Houghton-le-Spring's Maxim Brewery taking on the big boys

PUBLISHED: 01:38 09 July 2012 | UPDATED: 15:39 22 January 2014

Houghton-le-Spring's Maxim Brewery taking on the big boys

Houghton-le-Spring's Maxim Brewery taking on the big boys

A new young brewery has risen from the ashes of one of the region's beer giants, as Helen Johnson reports

One of the North Easts biggest old breweries may now only be a distant memory, but the name of one its most famous beers lives on. The Maxim Brewery bears the name of one of the popular beers made at the Vaux Brewery in Sunderland up to its closure in the late 1990s.

Mark Anderson was working at Vaux at the time and he said: A colleague and I decided we wanted to stay in the North East and to stay in brewing. So we bought some of the brands.

The first brand we bought was Double Maxim. It was first brewed in 1901 to celebrate the return of the Maxim Gun detachment from the Boer War.

They were part of the Northumberland Hussars, commanded by Major Ernest Vaux. The ale was originally called Maxim, but in 1938 its strength was increased and it was renamed Double Maxim. It is now the
only original brown ale still brewed in the North East.

They also bought Wards Best Bitter, Lambtons, and Samson, which was first brewed in about 1837 and was popular with the steelworkers on Teesside. The new brewery attracted people from other iconic, but now closed, breweries.

Between us we have historic links to the big breweries of the North East: Vaux, Scottish and Newcastle, and Federation, Mark said. We have the people, the brands, the history, and the equipment.

Their equipment is the former pilot brewery for Scottish and Newcastle breweries. With that, and the expertise of experienced brewers, it wasnt long before they were developing new beers of their own, including Phoenix Rising, celebrating their birth from the former great breweries.

Mark, who began his career at Vauxs sister brewery, Wards in Sheffield in the 1980s, said: We produce a variety of beers for different tastes. We developed a Pale Ale named after Anna Goransdotter, our telephone order lady. Swedish Blonde has become so popular, its now one of our
permanent range.

In addition to a permanent range of six beers, they make special brews for events, such as Boxing Hare, a chocolate ale for Easter and Royal Toast for last years Royal Wedding. For this years regal celebrations
they have created a jubilee brew, Queen of Diamonds and to mark the London Olympics theres Thirst Place.

Mark said: There are only seven of us working here, but we do an awful lot. Like any small business, its a case of delivering the beer, cutting the grass, and making the tea everyone has to chip in.

Given the small scale of the operation its impressive that theyve managed to break into the export market. Mark said:

Exports tend to be our historic brands, particularly Double Maxim. Vaux used to sell Double Maxim all over the North East, so there are lots of expats, and people interested in the brand story.

Were exporting to China now as well. They take Double Maxim in red cans. The new rich Chinese are hungry for western products. Closer to home, Denmark has taken bottled beer for some years, but now theyre taking cask as well. Its gone well. Its nice to be able to educate the Continentals about beer, as opposed to the fizzy lager they produce.

As well as drinking beer, theres also interest in how theyre made. Mark said: We take students from Brewlab, a training organisation based in Sunderland. Students come from all over the world theres lots of
interest, especially from America and Brazil.

Weve also fitted out our own bar so we can take people on brewery tours and explain our long and proud history. Well never be as big as the old breweries, but we do aim to be the biggest in the North East and were staying here

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