We've Got Real Pulling Power; MICHAEL BROWN on How Our Successful Local Breweries Are Giving Themselves a Makeover - and Appealing to Customers from Further and Further Afield
AMAN walks into a bar and asks: "Can I have a pint of best, please?" "Best? As in bitter?", says the landlord. "Oh we don't do that any more, but we do have all these locally produced artisan craft ales - would you like one of those instead?" Looking at the bar, the confused man has to try to pick between 10 pale beers he's never heard of, some with images of the Tyne's bridges or Northumberland wildlife, others with clever names based on local places, and a few with no discernable information about where the beer comes from at all.
And the one he picks? Probably not the one that reminds him of home but the one with the best pump clip.
The North East brewing industry is booming, with more than 50 breweries and brew-pubs operating in just Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and County Durham.
Many of the firms that have sprung up in recent years have chosen to hark back to traditional elements of the area in their names and imagery, from working dogs to the industrial heritage of the Tyne, via historic coastal rescues. But more recently there has been a move among some of the more recognisable, awardwinning names to modernise their look, and to an extent abandon the specifically regional aspects of their identity.
Tyne Bank Brewery in Byker was founded in May 2011 with an image of the Tyne Bridge on its logo, bottles and pump clips. North Shields's Mordue Brewery -the makers of such Tyneside pub staples as Workie Ticket and Radgie Gadgie -featured the Millennium Bridge.
Anarchy Brew Co in Morpeth started out life in 2012 with a fivepointed star in its logo, similar to the old Newcastle Breweries symbol, while Allendale had beautifully painted scenes of Northumberland and its wildlife when its beers were on the bar.
All, for one reason or another, have changed -with DNA, a giant letter M, the anarchy symbol, and colourful, cartoon-like clips respectively taking over.
But in an increasingly crowded marketplace, experts say their moves may not only be a positive thing for the companies here in Britain, but are indicative of North East businesses looking to enjoy more success abroad.
"Regional identity is an interesting topic," said Andy Mogg, of North East design firm Lemon Top Creative, which has done work for firms including Middlesbrough's Truefitt brewery, Cumbria's Hardknott brewery, Sainsbury's, and Farmway, "We've just done some new labels for a brewery in Scotland which wanted some new ideas but then also wanted something similar to its current labels as it didn't want to lose the "Scottishness" -mainly because of the tourists and their export market.
"And I think where the North East is concerned it's a positive thing mentioning it somewhere, as from a provenance and traceability point of view people like to know where their beers come from and as an area gets a better reputation for beer people start to look at other breweries in that area.
"Whether it needs to be the form of 'brewed in the North East' or using local imagery or beer names I don't know, but I think it's important that you still make sure the branding is different to the guy along the road, so that you stand out and people don't get confused."
But what constitutes "the guy down the road" for the North East's breweries -and a whole raft of other firms in other industries -is becoming increasingly muddied as the markets they sell into become more national and international.
"In an international context the sense of regional identity becomes less important," said Dr Joanna Berry of Newcastle University Business School. …