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Gavin D Smith

Gavin is probably best known as an authority on Scotch whisky and brewing. He is the author of 15 books, including the Scottish Beer Bible. He contributes to a wide range of specialist and general interest publications and is currently working on three new whisky-related titles, due for publication in 2005. Gavin is married and lives on the Fife coast.

Camerons - the lion roars again

by Gavin D Smith

Since the untimely demise of Sunderland's Vaux Brewery in 1999, there has been a dearth of mainstream brewers in the north-east of England countering Scottish & Newcastle's near regional monopoly.

But now, with Scottish & Newcastle effectively reduced to an ampersand by the closure of both its Edinburgh and Newcastle brewing operations, Camerons of Hartlepool have taken on the mantle of the north-east drinkers' true, independent friend.

With developing confidence, Camerons recently announced an ambitious pub acquisitions programme and opened a heritage centre, having already installed a microbrewery and their first bottling line. New products have been developed, and the firm's commitment to cask ale is demonstrably strong. Company chairman David Soley says: "The plan is to increase the number of pubs to 200 in the next couple of years. Although in recent years breweries have been selling off much of their pub business, we are hoping to buck that trend."  

Marketing director Mike Berriman adds that: "The new pubs will act as a shop window for our products. They will help to reinforce the firm's strong regional identity."

Camerons Lion Brewery in Hartlepool's Stockton Road currently has a 500,000 barrel capacity, but Soley says that: "Even though this is an old brewery, it is easily capable of seeing a doubling in production. We are definitely optimistic about the future here."


    The latest development has been the creation of a 700,000 heritage centre in the former Stranton pub adjacent to the brewery, with a bar, bistro and interactive museum items recounting Camerons' history. The Camerons brand dates from 1865, when John William Cameron took over the Lion Brewery, following the death of its founder William Waldon, who had commenced brewing on the site 13 years earlier.

The business thrived under successive generations of the family, until 1972 when Camerons was bought by the Ellerman Shipping Line. It subsequently passed through a number of hands, narrowly avoiding the clutches of Scottish & Newcastle and Allied Brewers along the way.

In 1992 its owner Brent Walker sold Camerons and 51 pubs to Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries for 18.7 million, and the Midlands-based company subsequently proved willing to invest in the brewery and its brands.

Meanwhile, local businessman David Soley led the buyout of the closure-threatened Castle Eden brewery, and in April 2002, paid 35 million to acquire Camerons from Wolverhampton & Dudley. The historic Castle Eden plant was closed, and production was concentrated on the Lion Brewery site, and a new company - Camerons Brewery Ltd - was formed.

As Mike Berriman explains: "Castle Eden was a 200,000 barrel brewery doing 45,000 barrels, and it needed an injection of volume. The investment needed was not viable given the capacity used. Cameron's was a proper ale and lager site, and Wolverhampton & Dudley had spent a lot of money on it."

Head brewer Martin Dutoy was charged with transferring production of the key Castle Eden brands to the Lion, and was also responsible for developing. a 10-barrel microbrewery, christened 'The Lion's Den', in the former engineering workshop. According to Dutoy: "it's  
ideal as a test-bed for niche brands, and if any of them get to mainstream then they can be moved into the main brewery, where 160 barrels is the minimum run."

"2005 is about continuing to expand our distribution base in our heartland area - a 50 square miles radius of our brewery," declares Mike Berriman. "This is principally where we are buying pubs, and that is a key priority this year. Additionally, we are looking to sell more cask beer to pub multiples.

"We are also keen to develop our export markets. At present we have a range of bottled beers in Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the USA, and we are looking to break into at least one new country per year. Since gaining our independence we've brought Camerons back to being a true independent regional brewery, not at the beck and call of the Square Mile."

The north-east's drinkers will surely raise a glass to that accomplishment and to Camerons future prosperity.

brands

Camerons is best known for its flagship Strongarm brand, launched in 1955 to meet demand in the region for a stronger draught beer. Strongarm is a 4 per cent ABV bitter made with 18 per cent crystal malt, which contributes significantly to its distinctive ruby red colour and its roasted, malty flavour. Strongarm is available in cask, keg and bottled formats.

The second core brand is a 3.6 per cent ABV 'session' beer, Creamy Bitter, which, like Strongarm, is available in cask and keg versions.

The three principal Castle Eden brands now being produced in Hartlepool, and all available in cask and bottle, are led by Nimmo's XXXX, a 4.4 per cent ABV light golden beer, abandoned by Whitbread in 1966, and revived at Castle Eden by David Soley.

Castle Eden Ale at 3.9 per cent ABV is a light, creamy, malty ale with fruity notes, and a dry, bitter finish, while the 4 per cent ABV Camerons Trophy Special was originally a Whitbread brand, long available only in keg format.

Among the most recent additions to the permanent Camerons range are the idiosyncratic Chocolate Ale and Challenge. Chocolate Ale at 4.0 per cent ABV is popular in Scandinavian export markets, but is also available through the Booth's supermarket chain in the north-west of England. Challenge is a 4.3 per cent ABV dark amber premium bottled ale with a twist of orange.

Cameron's newest brew is Long Leg, a 4.8 per cent ABV English Fuggles hops ale, which takes its name from the stilts formerly used by hop pickers. It is nationally available through branches of Asda and Morrisons in bottled format.

A range of four seasonal 'Knights' cask ales is also brewed, and, additionally, the Lion Brewery produces Scorpion Premium and Scorpion Super Premium Lagers, as well as making Kronenburg1664 under licence for Scottish & Newcastle plc.
 

Camerons Brewery Ltd
The Lion Brewery
Stockton Road
Hartlepool
Cleveland TS24 7QS.
Tel. 01429 266666.

  

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