Every so often a brewery, new to me, crosses my path and takes my breath away. Last year that brewery wasn’t Cloudwater, Northern Monk, Verdant or any of the other supposedly hip and fashionable UK breweries. Sure, they’ve produced some great beers over the past while and are widely known by Northern Ireland’s beer crafterati but the one I’m talking about is flying below the radar – Brew York from Yorkshire.
To my knowledge, cans from this brewery are only sold locally in The Vineyard in Belfast so chances are, if you haven’t been in there, you won’t have come across them.
Two of my favourite beers of 2018 came from Brew York so I thought it only fair to pen a few words about its output.
Let’s start with a trio of stouts that feature coconut and tonka beans. Tonka beans? What the hell are they? Well, they’re beans used in brewing and cooking to create a taste that mixes vanilla with a deep fruit and spicy flavour.
And so we’re led to Tonkoko. This 4.3% ABV milk stout is light and fluffy with a slight hint of coconut, chocolate sauce and whipped cream at the back. I love coconut in beer but it needs to be used carefully. If there’s too much it can become too sickly but if not enough then what’s the point in labelling it as a coconut beer?
On the coconut scale, Tonkoko is more like a Milky Way than a Bounty bar, it’s a tasty beer that leads us to greater coconut adventures.
Alongside it is Imperial Tonkoko, a 7.5% ABV bigger brother. If you like coconut in your beer, you’re in the right place my friend.
There’s a sweetness initially coming to the fore then that delicious coconut makes an elegant appearance. Think of roasty sugar and nuts. Yeah, you with me? That’s followed by a harder coffee hit. While starting to drink, it’s really hard to tell there’s a 3% ABV difference between Tonkoko and Imperial Tonkoko. The alcohol seems to deceive you for the first half of the glass. Not so the second half. BOOM! Alcohol you say? Here it is! You’ll know when you get it.
Then to the Daddy of the Tonkoko range – Empress Tonkoko. First released as part of the 2018 #Tryanuary campaign, this 10.6% ABV stout is ramped up again with more of everything in the previous one. There’s a big chocolate and coffee aroma hit coming out of the glass, coupled with a thick treacle-esque blackness. I’m salivating just typing this.
On the tongue, there’s a darker, slightly more bitter chocolate and roasted sweet coconut and while Imperial was depective with the alcohol at the start, Empress isn’t. It’s not overpowering but you know you’re sipping a 10% stout. I really like coconut beers and quite simply put, this is the best one I’ve ever had. So much so, it featured in my Golden Pints list as my UK Beer of 2018.
That’s the Tonkoko range done but another Brew York beer using coconut is Kaya, brewed in collaboration with Hong Kong’s Gweilo Beer brewery. A quick look at the front of the can and I see this is brewed with pandan leaf. No, I don’t know what it that is either and I won’t pretend I do. However, every day’s a school day and the labelling blurb says Kaya is a Malay coconut jam.
What I do know is that Brew York delivers on its promise of this being a 5.2% ABV coconut and coffee milk stout. There’s plenty of earthy coffee with a subtle hint of sweet coconut – not the coconut beast of Empress Tonkoko but still a hit. The pandan leaf was wasted on me though.
Finally another one of my favourite brews from this Yorkshire brewery. As well as coconut beers, I adore a well made rhubarb beer. And a sweet one too. Most rhubarb beers I’ve had in the past have been slightly tart or sour but the fantastically named Rhubarbra Streisand goes in the opposite direction. You want sweet rhubarb? You got it.
So, trying to put my sweet-rhubarb bias aside, this 5.5% ABV milkshake pale is really creamy and more like rhubarb and cream than rhubarb and custard. A little ginger tingle at the back of the throat gives it an added thumbs up. The sweetness of the fruit isn’t off putting either though you’d be forgiven for having this as a dessert after your Sunday dinner that anything you’d need with a bowl and spoon. It’s soon available in new larger 440ml cans and there’s an Extra Custard version just on the scene too.
If, before you read this, you were saying Brew York, Brew who?… now you know. Hopefully more bottle shops will stock them and make them more widely available across Northern Ireland.