Newcastle Brown Ale is a distinctive variation of a traditional English beer style that has earned worldwide popularity. The beer was released in 1927 following 3 years of development at the northern England-based Newcastle Breweries Ltd by assistant brewer Lieutenant Colonel James Herbert Porter, DSO, and chemist Archie Jones. Porter had commanded the 6th Battalion of the North Staffordshire Regiment in World War I and had studied brewing after leaving the army. He went to work in Newcastle where, in 1924, his brief was to create a popular new bottled ale using advanced production techniques. The new beer, advertised for the first time in the Newcastle Daily Journal on April 25, 1927, proved to be a buoyant prospect from the start, selling at a premium price of nine shillings for a dozen pint bottles. Development had been top secret and on its unveiling, Colonel Porter admitted that they had varied the recipe so much over the 3 years of trials that rivals had been thrown off the scent.

Newcastle Brown Ale was also advertised in that day’s local newspaper as: “Entirely New. You have tasted nothing quite the same as this before…a good Brown Ale with a rich mellow flavor recalling the famous ‘Audit’ Ales of bygone days. It’s just the right strength…not too heavy for summer drinking, yet with sufficient ‘body’ to satisfy the man who likes good Ale and knows when he gets it.” (Audit Ale was a special strong beer served at university colleges on Audit Day, which marked the official inspection of the accounts drawn up at the end of a financial year.)

Newcastle Brown Ale (4.7% ABV) is full-bodied and smooth, showing restrained caramel and notes of bananas and dried fruit. Curiously, it is rarely seen on draught in the UK, where tradition demands it is served in a half-pint schooner to be regularly topped up from the bottle.

Originally it was a blend of two definite styles, a strong dark beer and a lower-alcohol amber ale, on Colonel Porter’s understanding that its distinct fruitiness could not exist as a single brew, but this practice was discontinued after ongoing specialist research into raw materials and their influence showed that a stand-alone beer with indistinguishable characteristics could be produced. Newcastle Brown Ale’s famous five-pointed blue star logo with its overlaid Newcastle city silhouette represents the five breweries—John Barras & Co, Carr Bros & Carr, JJ & WH Allison (two companies), and Swinburne & Co—that combined to form Newcastle Breweries Ltd in 1890. The gold medals on the label originate from the 1928 International Brewers’ Exhibition in London where the beer won the Brewing Trade Review cup for best bottled beer, plus first prize for the best brown ale in a bottle.

James Porter was promoted to head brewer the following year and more than three decades later in 1962 became company chairman. Virtually every English brewery produced a version of the style, but Newcastle Brown Ale’s translucent, red-to-brown hue was aimed firmly at the mainstream market, intended to rival the pale ales of Burton upon Trent that were becoming increasingly popular. See burton-on-trent. Soon popularly dubbed “Newkie Brown,” it quickly became a symbol of working class culture and was particularly associated with the shipbuilding, coal mining, armaments, and steel-forging industries that dominated the North of England at that time. Those industries are now largely gone from the area, but the beer’s working class image remains, despite a brief stint as cult beer among British university students in the 1960s and 1970s. Marketers have created a much different image for Newcastle Brown Ale in most of the 40 countries to which it is exported. North America is among the beer’s largest markets, and its advertising aims to cultivate an urban chic far removed from Newcastle’s old shipyards. In 1996 the beer was awarded Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) by the European Union, meaning it could only be produced in Newcastle upon Tyne, its place of origin. Newcastle Brown Ale thus gained the sort of status afforded to Parma ham in Italy and Champagne in France. But in 2005, parent company Scottish & Newcastle closed its Newcastle brewery and production moved, controversially, across the River Tyne to Gateshead. See scottish & newcastle brewery. This was barely a two-mile shift, but it upset traditionalists and PGI status was removed.

In 2010, 2 years after Scottish & Newcastle’s joint-operation take-over by Heineken and Carlsberg, the 900,000 hectoliter (766,951 US bbl) per year brewing and packaging operation was transferred to Tadcaster in North Yorkshire.

See also brown ale.