Magic Rock

Newly returned to independence, and ready to rock


It’s hard to get a hold of Magic Rock for an interview, a fact that’s only understandable given what a busy time the last few months have been for them. The Yorkshire based brewery has recently been acquired by In Good Company Brewing, a UK based business led by Utopian Brewing’s co-founder, Stephen Cox and Brian Bolger. This follows from its previous and brief ownership by Lion Australia.

When I speak to Vik Kastenbauer Stronge, Magic Rock’s brand and marketing manager, her face lights up at the mention of the brewery’s recently regained independence. Magic Rock has been on a journey, all stages of which have brought benefits and challenges, but I get the distinct impression that the brewery is now arriving in a place that it's really proud of. Given the brewery’s history, it is fitting that our conversation evolves into discussion of Magic Rock’s core range; a line-up of beers that, having weathered the tests of time, has cemented its place in the mainstream. 

Magic Rock’s origin story is interesting to consider within the context of this issue, given that the brewery was ultimately born of founder Richard Burhouse’s importing of American beers to the UK, back in the 2010s. “This was at a time when 100 IBU [international bitterness unit, a measure of, you guessed it, bitterness] was the metric everyone was aiming for,” says Vik. “Our founder, Richard, was asking himself why we weren’t making these beers in the UK so we could enjoy them fresher and without the airtime.”

Unlike other breweries featured in this issue, which decided to brew beers on the basis of what the immediate market demanded, Magic Rock at its inception was a brewery intent on steering UK craft beer in the direction being taken in the US. The first beer Magic Rock launched in 2011, was Cannonball, an IPA packed with the piney, citrus notes characteristic of what was popular in American craft at the time. Hot on its heels was Highwire, a beer unafraid to embrace being a West Coast IPA. 

“Collaboration with other breweries, learning from other breweries and that camaraderie of the brewing scene towards the end of the 2010s was just so exciting,” says Vic. “It was like working for a music company, there were no rules, and I think that’s why Magic Rock took off in the way it did; the excitement for what was happening was there, and so were we, and with that there was a desire to grow.” 

But what happens when the tides turn, and high IBUs are old news? What happens when the style so much of the world has been struggling to define, settles into its final form? I ask Vik if she feels Magic Rock was ever limited by scaffolding its core range around a style that didn’t quite go out of fashion, but definitely declined in popularity with the rise of New England IPAs. 

The first beer magic rock launched in 2011, was cannonball

She gives my question pause but ultimately stands firm in her belief that Magic Rock has been successful in keeping its core range current by developing trending, seasonal, and special release versions of it. “We will still always experiment with different styles,” says Vik, a point I here emphasise as it can be easy to conflate a brewery’s signature beers with its overall range. “But we typically use similar yeasts across these beers to bring a certain esthery bitterness to the base, which we then build on with hops that support the style we’re making, and adjuncts are in turn added to compliment those.”

A prime example of how this works in practice is the single-hopped series of alcohol free beers that Magic Rock is working on at the moment. Its first alcohol free beer, Freeride, was launched as a mango and passionfruit pale ale that riffed off the tropical flavours proving popular in the Highwire category. By combining popular iterations of Highwire with something that was new and unique on the market, the beer became popular. Now, Freeride will prove the parent of some single-hopped off-shoots, launching in late autumn, with this series highlighting the soft citrus character of the Citra hop variety. 

“One of the tag-lines we’ve always had as a business is ‘same but different’,” says Vik, and it strikes me as so true as to be almost poignant. Magic Rock, now in the summer of 2022, is the same as it’s always been, but it is also more different to its original iteration than any of us might have expected. It’s too early to tell what this difference will look like, but I’m eager to find out. 

Share this article