Published on December 14, 2016 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Hop there and hop back
Three breweries in one day – that’s the offer from a new Yorkshire tour company. Alastair Gilmour took a seat
While the North East has a brilliant and developing pub and beer scene, it’s not such a bad idea to check up on what other parts of the country are up to.
Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield jockey for the number one UK beer destination with ale outposts such as Norwich and Bristol giving London – and us – a great run for our beer money.
York, too, has broken out of the skirts of its city walls to present itself as the place to visit for a pub and brewing experience. That’s the idea behind a new venture, Brewtown Tours, which launched last month to allow beer lovers to wallow in the stuff in and around the historic city – with alternate outings to Leeds.
Inspired by a love of real ale and a desire to help put Yorkshire microbreweries on the map, Brewtown Tours founder Mark Stredwick developed his idea from a similar business model that he experienced in Australia where he lived for 16 years and in the US.
Hop on the Brewtown bus and Mark takes beer lovers on an exploration of Yorkshire’s flourishing beer scene to meet the brewers and taste what’s on tap. Groups touch, taste, smell and learn about brewing great beer – and have plenty of opportunities for tasting. Based primarily around York and Leeds, Brewtown’s tours take in breweries that include Brew York, Ainsty Ales, Bad Seed, Northern Monk and Yorkshire Heart. For those looking to explore the beer scene in the West Yorkshire area, a round trip of Leeds city breweries is also available.
Right, seat belt hooked up and we’re leaving York Brewery Tap, which is unarguably one of Britain’s top destination pubs (“destination” as in right on York Station’s concourse).
HALF MOON BREWERY
Tony and Jackie Rogers always thought the 1761-vintage blacksmith’s forge in Ellerton, near York would make an ideal base for the microbrewery they had in the back of their minds. The fact that the house had also been run as a pub between 1822 and 1866 simply reinforced the idea.
Half Moon is basically a large garage, but a large garage that produces extraordinary beers. They’re innovative and inventive but not in the wacky, get-it-right-next-time fashion that many modern brewers work in. Half Moon might lay claim to tradition but this guy knows what’s going on under stainless steel covers.
“I designed the brewery myself,” says Tony. “The vessels came from Smith & Nephew at Newton Aycliffe in County Durham where they had been used to manufacture shampoo. One of them was labelled ‘lice’ – probably still is – which we thought was rather a different start to making beer and with a bit of modification and fabrication we turned it into a five-barrel brewery.”
The Rogers’ attention to detail, assisted by friend, neighbour and food-pairing expert Joanna Menneer, may be formidable but the regime is simple.
“I’ll get it going, go and have my breakfast then walk the dog while the water’s boiling,” says Tony.
We’re invited to sample Solstice Porter, their Christmas beer, which is ripe with aromas and flavours of cloves, root ginger, cardamum, allspice, nutmeg and orange peel. Amazing.
We retire to the brewhouse’s corrugated iron-clad tasting room which features a 1950s radio and a birdcage that featured in the 1987 cult movie Withnail And I, bought from a local theatrical supplier.
It’s surreal, the moon is heading towards super-status; seek out Lunatic Black Lager, F’Hops Sake, Solstice, Kismet, et al. Nothing by halves here.
THE HOP STUDIO
This 10-barrel brewery might occupy a unit on an unremarkable industrial estate at Elvington, near York, but it knows its beer all right. Owner Dave Shaw, formerly a local government IT officer, admits he “jumped in at the deep end” in March 2012. He also admits to hating rules.
“I started with a big shed and quite a big kit,” he says. “I never really stopped to think about it between leaving my job and seeing the tanks arriving.
“I remember the first day of brewing that started at 4am then going home really late absolutely knackered. I took a bottle of beer into the bath with me, then my wife came in. I just had a sup, waved the bottle, and said, ‘What the hell have we done?’
“At The Hop Studio we brew small batches of artisanal beer. We like our beers to be full of flavour, aroma and charisma. Our beers can be loud and shouty, they can be subtle, outrageous or exotic. Our beers are accessible and – like great wine – there is far more than first meets the eye.”
Dave Shaw admits competition is intense and business was easier when he started up because “people like new things”. “They want something new all the time, but it becomes more difficult,” he says.
A huge range that include Five Lions IPA (five different grain and five different hop varieties) take note of modern trends but are rooted in tradition. Pilsner Yorkshire Lager is a favourite as are Barolo American Red Ale and Fudge, a toffee brown ale, while Chocolat Dark Chocolate Stout is sensational – eyes closed and you’d think it was a liqueur.
Ainsty Ales is situated in a huge agricultural barn in the rich farmland that surrounds York. Actually, it seems we’re sitting in the middle of a field. The brewing company was founded by Andy Herrington in September 2014. Andy was raised and still lives in the original Ainsty area of York, so this is where his heart is – and, no mistake, his business head.
For the first two years of its existence Ainsty was a “cuckoo” brewer, using other people’s plants to brew beer during quiet periods – moving between the likes of Hambleton Brewery and Brass Castle, two of Yorkshire’s premier outfits.
Brewing at Manor Farm in Acaster Malbis only began on October 1 this year on a ten-barrel plant in a space with opportunity woven into it and has already has been nominated for a York small business award, which is a measure of its success and local awareness.
The brewery sources its inspiration from the old York and Ainsty “Wapentake”, a medieval self-governing area dating back to the 13th Century. The ethos of the brewery is to produce great tasting beers as ecologically as possible and to work with local businesses and to support good causes.
Beers include Wankled Waggoner, Kolkata Karma, Ainsty Angel, Chocolate Porter and Flummoxed Farmer. Head brewer is Alan Hardie, originally from Lauder in The Borders, a man with extensive brewing experience, having studied brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh before stints at Wychwood and York breweries, among others.
He declares a love for Dr Rudi New Zealand hops which not only display a huge citrus character but have a footballing background. Alan is a Hearts supporter and the Scottish Premiership team won the Scottish FA Cup in 2012 with two goals from Czech striker Rudi Skacel. That it was against old enemies Hibernian made it just a wee bit sweeter.
He has other favourites, however. He says: “I love the blackcurrant aromas of Bramling Cross. It’s otherwise known as tom cat’s piss.”
Future plans for Ainsty Ales include planting their own hops which will take two or three years to come to maturity. The variety hasn’t been divulged as yet, but it’s a safe bet they’ll have an unconventional background.