Now the festive hangovers are over, Michael Jackson raises his glass in a salute to much-loved old beers that have been revived

After a week you have surely dumped any hopeless resolutions to stop drinking. Mine, more sensibly, was to embrace renewal: a new year and some born-again beers. My fancy was especially tickled when I learned that Newcastle's famous Brown (it no longer calls itself an ale) faces a born-again challenger. The rival city of Sunderland recently lost its local brewery, but its most distinctive product, Double Maxim brown ale, was too good to lose. It has been resurrected, looking younger than ever in a smart new bottle.

After a week you have surely dumped any hopeless resolutions to stop drinking. Mine, more sensibly, was to embrace renewal: a new year and some born-again beers. My fancy was especially tickled when I learned that Newcastle's famous Brown (it no longer calls itself an ale) faces a born-again challenger. The rival city of Sunderland recently lost its local brewery, but its most distinctive product, Double Maxim brown ale, was too good to lose. It has been resurrected, looking younger than ever in a smart new bottle.

While Newky Broon has always been popular among students, I wonder whether the reborn Double Maxim is aiming at laddish drinkers. The first beer called Maxim, named after the machine-gun used in the Boer War, was launched in 1901. Double Maxim, a little stronger, came along in 1938. In the new labelling of 2001, Double is retained, but more emphasis is given to the word Maxim, which also happens to be the name of a lads' magazine.

Double Maxim still calls itself a (Premium) Brown Ale, and bears the promise "Full of Northern Character". The northern element is more than history. The man who made the beer in Sunderland, Jim Murray, now oversees its production in Stockport by Robinson's brewery (already renowned for its stronger, darker, Old Tom). Working from my own taste memory, I find the reborn version a good character match but with a slightly more lively hop acidity in the finish. (Comparing old and new bottles is not ideal, because beer quickly loses freshness).

Neither Newcastle nor Double Maxim is really "brown"; their colour is amber to tawny, at most. This colour is imparted by crystal malt, which also creates a nutty flavour. Differences in the use of the crystal malt mean that Newcastle Brown is thinner-bodied and faintly winey, while Double Maxim is notably smoother, dryish, but with a hint of sweetness (alcohol 4.7 per cent).

I was sent a bottle of the reborn Double Maxim by Safeway. The neck label says: "All Flavour, No Flannel". Is there a future for such heresy? "People's tastes do evolve, from popular lagers to creamflow ales and then to products with real credentials, more integrity," says Doug Trotman, who was marketing director of the Sunderland brewery and is now a principal of the newly formed Double Maxim Beer Company. "Consumers of ales like to exercise choice and to experiment. They are becoming increasingly knowledgeable." Almost every national supermarket chain is now featuring another born-again brew: Worthington's White Shield, the classic bottle-conditioned India Pale Ale. Over the years, the famous shield has been raised and lowered in a variety of breweries from Sheffield to Sussex, where it seemed finally to have been buried last year. Now the beer is once again being brewed in its original birthplace, Britain's brewing capital, Burton upon Trent. It is being made in a 10-barrel kettle that once was used for experimental brews and later consigned to the Bass Museum. The kettle is being fired every day, and what Bass terms its "Museum Brewery" began the new year with an expensive new bottling line.

The various incarnations of White Shield have all aimed for the same character, but the 2001 seems to me especially fruity in both aroma and palate, starting very crisp but developing a lingering creaminess (alcohol 5.6).

The brewery is also making a cask-conditioned ale simply called E, without reference to the Bass or Worthington names. This full-flavoured, malty ale is reminiscent of the original Worthington E and Draught Bass, as opposed to lighter versions that have evolved over the years. Burton is also producing born-again versions of Joule's Bitter, an astonishingly appetising, herbal-tasting ale originally made at a much-loved, but long-gone, brewery in Stone, Staffordshire; a slightly more nutty bitter once made by Massey's, of Burnley; an espresso-like, oily, tarry, Bass Imperial Stout; and the addictively intense, dry, Bass No. 1 Barley Wine.

Some of these beers are very bitter. Is there a future in that approach? No marketing analysis from brewer Steve Wellington. "I like bitter beers," is his explanation. "Why?" I ask. "Because I am a brewer," he responds.

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