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Wylam Brewery, Puffing Billy

Stood over a homebrew kit in a potting shed over 15 years ago, John Boyle was so convinced by how good Robin Leighton’s beers were, he proposed the pair have a go at selling them. So that’s what the two friends did. Their first commercial brew was in 2000 and soon after that they set up shop in some dis-used farm buildings in Wylam, Northumberland.

In just a few years the new brewery was at capacity. The locals couldn’t get enough of the stuff. But then tragedy struck. Robin, a former first officer in the merchant navy, died of sudden heart failure in April, 2005, aged just 63. John was understandably devastated. He was also determined not to pack it all in, but he needed help. He got on the blower to his son Matt, who had a decent job in sunny Spain, and somehow talked him into taking up a career in brewing, in the less sunny North-East.

John has since retired, but Matt, along with his brewing team and Dave Stone who looks after the business side of things, are now running the show.

Earlier this year they opened their stunning new brewery and events space at Exhibition Park in Newcastle. The Palace of Arts is Grade Two-listed and was the last remaining building from the North-east Coast Exhibition of 1929. It had fallen into disrepair but was rescued by Freddy Shepherd (of Newcastle United FC fame) who gave Wylam Brewery the chance to move into the building.

It’s an opportunity they’ve taken with both hands and the beers coming out of their new home are some of the most exciting brews we’ve tried this year. Take Little Fluffy Clouds for example; a Lemon Meringue Pale made with Fresh Amalfi Lemons, lashings of oats, coriander seeds, lactose and a sprinkle of hops. Le Saisonnier is a Lemon Balm & Rosemary Saison that is complex and tasty in equal measure. Jakehead IPA is right up there with the best IPAs ever brewed in this country.

This week’s beer, Puffing Billy, celebrates George Stephenson, a Wylam native who built the first commercial steam locomotive called “The Rocket”.  It’s a smoked Black Bitter that pours darker than you’d expect with notes of coffee, tobacco and dark chocolate. It’s an all English finish from the Bramling Cross and Fuggles hops which are earthy and bitter. There is a smoky undercurrent that makes it impossible not to think of the industrial, Victorian North-East whilst you’re sipping it.

It isn’t often we feature a brewery that is 15 years-old, yet still feel like we’ve unearthed a gem. But Matt Boyle and Dave Stone, from their new home, have built on the foundations that Robin and John laid down long ago; quality, passion, friendship and pride of place... but now on the national craft beer stage.

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