Members' bottle share: Brew York

Siobhan Hewison meets some York members for a very memorable bottle share at the Brew York taproom


Unit 6, Enterprise Complex, York YO1 9TT

Right in the bustling city centre, Brew York has made a huge name for itself since it opened three years ago, both in terms of the popularity of the beers it’s brewing, and also because of its impressive drinking spaces. Not only does it have a big cosy taproom by the brewery, but upstairs there’s a behemoth of a beer hall which is now one of York’s go-to drinking destinations. But for this month’s members’ bottle share, the 13 attendees, Wayne Smith (co-owner and brewer of Brew York) and I were all nestled among the tanks on a long table in the actual brewery, next to the taproom.

Before we got started, I caught up with Wayne, who kindly gave me a tour of the building and told me all about the history of the brewery and its plans for the future. Then, after choosing three draft beers from the beer hall and three cans from the gift shop downstairs (which was a difficult process as Brew York’s stock of bottles and cans is pretty exciting) we head downstairs ready to begin an evening of nerding out about craft beer.

We started off the three draft pours with Brew York’s Goose Willis, a gooseberry fool sour. I had actually just had some of this one before we began the tasting, alongside some Korean wings from the kitchen in the beer hall (operated courtesy of street food gods Born to Lose). This was one of those inadvertently perfect beer and food pairings; the tart gooseberries cut through the oily sesame and fatty chicken, and complemented the ginger, lemongrass and chilli in the marinade and the dipping sauce. If you ask me, it’s worth making a pilgrimage to York just for this combo.

But anyway, enough about chicken.

Goose Willis had mixed reviews across the board, which I expected, so I’m glad I went with this one first. Vicky commented: “I don’t really like sour beers, but for a sour it’s very drinkable.” John mused: “I feel quite nostalgic towards my childhood - we had a gooseberry bush and often had gooseberry jam” which made me think of my grandpa, who used to grow all kinds of fruits in his back garden - I have fond memories of eating ripe juicy gooseberries over vanilla ice cream for dessert during the warmer months.

Not everyone was on board with the tastebuds-assault that is Goose Willis, though. Karen’s view that “it’s nice, but I don’t think I could drink a lot of it” was echoed around the table by a few naysayers. She adds: “I thought my mouth would get used to it but it just keeps getting more and more sour.”

We swiftly move on to the next beer - Red Rye Saison by local(ish… from Manchester, so still in the north of England) brewery Blackjack Beers, which comes in at 7%, and was a new one for most, if not all, of the group. It seemed to be a hit, with Chris commenting: “please just pour that into my eyeballs” which I guess is a compliment. Some other remarks included John’s: “I don’t usually like saisons, I don’t like Belgian types of beer, but I love rye, and that flavour from the malt makes this a beer that I really enjoy”. So, top marks all round for this one.

Yorkshire-based Bad Seed Brewery’s Echo of Revolution, a 5.7% American brown ale which is a collaboration with Fell Brewery from Cumbria, and again is one that no one had tried, went down well. Most loved the bitter hoppiness and the roasty toasty warmth of the malts, and after a few simultaneous mutterings of “hmm, this tastes like coffee” (not in a bad way) Wayne explained to the group that it’s actually not got any coffee in it, and it’s the effect of the roasted malts in the brewing process, which seemed to be an interesting tidbit for the crowd.

One comment of: “it’s quite sloshy - thin and easy drinking but flavourful” was a very unique way to describe the beer. I am still not sure what was meant by ‘sloshy’ but as long as beer gets people thinking and talking, I don’t mind.

Next up was the first of the three cans - the Extra Custard version of Brew York’s incredibly popular Rhubarbra Streisand which, unsurprisingly, went down very well indeed. Wayne explains that they took the OG rhubarb and custard pale ale and amped it up with more lactose and more Madagascan vanilla (painstakingly removed by hand from the pods they buy in specially). At 5.5% it doesn’t drink like it’s that low in ABV - it is a super thick, super sweet treat of a drink. Wayne and I agree that a third, or at maximum a half, is enough, though.

Vocation Brewery’s absolutely stunning Two Face double IPA, a limited edition brew as part of their monthly special series that clocks in at 8.5% ABV, was popular all round. As the evening descends into more friendly chitter-chatter rather than studious beer critiquing, Vicky’s comment of “my mouth feels numb” is a pretty good indicator of how boozy this beer is, and how well-received the beers have been so far [winky face]. I hate to use hipsterish words like ‘dank’ and ‘juicy’, but this beer was very much that. We all agreed that there was a very pleasant fruitiness on the nose and a gorgeous hop bitterness when sipping, but there wasn’t much other commentary because everyone was too busy savouring it (and the taster-sizes did not last very long!).

As we drink and wait for the next and final beer, conversation drifts off to how awesome Brew York’s designs are. Wayne explains that they work with local branding experts United by Design, to make eye-catching works of art that complement their beers - he says “it doesn’t matter how good your beer is if people don’t pick it up and drink it”.

And now for the final beer of the evening. I thought I would go with something a bit ‘nightcap’-ish, and after chatting to Lee Grabham (also co-founder and brewer at Brew York) at the Women on Tap festival in Harrogate which I had attended during the day before I popped over to York for the evening, we agreed that the barrel-aged Empress Tonkoko would do the trick. This version of their imperial milk stout with cacao nibs, tonka bean, vanilla and coconut has been aged in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels for 12 months - they also aged some of the Empress Tonkoko in Wild Turkey and Jack Daniels barrels, and these three editions are a rare treat, since only 500 cans of each were yielded. It’s a sticky, thick, boozy (10.6% ABV and you can taste it), cloying gem of a beer and from what I sensed, the group loved it. My very knowledgeable and expert tasting notes of “it tastes like dipping a Bounty bar in a glass of bourbon” was met with enthusiastic agreement.

Karen comments: “I don’t usually like stouts, but this is nice!” and she adds that it’s the coconut and the bourbon booziness that make her appreciate it - “those, in a beer, are lovely”. We all get talking about how great this beer would be on a cold winter’s day, sat by the fire, with just a third of it to warm the cockles.

With bellies full of delicious beer and smiles on our faces, we finished the evening off. There were a few stragglers left though, and about an hour until closing time, so we all headed upstairs to the beer hall to peruse the delights available on the 40 taps (which, combined with the 20 taps downstairs makes it one of the largest draft beer selections in the UK). Brew York is one of the most fantastic drinking spaces I have been in, and it was a pleasure hosting the bottle share alongside Wayne.

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