Brewing for the moment
Richard Croasdale catches up with Turning Point, the Raise The Bar winners who live to mix things up
Tuesday 03 September 2019
This article is from
Raise the Bar 2019
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When you ask a brewer about their process, the standard answer is “we brew the beers we’d want to drink”. However, I’d wager few breweries follow this philosophy through with quite the same seat-of-the-pants commitment as Turning Point, the York(ish)-based brainchild of Cameron Brown and Aron McMahon.
“We didn't really have a strategy of heading out with a core range of beers,” explains Cameron. “Who are we to say these beers are so good that people will want them again and again? So instead we said ‘let's just make some beers, and then some different beers, and just keep going like that’. We've never really changed that formula: we just sit down every few days and decide what we're going to do. I’m looking at the board just now and we’ve got our next two brews planned, then that’s it.”
This approach fits very nicely with the origins of the brewery itself. Cameron became besotted with beer during his time as a student in York, and ended up running a pub, the now sadly defunct Falcon Tap. This gave him the opportunity to “use the sales lists to create a never-ending beer festival” for himself and a loyal group of adventurous regulars. It also gave him an outlet for his homebrew efforts, which he'd make at home or in the Falcon’s basement, and then hand out to anyone who was interested.
This is also how he met – and, in his words, “kind of fell in love with” – co-founder Aron, who was at the time handling sales and deliveries for nearby Brass Castle brewery.
“We saw each other every week and just egged each other on in terms of beer enthusiasm. So, I was devastated when he told me he was leaving to do something else. He wasn't really sure what he was going to do, except that he wanted it to be his own thing. I jokingly said okay, let's do a brewery then. And I promise you it was a joke. I was definitely joking. Then he called me two weeks later and said ‘so, this brewery… were you kidding?" and I replied, ‘deadly serious’.”
The pair met up shortly after, around Christmas 2016, with the intention of determining whether their dream had legs. Needless to say, by the second pint, they’d decided where the brewery would be and exactly what kit they would need. In January they put the deposit down and Turning Point’s inaugural brew took place in April 2017, a schedule that Cameron now describes as “flat-out bonkers,” but which seems entirely suited to the brewery’s ‘let’s just do it’ ethos.
Over the intervening couple of years, Turning Point has earned a great reputation locally, and has even started pushing beyond the “weird gated community that is North Yorkshire”. It’s perhaps best known for its big beers – unctuous, lactose-laden DIPAs and dessert stouts.
“We seem to have carved out a slightly odd niche, brewing beers that seem like they should be dark but which are actually light. Really weird, pale, lactose-sweet stuff. They’ve gathered a bit of a following. One's called yellow matter custard, which is like a low-hop, vanilla sweet pale ale. It's bonkers, drinks like... Yop. We were designing it, and we thought ‘why would we want to make it dark? Why would we take away from those delicious dessert flavours by putting something roasty and bitter in there?’ People have gone crazy for it.”
“We take a lot of care and pride in our IPAs though. It's kind of a continuous IPA project, because we'll do one, and then ask how we can make the next one better. Not necessarily more hops, but how can we improve the actual quality of the beer?”
Being in York, it’s unsurprising that a good slice of its output is in cask, and Cameron is proud that every beer he brews will end up in a cask somewhere, “even the silliest ones”.
While it has two regularly-brewed beers – Lucid Dream stout and Disco King APA – these generally only go to permanent customers, so Turning Point can continue to focus on experimentation and variety.
Cameron says: “We go to some breweries and they've got 10 permanent beers and supermarket contracts to supply, and it just leaves so little time for experimentation and collaboration; the fun stuff! That’s really why we keep our production schedule empty.” I ask whether he worries this approach will limit the brewery’s growth. “Growth is definitely important, but where we are at the moment it's not really an issue, because we're already maxed out – our capacity has been the limiting factor.”
This could all be about to change though, as Cameron and Aron have just taken on Rooster’s old site and kit, just down the road in Knaresborough, effectively doubling their current capacity, with space for a taproom and further expansion in the future. Once again, they’ve given themselves six weeks to get everything up and running; it seems old habits die hard.
“When it was just me and Aron, this place was fine. But then we took on another brewer, Luke, who’s become the heart and soul of the brewery. And then at Christmas we hired Andy as an assistant. He didn’t know anything about beer at the time, but we liked him. So suddenly we were kind of tripping over each other on the brewery floor.
“We thought it’d be another couple of years before we found anywhere new, and we had plans to make this place a bit more practical, but then Roosters announced it was moving somewhere bigger. And, again, Aron and I jokingly said ‘well, we could always buy their old brewery’…”
Another recent step forward has been the introduction of cans into Turning Point’s range, which Cameron sees as being key to getting the brand and the beer in front of a wider audience. Proving they can be sensible where it counts, the pair agreed early on that they’d hold back on small-pack until the beer was at a point where they were 100% happy with its quality and stability.
“We also liked the idea initially that if you wanted to drink our beer you'd need to leave the house! Canning is being phased in very gradually, with one eye on breweries who'd made mistakes in the past. We brew two beers that are the best representation of where we are about at that time. We'll do a couple of thousand cans of each, wait until they're sold, then do the next batch. We want the beer to leave fresh and get to people in the best condition, rather than canning everything, having it sitting around and having people drink stale beer. It's worked out really well.”
Given that both Cameron and Aron seemed to have simultaneously reached a point in their lives when they wanted to strike out and pursue their dreams, I ask if the name Turning Point had any particular emotional resonance for them.
I should have known better.
“We went through loads of different names, trying to come up with the coolest name ever,” says Cameron, straight faced. “But then we thought ‘God, we're going to look like dicks if we call ourselves something really epic’. Like, if you call yourself Rocketship or something, you’re setting yourself up for a fall. So in the end we just went through a load of common phrases until we found one that sounded like it could be a craft brewery. Three syllables, easy to pronounce. Happy days.
“… It’s actually become a bit of a running joke that every single one of the 70 beer names we've come up with so far would be a better brewery name than Turning Point. I mean ‘Space Monkey Mafia’ – I’d definitely buy a beer from those guys.”
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