Sunderland brewery launches at home mini casks and bottles after tier 2 restrictions hit trade sales

A Sunderland brewery is giving people the chance to enjoy pub quality pints at home as they ramp up their collection and delivery service to meet demand due to coronavirus.

Monday, 26th October 2020, 12:27 pm

Before the pandemic hit, Darwin Brewery’s main business was supplying up to 42 casks a month to pubs in Sunderland such as Ship Isis, Chaplins and The Blue Bell, as well as pubs in South Tyneside and Durham.

However, like all sectors in the hospitality industry, they’ve had to adapt their offering to meet changes in demand.

With pubs running fewer lines of beer because of lack of footfall, trade orders have dropped and Darwin have started selling direct to consumers.

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Julio Romero adding Hops

They’ve produced a range of mini casks and bottle selections which people can order online or collect from Sunderland Enterprise Park.

"It’s as close to cask ale as you can get without going to the pub,” explained brewery and development manager Gav Sutherland.

The micro brewery produces 550 litres of beer per brew, with the core range including a blonde, bitter, pale ale, lager, IPA and stout, as well as speciality brews.

The brewery’s history dates back to 1997 when its director Keith Thomas, a Sunderland University lecturer specialising in microbiology set up a micro brewery within Brewlab at the university.

Darwin Brewery brewing kit

Its brews, many of which are named after links to the world’s most famous biologist Charles Darwin, proved popular and the brewery grew from its 18 gallon system to the three and half barrel kit used today.

Gav said: “We reopened after lockdown in July and had quite a strong month sales-wise, but with the Tier 2 restrictions affecting the pubs our sales to trade are down to around 14 casks a month. It’s such a challenging time for the industry, but also for consumers who don’t necessarily feel comfortable going to the pub. But being able to have a beer is a small bit of normality for them.

“We’re fortunate in that we have the facilities to bottle on site as selling direct to the consumer has become a real focus of ours. A lot of people have been making more of an effort to buy local too, and they appreciate that ours are made here on the banks of the Wear."

Darwin Brewery and Brewlab

You can place an order with Darwin Brewery at

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For a guide to Sunderland places doing delivery see here.

As well as Darwin Brewery, the site houses Brewlab, a training and analysis provider whose brewing courses attract people from all over the world, from as far afield as New Zealand and The Seychelles to South America and Hawaii, who take part in everything from an introductory course to a nine week diploma in brewing.

The aim is to provide them with skills and knowledge, from tasting through to accounting, needed to open their own micro brewery and many former students run successful breweries, including S43, Tiny Rebel, Barcelona Beer Company and Beavertown Brewery.

Some of the Darwin Brewery beers

Meanwhile, the analysis side of the business is used by breweries to do ‘health checks’ on beers, such as testing the ABV.

Richard Hunt, Brewlab course coordinator, said: “The explosion of the craft beer scene means our courses have proved really popular. The brewing process itself is actually quite accessible, it’s getting the quality and consistency right that’s the difficult part. “Our courses very much marry the art of brewing with the technology.”

Due to the pandemic, courses have had to be scaled down, but they’re hoping once international travel resumes it will attract students from across the globe once more.

Richard added: “We have some great examples of success from former students and it’s so rewarding to see them open their own breweries.”

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Gavin Sutherland and Richard Hunt outside of Brewlab. Picture by FRANK REID
Richard Hunt pulling a pint at Brewlab. Picture by FRANK REID
Brewlab attracts students from all over the world
Gavin Sutherland cleaning at the brewery