I’d already missed the start of the Meet the Brewer event with Great Heck Brewery at The Cross Keys, Siddal when I arrived and thus didn’t have the benefit of the earlier talk and the subsequent Q+A. The combination of a daughter using her ears rather too little and mouth rather too much at a dance lesson and the battle to cram fractional mathematics into her already congested brain cells meant that the night was in full swing by the time I arrived.
Filled with punters enjoying 5 of the brewery’s beers. Hugh, the landlord, as on most nights off was behind the bar pulling pints as I entered, whilst Denzil, the self titled brewing overlord of Great Heck Brewery was fielding questions and chatting to groups of inquisitive drinkers. His appearance bearing no resemblance to the poster promoting the event which shows him sporting a moustache that Howard Marks would be proud to put on a passport photo at the height of his smuggling career, only the Great Heck jacket marks out his position in the event.
Instead we are presented with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall looking character, but food is definitely off the menu, here we are focused on the drinks, those drinks being very good craft beer. The brewery is based near Selby and is now in its 6th year of trading, producing a range of 13 cask beers, 5 of which are also bottled. Having tried 9 of these beers personally, I’ve yet to be disappointed. Their obsession with collecting the best hops from around the world, including America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand brings a very distinct taste experience with each different brew.
This passion comes across when you talk to Denzil, it is all about the quality of the beer, and the fact that his 3 brew, 45 cask a week brewing operation can barely keep up with demand is testament to this. With plans to expand into new space to allow 5 brews a week and allow more brews to be in stock at any time, the ambition is not lacking. His deep interest in beer is obvious when chatting about a cask of beer he has at home, discussing a cask of Yamika which wasn’t quite full, topped up with Citra and sealed after adding a handful of fresh hops, he waxes lyrical about the fact despite you can barely see your hand on the other side of the glass, it tastes fantastic.
As I mentioned last week two of my favourite beers so far this year have come from this brewery, these being Black Jesus and Yamika IPA. Yamika (7.4%) is 5 hopped classic strong pale ale with a great balance of hop bitterness, fruit flavours from the same ingredient with a rich underlying body. Black Jesus (6.4%) is a black IPA, made with more hops in one barrel than you’d find in an entire years production of John Smiths Smooth. German malts provide a rich chocolatey undertone. As I was driving last night, I took the chance to try a couple of their lower strength beers previously un-tasted. The Blonde (4.3%) is a classic pale ale, easy on the palate but plenty of taste from the range of hops, and one I could happily sup all session. Dave is a darker bitter, a style I’m not normally attracted to, which gives a nice depth of flavour with a nice amount bitterness and hop flavours sitting on top for its 3.8%.
His knowledge and interest in the craft beer scene shows as well, when discussing the higher than average prices that smaller operations such as Magic Rock and Summer Wine Brewery (SWB) ask for their beers, he recognises the demand that outstrips the available supply with these companies and the fact that customers are willing to pay more money at the bar for these beers, myself included, means that the market will support these pricing models. His philosophy is slightly different and this means that for £2.95 you can get a pint of very good 7.4% IPA at the Cross Keys. When we moved onto the topic of Brewdog, one of the dominant players in the craft beer scene. there is a mutual appreciation of their success, from marketing which consistently works without massive spend, the quality of their production facilities, the roll out of their well received bar chain across the UK and the world and their success in the retail sector.
Denzil and Great Heck have a definite idea of where they are going, and if the ride stays this good, I’m up for a season ticket.