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Heineken cleans up coal-smeared Newcastle Brown Ale for bright Californian future - Comment

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To many in the UK, the idea that the Californian beer beatniks at Lagunitas are behind the US relaunch of Heineken's Newcastle Brown Ale is slightly incongruous.

Heinekens Newcastle Brown Ale is to be brewed for the US market at Lagunitass twin breweries

Heineken's Newcastle Brown Ale is to be brewed for the US market at Lagunitas's twin breweries

Long-known as 'Newky Brown' or simply 'The Broon', the beer is associated by many Brits as a working class ale born in England's northern industrial heartlands. It is also closely connected in UK minds to the unglamorous Newcastle United football club, whose stadium stands near the site of the original brewery. Newcastle Brown Ale was a shirt sponsor during the team's 1990s heyday and remains a favoured drink of the team's passionate supporters.

That the brand has now been entrusted to a brewery in northern California creates a certain amount of cognitive dissonance.

But, that's only if you look at the move from a UK perspective, and from the point of view of someone who actually remembers Newcastle United's heyday (the club has struggled of late, only recently bouncing back from two relegations).

From the point of view of Heineken, which acquired the Newcastle Brown Ale brand in its 2008 takeover of Scottish & Newcastle, the Lagunitas partnership makes perfect sense. Newcastle Brown Ale has drifted as far from its Novocastrian roots as the town's football team has from the top of the English Premier League.

In a process started by Scottish & Newcastle, production of the beer switched from its Tyneside home, first to Tadcaster in Yorkshire, where UK production is still based, and latterly to Holland, where Heineken moved it to in 2017. Part of the rationale for the most recent switch was for better distribution to the US market, where Newcastle Brown has proved a roaring success since the turn of the Century. Under Heineken's tenure, the brand has been marketed as a fun, no-nonsense top-fermented English ale to consumers less aware of its coal-tinged roots. Indeed, so keen is Heineken on the US market that in 2015 it removed the chemical that gives the beer its characteristic brown colour to appease an American audience.

The switch to Lagunitas continues this American-isation of Newcastle Brown Ale. Rather than ship from its Zoeterwoude Brewery north of Den Hague, the US version of the beer will be brewed at both of Lagunitas's breweries, in Chicago and Petaluma, California, a Heineken spokesperson confirmed to just-drinks today. Meanwhile, a recipe change will allow the brand to acclimatise better in its new home, and attract those US consumers not used to a traditional English brown ale.

So, while those who continue to drink it back in the UK may not believe it, Newky Brown, that most northern English of ales, has proved adept at playing away from home.

If only the Newcastle football team could do the same.


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