Beer Review: Newcastle Brown Ale

NEWCASTLE Brown Ale is another beer I’ve been putting off. Like Abbot Ale and Old Speckled Hen, it’s a big-name, high-volume and very popular beer with a place in the nation’s heart. And that means if I don’t like it, there’s be angry mobs with pitchforks leaving comments at the end of the post. I better be good then.

Newcastle Brown Ale bottle

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that this is the bog standard bottle. If you check your supermarkets and corner shops, you’ll see that there’s a 10-year anniversary edition with special labels. This isn’t one of them.

This oh-so-traditional bottle has become rather iconic in recent years. It was even used by Conservative activists to taunt recently crowned Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, when he refused to call a general election back in October. Or in their words, “lost his bottle”.

It stands out by not having a neck label. And by having the embossed words around the shoulder reading “The One and Only”. The glass is transparent too, so you can see exactly how brown this brown ale really is.

The main front label is on the cluttered side. But it’s symmetrical clutter, so that’s ok.

Newcastle Brown Ale front label

Around the top, we learn that this has been brewed since 1927. Odd, since the other bottles I saw in the shops were celebrating the ten-year anniversary. The name of the brewery is on there too. Newcastle Federation Breweries Ltd is behind Newcastle Brown. And I’m pleased to see it too. I assumed it would be another product of the faceless Scottish & Newcastle. I wander if there is any rivalry between them? Or, knowing what Scots and Geordies are like, just how much rivalry is there between them?

The big roundel has the instantly recognisable “Newcastle Brown Ale” in big red writing. The middle features a blue star with the famous bridge crossing the river Tyne. Like the Angel of the North on other label variations, this one isn’t ashamed of it’s Northern roots.

Either side are what look like medals. But unlike most bottles, these are large enough to read. One is a “Brewers & Allied Traders International Exhibition & Market”. The other is a 1928 Championship Award for a beer competition. All very contemporary then.

Back to the middle, and around the big blue star in the middle are some more little pictures. And some writing. The pictures are of hops and barley. The writing says “Drink Cold”. And there’s something that’s unusual. A millilitre indicator that’s bigger than normal. This bottle has 550 millilitres. That’s 50 more than normal in case you missed it. But disappointingly 18 short of a full-pint.

Down at the bottom of the front label is the alcoholic volume. 4.7% isn’t high. But it’s not too low either. Unless you’re a Geordie, in which case it is weak.

The back label does some different and clever things. And points out something clever about the front label too.

Newcastle Brown Ale back label

The back label has different facts. This one has “Fact: 4”. Of how many, I don’t know. This fact is on the subject of “name”. And, brilliantly, it’s written in Geordie. There’s even an asterisk explaining that “reet canny” translates to “rather frightfully good”. The fact in question is about the Norman origins of ” New Castle” by William the Conquerors son, Richard in 1080 on an existing Roman fort. But it’s the most entertaining beer label I’ve ever read.

Down to the small-print now, and Newcastle Brown Ale contains barley and wheat. The Tyne and Wear postal address is there. There’s a little box explaining that this has 2.6 of your daily UK units of alcohol and that 4 is the maximum for men. And 3 the daily maximum for women. In case you haven’t noticed the recent Government advertising campaign.

One of the most fascinating things is right at the bottom next to the forgettable little symbols. It turns out that the blue star on the front of the bottle is in fact a temperature gauge. It turns from grey to blue when the temperature reaches around 12 degrees centigrade. Presumably, that’s cold enough for the ale to be drank. Clever idea. And an excellent little label.

Now to answer the question I’ve been dreading. Is Newcastle Brown Ale any good?

Thanks to the transparent glass bottle, the colour isn’t a surprise. It’s a deep, dark brown. But the 550ml nearly completely fills the pint glass. Sadly, the thin head that covers the surface after you pour is almost totally vanishes within a couple of minutes.

Newcastle Brown Ale poured into a glass

The smell is pungent, and unlike almost any other beer I’ve sniffed. The barley and wheat of the ingredients are more prominent than I’ve seen for a long time. There’s almost no trace of malt or hops in the very strong smell. It’s not bad either. Something tells me this is going to be a full-flavoured drink.

And that’s exactly how it tastes. The overall taste is mildly bitter and sour, with the flavour being balanced and dominated by the arable crops that are in there. Barley and wheat mostly. The flavour is full, but it isn’t as insanely strong as, say, a stout. Newcastle Brown Ale is strong, but it’s all well balanced and easy to drink.

As well as being balanced and strongly flavoured by barley and wheat, what else can I say about Newcastle Brown Ale? Well, those flavours and the bitterness are rich, and smooth. All that flavour means that it’s full-flavoured and fairly full-bodied. And as you easily work your way through the contents of the bottle, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you get used to those strong flavours. With the blend of flavours it has, it’s also quite distinctive.

On the other hand, the strong bitterness and flavours will be too much for some people. Southerners probably. What’s more, the easy with which I became accustomed to it shows that it’s not quite as strong and full-bodied as I might like.

And there’s that taste. The blend of flavours that you’ll love, hate or tolerate. I tolerate it. It’s not as fun or as imaginative as some beers and ales. And after a while, it reminded me of stewed tea after the tea bad had been left in for too long. Do you know what I mean? But these are trifling gripes. There’s little to dislike about the ubiquitous Newcastle Brown Ale.

How can I sum up Newcastle Brown Ale? Well, it’s a strong, distinctive, balanced and drinkable ale. Some people will love the taste, others won’t. And some, like me will be somewhere in between. There’s no doubting that this is an excellent quality and very drinkable beer. But compared to the other beers on the shop shelves. And compared to that other brown ale, Leffe Brown, it’s up against tough competition for the money in your wallet.

Rating: 3.85

Have you tried Newcastle Brown Ale? What did you think?
Insults, opinions, comments, thoughts, ideas and suggestions below please.


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21 Responses to “Beer Review: Newcastle Brown Ale”

  1. ken nicklin Says:

    Sir I have been drinking Newcastle Brown for about 30 yrs, the can is no match for the bottle. This refreshing ale should be drunk from a half pint glass and topped up now and again. This is one of the FACTS on the back label.
    Is there a RED STAR Newcastle Brown.
    Regards ken

  2. Alex Babcock Says:

    It’s a favorite — Newcastle is well balanced, complex enough to be worth savoring, but not overpowering in any single flavor. It’s smooth, a rarity among complex beers.
    Regarding the facts printed on the back label, I’ve seen four as well. #1 is about the bridge in the star, #2 is about the use of the star itself, though not mentioning the temperature gauge facet. It says its five points represent the original five breweries. #3 is about the recipe, then there’s #4, the name. I wonder if anyone out there has ever seen another fact on the label.
    There are certainly higher-quality beers in the world, but for the price, Newcastle is tough to beat.

  3. Robbie Pickering Says:

    It is actually a product of the “faceless Scottish & Newcastle”, but it is brewed under contract by the Federation brewery. The reason for this is that S&N no longer actually have a brewery in Newcastle, having closed their remaining plant there some years before finally being swallowed up by Heineken. Now, here’s the ironic bit: Newcastle Brown Ale can only be brewed in Newcastle and environs, as it’s one of those products which has been awarded a Protected Geographical Identification by the EU – and it was S&N who lobbied for that in the first place. So now they have to contract out the brewing of Newcastle Brown to a local competitor.

  4. james guidry Says:

    I think newcastle brown is the best. i would recommend everyone to try it, you won,t be disappointed.

  5. Scott @TheBrewClub Says:

    Sorry to say the bottle I tried was simply awful. I’ve heard it is much better on tap but I don’t think its really that good of a beer. For the price, there are better choices.

  6. Adam Leeming Says:

    I have recently stated drinking necastle brown ale and also collection the labels. I have numbers 1-5. I just wonder if there is anymore out there!

  7. Adam Leeming Says:

    And number 5 is about the nickname – a bottle of dog. Something about the men going to see a man about a dog but going down the local to buy a pint of brown.

  8. triflegoods Says:

    nice blog sir, thank you very much for the infos…

  9. Tyler Says:

    NBA is one of my very favorite beers. I’m from the South (Tennessee) and many of my friends drink and very much enjoy dark/strong beers. Unless it’s free, I refrain from drinking the generic mass produced bud/miller/coors etc and thankfully Knoxville is starting to be able to offer more regional micro options.

  10. louern Says:

    great page. i went surfing for the ingredients of newcastle after noticing that it’s the only beer that causes my sinuses to go insane, kind of allergic reaction. however, i continued to drink the beer because I LOVE NEWCASTLE. note that i am a woman, from canada, where even though we are famous for our beer on this side of the pond, most domestic beers taste like water and are simply too filling and sweet. So, for me, here is a beer that’s not dark, not strong, doesn’t taste too much like pennies, but can be drunk cold and is still refreshing in spite of the strong taste. I never tire of it, and, it goes well with all food.

    my bottle is 330 ml however and the blue star is a mere gimic here in canada.

  11. Jan Says:

    First time drinker of Newcastle and I very much like it. I love dark beers and this one is very smooth.

  12. Less Jopling Says:

    My favourite jar for years – I’m from over the river (Tyne), in Gateshead – but I prefer it at room temperature. Re. The lack of head:- try splashing the first half-pint into your (pint) glass and then carefully topping up the glass with the remainder out of the bottle. Result: a good frothy head which lasts ! P.s. You can’t get NBA in cask in the UK. Had it in Denmark, though.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    NBA is the brew I buy (in bottles… I prefer brews on tap, but I don’t like paying $4 for a glass), but I know what you mean by the occassional flavor of overbrewed tea. I am searching for a slightly smoother, less bitter brew with all the flavor. I ask for mellow dark beer when chowing down at a brewery. I would consider brewing my own if I had a receipe I could experiment with. I do enjoy Sam Adams, Longboard and Dortmunder Union on tap, but bottles in the US usually compromise the smooth delivery. DON’T even mention cans!!! Can you suggest any bottles that have escaped the US regulations for bottling? Thanks for the blog.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    Additionally, (from Dortmunder guy), are those mini, metal kegs more like draft or canned beer? And what DO they put in US beer to alter the flavor so much?

  15. James Duren Says:

    Newcastle…such an interesting beer. It was the first beer I fell in love with, and it remains one of my consistent favorites. Here’s the issue: after venturing out to IPA’s and a slew of other beers, Newcastle seems so boring. My first bottle is average…sometimes I wonder, “Where’s the guts?”

    By the second bottle, something strange happens- I started shaking hands once more with what I find is a caramelly, slightly nutty taste that I loved in the first place.

    Newcastle is like that best friend who is always consistent, never lets you down and every once in a while surprises you with how awesome it’s always been.

    Other beers may have more of a wild flavor, but few brews really match that clear-bottled, pencil-yellow, nutty brown bottle of Newcastle.

  16. Eric Jeffries Says:

    My favourite beer, bar none!

  17. Steve Taylor Says:

    Cold tea???? Sir, I have no choice but to challenge you to pistols at dawn.

  18. Michael Lay Says:

    Like all beers, Newcastles brown ale is best out of the tap, second out of the bottle, last out of the can. the clear bottle means it skunks quick so a lot of times it gives you a mediocre flavor that doesnt do the beer true justice.People keep saying to drink it cold, as does the bottle, but it should be cool not cold. less than 45 degrees ferenheit will make the beer taste like water. it needs the warmth to bring out the natural sweetness (just like any other sweet beer in the world, how do beer drinkers not already get this?) last but not least its a brown ale. if you dont like brown ales then, news flash, you wont like newcastle brown ale. i know, its shocking.

  19. Anonymous Says:

    NBA is definitely my favourite but, being Welsh, I don’t like a big head on my beer. Solution? Drink it from a pint glass and tilt the glass while pouring. Result – no irritating head!

  20. Mukesh Suthar Says:

    Well sort and simple ,The best from the rest its newcastle brown

  21. Felipe Martinez Says:

    Really good ale. Been to a UK pubs before and had several different ale’s 1989. Will stay with Newcastle brown ale from on, no more bud for me.

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