Yorkshire is gaining an international reputation as a centre of booze excellence. Joe Shute was given the tough job of investigating (well, someone had to).
It is approaching 9.30am on a Monday and I am on my first pint of the day. The beer in question is a 4.3 per cent pale ale freshly brewed from wilamette and chinook hops. “This is a fruity one so a good session ale to drink at any time,” encourages its creator, brewer Dean Hollingsworth.
The beer tastes of grapefruit and sweetened wood smoke, cutting nicely through the residual toothpaste and the lingering notes of my morning coffee. I take another sip and contemplate the scene around me: great metal vats bubble and steam while the air is thick with the heady scent of malt. The next batch of Sheffield’s finest is already on the way.
At present Dean brews 6,000 litres of beer a week in this exposed brick and beam warehouse next to the Forum on Devonshire Green. The building is a former ‘little mesters’ workshop (a little mester is a self-employed steel worker who rents factory space) where artisans would once smelt bespoke cutlery from Sheffield steel. Now it is owned by the True North Brew Company and used exclusively to create what is fast becoming another one of the city’s famous exports: beer. And lots of it.
Yorkshire is gaining an international reputation as a centre of booze excellence. As a region, we have always been good at drinking, but now we are making it, too, in record amounts and all manner of dizzying concoctions.
At the last count there were some 57 breweries in operation within the Sheffield city region alone. Similarly West Yorkshire has long competed with London for the accolade of hosting more breweries than any part of the country with an explosion in microbreweries. Recent figures from the British Beer and Pub Association show there were 73,681 jobs supported by the beer and pub sector in Yorkshire.
Beer, though, is far from the only Yorkshire tipple making a name for itself. Holmfirth Vineyard creates wonderfully quaffable reds and sparkling wines.
Gin distilleries are springing up throughout North Yorkshire and far beyond – Slingsby of Harrogate and Masons Yorkshire Gin of Bedale to name but a few. There is even a Yorkshire single malt in production (more of which later).
The 37-year-old Dean Hollingsworth has long been at the forefront of this revolution. As a child growing up in Rotherham in the 80s he recalls his family always brewing their own alcohol.
"There wasn’t much money around then so they had to do it themselves” he says. “My parents brewed all sorts: wine, ginger wine and beer. I remember my granddad always had strong stouts on the go and used to give me a tot when I was a boy to help me get to sleep. The smell of it has always been around me."
Dean attempted his first homebrew as a 15-year-old. “It was a blonde ale that went terribly wrong. I had no temperature control and it got so warm that it tasted like butterscotch. Still, we drank it anyway.”
After moving into the bar trade he met a brewery owner down in Sheffield’s Kelham Island who offered him a job washing casks once a week. At the same time, he read voraciously in an attempt to understand all the myriad possibilities of the brewing process. Eventually he was appointed head brewer of a different brewery in Sheffield before moving to True North in 2016.
As he prepares for the next day’s brew Dean points out with pride the many aspects of his creation.
Bourbon barrels are piled up in one corner filled with a six per cent stout that is ageing in time for Christmas. He shows me the ‘hot liqueur’ tank where malt mixes with water; mash tuns; fermenters and the bright beer tank from which the finished product eventually spills out to be kept in casks. In between talking, he heaves sacks of malt about ready to mix into new beer. “We are brewing three days a week,” he says, wiping his brow with a heavily tattooed arm. “And our venues are so busy that we can only really keep up with demand for ourselves.”