Let’s kick off the year with a little bottle round-up from a brewery that I’ve been enjoying on Cask around Yorkshire. The Hop Studio caught my eye back in the summer; their sleek black plastic pumpclips adding an almost futuristic/80’s neon vibe to the bar-top. Thier beers seem to be as simple in flavour too; in the best possible way. When you call a beer Blonde, you don’t want any surprises.
Pilsner (4%abv) was the bottle I immediately made a bee-line for, being a fan of all things Pils, Lager and Alt. The nose is all creamy digestive-biscuit malt, with a light body lurking underneath. Poured into a tall glass (of course), those streams of bubbles appeared up the sides in a way that brings a smile to the lips, and the beer itself drinks long and refreshing with the requisite amount of fresh, lemony citrus and the end. The finish could have been a little dryer, and the condition a little livelier, but overall Pilsner is a refreshing beer indeed.
Gold (4.5%abv) pours a vibrant amber and looks great in the glass; clear as a bell and with an enticingly rocky head. A fruity, full-bodied best, there’s that crushed-biscuit body again but this time topping off the package with an altogether fruitier sweetness; think blackberries and plum rather than citrus peel. Packed with flavour, I wish I’d have bought more bottles of Gold.
On first inspection XS (5.5%abv)seems like a stronger version of Gold but a few sips in you realise that’s a bit of a disservice. XS has much more in common with the likes of Coniston’s XB or Theakston’s Old Peculier in terms of being a stronger Yorkshire ale. Chestnut in colour and with tonnes of crushed nuts and brown bread on the nose, XS is a mouthful of brown sugar, raisin and more roasted nuts – with Hazelnut coming through in particular. Strong and sweet on the finish, it’s another one I was pining for once drunk.
Unfortunately, I had to pour my bottle of Blonde away. A light, sherbety pale that I’ve enjoyed lots of in Cask in the past, the condition of this sample was just not up to scratch – flat, lifeless and murky. A shame, but it hasn’t dented my affection for Hop Studio. Let’s hope 2013 sees a couple more beers added to that core range.
Hop Studio are based in Elvington, near York – and that surrounding area of York is proving to be a fertile breeding ground for new breweries. In the last year or so the likes of Treboom (Yorkshire Sparkle is worth seeking out if you’re a Pale Ale monster like me), Brass Castle, and Yorkshire Heart (who, interestingly, also have a Vineyard) have all popped up, muscling in on bars across York. If you want to keep up with the area, I can’t recommend enough the excellent work done by Gavin Aitcheson and the gang over at The York Press. If the last year is anything to go by, there will be lots more to come from one of Yorkshire’s ale hotspots. It’s not as if you need more reason to go drinking in York, is it?
York’s been in the beer-press a fair old bit of late; mostly due to the opening of the long-anticipated York Tap. Joining the likes of The House of Trembling Madness and Pivni as representing the higher-end scale of Beer in York, the York Tap is certainly as welcome addition to the York drinking scene. With that much choice on offer, how could it not be? However, it’s worth remembering what’s made York a top-class Beer destination for the last god-knows-how-many years.
Pure, simple, honest Pubs, Alehouses, Taverns and Inns – open fires, mock-Tudor exteriors and swinging pub signs; dark corners for husbands and dads to claim respite whilst daughters and wives shop amongst The Shambles; Yorkshire slate floors and Steak & Ale pies with chunky chips and molten fillings. Invitingly frothy pints from the likes of Theakston’s, Rooster’s, Black Sheep and – of course – York Brewery.
Now owned by Mitchell’s , and having recently undergone somewhat of an angular, modern rebranding, York have been steadily pumping out decent beers since they began, filling pubs such as The Yorkshire Terrier and The Last Drop Inn with the likes of perennial favourites Guzzler and Centurion’s Ghost. Early on in the year, the Micklegate range appeared – one-offs to celebrate their first 15 years of brewing.
Micklegate Porter was delicious, a really biscuity, mahogany-ruby affair with echoes of woodsmoke in the nose. There was a Ginger, too, which I missed. However, on a trip to York a few weeks back we (Dean Pugh and I) swung by the Brewery for a pint of Humbug (the current seasonal; a sumptuously thick, heady dark mild with more than a hint of liquorice lurking within) when we picked up a bottle of the simply-titled Micklegate. Dean urged me to buy two, and I was happy to oblige.
It’s lovely – and perfect for this time of year. It pours Ruby, and there’s a Marmalade-heavy nose with some depth underneath; Raisin, perhaps. On the sip there’s a firm, robust, Caramel note, and then a surprisingly high, juicy bitterness which rears up just at the end to wash the sweetness away. It’s rich, entirely quaffable and dangerously warming; an enitrely different taste for a York beer.
York may not set many tongues wagging but their presence on bars throughout Yorkshire is a comforting one. Beers like Centurion’s Ghost, the super, super easy-going Centennial and the definitive-sessioner Guzzler are beers that survive fads, and will go on providing both refreshment and fortification for years to come. There might not be much Micklegate around now, but if you see it, pick one up and raise a glass to one of the region’s most popular brewing outfits.