Stephen Carter catches up with some old friends
Saturday 11 March 2023
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As I career on my knees into a bush, seeking refuge, I hear a friendly voice in my ear, “You saw that guy on your right, yeah?” I hadn’t, and the warning came a second too late. The voice belongs to Mark Costello, founder of Horsforth Brewery, as once again we fail to achieve a 'Victory Royale'.
It’s a familiar lockdown picture – playing Fortnite, catching up over beers – and it’s something we still do now, despite being geographically very close. Today though, at least we have the option of convening at the brewery tap to commiserate our defeat.
Not only is tonight quiz night at the tap, there’s Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA on the bar too, a rare sight indeed on these shores. We may be sitting down to discuss all things Horsforth, but it would be rude not to at least try a pint (or two) of something so rarely seen in the UK.
“Oof that’s good,” Mark exclaims. At 7.2%, it’s a beer we both savour as we cast our eyes across the brewery and the space Mark and his team have created. It’s been a long process, in part due to repeated restrictions and lockdowns, but one that Mark has found to be as rewarding as it has been challenging. By now though, Mark is almost an old hand when it comes to times of hardship, as he explains with a wry smile. “In a previous life, I changed jobs in the world of finance just when the recession hit in 2007," he says. "Then in 2020, when I decided to go full-time with the brewery, that’s when Covid hit.”
With troubled seas ahead, perhaps this resilience he’s built up will allow him to negotiate the brewery throughout this year and beyond. It won’t be easy as, like many others, Mark is faced with the rising costs. He tells me he’s in the process of negotiating new deals for malt and other ingredients, “But so is everyone else,” he concedes, shrugging his shoulders.
Mark is pulled away to lend a hand behind the bar, so I wander around the newly furnished seating area, complete with a chalkboard dedicated to his team. Mark’s face is front and centre, but those of his team surround him. Looking at this tightly-knit team, it’s incredible what they have managed to achieve and bring to Horsforth.
Which brings us to the beer itself. While Mark has always favoured a west coast/classic IPA, his hazy beers such as ‘By the Hair of Ernie’ and ‘Tidy Popped Galaxy’ are leading the charge in terms of sales. ‘That’s My Bag, Baby,’ featured in this month's box, is a continuation of this success; a double dry-hopped IPA, at 6%, with a hop bill of Azacca, Citra and Mosaic.
“It’s a completely new beer to us,” Mark says. “I hope people drink this, and realise what we can do at Horsforth. I’d like it to put us on people’s maps!”
But Mark knows that a beer alone isn’t enough to draw in the crowds, especially on the fringes of Leeds, competing with the allure of some of the UK's biggest brewing names. Casting an eye over their events calendar, I find comedy nights, food pairing events and even baby and toddler sessions; the taproom really is a welcoming hub for anyone.
There's certainly a lot going on in this former restaurant, and the team have had to get creative with the space. The kit may not be the biggest, but it was still a squeeze at the start.
This hasn't prevented Horsforth evolving though, making the transition from bottles to cans, creating an amazing taproom space, negotiating numerous lockdowns and becoming a living wage employer. Recently the brewery finished first in three categories for the local Leeds Beer Awards including best brewery, best brewery taproom and best family friendly venue.
For many, life outside of the tap may be tough, but inside it feels like a world away. There’s an air of comfort and ease when you walk through the door. Even when busy, it’s cosy, giving you a feeling of safety knowing you’re surrounded by like-minded people, and by good beer. It may not be the biggest brewery in Leeds, but Horsforth is certainly one of the friendliest.
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