Beer: Yorkshire’s American revolution

Will Hawkes

magicrockbottles 299x300 Beer: Yorkshires American revolutionYou don’t have to be in Yorkshire long to notice that the locals like beer. If you arrive at Sheffield, it can take fewer than five minutes – the time you’ll need to cross the bridge to platform one, where you’ll find the impressive Sheffield Tap. But the Steel City, which is home to any number of superb pubs and about a dozen breweries, is not unique: in Leeds or Huddersfield – indeed, in most places in England’s largest county – you can find a decent pint. Tykes are not shy of talking up Yorkshire but when it comes to beer, even the most one-eyed Lancastrian might have to admit they’ve got a point.

Even in such a market, however, some enterprises stand out. Take Magic Rock, the Huddersfield brewery that has established a name for itself in a ridiculously short amount of time. Since launching in the summer, they’ve built a reputation that stretches far beyond the Broad Acres. It’s a level of success that has surprised co-founder and managing director Richard Burhouse: “I had a good feeling that if we put the right ingredients in place, we’d have a chance,” he says. “Even so, I’ve been a little bit surprised. We did hope it would be like this.”

The basis of their success – as with any brewery – has been the quality of the beer. Theirs is modern, hop-driven stuff, inspired by the American craft brewing scene (other Yorkshire brewers – such as Summer Wine and Steel City – are following the same path). Most of the their beers are strong and all are powerfully flavoured. Almost as important a factor in their rapid success, however, has been Burhouse’s and brewer Stuart Ross’s understanding of the power of social media – twitter, blogs and the like. Magic Rock has no sales department: this is a thoroughly modern operation, with arresting branding (above) to match.

Before Magic Rock got going, Burhouse (below) worked for online beer sellers, where he still has a (much reduced) role. It’s a job that gave him a decent idea of what the British beer drinker wanted. “I think it helped,” he says. “I’d been interested in real ale and then I started getting foreign imports, American imports – and I was blown away by the flavour of those.

image003 300x225 Beer: Yorkshires American revolution“I tried to get as many as I could for mybrewerytap. I don’t think I’d have dived into starting the brewery if it wasn’t for those out-there beers.”

Ross is also a fan of the American craft scene, and he began to experiment with different hops in his previous job at The Crown Brewery in Sheffield. Having worked previously at Acorn and Kelham Island, he knows Yorkshire beer as well as most and appreciates the freedom he has been given at Magic Rock.

“[Brewing at Magic Rock] is almost like what I was doing at Crown – but there, some of the regular brews were fairly limiting,” he says. “Some of the recipes, after brewing them for a while, I knew that if I could start over again I would have done them differently. That’s what we’ve done here – we’ve started from scratch, we can brew whatever we wanted.”

Expansion is on the cards as they struggle to keep up with demand. “We’ve just bought a couple of fermenters,” says Burhouse, 36. “Probably in a year or two we’d look to move. It’s such early days, though: you need to settle down, churn the beer out and bring the money in. We’ve got great demand, it’s just a matter of supplying it. It feels like we’re encountering the problems we might have expected in six months’ time.”

Much of the beer is sent out of Yorkshire, but they clearly appreciate being in a part of the country with such a vibrant tradition. “There’s a good mix of breweries in Yorkshire, some producing the regular, traditional, ordinary brown beers and those who are also producing the more modern English pale ale style – with American or New Zealand hops,” says Ross. “There’s a decent balance. We’re not in competition with a lot of the local breweries here because we’re doing something different.”

The local beer scene has been a motivation, says Burhouse. “It’’s inspired us as well, I suppose,” he says. “I’ve been drinking real ale from 18, 19 but the last few years, my group of friends have been able to go to pubs in Sheffield, Huddersfield, Leeds  – they’ve got 10 or so beers on. You go out tasting rather than just to drink beer. That makes us more discerning. You go to Sheffield and you don’t have to drink the same beer twice. Same with Huddersfield, really.”

image002 300x199 Beer: Yorkshires American revolutionOne brewery that both men clearly respect is Mallinson’s, also based in Huddersfield. “I’ve been a big fan of theirs for a few years,” says Burhouse. “They do very small batches and try different things all the time,” adds Ross (right). “They’re some of the beers that I like the most around here.”

A recent collaboration with Sussex brewers Dark Star – Rock Star, an American brown ale – demonstrates their desire to experiment. Like many of the better new breweries, they’re happy to put beer into kegs, cask and bottles, depending on which is the most suitable. The future seems bright for Magic Rock, but Burhouse has no plans for world domination.

“We’re quite happy,” he says. “We’d be pleased if we could double or triple the size, and then still have excess demand. I’ve no interest in agressive expansion in the way Brewdog have done it – we just want enough money to keep us all comfortable and enjoy it. The key thing is not to compromise on the quality of the beer.” A refusal to compromise? Spoken like a true Yorkshireman.

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  • Christine Pampling

    How good to see a serious article about craft brewers for a change!

  • The Reverend Peter M. Hawkins.

    I worked for twenty happy years in Yorkshire, when I was never forgiven for being a “Southerner” and at the end when I was asked what I reckoned, I was able to tell my enquirers that I had liked the beer and the immigrants.
    Why are not Yorkshire people migrating to the Continent to set up Yorkshire Pubs? The Irish are!

  • Rowe Peter

    stop messing about with beer. And Americans and beer? One of the biggest oxymorons there is – especially in food circles.
    Americans don’t do beer – full stop.
    Gnat’s p**s – bloody awful stuff – all of it.
    Yorkshire beer = Theakstones, Tetley’s. Stop messing with a great recipe with these airy-fairy, poofy smelling brews that are nothing like real beer should be.

  • MrsRealAleGuide

    Oh God, if we all had the same tastes, wouldn’t life be so boring! Don’t stop what you are doing Magic Rock, just because closed minded people are too afraid of something new!

  • Tom Dobson

    Rowe Peter “American’s don’t do beer – full stop” That is hilarious. Now go and educate yourself.

  • Xianshaan

    Burhouse must have been extremely lucky with his choice of US beers. All the majors in US generally produce beer that is so weak that there are “more hops in a dead frog”. 

  • Josh

    Xianshaan, if you think Will is talking about Miller + Bud crap lagers, I think you’ve missed the point. The US has an incredibly strong craft beer scene, one that is known for maybe putting too many hops in rather than the ‘lack of’ that you talk about. 

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