Katie Mather chats with York’s finest
Monday 03 August 2020
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“Black Eagle was a beer we brewed when we first started Brew York,” says brewery MD Wayne Smith about the cultishly-adored black IPA that disappeared from their offering for a little while.
“It was one of our original seasonal beers. These types of non-standard beers have always sold well online, but landlords tend to be a little less keen to take them on. They need a bit of explaining. That’s why it wasn’t part of our core range, we just didn’t think there would be a demand for it. But I think now… maybe styles like Black IPA are well-known enough to sell a bit better over the bar and all year round.”
You’d hope so. Black IPAs are one of those styles that beer lovers love to pine after, and for good reason. A decent malty structure wrapped in refreshing, bitter, aromatic hops? What’s not to love about that?
“We chose cascade for this beer because honestly we love it. C hops — Cascade, Chinook, Centennial — all work really well with this style of beer. It’s a classic for a modern-classic.”
So are we calling Black IPA a classic style now? Am I the only one who feels really old hearing that? Wayne laughs.
“I guess it’s not a classic but… it’s not a new style anymore, is it? We brewed it for the first time about four years ago.”
In the rapid-moving world of craft beer, that’s a massive period of geological time. Maybe I am old.
“We’ve brought Black Eagle back for the box, but honestly if people want it, we’ll keep making it.”
“It’s the same with our West Coast IPA Big Eagle. It was a seasonal special and when it went away, people asked for it back. So we did a special birthday run and it sold out straight away. What that tells us is that we need to keep brewing it. People power!”
So, if you like it, you know what to do. Send some positive post their way and they might just keep brewing it for you.
Brew York Pre and Post-Lockdown: Hey Wayne? Whatcha Doin’?
Brew York were over capacity before COVID-19 came to town. In fact, they’ve been so busy over the past couple of years, they’re almost grateful for the time and space to think for a minute. Almost.
“Honestly we don’t really want to open soon!” Wayne jokes, when our conversation immediately and predictably turns to the reopening of pubs (new legislation was announced on the day we chatted, to inform the pub and restaurant industry about preparing to open on the 6th July).
It’s something a lot of pub owners, and in Brew York’s case, tap room and beer hall owners, have been unsure about for a while. With limitations ranging from space to actual cashflow and staff numbers taken back after furlough, it’s not exactly been a stress-free time for anyone within the industry. However, as Wayne points out, they’ve been one of the few breweries lucky enough to use this difficult time proactively.
“We’ve been using our closed spaces, our bars and our tap room, as places where we can package beer while socially distancing,” he explains. “Since lockdown was announced, since the slowdown happened around the start of April, our production changed to 100% can pretty much overnight.”
“We always wanted to sell more can but, you know, not like this!”
Cue a hysterical laugh-otherwise-you’ll-cry moment from the both of us. But you get what he means, especially when you find out about the techy bit of canning kit they had installed just before it all kicked off.
“It can do 60 cans a minute, whereas before we were lucky if we got 60 cans an hour done,” he says, still marvelling at the pace at which his brewery can now pump out the cans.
“We’ve also been able to put more time into improving our website and webshop — it’s never seen as much action! These are all those sorts of essential jobs we thought we’d be putting on hold for a while as we continued to grow.”
This is a huge positive, and would really be placing Brew York in a solid place for the years to come… if we weren’t going through a whole global pandemic right now. But Wayne’s not too fazed.
“We’ve just got to get used to whatever the new normal will be. We’ve been thinking of ways to make life easier during lockdown and one major thing we’ve done is get started on building a table service app for our tap rooms. That’ll be up and running when we re-open.”
And when will this be?
“Realistically, we are aiming for August. We need to spend time sorting out the spaces again and we need to be sure we’re all well-trained and know everything we can about best-practice. And,” he added with a touch of excitement, “we’ve got to start planning how to move our main production to a new, bigger brewery off-site.”
This new site, still in York, will be the space and kit the Brew York team have been longing for for some time.
“It’s crazy the capacity we’ve crammed into our existing space,” says Wayne. “We’re currently at 500hL in what is, essentially, a 20hL brewhouse.”
“We went to SIBA EX back in March looking at brewing equipment — again, nobody really had any idea that things would happen the way they have even then. Once lockdown eased a bit we saw more demand for our cans and thought, yeah, we really need to get the space we need. So we started thinking about that kit we’d seen all over again.”
The planned brewhouse will have the capacity to brew 3-4 times a day, but the main thing is that there will be space to spare, which Wayne is especially pleased about.
“We’ve been having to turn down opportunities due to lack of tank space… it’s so frustrating to have to say “actually, we can’t” to projects you really want to be part of. We’re looking forward to being able to brew the beer we want whenever we want. It’s going to be great.”
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