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Rather than a standard blog-post we thought we’d sum up of views on our whirlwind first year with a bit of Q&A with views from Wayne and I.
Q. How did the two of you meet, and what led you to the idea of starting a brewery together?
WS. We met on a friend’s (Shout out to Dan!) Stag Do quite a few years back, and struck up a great friendship due to a shared obsession in all things beer. It wasn’t long before we were brewing together every week. We would regularly talk down the pub about what it might be like to have our brewery. We decided to take the plunge and give it a go, as fortuitously we were both able to take voluntary redundancy within a few months of each other.
Q. How would you describe your brewing style – what do you think makes Brew York’s beers different and special?
LG. Our brewing style is definitely US/English fusion with mostly American Styles generally brewed in a US way but presented in an English way. We also adopt what we call an ethical approach to brewing. This is partly our refusal to use Isinglass (from the swim bladder of a fish) to fine our beers and partly as the approach we have adopted largely mimics the purity law brewing ways of Germany to ensure our beers are as pure and unadulterated as they can be. Unlike the German approach though we’re not afraid to throw in a few interesting flavours like Tonka Beans or Coconut.
Q. What are you most proud of achieving with Brew York? Are there any moments that really stand out for you?
WS: The biggest thrill was probably the launch day, when we got to reveal the culmination of a lot of hard work and many sleepless nights. There was always the worry that just because we’ve built somewhere we would want to drink, it didn’t mean anyone else would want to. With an unbelievable turnout that even lead to a brewery running out of beer, it’s fair to say that York gave us an emphatic confirmation that what we were bringing to York was something they wanted.
LG: Aside from the launch I think winning beer of the festival during our debut appearance at York Beer & Cider festival was pretty amazing. I still remember clearly the buzz I got when someone walked up to me as I walked into the festival one day and said ‘You must be pretty happy?’ to which I replied ‘Yes it’s a lovely day’ referring to the weather. Spotting my confusion they then quickly clarified, ‘No! You just won beer of the festival, haven’t you heard?!?!?’ ‘What really?’ That was a very proud moment and recognition for a lot of hard work for everyone involved with Brew York.
Q. How has the first year been compared to your expectations?
LG: Good question. In two simple words: Utterly Surpassed! If you’d told me a year ago that in our first year we’d have been part of the annual Brewdog Collabfest, won Beer of the Festival on our debut at York Beer & Cider Festival or had some or our beers stocked nationally in a Supermarket I’d have told you that you were off your rocker! I can’t wait to see what our second year brings!
WS: Our first year has been amazing. I secretly hoped things would get off to a flying start but it has been beyond anything I could have imagined. It was a surreal moment when we were catching a train back from a meet the brewer event in Wakefiled and on the table in front of us was a Brewdog Collabfest booklet and to see our name amongst some of the best breweries in the UK was pretty amazing.
Q. It can’t all have been plain sailing, any challenges or frustrations you want to mention?
LG: Well it’s certainly involved some long hours, but I can’t complain. It certainly doesn’t feel like you are working as many hours as you are when you are living your dream. We’ve both very lucky to be doing what we love and we won’t forget that. I think if there’s anything that’s caused some frustrations it would be having to drop Kiwi, a 5.0% US Brown Ale full of New Zealand hops, from our core range. I loved that beer but unfortunately it didn’t sell as well as we would have liked as in my opinion too many peoples expectations of what a Brown Ale should be are still warped by a certain regional take on the style.
WS: I met Gregg Koch (Stone Brewery) a few years back and one of the things he said to me was that he brewed beers that he wanted to drink and if people didn’t like them then f*&k them. I may be paraphrasing, but I remember thinking good on you. We don’t quite take that full on approach, but we do brew beer we want to drink. However one of my frustrations is that I feel we have to lower the abv on some of our cask beers due to quite old fashioned views. Personally a 5% pale ale is a perfectly sessionable pint. However the number of people we encounter who seem dumbfounded that you can have a session on beer that is above 3.9% still amazes me. A session doesn’t have to be 10+ pints, it’s not a race. You can enjoy 3 or 4 pints of a stronger beer and have just as good of a session and it will be even better on your wallet. But I’ve grown to accept that everyone has their own views that are equally as valid. And I also have to admit that JARSA (3.7%) on keg is probably what I drink most of at the moment, in the tap room.
Q. You’ve undergone quite the expansion in year 1. Has the new capacity changed how you brew, and what do you think the expansion brings to the brewery?
LG: Certainly, quadrupling our fermentation capacity from 50HL to over 200HL was well beyond our expectations but I wouldn’t say that the expansion has directly changed the way we brew. We will always be looking for ways of improving quality and enhancing flavour no matter what capacity we have for production. What the expansion can give us though is the flexibility to do what we enjoy most which is keep developing and releasing new beers with hopefully many more of them making it into cans so we can get the beer distributed further and let more people know what Brew York is about.
Q. You’ve created an amazing an unusual drinking venue. Where did the concept of Tap Room come from and how has it influenced what you Brew?
WS: Having spent time touring breweries in the UK and breweries in Australia the key differences between Tap Rooms seemed to be accessibility and family friendly nature of what our Antipodean cousins had to offer. Key to our plan for Brew York was securing premises that were both within the city walls (offering people the ability to enjoy themselves without worrying about transport issues) and gave us the flexibility to build something that is both family and dog friendly. I first viewed the premises in May 2015 and once I’d viewed it I new our hunt was over. Lee joined me shortly after on site and quickly agreed it was perfect for what we were looking for, particularly with the unprecedented views of an iconic York building (Rowntree Wharf) visible from the now riverside beer garden.
LG: We are very proud of what we have created with the Tap Room and how it embraces the industrial character of the building we have inherited rather than trying to hide it. I’m particularly proud of the bar which I built which incorporates a single piece polished concrete bar-top that was formed in place and weighs nearly three quarters of a tonne!
LG: The Tap Room and the direct access it offers to our customers have definitely influenced what we brew. JARSA, a recent 3.7% Pale Ale addition to our core range came about as a lower strength hoppy Pale was the most commonly asked for beer that wasn’t part of the current range. We also use the Tap Room to debut most beers and introduce some new concept beers and trial unfined versions of our beer as we continue our quest to educate people in how finings remove flavour as well as yeast so a hazy beer can be a more flavourful beer.
Q. You’ve done quite a few events in the Tap Room over the last year. What has been your favourite and which do you look forward to most in the year ahead?
LG: The best event last year was definitely the New Years Eve party. We had great live music, outstanding drinks, amazing food from Street Cleaver and some cool puzzles to entertain people. The best thing of all though was the vibe generated by the friends, family and many regulars that we also now consider friends who filled the brewery. Their support in our first year has been invaluable and it was truly special to share this evening with them all. I’m really not sure how we will top this one this year!
WS: The City of Ale beer festival was pretty awesome. We got to invite some of our brewery buddies, Bad Seed, Ghost, Half Moon & Brass Castle down to the brewery and had close to 2,000 customers through the doors. It was probably the first event where I managed to relax a little bit and not stress out that everyone was having a good time, I could clearly see they all were. Which meant I got to enjoy some of the awesome beers being served.
LG: The event I’m most looking forward to this year is our second York CAMRA – City of Ale Beer Festival that will run between 6th and 8th July. This year the festival will be more Cask beer focused. We will again have some pop up bars from some of the best breweries in the area complimenting our own great cask line up. The part that excites me most is the introduction this year of a ‘New & Introducing Bar’ where we will have cask beer from only the most recently launched breweries from the local area. This will fit nicely alongside a bar featuring only the best beers from the areas more established micro-breweries. Naturally in addition to all the great beer as with any Brew York event you can also expect a top line up of Live Music and mouth-watering Street Food.
WS: We plan to host a second festival later in the year with our Northern Brewery Keg Beer Festival debuting in November. Details are still being worked through but we will be inviting the best craft breweries from the North of England to take part. You have to keep checking back for further details on this one!
Q. What excites you most about the year ahead?
LG: Definitely the beer festivals we’ve already mentioned, but if not that then it would have to be some of the Collabs we have lined up. I think you’d all be surprised to hear the kinds of names involved, but for now that’s as much as you’re getting out of me!
WS: I genuinely feel like an excited child finding out they’re going to Disney Land at the prospect of some of the collabs we’ve got lined up this year. As Lee has already said its all hush hush at the moment, but as soon as we can we’ll be shouting about our up coming beers!
Q. Where do you see Brew York in 3-5 years?
LG: I’m sorry, but I’m not even going to try and answer this one. If there is one thing we’ve learned from our whirlwind first year it’s to not plan too far out as it’s amazing how much things can change inside 12 months.
WS: It’s a tough one, because of how quickly things have moved forwards this year. I would love to have a few of our own bars in other amazing beer cities. I would love to feature at some of the amazing craft beer festivals in this country and abroad. But who knows in this industry?
Which one of your beers (if you had to pick just one) would you recommend that everyone should try, and why?
LG: It would have to be ‘Tonkoko’. For many people it’s the one that put us on the map and it definitely the most unique beer that we have produced to date. It’s a 4.3% Milk Stout (a Stout made with Lactose so it remains sweeter) that we have decadently infused with hand-toasted Coconut, Madagascan Vanilla, Belgian sourced Cacao Nibs and Tonka Beans. It’s a hugely aromatic and luxuriously flavoured beer that many people have described as ‘liquid bounty’. We were literally begged by people to re-brew this one, and whilst we’ve had other beers that have drawn great acclaim nothing else to date has created the response that this beer got.
WS: I love the Hoptimist. Its everything I love about IPAs, juicy, tropical refreshing and doesn’t taste anywhere near its 9.1% abv. It is however a sipper not session beer. Im really looking forward to getting this into cans, so we can make it more accessible than the first batch we brewed.
Q. And finally, what would your ‘desert island’ beer be?
LG: It would have to be something dark and rich for me, so either something like Lervig’s 3 Bean Porter or Omnipollo’s Noa Pecan Mud Cake Stout.
WS: Tempting to go for our on Tonkoko as Coconut and a Desert Island just seems right but really it would be something really juicy like Magic Rock’s Cannonball or more likely their Un-Human Cannonball that we both seek out and drink religiously each year when it’s released!