Friday 14th August 2016
The York Brewery is one of the early pioneers of the small artisan brewing movement. It started production in 17th May 1996 and was the first brewery within the city walls for over forty years. It was instigated by Tony Thomson and some associates and was of 10 barrels (bbls) capacity. The equipment was obtained second hand from the defunct Lions Original Brews brewery of Burnley, Lancashire.
Lions has long been forgotten by most but, by some strange quirk of fate, wife Linda and I had paid a visit to it just before its demise. We were with a group from the Bradford CAMRA branch. I believe it was 1995 and it must closed shortly afterwards, what a very small world!
Their beers soon proved to be very popular; even more so when they acquired their first tied house in 2000.
This was (and still is) The Last Drop Inn in Colliergate in the centre of the city amongst the narrow lanes so beloved of the visitors to York. It is a lovely multi-roomed pub and offers a true sanctuary from the hubbub on the streets outside.
The 2000s saw the company acquiring two more central pubs. Firstly came the Three Legged Mare. This is in an old building in High Petergate and it must be one of the nearest watering holes to the iconic Minster. Inside, it has a light and airy ambience. Their last city pub, opened in 2004, is the Yorkshire Terrier, in Stonegate, just a few hundred metres from the other two.
With these acquisitions and a developing free trade the brewery was soon working at full tilt.
This situation was rectified, for a while, by doubling the fermentation capacity. The next major event was the company’s take over by Mitchell’s of Lancaster in 2008. This pub-owning company leases or operates around sixty pubs in the South Lakeland and North Lancashire. York Brewery is a stand-alone operation within Mitchell’s.
Mitchell’s was established in 1861 when the Black Horse Inn in Lancaster was leased by William Mitchell. It had its own brewery which was soon producing beer for other pubs.
In 1882 Mitchell constructed the stand-alone Central Brewery in Lancaster. The city’s other brewer Yates & Jackson ceased in 1984 and Mitchell’s moved their brewing to their Old Brewery which stayed open to 1999 when the company quit brewing.
Apart from the Tap Room itself the company opened one other pub and that was Mr Foley’s Ale House opposite the Town Hall in Leeds. Over the years the brewery has received many awards, so many that they are impossible to list here. This and landing a big order from Asda followed by another from Tesco meant that capacity had again become an issue. This problem was partially solved by contracting out the brewing of bottled Guzzler and Minster Ale to Robinson’s Brewery of Stockport, Greater Manchester.
On this day I was on a day visit to York having spent the preceding week in and about North Yorkshire with one day spent in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. I wasn’t visiting any other pubs apart from the York Tap on the station, so could indulge myself here. I visit York a lot so I am well versed with its pubs and as a consequence have sampled a number of York Brewery beers, so I was pleased to see several that I’d not tried previously.
I started with a half of Thai Hard (4.3%), a special. A half simply because I was unsure of what to expect.
It was probably the right decision as it had a powerful flavour. It used Dr Rudi hops, a New Zealand variety I have not previously heard of. They apparently give a lemon grass flavour. Well, I wouldn’t know as it also had real Lemon Grass added as well as root ginger and lime. Refreshing, but that’s all I can say. It didn’t taste like beer.
Most unusually my next beer was another half but this time it was because of its strength. I loved Score XX IPA (7.0%). Outside of the USA it is quite unusual for me to drink cask-conditioned strong IPAs, so this was a real treat. It was a special that recognised the brewery’s 20th birthday.
The remaining two beers are now on the permanent beer list yet I had not previously tried them before this visit.
I next tried the Blonde (3.9%), another new beer for me. It is now known as Hansom Blonde for the inventor of the Hansom Cab who was born and lived in the property between the brewery and Micklegate. This is also Brigantes pub, please see a separate article on it that tells a fuller story. My final discovery of the day was Otherside IPA (4.5%) which I liked a lot. There were three others on offer and they were from the usual range: Guzzler (3.6%), Yorkshire Terrier (4.2%) and Centurion’s Ghost (5.4%).
The brewery is a little hard to find, you have to get to Toft Green first. Once there you will see the white-painted building. Follow the sign into the yard and the Tap Room is to be found up the metal stars. Once inside I found it warm and welcoming. The bar is to be found on the far side of the room to the left. The counter is of vanished light wood supported by three barrels.
I acquired my first beer and settling by one of the two free standing “tables”, which are actually upright barrels with shiny glass tops. I noticed that there was a piano on the left side wall. It looked as if it is used. The toilet doors face the bar and next are a couple of shelves fixed to the wood-panelled wall. Turning to the right I could see another room. Here I could see the area where they conduct off-sales.
There are wooden fitted cabinets displaying a large selection of bottles, cans and mini-kegs. In the middle of this room there were some loose tables with chairs and armchairs. Along the opposite wall is an alcove with two tables, a church pew and some chairs. On a shelf behind there are several antique radios.
They do regular tours around the brewery. In fact, the Tap Room was created to accommodate tour parties and did not have a full licence for casual visitors.
As can be seen, this situation has been normalised and the bar is open to the public. There is also the York Brewery Club, that gives discounts and there are regular members’ evenings.
This little pub is well worth seeking out if you are visiting the city.
The York Brewery Tap Room, 12, Toft Green, York YO1 6JT. Tel: 01904 550907.
Hours: Monday to Saturday: 12.00-23.00; Sunday: Closed.
If visiting in the evening please note there are sometimes private parties. Please check with the brewery.
As mentioned previously this bar is in a rather tucked-away location. These are directions from the railway station. Use the pedestrian crossing to the right of the forecourt. Turn right on the far side.
Follow the pavement as it curves around the city walls. At the traffic lights, turn left. Pass through Micklegate Bar, the gate where traitors’ heads were once displayed. Turn left again. This is Toft Green and it curves right. Here you will find the brewery. Go through to the yard and up the stairs.