Newcastle Brown Ale is one of the most ubiquitous brews on the market. You can’t avoid it. Stop in any bar, package store, or fast casual restaurant in the US, and you’re likely to see that familiar yellow label with the trademark blue star. Is it a good beer? Not particularly. It’s a fairly bland session beer that functions like background noise. You barely even notice you’re drinking it…it essentially just keeps your mouth wet while you talk. Nevertheless, many an Alehead has found him or herself ordering a pint of Newcastle when options are limited. And most will discover a drinkable, harmless, inoffensive brew.*
*Note: The same does NOT hold true for Newcastle in a bottle. For reasons no one seems to quite understand, Newcastle is bottled in clear glass. Since light is the worst offender when it comes to beer spoilage, Newcastle is generally considered the most frequently “skunked” beer in the history of ever.
Though the company that owns Newcastle (currently Heineken International) brews hundreds of different brands, the Newcastle label has only ever really been slapped on one type of beer…the Brown Ale. Like death and taxes, the Brown Ale was simply a given. Order a Newcastle, and that’s what you’d get…
In yet another sign that the macros are getting a little frightened by the inexorable growth of craft breweries and the resultant weakening of Big Beer’s hegemony, the Newcastle brand will now be added to a seasonal line-up of beers. The Summer Ale was actually introduced last year, and this year a Winter IPA will also be added to the stable of Newcastle brews. But by far my favorite addition is the Newcastle Werewolf…a “Blood Red Ale” that will be released in the Fall.
Here’s how I imagine the pitch went at Heineken International:
“We’re losing market share! What’s hot right now?”
“Yes! Werewolves! The Newcastle Werewolf. Done.”
“Wait! Vampires are big too.”
“Dammit…I forgot about vampires. What if we make it a ‘blood red ale’? Like True Blood!”
*Slow clapping all around the boardroom table*
Everything about this is ridiculous. I can understand the introduction of a Summer and Winter ale to the Newcastle brand. Newcastle is a huge name with a loyal army of drinkers and adding a basic Summer and Winter seasonal just makes sense. I even back the fact that the Winter is an IPA…not usually a traditional Winter style. But a Fall beer called the Werewolf? That’s just absurd. And a “blood” red ale? What’s appetizing about that? Just look at the labels. The Summer Ale has a powder blue color scheme with a red and yellow summer field instead of the blue Newcastle-upon-Tyne star. Looks good. The Winter IPA has dark blue graphics with a snow-covered evergreen in the star. Fine by me. But the Werewolf label? It has a “fur” background with a loping lycanthrope in the star AND fake “claw marks” across the top.
I honestly have no idea what to make of this. I’m hopeful that it’s just another kink in the armor of Big Beer and that we are witnessing the beginning of the decline of the macros. I’m sure I’m wrong as always, but a boy can dream. And right now, I’m dreaming of snarling, bloodthirsty werewolves metaphorically slaughtering the minions of Big Beer to clear the way for a glorious new era of thoughtful, tasty craft beer.
What a beautiful fantasy.