In recent years, the north-east beer scene has been growing and several breweries (Wylam, Almasty, Anarchy for example) have become household name for beer drinkers nationwide. One brewery that is sat in County Durham that hasn’t quite got that status yet, but is making beers that the industry are talking about, is McColl’s Brewery, in Bishop Auckland.
Since Danny McColl opened McColl’s Brewery in 2017, the brewery has gone from strength to strength. With a tap room well established, Danny has made this a local favourite in Evenwood, and whilst the recent pandemic has halted the activity in the tap room for the time being, the brewery is open for business online and they’ve been successful in getting their north-east beers out to more people. Danny kindly sent over four of the beers on offer right now, and if you’re considering a purchase from somewhere new, read on to see why it should be McColl’s you order from next.
BELGIAN BLONDE ALE – 4.1%
Hops: Chinook, Celiea
Untappd Rating: 3.53
The first of the four beers I sampled from McColls was their Petite, a 4.1% Belgian Blonde Ale, brewed with lager malts and the lesser known Celiea Hop. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard of this hop prior to this beer, so was intrigued as to how it’d impact the taste on a Belgian Blonde. Largely used for ESB’s and English Style Ales, this hop works really well in this Belgian style blonde. It’s crisp, light and is really quite refreshing. For me, it’s more a wheat beer than a traditional Belgian, Trappist style ale, but that doesn’t bother me; the banana, grapefruit notes are lovely and the Chinook hops add a nice spice in the aftertaste.
BEST BITTER – 4.4%
Hops: Admiral, Mandarina Bavaria, Centennnial
Untappd Rating: 3.47
OK, now it would be easy to say I don’t like this and move on because I’m not a bitter drinker. I often find any brand that has a beer with “best” in the name, is my least favourite of their range; but I want to describe this one objectively as there’s nothing more I hate than people criticising a beer that’s of a style they don’t particularly like.
Lady Marmalade is a 4.4% Best Bitter, with classic Admiral and Centennial hops. If I start to compare with some of its major equivalents, Boltmaker, Granite’s Best Bitter and Moor Raw for example, it really does stack up in terms of drinkability. The bitter, caramel and rye notes, linger on the palate for some time after drinking and at 4.4% it packs a punch for a bitter. What I also like, is the name, and it translates to the beer; there is a kind of sticky, bitter orange taste to the beer from the Mandarina Bavaria hop which for some, would take it out of “bitter” territory, but I think it just about counts. Overall it’s drinkable, for me it’s a little light and thin to be classed as a quality bitter, but as a beer itself, I would actually drink again. Surprise of the four for me.
PORTER – 4.6%
Hops: Sorachi Ace, Centennial
Untappd Rating: 3.64
When I first looked through the detail of these four beers, seeing that McColl’s had used Sorachi Ace in a porter intrigued me. Typically known for its use in saison style or lager beers, I couldn’t recall having drunk a porter or a stout that utilised the Japanese hop. Initially, it’s strange; tasting chocolate and coffee with a hint of citrus is something you don’t expect in a porter. That made the first couple of sips a learning curve rather than a wholly enjoyable drinking experience. But it would be an understatement to say this beer grows on you; each drink you start to enjoy the citrus, coconut flavours and considering the porter market is blowing up at the moment, this is a very solid example of how to brew something different, that can make a mark, but isn’t a 12% imperial, blow your head off style beer. Good brewing.
IPA – 5.0%
Hops: Azacca, Rakau, Centennial, Amarillo, Chinook
Untappd Rating: 3.48
Suma is the most noticeably hopped beer of the four beers, certainly noticeable from the use of five different hops to brew the final beer. Seeing the words, Centennial, Chinook and Amarillo will already start to get your senses going if you’re a beer fan; grapefruit, pine, citrus notes both in taste and aroma were expected and it delivered. With the addition of the Azacca and Rakau, this IPA has a nice spice to it as well from the pine notes and unlike many of the hazy, hop-heavy beers that are popular, this blend is balanced and subtle to taste. Having drank this on cask before at The Crooked Tap in York, I knew what this would taste like, but was pleasantly surprised how good the beer was from a cold can. I could happily drink a number of these; at 5% it’s the strongest of the four but it doesn’t feel it. You could session this; it’s got a sweetness in the first taste, but the bitterness that follows makes it a really really nice beer to drink. If I had a case in the fridge, it wouldn’t last long and I can see this becoming a staple of my beer drinking, especially at just £3.08 a can (12 pack online).
I have to say, these beers left me feeling pretty impressed overall. Danny and the team have crafted a great core range, with tight, clean branding which I love. What these beers aren’t, are Northern Monk/Pomona Island style, hoppy, hazy, punchy beers that you can only drink one of. Every one of these beers you could drink in a session and you’d find yourself drinking five or six, almost without knowing you’ve even drank them. They’re a showcase of good quality brewing and I’d encourage you to give them a go if you haven’t yet!