Yorkshire’s Hidden Gem
Yorkshire is a region of the UK, known for its beer production in recent years. Some of the country’s finest beers come from the likes of Brass Castle in the north, Docks to the east, Abbeydale, the south and many more, but the most understated one of the lot, is the fantastic Horsforth Brewery in West Yorkshire. I caught up with Mark the owner to find out all things Horsforth.
Right, let’s start at the beginning, when did Horsforth Brewery begin and what is the story behind the brewery?
Strictly speaking, Horsforth Brewery started in my kitchen in early 2015 when I double brewed an IPA for the Horsforth Beer and Cider Festival. The beer was voted 2nd in beer of the festival voting and gave me the confidence to push to create the brewery properly, although it took longer than expected due to a major operation and having to renovate a house/build a garage, but I eventually got the brewery set up in the garage in summer 2017, with the first beers going on sale in the Hop Shack on 4th August 2017. I was in full-time employment at the time, which transitioned to part-time in April 2018 and I eventually went full-time with the brewery in March this year.
How would you explain your beers and brewing to those who haven’t heard of you?
I’ve always brewed beers I’d like to drink, not really focussing on trends and what’s popular, which I’ve always been get away with because the brewery’s so small – it’s only 1bbl. The two beers I launched with were an urban wheat beer style (like Goose Island’s 312) and a 7.5% raspberry saison, which has eventually evolved into Rubis, a 6.2% raspberry saison. I’m a big fan of hefeweizens, so brewing one of those was important to me, so I did, and it’s a really good example of the style, as is the dunkelweizen we brew.
In terms of more hop-forward beers, I’m definitely more of a fan of West Coast IPAs than the New Englands, I like a hop forward beer to be balanced with some bitterness, so that’s what we brew!
I’ve now got Ricky the Brewer on board and he’s bringing his preferences to the table as well, which is great. We’ve just released a 10% Forest Fruit Stout which has gone really well so we’ll be doing that again in the near future.
The few beers I’ve had from Horsforth have been memorably smooth and hop-forward and looking at your range, it seems you favour the West Coast Style…How do you go about deciding what you brew?
I’ve always believed that if I’m to be able to sell a beer from our range, I need to believe in it, which is why I’ve always brewed what I’ve liked. I brewed a couple of stouts a year or so ago but as it’s not my favourite style I had trouble trying to sell it with confidence, so I didn’t do it again until Ricky came along!
And your “Pale” is seen as your flagship, what’s the story behind that beer?
I was aiming for a pale that has a lot of flavour, enough strength to know you’ve drunk it, but not too strong so you can’t have a few. I also wanted it to be the most flavoursome pale on cask wherever it is on, and so far I think I’ve achieved that. I used to think it worked best on keg but in the last year or so I’ve been convinced it’s just as ace on cask, if not more so.
I’ve not visited the brewery before but it seems your regular tap sessions are popular. How has the reception been to you opening up the brewery for visits?
It’s been great. I really didn’t push the openings so I could manage it – I’m not an experienced bar person and the days are normally run with the help of volunteers – but the local community has really been behind it and word of mouth had grown it to be a really popular place to visit. The last tap day was at the start of March, before COVID-19 was considered something really on our radar, and it was the busiest one yet so it was really beginning to build that momentum.
Post-COVID-19 there’ll be some really big changes to the tap day that I can’t announce yet, but they will be awesome, if they come off.
Of all the beers you’ve brewed so far, what’s been your personal favourite?
It’s changed quite a lot as time’s gone on to be honest. I’m really proud of how good our hefeweizen is, there’s genuinely not many breweries in this country that brew a wheat beer that’s so true to style, and obviously I love pale. But after a slight tweak to the recipe at the end of last year, Night Ryder is now my favourite, especially on cask. It’s a 5.5% black rye IPA and the first time I tried the new recipe on cask I was totally blown away by it. Not many beers make me that happy so for one of them to be my beers was even better.
What are your most memorable days or moments so far with Horsforth Brewery?
There’s so many, and so many lost due to having a few too many beers probably! Due to the brewery being part-time for so long, progress has been a little slower than most, but that meant each milestone was really significant and memorable from the first time people had the beer (Horsforth Beer Festival), the first night in the Hop Shack, first time the beer was served in Leeds City Centre (Doghouse), first time I opened the tap room or last August when I saw people had brought picnic blankets to sit in the car park of the industrial estate the brewery is. All are moments I’ve thought ‘this thing is actually happening and people are buying into it’.
And whilst we are in these uncertain times, what does that mean for you guys and how can the community support you at the moment?
In answering this I’m obviously paying respect to the health and financial well being to everyone impacted. It’s such a unique situation in our lifetime and it’s fascinating from a business perspective. I was on holiday under my notice period with my previous job when lockdown actually happened and I don’t really know how to explain the feeling.
Overnight they closed about 75% of my customers, and I’d just gone full-time with a small business. Crazy. But then because we’re so small we can make changes to what we’re doing almost instantly. Pub closed? Let’s do more bottles. We already did bottles and we lose money on cask beer so it wasn’t a tough decision to make. We’ve also started doing home deliveries which have been a life saver.
I’m classed as vulnerable to COVID-19 so that’s made working in the brewery interesting – we have to leave 72 hours between the guys being in the brewery and me being there which makes it hard and complicated but we’ve managed to make it work. I could really push things by increasing risk but I made the decision to play it safe and just make sure we survive the crisis rather than try to make an extra few quid.
The best way for the community to support us is literally to buy our beer, whether that be direct from us or from one of our many stockists!
If you could collab with any brewery who would it be and why?
Pilot probably. I think their Twitter could really be put to good use when paired with an actual brewery.
Last one from me – putting commercial sales aside, if you could experiment with three completely random flavours, one time only brew, what would you try?
Chipotle, coriander and garlic. Maybe not all at once, but why not?