We met up at the York Tap to start the tour, which is the perfect convenient location for both locals and those travelling in (and means you can grab a pre-tour beer should you feel so inclined!). A picturesque 40 minute drive out through the suburbs to the east of York, whilst discussing our first, last, and favourite beers, took us to our first destination of the day, Half Moon Brewery. Located in an old blacksmith's forge, Mark quite appropriately described Half Moon as a micro-micro... a small yet perfectly formed 5 barrel plant run by Tony and Jackie Rogers.
The beers produced by this tiny brewery are big hits with local country pubs and are starting to gain headway in the venues of the cities nearby. An entertaining introduction to the brewing process was provided by Tony, followed by a mini food and beer pairing showcasing other local producers led by sensory consultant Jo Menneer. We both thoroughly enjoyed the F'Hops Sake golden ale (3.9%) paired with Mounfield's "hogg roast" herby pork sausage! As we boarded back onto the comfy Brewtown minibus, we were all given a goodie bag containing a bottle of Half Moon beer along with a block of St Helen's farm goat's cheese and Guppy's chocolate from the pairing, which was a really lovely touch.
The next stop a short drive later was The Hop Studio, the brewery of the three on today's itinerary that we were most familiar with. Famous for their hop forward pale beers, The Hop Studio are a staple on many a bar around Yorkshire since their inception in 2012. Clutching a glass of their Beerjolais, we toured the mezzanine level which has been recently converted into a bar, but houses the original malt store, auger and cold liquor tanks. The tour continued downstairs with a look at the wood clad brew system and fermentation room, where their process was described eloquently and passionately by founder Dave Shaw. On our return to the bar we tried our favourite beer of the day, a limited release of a beer simply called "Chocolat" - a white chocolate stout that sings of vanilla from the bourbon barrel it was aged in.
Finally, we pulled up at relative newcomers to the York brewery scene, Ainsty Ales, just as it was getting dark. Another beautiful location, situated in a barn overlooking both the farm and field, which will eventually be used to grow a small hop crop to be used in the brew house in a few years time. We were given a tour of the brand spanking brewhouse by head brewer Alan Hardie - previously of York Brewery - and were treated to some tastings of their core releases, of which the delighfully named golden ale Wankled Waggoner (try saying that after a few pints!) was the one we enjoyed the most. The tasting room there is not quite yet up and running, but it's sure to be a fantastic space in the near future - a quirky, rural bar with great potential.
Brewtown Tours currently offers two different routes around York (with at least a third in the pipeline) as well as a tour around Leeds. We had a relaxed yet informative day and thoroughly enjoyed our experience. It was great to get out into the suburbs and visit places that on a trip to York we would never usually think to travel to, but which were all well worth the journey... especially when being chauffeured in style!
Jim and Laura