THE number of breweries in Yorkshire seems to grow almost daily, as ever more beer lovers decide to turn their passion for the subject into a business, in an industry riding high on a wave of unprecedented popularity.
And now a York-based venture is giving drinkers the chance to visit some of the county’s smaller breweries and experience the brewing process first hand.
Brewtown Tours is the brainchild of Mark Stradwick, who recently relocated back home to the UK after living overseas for many years. It was while in America that his idea for a brewery tour company first crystallised, and now with a red minibus and two interesting itineraries, he is hoping that tourists and locals alike will flock to spend an afternoon sampling some of the best ales Yorkshire has to offer.
I joined his York tour, which begins in the York Tap, the excellent craft keg and real ale house on the station platform. From here, Mark negotiated the city traffic before heading south to the village of Ellerton, where behind sage green garage doors in this cul-de-sac village, and using tanks salvaged from a shampoo factory, the Half Moon Brewery produces an interesting range of beers which are distributed across Yorkshire in cask and bottle.
The venture is the brainchild of Tony and Jackie Rogers. Tony worked in engineering and IT for many years, while developing his skills as a home brewer. They settled in the village some years ago, but it was only when these premises became available that their brewery plans took shape.
Until 1969, this was the blacksmith’s workshop, a fact honoured by bright amber softly spiced Old Forge Bitter (3.8%). American Cascade hops lends a significant blast of grapefruit to F’Hops Sake (3.9%), while Bramling Cross adds dark berry notes and a rounded, fruity bitterness to Blonde (4.2%).
From Ellerton we headed north to Elvington, where the Hop Studio, based in a cavernous industrial unit close to Yorkshire Air Museum, has been carving out a reputation for quality ales, both in bottle and on draught.
Though it features just two regular beers – the citric Pale (4%) which draws heavily on the influence of New Zealand hops and the luscious vanilla-accented Porter (4.3%) – this innovative brewery has gained in virtually no time a stellar reputation. A year-round bottling operation has brought to market some really confident ales; for me the very best are the dark ones such as the roasted, brandy-ish dark chocolate stout Chocolat (6.5%) and the deeply soporific, dark fruit and sherry-influenced Rievaulx (10%), brewer Dave Shaw’s Yorkshire interpretation of Belgium’s super-strong Quadrupel style.
Our last stop was in Acaster Malbis, where Ainsty Ales finally put down roots earlier this year, after spending some time as “cuckoo brewers”, making their own ales at the premises of Brass Castle Brewery in Malton.
It is named after the ancient Wapentake of Ainsty, a medieval subdivision of the county, and could well be the only brewhouse in Britain to have a piano in the corner, though the daily variations of humidity and temperature have warped it well out of tune. Sharp and fruity Angel (3.7%) is their biggest-selling beer, though only their full-bodied traditional, English-hopped IPA Kolkata Karma (5%) strays beyond sessionable strength. Others include straw-coloured Flummoxed Farmer (4%) and the orange-juicey Wankled Waggoner (4.5%).
After this splendid day of tasting we headed back into York; a second Brewtown tour takes drinkers to Leeds for visits to North Brewing, Northern Monk and the Brewery Tap.
Address: 323 Clifford House, 7-9 Clifford Street, York, YO1 9RA
Host: Mark Stredwick
Timing: Tours run daily from the York Tap, with itineraries of three breweries. Leeds tour commences noon, York tour at 1am. Book via the website brewtowntours.co.uk
Cost: £50 per person including beer tastings at each venue
Telephone: 01904 636666
Ainsty Ales: Manor Farm, Acaster Malbis, 01904 703233, www.ainstyales.co.uk
Half Moon Brewery: Forge House, Ellerton, 01757 288977, www.halfmoonbrewery.co.uk
Hop Studio: Handley Park, Elvington, 01904 608029, www.thehopstudio.com