The first Proper Food and Drink Festival of 2017, held in North Shields over the Bank Holiday weekend, has highlighted the growing popularity of a new wave of drinks producers.
The Three Kings Brewery, based in the town and one of 60 producers featured at the festival, started making beer five years ago. It now supplies pubs in Newcastle, Sunderland, Darlington as well as North Shields.
Assistant brewer Robert Scott said: “It’s the fun of it, it’s the art and science of it – having the creativity to experiment with different tastes. It helps that I’ve always had a passion for beer and I’m not afraid of hard work. It’s the best job in the world.”
Despite the growing number of competitors micro-breweries still help each other, he said. “In many ways it’s us against the big guys. We all share the passion. At events like this we talk about beer and help each other out.”
Newcastle Brewing Ltd was set up in their garage at home two years ago by homebrew enthusiasts – and father and son – Mike and Leo Bell.
Their beer has proved so popular that Leo now works in the business full time and this month they are moving the brewery from the Ouseburn area of Newcastle to an arch underneath Byker Bridge, where they are also going to open a bar.
“It’s the first time ever in my life I’ve made something to sell,” said Mike who used to work in training and development. “There’s a great feeling of achievement.”
Anne Walsh of The Fruit Kitchen celebrates four years in business this week. She used to work as a PA but was always making food for her family and friends. “I used to sit in the office and think I want to do something, I want to be more creative, and that’s how it evolved.” At her home in Alnwick Anne makes fresh fruit cordials, liqueurs and vinegars. She is focusing mainly at the moment on making liqueurs in order to benefit from the current popularity of gin and cocktails.
“I don’t normally do the big events like this,” she said. “But I decided to bite the bullet and do all of them over the summer. It’s been really busy, so it seems like I made the right choice.”
Anne and her follow producers head to Bents Park in South Shields on Bank Holiday weekend (27, 28 and 29 May) for the next Proper Food and Drink Festival. It is back in North Tyneside at Whitley Bay on 17 and 18 June, before going to Cramlington for 29 and 30 July. In August Gateshead’s Saltwell Park stages its first Proper Food and Drink Festival on 5 and 6 August before it makes its debut in Ridley Park in Blyth the following weekend (12 and 13 August).
Mark and Shelley Deakin, the organisers of the Proper Food and Drink Festivals, also run the North East Chilli Fest. This year it is taking place over three days – from 30 June to 2 July – and, after five highly successful years at Seaton Delaval Hall, is moving to a new and bigger site in nearby Seaton Sluice.
In addition the Deakins are finalising details for a new event. It is called The Great North Feast and will run from 25 to 28 August in Bents Park, South Shields.
“It’s going to be a massive celebration of food and drink but it will also bring together the community for a social eating experience which has never been seen before in the North East. We’ll also be trying to break loads of records,” said Mark.