Brew York, Brew York

As the city with (according to some) the highest number of pubs per capita anywhere in the UK, it’s perhaps unsurprising that beer is taken very seriously in York.
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As the city with (according to some) the highest number of pubs per capita anywhere in the UK, it’s perhaps unsurprising that beer is taken very seriously in York. It’s also in the heart of traditional cask country, making it doubly intimidating for any hoppy, keg-loving craft breweries looking to get their foot in the door. That’s precisely what Brewyork attempted when it opened its doors in 2016.

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The story of co-founders Lee Grabham and Wayne Smith isn’t unfamiliar. Having been keen homebrewers for a number of years, they met on a friend’s stag weekend and bonded over their shared love of beer. After a spell of brewing in each other’s back gardens and doing well in homebrew competitions, they decided the time was right to leave their previous careers and take their hobby to the next level. “We ended up being among the few who got to make that pissed up conversation in the pub a reality,” jokes Lee.

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Deep within the historic city centre behind York’s ancient walls, Brewyork’s brewery and taproom opened its doors on 9 April 2016. Lee recalls the city’s beer scene at the time, and the challenge of balancing tradition with a desire to give drinkers something new.

”We’re already quite lucky in York, in that there are quite a lot of freehouses here; some are craft-focused, some not so much. We started out just doing cask, because we couldn’t ignore the fact that we’re in the heart of a very traditional city that predominantly drank cask beer. If we really got to do exactly what we wanted, it would have been keg from day one, because those are the beers that Wayne and I like to drink and make. Since then we’ve spread our wings a bit, first into bottle, then keg and then recently into can. York’s still very traditional, but is gradually being won over towards keg, and I’d like to think we’re playing some small part in that.”

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In terms of style, Brewyork is reasonably eclectic, ranging from traditional English bitters to hopped-up US-style DIPAs. It’s certainly at the more modern end of the spectrum where, as Lee puts it, he gets his thrills.

“The things we’re best known for now definitely include Tonkoko, which is one of the beers you’re sending out to your members. We’ve released an imperial version of that and will relelase an even stronger version soon called Empress Tonkoko. Three quarters of that batch has been laid down into three different types of bourbon cask, and that will be released next January. We’re about to launch our first barrel-aged beer next month: an imperial stout called Kodiak that’s now had something like eight months in highland whisky casks.”

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Sours are another area where Brewyork is successfully pushing at York’s somewhat conservative beer scene, with a gooseberry and Nelson sour called Goose Willis, which is now part of its core range, and another coming up brewed with lingonberries.

“Something we’re going to do in the taproom soon is a kind of German approach to sour beers. So you have a Berliner Weisse and then you approach the bar and have different fruit syrups you can ask to be added to it, conconcting your own. We’re even going to try and do woodruff syrup, but the good stuff, so only if we can find a quality supplier.”

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The fact that Lee and Wayne are putting so much of their creativity into the taproom speaks to just how successful it’s been. Originally conceived simply as a place they would want to drink in themselves, perhaps putting on the occasional band, it’s become a phenomenon in its own right, and the pair have recently acquired new premises to expand this side of the business.

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“We’ve taken on a space next door which is more suitable for live events, which means we’ll be able to do them more often,” continues Lee. “It’s a former brewery actually. The ground floor, which was originally the maltings, we’re turning into a ‘hoptail’ lounge; one of our team is a mixologist, who takes our beers and turns them into various different cocktails. The floor above that will be about the size of our existing warehouse, with a massive food hall and permanent commercial kitchen. We’ll also occasionally get guest street food vendors.

“Then there’s a massive keg-only draft bar, with the biggest range of keg beers in York. I want to have a curated menu of premium beers from the likes of Belgium and imported American stuff. There’s some work to be done on it, but our second birthday party on 13 and 14 April will be its public debut. We’re being joined for that by the likes of Fierce Beer, Magic Rock, Electric Bear, Mad Hatter and People Like Us from Denmark. It should be a great party!”

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