One of Britain’s most iconic castles is toasting a special birthday in style with the launch of two anniversary beers dedicated to the remarkable Victorian philanthropist who helped save it from ruin.
The special brews are dedicated to North East hero Lord Armstrong, who 125 years ago put both his fortune and foresight to good use when he bought Bamburgh Castle in north Northumberland, transforming it from a run-down shell into the breath-taking and beautifully restored stronghold it is today.
Lord Armstrong Amber and Bebbanburg Gold are a collaboration between Alnwick Brewery and the descendants of the 19th century Tyneside-born industrialist, scientist, inventor and benefactor, who bought the crumbling fortification in 1894 for the princely sum of £60,000 (£7.6m in today’s money).
It is hoped locals and visitors alike will get a taste for the bottled beers, and join in a summer of anniversary celebrations by raising a glass to the man whose generosity saved for the nation the one-time royal capital of the ancient kingdom of Northumbria.
William Watson-Armstrong – the fifth generation of the family to own Bamburgh Castle – says the beers were an opportunity to do something different to mark what is a milestone year.
“The two beers are a very special and unique way for people to toast the important part the first Lord Armstrong played in the history, both past and present, of a place that regularly tops the polls as one of the UK’s most recognisable and best-loved castles,” he explains.
“Lord Armstrong started out his working life as a lawyer before going on to become one of the Victorian age’s greatest entrepreneurs, whose firms employed 35,000 people across Tyneside. He built up a vast fortune, but was renowned for his acts of generosity.
“But for his intervention, Bamburgh Castle may well have been a lost cause. Instead, Lord Armstrong’s legacy has been to leave us a spectacular and powerful reminder of the important part this corner of Britain played in the nation’s history over many centuries.
“Given that Lord Armstrong was a man of the people who came from humble beginnings, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate his 125-year association with Bamburgh than by raising a glass or two of beer brewed in his name. I am sure he would think it a fitting tribute.”
William worked closely with Alnwick Brewery’s head brewer Phil Bell to develop the two beverages with their striking labels. Lord Armstrong Amber depicts a painting of the man himself set against an arresting blue background.
The Bebbanburg Gold uses the classic image of Bamburgh Castle perched atop its rocky outcrop overlooking a wide expanse of dune-fringed sands, with the scene dramatically overlaid in attention-grabbing pink.
The beer itself (Bebbanburg was Bamburgh’s Saxon name) is made with First Gold hops, giving a refreshing flavour and aroma, and full-bodied Maris Otter Malt with its hint of honey in the finish. It has an ABV of 4.2%.
Meanwhile, Lord Armstrong Amber (3.8% ABV) is a dry hoppy beer, with a refreshing citrus aftertaste.
Both beers are being sold in the Bamburgh Castle gift shop at £2.95 a bottle, and are also available in the Clock Tower Café and for weddings and private functions. It is hoped local pubs will also stock them.
Jannick Genouw, Alnwick Brewery’s sales executive, says it has been a privilege to work on the beers.
“It has been a great opportunity for the brewery. William has been very involved in the development process, and Phil Bell has excelled himself. It would have been easy to just stick a label on a couple of our existing beers and market them under the Bamburgh Castle name, but that isn’t what anyone wanted.
“Instead, we have two truly unique beers. We are a small Northumberland microbrewery with a proud Northumberland heritage, and wherever possible we like to support local. It has been lovely to be involved in a venture celebrating the history of such an iconic Northumberland landmark.”
It is hoped more Bamburgh Castle inspired beers could be in the pipeline if Lord Armstrong Amber and Bebbanburg Gold are a success.
The launch of the beers is just one of many Lord Armstrong focussed 125th anniversary events planned for the coming months. They include the chance to meet the first Lord Armstrong in person as he wanders around the castle talking about his restoration plans; special Lego workshops offering children the chance to create and build their own engineering-inspired inventions; and informative talks.
These will run alongside a host of summer holiday activities including medieval archery, live music, pony cart rides, foraging, film screenings under the stars, and woodcraft workshops.