, whilst remaining unchanged themselves. Enzymes in beer-making break down the starch and begin the fermentation process[2].

  • Ester

An organic compound formed in the process when alcohol and acid react. Esters are desirable in some ales, usually ones with fruity flavours[3].

F is for:

  • Fermentation

A process central to alcohol-making. In beer, the yeast converts the glucose to ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide gas – resulting in the alcohol strength and carbonation[4].

  • Festival
Rows of beer samples ready for tasting at a beer festival.
Beer Tasting at a Beer Festival

A beer festival allows beer lovers from all over the world, to come together to share their love of beer. It is also an opportunity for brewers and drinkers to meet and to share their thoughts on the brewing process. Beer festivals in the UK usually showcase local beers or beers from the craft brewing scene.

  • Foam

Also known as a beer head, the foam is a result of carbon dioxide rising to the surface of the beer. Allow the foam to develop naturally to allow an all-senses experience.

G is for:

  • Gas

Keg beers contain 2 gasses: carbon dioxide and nitrogen. CO2 makes the beer gassy and N2 makes the beer creamy[5].

  • Grain
A field of grain crops ready to be harvested
Crops ready for harvesting to make beer

Beer is made using grains. Most commonly malt, but barely, wheat, rice and oats can be used.

  • Growler

A jug used for take-out beer from your favourite brewery or pub. A growler is available in many shapes and sizes.

H is for:

Hetton Law Brewery was established in 2015, with an ethos to supply good local beer within a 20-mile radius of the brewery near Lowick. The brewers, a husband and wife team, use local produce for their beers including local spring water and locally grown Golden Promise barley. This sets the ales apart giving them a distinctive taste and character. All the beer names are inspired by the history and nature surrounding the brewery such as ‘Hetton Howler’ named after the strong winds near Hetton Law and ‘Hetton Hermit’ a bitter ale named after St. Cuthbert. Hetton Law Brewery is releasing a new single-hop ale called ‘Hetton Hero’ at the 9th Food and Beer Festival in Berwick-upon-Tweed this year.

  • Hops
People harvesting hop crops.
The ‘wolf of the woods’ crop is essential in beer-making

Hops are also known as ‘wolf of the woods’. They are harvested in the UK in September[6]. Hops are responsible for the flavour of beers; giving zesty, bitter and citrus tastes.

I is for:

  • Infusion Mash

Simply put, an infusion mash is a mashing technique where hot brewing water is combined with malt to create a ‘mash’ that only has one rest[7]. It is a technique used mostly by small breweries as it is a time-consuming process.

  • IPA

A hoppy style beer within in category of pale ales. Stands for Indian Pale Ale. It is a popular style with a strong alcohol content.

J is for:

  • Joy

Joy comes from simple pleasures. The joy of drinking beer is something everyone can experience. It is the only alcohol beverage with vitamins and minerals. Followed with joyful feelings!

K is for:

  • Keg
Rows of kegs filled with beer ready for distribution
Rows of kegs filled with beer ready for distribution

A keg is made by a cooper. A keg is used for transporting beer. Its volume is 15.5 gallons of beer.

L is for:

  • Lager
A pint of Czech beer, Pilsner Urquell, served chilled in a pub.
A pint of pilsner: to enjoyed cold

Opposite to ale. Cold-conditioned. Usually pale and carbonated.

Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy
Benjamin Franklin

M is for:

  • Microbrewery/pub

A microbrewery is a small-scale beer producing place. A micro-pub is a small pub which serves mostly real ales and craft beers. It has traditional values.

  • Mouthfeel

Mouthfeel is used to describe the textures of beer in the mouth.

Muckle Brewing is based near Haltwhistle, with a view of the beautiful Northumberland countryside near Hadrians Wall. Muckle Brewing take inspiration from the land and Northumberland heritage. The word ‘muckle’ means ‘big’ or ‘mighty’ in Northumberland dialect. Muckle Brewing is a microbrewery with 4 core ales at its heart; Muckle Tickle, Muckle Chuckle, Muckle Buster and Muckle Moss Stout. Muckle Brewing also produce seasonal varieties including Muckle Berry which is a winter warmer favourite. Muckle Brewing’s ales are neither filtered nor carbonated. The ales go through a secondary conditioning in the bottle. These factors enable the muckle flavours to shine in each bottle.

N is for:

A striking view of Dunstanburgh Castle on the horizon along the North-East coast.
Striking view of Dustanburgh Castle along the North-East coast.

Northumberland, in recent years, has been featured numerous times in the national Good Beer Guide. In the 2018 edition, 40 pubs in the county were acknowledged and 13 breweries mentioned, 3 of which were newly established. The 2019 edition is due to be released in mid-September.

O is for:

  • Old Ale

A term used for dark, malty beers in the UK. It has a long maturation process.

P is for:

  • Pint

The general measurement of beers served in pubs from a cask. A pint is the equivalent of 568ml.

  • Porter
A half pint of porter
Half pint of porter

A dark style of beer. A porter is robust in flavour and is made from malt barley.

Q is for:

  • Quaff

A way to drink beer – heartily! Example: We went to the pub to celebrate and quaffed several pints.

R is for:

  • Real Ale

Real ale is the term, used mainly by CAMRA, to distinguish traditional cask draught beers from processed, highly carbonated ones made by big companies. Real ale also finishes the fermentation process in its container (whether it be cask or bottle)[8].

  • Reinheitsgebot

Reinheitsgebot was decreed in 1516 and is known as the ‘German Purity Law’ stating that beer only contains 3 ingredients; hops, barley and water. Centuries later, yeast was discovered and accepted in German beer making.

“German beer is chemical free, Germany’s alright with me.”
Mark Knopfler

S is for:

  • Saison

A saison, which just means ‘season’, beer is a Belgian-style beer, that is pale and highly carbonated. This carbonation results from a secondary fermentation in the bottle. This is due to the focus of yeast to create the flavour of the ale. The yeasty taste of the beer usually has fruity or spice and herbs flavours.

  • Snacks
A typical offering at a micropub, including pickles, pies, bread and cheese, to enjoy with beer.
A typical offering at a micropub to enjoy with beer!

In micropubs, the snacks are always cold. Many micropubs offer locally made products such as cheese, chutney and pies.

  • Sour Beer

An intentionally acidic beer with tart notes. Most sour beers are Belgian style. A sour beer is the oldest style of beer[9]. It is bacteria from the brewing process which gives a sour beer its taste. The 2 types of bacteria that make a sour beer sour are lactobacillus (turns sugar into lactic acid) and pediococcus (which can metabolise without oxygen and used in Belgian beers)[9].

  • Stout

Stout beers are made using roasted malt or barley giving it its distinctive dark colour. Carbonation is low in stout style beers and they can have a dry, but creamy mouthfeel.

T is for:

  • Top Fermentation

Top fermentation happens when ‘ale yeast’ is used (saccharomyces cerevisiae). This variety of yeast rises to the top of the tank during fermentation.

U is for:

  • Unfiltered

A beer that is unfiltered still contains the yeast. Unfiltered beers tend to be higher in vitamins and minerals.

  • Unfined

Unfined beers tend to have a cloudy, hazy colour. Many German beers, or ones inspired by German brewing, are unfined due to the Reinheitsgebot. Many unfined beers are vegan.

  • Units

Units are the measurement of pure alcohol that you drink. The unit counting method was introduced in the UK in 1987. It is confusing to know how much alcohol affects you as there are many factors to consider such as age, weight, height, sex and whether you have eaten. One unit equates to 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol which is the amount of alcohol the average adult can process in an hour[10].

V is for:

  • Variety

Northumberland is not only a varied land in terms of landscape, history and dialects, it also has a copious amount of locally established brewers who are, in turn, inspired by this beautiful county. There are a variety of local breweries which offer tap days where you can go taste the flavour of the county. With a variety of breweries around us, we are also lucky to have a variety of different beer styles and tastes each of these influenced by the brewer’s personal touch.

W is for:

  • Water
An artistic photograph of water spilling in slow motion.
Water, water everywhere … every drop for beer

Water is the main ingredient in beer. Plain, old water actually has a lasting impact on the flavour of the beer. Hard water and soft water, differ in acidic and alkaline tendencies which affect colour, carbonation and freshness of taste[11]. The water type shapes the character of the beers we know and love.

X is for:

  • Xylose

Xylose is a monosaccharide; meaning it cannot be broken down. It is one of the most common sugars found in the natural world. Xylose is used with other ‘pentose’, a 5 carbon sugar, such as arabinose[12]. Together, these 2 sugars combine and is known as a polysaccharide. The resulting polysaccharide affects the mouthfeel of a beer, but not the taste[12]. Clever really.

Y is for:

  • Yeast

There are generally 2 types of yeast (a top-fermenting used for ales and a bottom-fermenting yeast for lagers). However, these days it is more complex with 100s of varieties of yeast used in beers. Yeast is important for beer because yeast feeds off the sugars in grains, which then creates more yeast. The waste products of the yeast are the alcohol and carbon dioxide in the brewing[13]. So really, in this day and age, the yeast is the integral ingredient in the beer making process (in order for a higher alcohol content), but it is its waste products that the brewers are really after.

Z is for:

  • Zentner

A Zentner, a word with German origin, is used to express large measurements of hops; 1 Zentner equates to 50 kilograms. The term has generally been out of use since the standardisation of quantity measurements.

  • Zymase

Zymase is a mixture of enzymes naturally occurring in yeast. Zymase accelerates the fermentation of sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

  • Zymurgy

The branch of chemistry concerned with fermentation in the brewing process. A zymurgist is one who studies or practises zymurgy; a knowledgeable brewer.

“There is no beer in heaven, that’s why we drink it here.”
From a traditional German drinking song by Ralph Maria Siegal and Ernst Neubach

Now You Know Your ABC’s Come and Drink Some Beer With Me

Well, I don’t know about you, but I sure have an interest in becoming a zymurgist and quaffing a number of pints around Northumberland! Having a better understanding of processes helps one to appreciate the time and skill that goes into making your favourite pint. Beer brewing is very scientific, but there’s also an art to finding the right flavours. Cheers to all the local brewers!

Have a tour around Northumberland and tell us about your favourite local breweries and brews! Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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