Home > Beer > Northern Sole: Imagining a life with only Northern English beers

Northern Sole: Imagining a life with only Northern English beers

The other night I was thinking about how many Northern English breweries consistently impress and surprise me, and how many of them are relatively new.  Thornbridge Brewery seems like an established veteran of UK craft brewing, but it’s only seven years old.  Marble Brewery is positively neolithic in comparison to most, having started in 1997.

It is trite to say that the new wave of breweries in the UK owe a lot to the American scene.  However, the enjoyment with which I’ve been drinking hop-forward beers like Buxton Wild Boar, Summer Wine Diablo or Magic Rock High Wire makes me wonder if I even really need to buy American beers any more.  Certainly these English beers haven’t acquired either the age or the price uplift of their imported American inspirations by the time they make it to my shopping basket.

Then I wondered whether I really needed to drink beers from anywhere else at all.  Between them, Marble and Thornbridge have been working their way through the canon of Northern European beer styles recently, from Vienna lager through wheat beers to Kolsch, saisons, dubbels and tripels.  Summer Wine have also paid tribute in their own irreverent way with the Lime & Coriander Saison I’m drinking right now and the mind-bending but superb double Belgian Rye PA Cohort.  Sure, I’d miss Orval, but I could certainly attempt to console myself with Durham Brewery’s Bombay 106.

This is not to mention the excellent quality of both traditional English beer styles and those newer styles which, although influenced from abroad and made with New World hops, are nonetheless peculiarly British: the barley wines; the strong stouts and porters like Hawkshead Brodie’s Prime; the cask session pale ales like Roosters Yankee, Ilkley Mary Jane or Hawkshead Windermere Pale; and yes, even the brown bitters that sell by the gallon.

After a bit of thinking, looking at Google Maps and (frankly) gerrymandering, I concluded that, if it came to it, I could probably cope with drinking only beers brewed within a 75 mile radius of my house in North Leeds.  Provided, of course, that they had access to hops flown from the other side of the world.  (I should note I hadn’t even considered Burton and it ended up within the area quite by accident – I was pushing north east and north west). That would allow me to enjoy beers (inter alia) from all of the following breweries:

Acorn, Black Sheep, Buxton, Coniston, Cropton, Daleside, Durham, Goose Eye, Hambleton, Hardknott*, Hawkshead, Ilkley, Kelham Island, Kirkstall, Leeds, Little Valley, Liverpool Organic, Magic Rock, Mallinsons, Marble, Ossett, Red Willow, Revolutions, Ridgeside, Roosters, Saltaire, Sam Smiths, Stringers, Summer Wine, Thornbridge, Timothy Taylor, and York.

Whilst I would scrape by on these riches, in quiet moments I would find myself yearning for Orval, Brooklyn Lager, St Bernardus, Sierra Nevada Torpedo or even Jever.  I’d certainly miss Kernel and Brewdog; it would sting on a positively existential level to never enjoy another Irish stout.  The worst would be to travel and not enjoy local beers: cursed to stick to the Watney’s Red Barrel in “Majorcan bodegas selling fish and chips […] and calamares and two veg“.

But I think this exercise has helped me to realise that one of the best things about beer is that someone in the smallest unit of an industrial estate in West Yorkshire can buy foreign ingredients and build on the innovation and tradition of other brewers, cultures and traditions, to make the some of best beer in the world, right on my doorstep.  It’s a credit to those American, Belgian and other brewers that they have inspired them to do so.

You can’t say that about wine.  As they say in Doncaster: bollocks to Terroir.

*Just about: I might have to add an extra half a mile…

Update: For a reply from Southern England, see Mark Landell’s blog.

  1. Tipple Me Fancy
    February 21, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    An interesting excercise and really does show how on top of their game so many of these new northern brewers are. I’d be pretty happy with that list to drink from that’s for sure, although I too would hanker after Kernel and for me Rochefort 10!

    • February 22, 2012 at 6:30 pm

      Ilkley beer festival had a great selection of beers on that list as well as a few more remote ones. It’s great to have a beer festival in Yorkshire with local breweries that isn’t just multiple variations on the Black Sheep / Landlord / Tetleys that people associate with Yorkshire.

      • Tipple Me Fancy
        February 22, 2012 at 6:50 pm

        I’m in Leeds next week for a few days, so looking forward to visiting Mr Foleys and north bar for the first time.

  2. February 21, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    Hard to tell from the scale of the map but I’d say we’re in. Just. Nobut just though…

    Great post Nick.

    • February 22, 2012 at 8:08 am

      I think it depends if you’re at the “right” end of Millom. Cheers Alex!

  3. February 22, 2012 at 12:55 am

    I love living in Leeds….

    • February 22, 2012 at 6:18 pm

      It does seem quite central all of a sudden!

  4. February 22, 2012 at 6:54 am

    How come good things in Bradford always get overlooked? http://www.salamanderbrewingcompany.co.uk/

    • February 22, 2012 at 8:07 am

      This is why i said “inter alia”, but your point is well taken.

  5. February 22, 2012 at 8:48 am

    This is an interesting way of looking at it. We’ve been pondering how tired some US beer is by the time it gets here and whether it’s really worth the while when there are now so many British brewers producing beers of similar types. Suffice to say, we probably wouldn’t be able to survive on only Cornish and Devonian beer: though some of it is great, a lot isn’t, and it doesn’t currently compete with the sheer variety available up north.

    • February 22, 2012 at 6:25 pm

      I do find that I’m simply not willing to pay a premium for certain American beers on occasions when I can pick up something quite special like a Thornbridge Halcyon or Magic Rock Human Cannonball for a fraction of the price. I’m always interested in trying American beers that are new to me though.

      If I was in Cornwall I’d probably mainly live off Proper Job and Sharps.

  6. February 22, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Great stuff that. Very good points. Not sure about BrewDog mind you, but apart from that…….

    • February 22, 2012 at 6:27 pm

      It depends if it’s canned or not. Actually though, considering where Punk is canned, perhaps I could claim it anyway? If I wanted to, that is.

  7. February 22, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Good, but if you’re including the likes of Mallinsons etc, you really need to include Pictish from Rochdale who have been producing experimental beers and using New World hops for the last 12 years.

    • February 22, 2012 at 9:08 am

      The only reason that Pictish didn’t occur to me is that I thought they were Scottish, because of the name. I did wonder why you always seemed to get a lot of their beers in Manchester! Thanks.

  8. February 22, 2012 at 9:37 am

    I’d never thought about it that way before, great to have a different perspective on the beer scene in the UK.

  9. February 22, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Great post Nick – you’d certainly have a decent drinking life – but could you spend a lifetime reading just Northern English blogs? 😉

  10. February 22, 2012 at 3:55 pm
  11. Dominic. Thornbridge
    February 22, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    Great post Nick, however, a small correction – Marble started in 1997, not 1987. And the glory days of myself, Colin (now running Black Isle) and our old head brewer James (still running the show at Marble) didn’t begin until about 2003/4 (I think).

  12. February 23, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    Well…of course, you could ‘cope’!

  1. February 22, 2012 at 3:50 pm
  2. February 25, 2012 at 12:15 am

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