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The reborn Vaux founding fathers: (from left) Ross Palmer, Matthew Jackson, Michael Thompson, Steve Smith 

Vaux reborn: fabled brand returns to Sunderland

Exactly two decades after the Sunderland brewery closed, the Vaux name is set to return to beer taps.

Four local entrepreneurs are experimenting with new recipes at the city’s Brewlab facility and will launch an initial four takes on modern styles over Easter. A revival of the original recipe for Vaux stout could follow.

They have also started looking for premises for a microbrewery and tap room.

Although the trademark, owned at one stage by Whitbread, had been allowed to lapse, it still took three years to register the name, said Steve Smith, managing director of the new Vaux Brewery and a solicitor by profession.

Now a Kolsch-style beer, an English bitter, a session IPA and an ‘unusual’ New England IPA, all in keg, will be unveiled over two weekends at three Sunderland pubs.

Brewlab brewer Julio Romero Johnson is producing three versions of each for trial. “We are working together on the characteristics we want and Julio has the experience to flex the recipes and give us options,” said Smith.

“It’s exciting but daunting. Every day is a learning day for me, but because we’re not from the brewing trade we hope we can look at the opportunity with fresh eyes and do things that others wouldn’t.

“So we’ll start by having the beers contract-brewed until we’re sure of the demand. We don’t want to go opening a 20-barrel brewery based on an initial buzz that falls away.”

After Easter the search for a premises will begin in earnest and is likely to house a tap room served by a small brewery while the bulk of production is contracted out, he added. “That way we think we can have the best of both worlds.”

Smith’s partners in the business are Michael Thompson, Matthew Jackson and Ross Palmer. The project was first hatched on a trip to Germany back in 2012.

“We were inspired by all the other brewers that have been brought back to life and thought we should do it for Vaux,” said Smith. “It was a name that was so important to the city when I was growing up, and we are all fans of Sunderland FC, who had it on their shirts, so we felt a strong connection to the brand.

“We’re fans of craft beers and the modern trends in brewing, too, so we wanted to create new styles of beer, do something different to the old Vaux brands - but we have the option of going back to do some heritage beers, such as the stout, if we decide to.”

Vaux closed its city centre brewery in 1999 in order to focus on its pubs and hotels, which were acquired by Whitbread the following year. 

Flagship beer brand Double Maxim was revived by two former Vaux directors the same year, and the ale continues to be brewed at the Maxim Brewery at Houghton le Spring, which opened in 2007, along with other Vaux brands Samson and Ward’s.

A documentary film telling the Vaux story is currently in production.

Phil Mellows 
6th March 2019

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