As a craft beer enthusiast, real ale drinker, and general beer lover, I was intrigued at the sound of Brewtown tours, set up just last year by Mark Stredwick, which gives the participant an in-depth and personal experience of this culture in the local settings of Leeds, Malton and York itself. The tour seemed to offer up a new experience, namely involving the sampling of different beers at local breweries, and thus seemed worth undertaking. As such, a visit to this venture felt necessary in the hope of finding out more about it – both a fellow companion and myself subsequently chose the Leeds option to do so.
The tour begins with a short introduction to Mark himself, who began this venture in his homeland of Yorkshire having taken inspiration from both a craft tour in North Western America and having also worked as a brewery tour guide in Sydney. A minibus journey to Leeds was the first step towards checking out three breweries of exceptional quality. The impressive originality of the first fermenting brewery was evidently noticeable, with the fresh smell of brewing hops enticing us inside. Mark was clearly eager to give us an insight into a brewery process that was both authentic and unique.
These surroundings featured a converted warehouse-like room, with big fermentation tanks on the right, a quirky bar serving around a dozen draught beers, and a ping-pong table with chairs scattered around. As a result, there was an interesting juxtaposition in the layout between the extensive and elaborate apparatus used as part of the process and the relaxing bar area.
The tour encompasses the chance to sample a variety (around four different types) of unique craft beers, varying from lagers to milds to porters at each of three breweries. The further samples provided by the brewery clearly encapsulated the quality of the beer the tour aims to provide. Mark’s extensive knowledge of the history and different stages of beer making adds to the experience, informing you about several different stages of the production process, such as the brewing, fermenting and extracting that take place in the surrounding machinery.
Offering the chance to explore several breweries, rather than just remaining at one location, is something that seems to provide a renewed sense of interest throughout the experience. This is, in part, down to the fact that each place possessed its own unique and different vibe, yet still remained true to the craft beer they aim to promote. One place that was visited for example had an interior that resembled a big, open room with various bits of art placed about and was thus different to the other venues visited – the key underlying similarity is reflected in the quality of the beer.
Throughout the experience we were given the opportunity to sample bites provided by the breweries themselves. At the second place, for example, we decided to buy a relatively cheap priced, yet good quality lunch. This consisted of smoked salmon and cream cheese for me, and the likes of super foods such as avocados mixed with a brunch for others. The food was classy without seeming unreasonable, and certainly suited the atmosphere that surrounded and filled the building.
At the final brewery, however, we were given four separate, and very different, bites to complement each beer. This experience was a first for me – sampling food and beer specifically matched for their unified taste – and I was astounded by how well it worked. This started off with a cheese twist, moving on to a pork rib, a brownie and then some spicy nuts. The latter was consumed alongside a richer beer that neutralised the spice of the nuts incredibly well. I wasn’t expecting the tour to include this food-beer matching experience, but it was a great touch to finish on.
All in all, the tour is relaxing and comfortable, yet provides for a great opportunity to discover impressive and homely breweries, that one could otherwise miss. In a certain way, by taking part in this tour you are experiencing each brewery to the max, fully submersing yourself in their story. One way this became apparent is how true to the craft beer community each brewery was: both the staff and customers were there to appreciate good beer in a great atmosphere. The quality of each establishment we visited is not to be disregarded, and for other beer lovers out there in York and beyond, Brewtown Tours is a must.