Category Archives: beer in yorkshire

A Perfect Fit: Truefitt Brewery

IMG_1710

Beery surprises. Everyone loves them, right? That little thrill of finding something new and having your expectations turned upside is surely what enjoying beer is about; always knowing that somewhere out there is a brewery you just might be missing out on. Despite constant reminders from Andy Mogg that Truefitt Brewery’s beers (more or less his local brewery, as well as doing the design work for them) were very good – and indeed, getting better – it’s still taken me a while to actually get my hands on some.

Matthew Power’s beers bear all the hallmarks of ‘local hero’ brewing; a full range of the best-selling styles, beers named after his environs, strikingly colourful pumpclips which certainly stand out from the crowd. Most importantly, the beer is good. Very good. Truefitt beers carry a weight – in the body particularly – that recalls Oakham and Five Towns Breweries. Hops are sprinkled liberally throughout, of course – but these are really, really balanced beers.

Take the 4% abv North Riding Bitter. Not one to get excited about, you might say, but I defy you not to enjoy this ruddy-cheeked gem. Sweet, with tonnes of freshly-baked brown bread flavour in the body and finishing with complexity that comes as a complete surprise – hints of coffee and berry fruit – I immediately wanted another. And then possibly another.

Erimus (3.6%) is a light, summery Pale Ale with a mild-mannered nature and sweet finish, whereas Truefitt Trembler (a double IPA weighing in at 7.4% abv) may be the beer that hop-heads are overlooking in favour of more exotic, imported fare. Fiery amber in colour and boasting a reassuringly thick, tongue-coating mouthfeel, the nose is all strawberry jam and oily pine needle, which translates almost identically into the finish, adding long, rolling bitterness and a touch of alcohol as it fades away. Matt tells me the hops in this recipe are a moveable feast; he uses what’s available to him at the time. All the more reason to drink a bottle of this every few months, if you ask me.

Overall, I’ve been impressed with Truefitt’s beers. Perhaps it’s time for them to start travelling a little further up and down the UK; not that Matt is resting on his laurels. Last weekend saw the opening of the Truefitt Tap, so if you’re in the wilds of Northallerton, you could do a lot worse that drop in and get acquainted. Good luck, Matt.

 

These beers were given to me for inclusion in the follow up to Great Yorkshire Beer, which I’m working on as we speak.

Wharfedale launch “The Ales Way”

leafletWharfedale Brewery – the smart microbrewery sitting at the back of The Flying Duck, Ilkley – have continued their commitment to boost their local pub community by launching The Dales Way, a pub guide to pubs in the surrounding Wharfedale area. The guide has been produced with the Pride of The Dales bus service in mind – something that the team behind the brewery are keen on.

‘Whilst encouraging more people to visit the pubs and use the bus company with added frequency, the ale trail is intended to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace which should allow people plenty of time to visit the many wonderful  shops, café’s and restaurants as well.’ says Jonathan Shepherd, Wharfedale’s Managing director.

I know that, since setting up last year, one of the goals of Wharfedale Brewery has been to support the businesses around it, which isn’t something you hear much on today’s ‘mission statements.’ The iconic ‘Dales Pub’ – all stone flags, welcoming open fireplaces and impeccably-kept cask ale isn’t a myth either – but they are open all the time. They aren’t theme parks – and they need patronage all year round.

Looking down the list, I’m mentally ticking off the pubs which are personal favourites; The Red Lion at Burnsall, complete with the gentle curl of the Wharfe just outside the front door, a popular stop off for us when taking the dog out for the day. The Craven Arms at Appletreewick – where I recently enjoyed a pint of Dark Horse’s Hetton Pale that can only be described as transcendent. The Fountaine Inn at Linton, The Buck Inn at Buckden.  The Blue Bell Inn, Kettlewell. All perfect stop-offs this summer if you venture into the Dales.

You can also complete the ‘crawl’ in full, picking up stamps as you go to recieve a t-shirt at the end, if you wanted to tackle all of them. It’s a lovely idea; if you find your self enjoying a pint in the Flying Duck this summer, pick up a map and go see one of the others, too.

Joining Forces: Rooster’s and Pretty Things, Saltaire and Dark Star

IMG_1749This week’s treats come courtesy of four breweries joining forces. Or better, actually, two gangs of two. Rival gangs, I’d like to imagine, on a flight of fancy. One of each is based in Yorkshire (of course, come on, you know what blog this is, right?) and the others have jetted in from afar to bestow some foreign exotica onto proceedings.

Well, if you can call Brighton exotic, that is. Upon arriving in Yorkshire, those chaps from Dark Star Brewery made a beeline for Saltaire, put their heads together with the crack brewing team there and came up – interestingly – with a Bock. Pouring a magnificent shade of mahogany – almost purple in places; the same purple that you occasionally catch on a pint of Old Peculier – the nose is loaded with bramble, mild coffee and just a hint of toasted malt.

For such a powerful, warm aroma you expect a suckerpunch of alcohol (its a reassuring 5.6% abv) in the taste itself but it remains balanced, despite that latent strength appearing in a warming finish. With a rounded, softly sweet body that manages to remind me of both Dundee cake and milk chocolate at the same time, it’s a beer crying out for a cheeseboard to sit alongside it.

Meanwhile, up in Knaresborough, Rooster’s teamed up with Pretty Things Ale & Beer Project to conjure up Saint Robert, a 4.5% abv ‘Abbey Style Ale’. Named after a hermit who resided in a cave not far from the brewery, Saint Robert’s got a lot going on in the nose; a little bubblegum, some black pepper, a touch of baked brown bread…expecting heft, the beer turns out to be light and airy – all raisin, plum and a touch of bonfire toffee.

IMG_1763My initial fear of lack of alcohol remained unfounded; where I thought the beer could be flimsy and overpowered by the malt bill, it turned out to be a balanced showcase for more complex flavours in lower-strength brown ale. An ultimately harmonious blend of styles and flavours, Saint Robert proved to be a rewarding, moreish pint.

So, two winners. And kudos to all four for trying something a little different.  You can read more about Rooster’s back-story (and there is one) with Pretty Things here and here, and get the lowdown on Saltaire and Dark Star’s supergroup here. They’ll be collaborating again in July – keep an eye out.

Both beers are available right now. 

Heretics, Bad Seeds and Roses: BeerTown, Malton

IMG_1583‘It tastes…’ I stop, mid-sentence, and take another sip. I’d committed that naive sin of just lobbing the first sip of this new beer down my throat, trying to keep up with the conversation rather than taking time out to enjoy the beer. The beer, deeply gold in the glass, aroma all yeasty spice, pear-drop aroma and muscular, warm sweetness, has knocked my senses sideways a little. I take another sip. ‘It tastes a little like…Duvel?’ I’m conscious that I’ve inflected the word Duvel upwards; completely underestimating the beer at hand. The beer at hand, by the way, is Brass Castle’s Heretic; a saffron-infused strong golden ale in very much the Belgian tradition. And it’s wonderful.

Quite a few of these moments occurred during the afternoon spent at BeerTown in Malton this weekend. Pleasant surprises, little re-adjustments of your senses, those ‘I’m glad we came‘ kind of moments. It’s not unusual to be enjoying good beer in this small Ryedale town; Suddaby’s, sitting behind the Crown pub, had been serving solid, tasty beers for some time. But Suddaby’s is no longer in Malton itself – and punters waiting for a new brewery to champion since then now have two to crack on with.

Malton – sitting just north of York and 30 miles or so from the long shadow of Tadcaster, was home to both the Rose, Russell and Wrangham breweries – with Russell’s being founded in 1771. As is often the way, mergers and buy-outs led to the demise of all three, and Malton became one of these towns whose residents get used to saying that brewing ‘used to be’ part of life here.

IMG_1584I say this with authority, but I’m happy to admit that I hadn’t heard of the Wrangham or Russell breweries before. I steal the Bad Seeds themselves –  Chris Waplington and James Broad for a quick chat  over the small -but- perfectly-formed – exhibition of salvaged breweriana in one of the rooms just away from the hustle of the main festival, and soon realise that…well, I’m not alone.

‘We just wanted to bring something back to Malton,’ smiles Chris. ‘Malton is a beer town, and hopefully we can be part of it in the future.’ It’s as simple as that; but it’s one thing to say it, and another to do it – Brass Castle and Bad Kitty all deserve a pat on the back for making it happen. Chris and James shoot off to carry on working, and leave me (and Chris, my beer-buddy) to pore over the tin adverts for Roses’ King’s Ale, dark, regal and forthright in a cut-glass goblet, and listen to how Russell’s were told to stop using a triangle logo by a certain Burton brewer – settling on a much less litigious horseshoe instead.

So what of the modern Beer Town?

Pleasantly busy without being cramped all afternoon, Malton seems ready for a new celebration of beer. Try as I might to find a demographic here, it’s pretty tough – young and old, male and female, cask and keg. Again, this itself shouldn’t be a surprise; Malton hosts one of the most talked about food markets each month, and prides itself on being a ‘foodie’ town. And having Bad Seed and Brass Castle in residence , teaming up to bring you some of their favourite beers as well as showcasing their favourites, only heightens that. It’s the missing part of the jigsaw.

IMG_1585Since the success of Bad Kitty (a multiple award-winning porter doused with Vanilla that doesn’t last long whichever bar it appears on) a few years ago, the Pocklington brewer, now relocated to Malton, have become a local hero of beer drinkers in north Yorkshire. Part of me wants to say that Brass Castle play to a different audience than Bad Seed, but after tasting Heretic and their accomplished Brass Lager (Vienna style; all subtle breadiness and grassy snap to finish), I don’t think I can.  Phil Saltonstall and Ian Goodall have taken every step of Brass Castle’s development in their stride, moving from solid cask ales to kegged esoterica without losing any of the initial promise and quality that Brass Castle promised.

Bad Seed – all hand-printed labels and primary colours – stand out a mile off on the bar. But, as we all know, eye-catching design ain’t worth a damn if the beer ain’t good. We don’t have to be concerned about that; Bad Seed’s beer is very, very good. They may not have the reach or profile of many of the region’s young start-ups, but thier hit rate is scary. Bad Seed Saison is one of my favourites in the UK, all crackle, zip and zing; South Pacific Pale Ale a fresh, gooseberry-led pale ale that is impossible to stop at one with. Hefeweizen in a triumph of sweet lemon, banana and clove wrapped up in a crisp, refreshing jacket.

I could go on. There wasn’t a bad beer in the bunch, to be honest (well, the Spiced Blueberry Oat Ale was a little rich – a good Christmas beer, perhaps, guys?) – and rest assured, dear reader, I did sample judiciously. Celt Experience’s Native Storm (4.4% abv) put the bitter in Bitter with an all-out attack of super-fresh cut Seville Orange slapping you in the chops. Liverpool Craft Beer Company’s Hop Beast (4% abv) turned out to be a gently floral, sweet and well-brewed amber ale with the potential to be a real summer sessioner.

IMG_1591Weird Beard’s Little Things That Kill (both sating my thirst and taking me back to my teens) and Tiny Rebel’s Full Nelson are as reliable as they are tasty – both in cracking condition, too – and a thumb to those who say that lower-strength Pale Ales are dull. Magic Rock’s Salty Kiss leaves the lips tingling (no sniggering at the back, please) and palate re-charged.

Add in brass bands, impromptu bluegrass concerts, delicious baked goods (always a bonus!) and excellent staff (well done, all) and you’ve got a local beer festival that’s a cut above. One that Malton deserves? Yep, I think so.

 

BeerCast was also in attendance, and you can read Rich’s version of events here. There’s some bits and bats on Malton brewing here. And Mart – if you’re reading – it was great to catch up. 

 

 

Here’s to Yorkshire Bitter

Best-Yorkshire-Bitter-209x300Alongside Mild, Bitter is the beer style that probably troubles people the most; the definition is broad, somewhat cumbersome and with no ‘sexy’ aspects to it. Yet Bitter defines a UK region like no other, such is the proliferation of other styles today. No-one calls Joker IPA an ‘Alloan IPA’, nor is Marble’s Lagonda a ‘Manchester IPA.’ But Marble do (proudly, I might add) brew a Manchester Bitter, and you can’t deny you’d call Harvey’s Sussex Best the epitome of, well, Sussex. But as the question was posed to me a while ago, I’ve been asking myself: what is Yorkshire Bitter? Is is still around anymore? And what does it mean to me?

Well, It’s a beer of the pub. There’s something about a pint of Bitter that speaks of draught beer; a dimpled mug on a stained beer mat in a library-quiet inn, contented in etched glass and dark wood in those times inbetween dinner and post-work rushes. A cliche – and one that could exist in any county in the country – I know,  but one worth trotting out when thinking about what the beer means to me. Bitter is unfussy, strong of heart and backbone, and the best – when fresh – are defiantly bold, and as forthright in flavour as a Yorkshireman’s political views.

I’d perhaps cite the Yorkshire Square as a key element to what makes our Bitter ours. But the fact is, there’s Yorkshire Bitter out there being produced by our enterprising brewers without the aid of those slate (or, mostly these days – steel) squares. Still, we have our own regional fermenting method – and that’s always worth giving a nod of the flat cap to. In fact, only Black Sheep and Sam Smith’s use Squares these days; one wonders in this age of interest in all things fermentation, whether the square could be seen as a niche instrument for fledgling brewers looking to find a little space in the current booming market. It is, after all, a type of open fermentation.

So, let’s consider those knee-jerk emotional responses, shall we? When I think of Manchester Bitter, I think of a beer lighter in colour than its counterpart from the White Rose county, and perhaps with a clean, smooth body and a sharp, bitter finish. Yorkshire’s Bitter, on the other hand, makes me think of brown; autumnal amber, always served with a tight collar of foam and a nutty, sweeter body underpinning a slightly bready, subtly floral aroma.

I think of slabs of my uncles’ Stones Bitter, unfashionably orange, piling up in the kitchen at Christmas, or that smiling Huntsman glaring at me through his monacle on bartops across smoky pub rooms visited with my parents. The way that, travelling from Leeds to Haworth to see my mum, the pub signs change from red-brick Tetley’s to the green and gold sandstone of Timothy Taylor’s once you hit Shipley. The intimidating red neon of the Tetley’s sign drawing our gaze as we walk to The Adelphi. It’s powerful stuff, for sure.

Problem is, once I start codifying it like that, I’m struck by the Landlord conundrum.

products_landlord_bigpicFellow Yorkshireman Michael Jackson described Landlord (in his usual, wonderfully florid terms) in 1992 by remarking ‘…that barley-sugar maltiness is never cloying; that resiny hop character offers the perfect edge. They are deftly balanced without cancelling each other out. This is more the balance of the fighter versus the boxer. Or the Featherstone Rovers’ loose-forward versus the Keighley scrum-half.’ Landlord is one of (alongside Black Sheep’s Best,Theakston’s Best & XB and Sam Smith’s Old Brewery Bitter – which is perhaps hamstrung by generally only being available in Smith’s pubs on draught) the major Yorkshire Bitter on our bars now, and enjoys perhaps a more artisanal feel than Tetley’s did post-Carslberg. As you know, Landlord is anything but ‘fudgy’ – pale, loaded with sweetness, and a soft, rolling bitterness.

It’s brewed with 100% Pale malt, but it’s a Yorkshire Bitter. More quenching that Tetley’s, I feel Landlord is the beer that illustrates the region’s diversity in bitter. The fact that I think of it Pale Ale doesn’t really matter; it’s semantics. It’s all Bitter. It just so happens that one of the most popular in Yorkshire is one of the most different.

Can a bitter still define a brewery in Leeds, Huddersfield, Hull, Wakefield or Sheffield in 2013? Has it really been usurped by paler, hoppier cousins? Is it still the sole interest of the older generation? Is it difficult to market? I once had a pint of Tetley’s that, simply, was trancendent. It was in the Victoria pub, and remains not too dissimilar to this in terms of being knocked off your feet by simple, plain beer. I’ve not drunk it since it left Leeds, and although I don’t want to concentrate too much on Tetley’s here (what’s done is done) – it defined Leeds for a long, long time. As we all know, however, there are some promising heirs to the throne, if you will.

932376Leeds Brewery’s Sam Moss still thinks there’s something to the term – hopefully the pavlovian equivalent of a hug; a tug of a string that’s tied to many a Yorkshireman’s past. ‘I think that for many drinkers in Yorkshire – and perhaps this is becoming an increasingly older demographic – a ‘pint of best’ is still the ‘go to’ choice as they walk into a pub. Maybe this is something which is a peculiarly Yorkshire phenomenon, but I think that there is something endearingly reassuring and comforting about settling down over a great pint of Yorkshire Best Bitter.’ he says. 

Yorkshire Bitter is the bedrock on which our region’s fantastic beer culture sits; a style we once held proud but perhaps don’t shout about as much any more. Richard Boston said of us in Beer & Skittles (1977) ‘Yorkshire people, chauvinists about beer as about everything believe they have the best beer in the country.’ It was probably our Bitter that we were espousing. He also said of Theakston’s Bitter ‘…Is a pale yellow, and its taste arouses controversy between its admirers and detractors.’ What Boston meant by that, I’m not sure; there’s a suggestion that the beer wasn’t quite playing ball – perhaps too light, too strong, too mild or too bitter. A controversial bitter? There’s a thought.

Bitter is worth fighting over, too. Roger Protz has done a great job of telling the battle of Barnsley here.

downloadI’m going to pin my colours to the mast here:  i’m incredibly fond of Acorn’s Barnsley Bitter. A simple, tawny pint with a hearty, rousing profile, it’s a modern classic as far as I’m concerned and, in that frame of mind, I contacted Dave Hughes (Acorn’s head honcho) and asked him how he felt about such an unassuming pint; how it was born and whether it was important to Acorn these days. The answer was fairly emphatic.

‘Barnsley Bitter is the reason Acorn Brewery was born.’ Dave states, matter-of-factly. ‘Back in 2003 I was working for Elsecar Brewery, but the business closed and production of their Barnsley Bitter was moved to Blackpool. I was made redundant along with everybody else. The thought of Barnsley Bitter being made in Blackpool and also the thought of returning to my former profession as a chef drove myself and my wife, Jude to open Acorn Brewery. ‘

‘We brew our interpretation of Barnsley Bitter using the original Barnsley Bitter twin yeast strains.’ he continues. ‘…We also use the finest Maris Otter malt, crystal and pale chocolate roasted malts and have used English Challenger hops – purchased directly from the same hop farm – for the last 10 years.The consistency of the raw materials have helped us to create a Yorkshire bitter that we are very proud of. It accounts for 30-40% of our trade and highlights to us that there is a great market still out there for a classic Yorkshire bitter amidst the ever growing popularity of golden ales and IPA’s.’

Bu it’s not just Imperial Stout, Saison and barrel-aged oddities nipping at the heels of Barnsley Bitter. There’s…well, other bitters, actually. It’s like stepping through the looking glass; the term might be getting dropped in favour of ‘Amber‘ and ‘Classic‘-type terms, but it’s still there. Take Ilkley’s Joshua Jane (a nod, of course, to the Hunstman and Ilkley’s moor-wandering heroine), which began life as a trial brew of a Leeds Homebrew competition winners (by Matt Lovatt and Dave Broadford, who have gone on to brew for Kirkstall Brewery and Northern Monk respectively) and has recently made it into the permanent bottled range.

8080133174_b1a15670ea_zSlightly dryer than you’d expect , loaded with biscuit and bread and a zippy finish of grassy hop. It’s a great example of a Bitter brewed in 2013, and I asked Chris Ives how it sells. ‘Joshua is a permanent beer and volumes brewed have been steadily climbing all year. We brewed it because (we felt) there were too few good examples of a contemporary Yorkshire Bitter.’ I would place emphasis on the contemporary. JJ does boast a sprinkling of New World hops, and as a result takes a more modern twist in the finish. One wonders how many of Ilkley’s more image-conscious drinkers realise they are enjoying a bitter? Semantics, again…

…And of course it sells. Good beer always will, Bitter or not. When interviewing Lee Pullen, landlord or the excellent Old Cock Pub in Otley a little while ago, he confessed that ‘…I love chestnut-coloured beers, but they can be hard to find. We love ‘em here.’ , in response my remark about how his bar was well-represented in the color range. Wharfebank’s Martin Kellaway said something similar in my interviews for Great Yorkshire Beer – how Slinger’s Gold would cater for those customers who absolutely want a bitter – not pale, not dark. Brown. Fruity. Softly tangy. It was in demand, and lo, it was brewed.

Leeds Best is one of the few that’s not been renamed. Sam Moss elaborated:  ‘Although Leeds Best doesn’t sell anywhere near as well as Leeds Pale, it has a really loyal following of drinkers across Yorkshire and always sells well in our pubs so we have no plans to delist it anytime soon. I think it’s an important part of our range and a brilliant beer – in fact I have had many conversations with people who think that it is our best product. Interestingly, Leeds Best in bottles absolutely flies off the shelves.’  Last Christmas Leeds Best was Sainsbury’s best selling small brewery bottled beer in their Yorkshire stores; it’s has just won a listing in Tesco. Saltaire Pride – Saltaire Brewery’s Bitter – also won a listing in Tesco in the summer.

If you were to line up (for example) Leeds Best, Black Sheep Best , Acorn Barnsley Bitter, Sam Smith’s OBB, Theakston’s Best and Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, the wealth of flavour and variety that you would find in those beers would be as remarkable as any that you would be likely to find in a line up of the any other style. All in my very humble opinion of course – although Martyn Cornell puts it much better in Amber, Gold & Black : ‘The best Bitter beers leave the drinker satisfied and yet still happy to have more. The harmony of complex flavours that the finest examples contain, even at comparatively low alcohol strengths,  is one of Britain’s greatest contributions to bibulous pleasure.’

Theakstons-barI will say this much, however; perhaps the days where a brewery would see a Bitter as a flagship beer are gone. Those seeds were sown before the ‘craft ‘ boom – I can certainly recall a time where ‘Pale n’ Hoppy‘ was the default style for flagship beer for a nascent Micro before the “Craft Beer Revolution”. The difference was, they’d eventually pop a brown beer into the range. These days, a whole generation of brewers are probably thinking that brown does equal boring if you’re not talking about a hybrid style – and a true Bitter or Best  – as completely superfluous to their needs.

I, for one, wouldn’t want to see Bitter as a style being taken for granted – but in Yorkshire at least, it isn’t. Bitter is alive and well up North; so here’s to Frothingham Best, Saltaire Pride, Copper Dragon’s Best, Kelham Island Pride of Sheffield, Kirkstall BYB, Mallinson’s Stadium Bitter, Rudgate’s Battle Axe, Theakston XB, Hop Studio XS, Revolution’s Reward, Bradfield’s Brown Cow, Great Heck Navigator…. and all the others knocking around. 

Here’s to Yorkshire Bitter.

Ironically, this weekend has seen the soft opening of The Tetley, the new ‘art space’ that’s now housed in the shell of the brewery. This post was part of Boak & Bailey’s Longreads weekend – I’m sure there will be a round-up of the other posts on their blog in due course. 

Easing Back with Kirkstall’s Dissolution Extra IPA

Kirkstall IPAWell, I’m back after a *lovely* hiatus. Despite spending the last few weeks lounging around the Italian Lakes, eating way too much food and drinking far too amazing wine, I do find myself looking forward to a decent beer when I get back home. Getting my mitts on this beer in particular –  Kirkstall’s Dissolution Extra IPA (6% abv) – was high on my agenda when I strode into BeerRitz last weekend.

Why? Pure, honest to goodness anticipation, that’s why. We’re used to being made to wait for limited editions, one-offs, collaborations, but simply having the first bottle from a brewery that I’ve watched grow into such an integral part of my own beer scene is just as exciting – if not more. To cap it off, we get a new (ish) beer – a slightly stronger version of the already-deceptively-strong Dissolution IPA.  It’s been released to almost no fanfare; so I’m here to put that right.

Extra IPA ramps up the abv by a percent, yet remains incredibly focused for an IPA. There’s real depth to it; and the condition of the bottle was immaculate. Pouring Amber-Gold, the aroma is subtle; stone fruit, a touch of blackcurrant, and loads of zesty Orange marmalade all vying for attention as you inhale. It’s the taste where the magic happens, however – it’s incredibly light at first, all bready grain and rich cereal. As it dries, all that fruit jumps in, a prelude to a long, long rasping bitterness that not only slaps your palate into shape, but reminds you of the abv and the style you’re currently (immensely) enjoying.

Warming alcohol makes an appearance as you gear up for another gulp. All in all, you’ve got a beer of distinct grace and brawn; qualities that all IPA should possess. The flavour profile is perfectly British, and Kirkstall have set off on their bottling journey with an incredibly impressive beer.  Buy it.

 

Getting To Know The Northern Monks

Pic: Lorne Campbell

Dave Bishop (L) and Russell Bisset (R) Pic: Lorne Campbell

‘It feels full-time! laughs Dave Bishop when I ask him whether he considers himself a brewer now. ‘ It’s taking over my life, but I do have a full-time job. Russ calls me a brewer, but its feel a little strange, then!’ How about you, Russell?  ‘I’m doing this full-time, but I don’t have a title.’ he asserts. ‘MD or something would feel a little strange.’ Founder, I offer. ‘Yeah, perhaps…’ he agrees, taking another swig of his pint.

It’s been hard to ignore Northern Monk Brewing Co round theses parts in the last few weeks. The promise of a new brewery and a new beer has certainly set tongues wagging, and when it’s someone you know – and have watched fulfill a particular desire – it makes it all the more intriguing. I’ve known David for a while now, popping up at launches, events and festivals. He’s a  talented homebrewer (He and Matt Lovatt created Joshua Jane with Ilkley Brewery – now a regular beer) with a wicked sense of humour. A likeable fellow, he’s been doing anything but seeing the humour in the creation of Northern Monk. As we talk, modes switch into total seriousness – you can feel that both he and Russell are juggling a lot at the moment; brewing, marketing, selling, launching. Talking.

Talking to people like me.

NMBCNMBCo’s story actually starts around four years ago, when Russell Bisset  and another colleague of his entered a Young Entrepreneurs competition. The idea? ‘Well, we wanted to set up a brewery – something modern and new.’ It didn’t win, and Bristol-based Russell went back to his day job, feeling more and more unfulfilled as he went on. Russell’s keen to point out that his expertise doesn’t lie in brewing; developing business is his initial interest – so when he finally had the means to do so, he decided he wanted to resurrect his brewery idea.

Russell relocated to Shipley,moved in with family to save money, and begun to get a feel for the landscape in terms of beer and potential partners. David  came onto his radar purely by his aforementioned reputation. Contact was made: ‘Dave turned out to not only be a decent bloke but also shared my ideas about what I wanted to do. He was also incredibly transparent about where he was (in terms of brewing experience) and where he wanted to be.’ Russell says. Dave’s certainly not the first homebrewer to be scooped up and ‘go pro’ – recently Wharfebank have brought Steve Crump into the team (another award-winning Yorkshire homebrewer) and the likes of Mallinson’s, SummerWine and Revolutions Brewing are built on the foundations of homebrewing.

‘It’s not actually the first time someone’s contacted me with the same proposition, so I actually dismissed the approach at first.’ Dave says. ‘A short time later, I got another email with a ridiculous amount of information on it. I decided it was serious, and that we should meet. It was great. So much work had gone into the project already, and we went from there.’

The one thing missing was a brewery.

The proposal was a simple one; NMBCo would follow in the footsteps of Revolutions, Steel City, Mikeller and many others by brewing on someone else’s kit. In this case, Ripon’s Hambleton Ales provided the hardware.

photoSo why not open a brewery? I ask. ‘We just felt that if we started small (in terms of capacity), it might take a long time to grow. At the core of what we want to do is simply make good beer; by taking a cuckoo approach we feel that we can find our feet and experiment somewhat.We personally feel that our money was best spent perhaps making the beer; investing in ingredients and growing expertise rather than physical kit. It’s an approach we are happy with at the moment.’ says Russell, before reiterating that of course, a brewery is on the cards in the not-too-distant future.

So, Hambleton is the home of Northern Monk – for the time being at least. Other breweries were approached but Hambleton were the most receptive to their ideas and Nick Hambleton has been providing feedback – good and bad, as you’d expect. ‘Nick probably doesn’t need us there, but he seems to really understand what we are trying to do, and lets us get on with it.’ says David. Hambleton are doing the bottling, too, so the entire process is being handled in one operation. Dave explains how great Hambleton’s have been in terms of feedback, advice, help and generally mentoring him – despite the beer being entirely different to what Hambleton brew.

‘It’s difficult to go onto someone else’s kit and processes and rules; but we were fully aware of this but we’re pleased with the results.’ Dave adds.

The result was New World IPA (6.2% abv),a beer that both represents the output of a period of discovery, hard work, and bringing ideas on paper to life. Sure, the beer’s a little rough around the edges – it’s very sweet, full of boiled-sweet thickness – but has a pleasingly restrained hop snap (more tangerine and lemon-rind than Grapefruit) at the finish. It’s not aggressive – as I was expecting – and ends up feeling nicely balanced. The New World part refers to the hops (there’s some Galaxy in there, among others) but the upcoming beers will have their roots firmly in England.

‘Why IPA first? It’s the style of beer I probably drink the most.’ smiles David, matter-of-factly. Russ continues, laying out the essence of MNBCo ‘We want to do things from a British angle. There’s a lot of US influence over here, but I think we (The British) influence them just as much.’

‘We actually talked about doing a Barley Wine first, but realistically it would take too long to mature and get out there. So we settled on our take on an IPA; solid with a medium abv and nothing too harsh in terms of bitterness. I wanted it to have a bright finish -which it does!’ admits Dave.

Pic courtesy of Northern Monk

Launch night: Pic courtesy of Northern Monk

‘We should be brewing again soon. Within weeks, actually. We plan to brew once a month, and we aim to have a range of ten beers or so eventually, with four core beers.’

The beer was launched at a hot, humid and typically joyous night at The Sparrow last week. A bloke in a Monk’s habit strode around – as did a similarly-attired dog – and the beer was accompanied by some deliciously-spiced Jerk Chicken with Mango Chutney, courtesy of Maggie Cubbler (Loaded Kitchen). The launch seemed a success, with brewers from the likes of Magic Rock and Saltaire giving support and advice to the fledgling Monks. And, of course, it was entirely right for them to work with The Sparrow at the launch. Russell and David are proud to be located in, and supporting, Bradford.

Keep an eye out for it, and tell the guys what you think. The image, labelling and website is all confidently slick and certainly sets the beer apart on the bar. Hopefully it won’t be too long until we another beer from NMBCo, now that those all-important first steps have been taken. And that’s exactly how I would pitch the beer to you, dear reader – a promising start with work to do – but certainly one to watch.

Check out David’s blog for some excellent posts about his ups and downs in his shift from homebrewer to pro – I recommend them. 

The Maltings, York: A Chat With Shaun Collinge

This article was commissioned to appear in the next issue of Beers of The World, but, as we have since found out, there has been a change of publisher and I’m not sure when – if at all – it will surface. So, here it is – an appreciation of one of the longest-running (and well-loved) pubs in York for those of you who aren’t subscribers.

 

DSCF4188

When Yorkshiremen (and women!) think of a pub that’s held dear in the hearts of all who drink in her – and yet garners almost no press – The Maltings in York is often the first one that springs to mind. This arresting, black-fronted pub has stood proud on Tanner’s Moat since 1842, and its close proximity to the Train Station means that it’s long been serving the first – and last – pint to the hordes of tourists that visit York every year – as well as being the epitome of ‘local favourite’.

Without feeling twee, there’s a undeniable cosiness to The Maltings. The walls are festooned with beer signs and York ephemera, the tables low and stools well-worn. A recent extension has not only practically doubled the drinking space but also created a much-needed patio for the warmer months.

The pub has been run by Shaun Collinge and his wife Maxine for over twenty years. Purchased from Bass by Maxine’s mother, the couple have worked hard to mould The Maltings into what they wanted it to be. ‘At the start, we had to keep in line with what Bass where selling in terms of beer – in particular Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. But after a while they only wanted it in their own pubs. I really wanted a ‘house’ beer that people could always trust, so we approached Black Sheep.’

Shaun’s relationship with Black Sheep blossomed and now the pair are a trusted partnership, with The Maltings consistently serving one of the best pints of the iconic beer outside of Masham. ‘As long as I’m here, they’re here.’ he smiles. Such commitment to doing things the right way has served The Maltings well.

Shaun likes to keep things simple when it comes to beer on the bar; trying to cater for every taste whilst keeping drinkability at the top of the agenda, without blinding customers with too much choice. ‘I’d rather offer a smaller range of beers, but do them really well, than have twelve badly-kept beers.’ he asserts. Still, rotation is key to customer interest; Shaun reveals the pub can get through as much as 60 different beers their seven pumps a month during busier seasons.

Alongside Black Sheep, York Brewery’s light, fruity Guzzler is an ever-present. Over the years, Shaun has found these two beers to be what his customers want, bolstered by the addition of locally-brewed guests. Shaun has had a long-standing relationship with Rooster’s, and is currently helping nurture the new generation of brewing in Yorkshire. On my last visit, two very different Porters from Huddersfield’s Hand Drawn Monkey and Elvington’s The Hop Studio graced the wickets.

DSCF4183

Despite that, Shaun has also reflected his own tastes on the bar. He championed Richard Hand’s Taddington-brewed Moravka Lager for a few years and has been extending his range of kegged beers of late with the likes of Sierra Nevada, Camden , BrewDog and Summer Wine all being offered to the regulars. He’s also proud of his range of bottled stouts, boasting the likes of Young’s Double Chocolate and Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout.

If the beers require a little ballast, then you’re in luck, too. The Malting’s tasty and unfussy bar menu is a firm favourite amongst the locals and office workers at lunchtime, with Jacket Potatoes, Toasties and Ploughman’s Platters all popular. They’ve also been hosting one of the longest-running folk nights in Yorkshire, every Tuesday night.

Shaun and Maxine have managed, simply through evolving with their customer’s tastes, to remain both true to the history of the pub and remain a vibrant, relevant drinking spot. This subtle blend of old and new, traditional and modern has ensured that The Maltings not only remains a favourite for its regulars, but is attracting the next generation of drinkers through social media and welcoming new breweries onto the bar. It works without feeling at all contrived, and has more than held its own in the amazingly busy pub scene in York.

It’s heartening to see that with all that’s happened in the last twenty years in the pub trade, this York institution is showing no signs of fading into the past.

Wharfebank IPA, SPA & Tether

When Martin Kellaway conceived Wharfebank a few years back, he had a simple aim; create a brewery that brews beers that people want to drink, get a pub or two under the banner for people to enjoy said beer and locally-sourced food in, and get those beers into people’s homes.

Having sewn up the brewery and pub angle (Wharfebank not only recently saved The Half Moon in Pool from closing, they’ve joined forces with Nottingham mainstays Castle Rock and revived York favourite The Rook and Gaskill), those bottles have finally arrived. They look great and the beer they contain is as no-nonsense and solidly tasty as you’d expect from Wharfebank.

SPA (5.8% abv) is the surprise package. Not a beer that I’ve tried on cask (is it available on cask, guys?) it’s a true Strong Pale Ale, yet manages to hide that strength behind a cloak of creamy, pale malt. That digestive-biscuit nose is supplemented by touches of peaches and apricot, and the body is sweet, round and soft. It’s a lovely beer, and the one of the group that surprised me the most.

Yorkshire IPA (5.1% abv) ploughs a similar furrow but, surprisingly, with less power. Amber in colour to SPA’s golden hue, there’s that creamy malt again (the bottles seem incredibly fresh), but backed up with a nose of Orange pith and Lemon length (is that a term? Sounds dubious…), which lasts to the finish, which is long and drying. A sessionable IPA, for sure, but a pleasant one. Again, I’ve missed this one on cask, but I’d hazard that the slight effervescence in the bottle lifts this beer up a little more than the cask version.

As someone that drinks a lot of Tether Blonde (4.1%abv) when out, I could almost taste this beer before popping the cap. Pale gold, grassy/flinty in the nose and smoothy sweet, Tether is a classic Yorkshire Pale Ale that begs to be chilled slightly and enjoyed with the likes of Calamari, Schnitzel or, hell, a packet of crisps and a football game. Alongside Saltaire’s Blonde and Leeds’s Pale, Tether is one of those Blonde ales that slakes the thirst of Yorkshiremen on a daily basis.

So – overall – a great start to bottled life for Wharfebank. I’ll be picking up more of the range, for sure.

Outlaw’s Return

Some happy news in the last few weeks; Outlaw Brewing – the more experimental arm of Rooster’s – has successfully been resurrected by the brothers Fozard.

I can remember my first encounter with Outlaw, although I can’t say when it was. It was in North Bar, and was a beer called Tricerahops. I bought it purely for the name, as this was the time when I was less of a beer nerd, and more of a curious voyeur. Hoppy it was, although delicious. It probably wasn’t much different to Wild Mule, the now-permanent Rooster’s beer that was Outlaw’s prodigal son; entirely deserving of a more secure role in the Rooster’s pantheon.

Anyway, Outlaw is back and, from the looks of it, back with a clear mission – not to be Rooster’s. Different branding, and plenty of scope for collaboration not only with brewers but with local firms, flavours and styles. The first beer was launched on Monday; Mad Hatter is a Jasmine Green Tea IPA (A Yorkshire sister to Marble/Emelisses’ Earl Grey IPA, perhaps?) weighing in at 6.2% and c0-brewed with Taylor’s of Harrogate and Melissa Cole.

In a nice touch, the artwork for each pumpclip will be created by an artist for that beer and then displayed on the excellent-looking website gallery.  I’ve not tasted it as I couldn’t make the launch (Damn your eyes, day job!) but Mark did and you can read all about that here. 

Mad Hatter should be on the bars by early/mid December so keep ’em peeled. Welcome back, Outlaw.

 

%d bloggers like this: