Brew York

Catching up and chatting trends with our beloved Brew York


I miss pubs, so by extension I miss York, which is arguably (and I would argue) the Home of Pubs; really pubby pubs, which inexplicably still smell a bit of pipe tobacco and serve perfect cask beer without making a whole fuss about it. But for the past few years, York for me has also been permanently associated with one of my favourite craft breweries: Brew York, nestled right inside the historic city walls. Its beers are top-notch, its beer hall and taproom are perfect and they’re just lovely people.

It also has a gift for daft puns, as evidenced by its contribution to this month’s Beer52 box, a Milkshake IPA named Rhubarbra Streisand. This is a straight-up funhouse of a beer, with a positively viscous mouthfeel, tangy rhubarb and custardy vanilla notes. Even for the kind of CAMRA purists who might make a pilgrimage to York, if this doesn’t put a smile on your face, I’m afraid you’re dead inside.

“We wanted to have a crack at a milkshake pale, and I absolutely adore rhubarb and custard sweets,” says co-founder Lee Grabham. “Particularly the ones from Marks & Spencer – have you had those? Well, you need to make them part of your life.

“A lot of what we do as a brewery is a nod to the things that inspired us as we grew up, whether that’s films, TV shows, sweets, foods, desserts. So a lot of our beers have kind of retro references. It’s the original version that’s going into the box, but we’ve also experimented with putting more emphasis on the rhubarb with a sour edition, and the sweet custard with a Christmas edition… Fun to drink, but a nightmare to brew!”

Like pastry stouts, I’ve often wondered if milkshake IPAs might be a bit of a fad, too unbalanced for people to keep returning too. I put this to Lee.

“No, I think that’s one that we’ve only just scratched the surface with,” he says. “Really, I don’t think there’s many people doing it in large volume and we’ve not done many, but every time people come into the bar – when they’re allowed to come into the bar – the first thing they’ll ask is whether Rhubarbra’s on. It’s not a style we’re going to start brewing in huge volumes, but we’ve definitely got a few more planned for the year ahead because people do really enjoy them.”

Lee also sees another trend that “kind of runs counter to the indulgence of milkshake IPA” in the form of beers that are more inclusive and accessible.

“We’re seeing a lot more demand for gluten free and vegan beers, which sets us a challenge as brewers to come up with new ways to give beers a rich mouthfeel for example, using things like oat milk and maltodextrin in place of lactose. As we grow we’re also trying to be more sustainable, stepping away from plastic wherever possible, using printed cans instead of shrink labelled.”

Style-wise Lee sees lager continuing to be a big trend in 2021, and he cites breweries like Donzoko and Lost & Grounded leading the charge. Up until this point, lager hasn’t been a style Lee wanted to tackle as he didn’t have the right water, though a major upgrade of Brew York’s facilities has included the installation of a reverse osmosis machine, essentially allowing him to recreate the water chemistry found in Pilsen. The first project on the cards is a Mexican lager, inspired by the new head brewer’s experience in Florida, where it’s a popular style.

Lee continues: “Other things– and this is me hoping – I’d like to see West Coast style IPAs and bitter becoming more of a thing again. Hoppy, juicy and hazy are all well and good, but it doesn’t kind of leave that lingering finish on the palate that really makes you crave the next sip. And the West Coast beers are the ones that got me on my journey, as they were for many of us. I think we’re returning to our roots now, going back to the beers that started this all for us.”

We just have time left to talk about how York and its more traditional pubs are going to come back from the extended lockdowns of 2020 and 2021. Lee acknowledges that these pubs are likely to be the ones that will find it hardest to bounce back, but also find cause for optimism.

“I’ve spoken to a few local publicans and they say the support they’ve had locally – from customer and suppliers – has been huge, and they now want to support the people who’ve supported them,” he concludes. “And the same has been true for us; at the start of the pandemic, we were absolutely bricking it, but then about two weeks in, it became very clear that the local public in particular were going to be giving us massive support. So I think that renewed sense of local pride and appreciating what’s on your doorstep is going to be a huge thing in 2021.”

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