The haze on the Tyne
Newcastle born and bred, Two by Two makes its Ferment debut from the comfort of its colourful taproom
Saturday 26 August 2023
This article is from
Angels of the North
Share this article
An explosion of colour in a corner of Newcastle where residential and industrial lines blur, Two by Two’s brewery taproom is a welcoming, boozy, bear hug. The brewery has made several units around the city its home over the last seven years, though when I visit Two by Two, it’s been set up in Byker for twelve months, and is enjoying the extra space now occupied by the taproom, storage unit and outdoor seating area.
Owner Rob MacLeod sits on one of several wooden benches just outside the brewery – canopy and string lights overhead, fire pit just next to us – and balances quiet pride in how the space is shaping up, with candid reflection on what he might have done differently if starting again. I get the distinct feeling that for Two by Two, the joy is in the journey, rather than the destination.
Rob’s relationship with beer blossomed when, around ten years ago, he got a job at the pub in The Bridge Hotel, Newcastle. He hadn’t sought out a job there because the pub was recognised as a destination for real ale drinkers, but through working there, he became acquainted with cask, and traditional British styles, as well as more modern, budding brands we now associate with UK craft.
From discovering Moor, Marble, Buxton, The Kernel and Burning Sky, to pulling pints at one of Magic Rock’s early tap takeovers, by the time Rob graduated from bartender to cellar manager, he was well versed in the way of craft beer. By managing the cellar of the pub, Rob ended up in regular contact with the breweries delivering there, and over time casual catch-ups became bigger conversations about business and beer. Before he knew it, he was daydreaming while managing dray.
Coupled with his respect and appreciation for what the bar was doing, Rob realised he didn’t want to work for people any more, he was ready to do his own thing. I assumed at this point, Rob was going to tell me that he threw in the towel at the pub and started homebrewing, but no. Going straight for the jugular, he enrolled in an eight-week course at Brewlab in Sunderland, and learned to brew on a commercial kit straight off the bat.
“I definitely should have gone to work for someone else after that”, says Rob, “but I decided to immediately set up Two by Two. The result was that I was learning on the job, without anyone I could immediately turn to, to ask for advice. Making mistakes is expensive when it’s your own money, and no one really tells you that”, he laughs, able to see the funny side now, with several years and relative success separating him from those challenging, early days.
Today, Two by Two is a brewery celebrated for its hazy, hoppy beers; it’s not trying to reinvent the wheel, but it has garnered a reputation for consistent quality while varying the beers it produces and the ingredients used. “If we don’t keep brewing the hazy, hoppy pales and IPAs, we’ll run out of what we have straight away”, says Rob. A happy challenge, and a great indicator of the community support the brewery has garnered.
“Our ability to brew other styles is currently restricted by capacity, but we’ve got a couple of saisons barrel ageing, and a couple of impy stouts. We’ve actually just finished our first run of barrel-aged sours and have already refilled three of those barrels and have another three to do; so far, there’s a Christmas pudding stout in apricot brandy barrels, and another dark beer we put loads of coconut and cacao nibs in, and are ageing in bourbon barrels.”
It goes without saying I’ll be neck deep in Two by Two’s online store come Christmas, if Rob feels the beers are ready by then. As he expresses an interest in discovering what barrels in the brewery’s growing repertoire become his favourites, I can’t help but feel excited for the brewery’s future. It seems Two by Two has taken growth in its stride and at a pace that hasn’t stifled or overwhelmed the team’s curiosity and passion.
At just 11 people strong – five on the brew team (including Rob), a taproom manager and assistant, and four casual bar workers – Two by Two is producing approximately 3000 hectolitres a year, a volume Rob is first to say isn’t massive, but it’s not nothing. At this point in our conversation, an alarm sounds on Rob’s phone. His whirlpool is done. “I don’t brew as much as I used to” he says, “so I’ve really got to think about what I’m doing now”. With that, he returns to the brewhouse, a look of concentration on his face. The smell of wort wafts towards us in the summer, city air, a sudden rush following in Rob’s wake.
Share this article