From Whence We Came
In 1873, The Ilkley Brewery and Aerated Water Company was formed, utilising the town’s rich heritage as a spa town, dating back to Roman times. Unfortunately, having been gobbled up by a large conglomerate in the 20s, the company disappeared from view. The town’s cry for brewing tradition to be reborn wasn’t heeded until 2009, when The Ilkley Brewery Company brewed its first batch – Olicana (the Roman name for the town of Ilkley). Since the inception of the new company, it has been a somewhat whirlwind ride, and an incredibly steep learning curve. It is generally acknowledged that the first brew was drunk mainly out of solidarity from well-meaning friends and locals. However, the determination of the founders, Chris Ives and Stewart Ross, to produce exceptional beers, and using only the finest ingredients, they soon created a winning recipe. Gold winning in fact: Mary Jane won Gold at the 2009/10 SIBA Northern Beer Competition, and then Bronze nationally. And from this platform, the brewery was able to grow from producing just 4000 pints a week in its first premises to 33,000 pints a week now.
Recipe For Success
Half a ton of the finest malt from England and Germany, 4000 litres of the purest Yorkshire Water, the Ilkley Brewery strain of brewers yeast and a blend of the best hops available, from England and the New World. Combine to a precise timetable and leave to ferment for a week, remembering the old brewer’s adage “every beer should see a Sabbath”.When the above mixture is prepared by hand, in the traditional artisan fashion, with care, skill and dedication, and the same enthusiasm is channelled towards creating a dynamic business structure, growth is the natural result. 2011 saw growth of over 100% in terms of production, and the profile of the brewery increased with Asda, Booths and Morrisons each stocking a selection of the bottled ale.
Deals with national wholesalers now mean that our cask ales are being enjoyed in London, Bristol and Glasgow, as well as throughout Yorkshire on our direct delivery routes. Supplementing our core venues in Leeds, Bradford and the surrounding areas, we now regularly deliver as far afield as Manchester and Preston to the West, York and Thirsk to the East, and Halifax and Huddersfield to the South. Keep your eye out for our bottles in your local boutique wine-shops and off-licenses. 2011 also saw the development of our first craft-kegged ales, the MJ Artisan range.
Catering for venues not able to dispense cask-conditioned ale, the craft-kegged beers allows discerning drinkers at such venues the opportunity to sample great, local ale as an alternative to bland, tasteless lagers that they are so often confronted with. City centre bars and restaurants have welcomed the opportunity to take ale in a different format, and the MJ Pale is already a permanent fixture in 10 Leeds venues, a number expected to double in January. Here’s what Christian Townsley, of North Bar (www.northbar.com) had to say:
"We were absolutely thrilled to host the official launch of Ilkley Brewery’s range of craft-kegged beers at North Bar. The night was a great success and very busy as customers packed out the bar to try the beers for the first time. The beers tasted great, in particular MJ Pale was an absolute triumph. The depth of flavour on the palate was a surprise for such a low ABV beer. It’s been exciting following the rise of this wonderful local brewery and to see them branch out into keg beer is wonderful. Only the most innovative of cask ale brewers are attempting this area of dispense. We’re looking forward to working with Ilkley Brewery again.”
2012 sees MJ Summit and MJ Fortis go on general release, with at least another 30 venues on the waiting list, in Ilkley, Leeds, York and Manchester. 2011 culminated with Mary Christmas; a golden ale infused with festive fruit, spice and rum. What a Christmas Cracker. So good, we sold out by the 5th December and had to brew it again! Seasonal enough to wash the turkey down beautifully, but good enough in its own right to stand up to (nay, put in its shadow!) any “regular” beer on the bar.
Create, Innovate, Inebriate
So what can you expect from the Ilkley stable this year? Naturally, well-balanced, hoppy beers. We will continue producing our core range of beers, with Mary Jane, Ilkley Best and Ilkley Gold part of many Yorkshire-folk’s staple diet. Ilkley Black has shown a surge in popularity and will accompany Ilkley Pale, back by popular demand, on our regular brew-sheet. Stout Mary, fresh from her success at the SIBA Northern Beer Festival, where she picked up a silver medal, shall continue to feature, in both cask and bottle, and our wolf in sheep’s clothing, Lotus IPA will resume duties at the top end of our spectrum.
But fresh out of the blocks in 2012 are two new brews – a signal of our intent to continue the British Ale Revolution. Throughout the colder months, a true winter warmer will be our Fireside Porter, a deep, 4.2% chocolate Porter strongly hopped to add berryfruit with a lasting bitterness and a hint of smoke on the finish. We also welcome some influence from overseas, with an All American Brown Ale currently fermenting away, ready for action next week. It is a 4% ale using heavyweight American hops to deliver bitterness and a huge citrus hit, yet it remains balanced and smooth to drink. Deep amber in colour it is inspired by some of the most popular American Brown Ales currently available in the USA craft beer scene. Best enjoyed with a big hamburger and fries! Our Spring beer, Mary Hoppins is already under development, and other plans for the year include a Saison Noire, a Ruby… but wait, what would you like to see? We are committed to continuing to produce top quality, easy-drinking ales, that you would drink time and time again. So, let’s raise a glass of frothy goodness, toast the success of last year, and look forward to a 2012 brimfull of Ilkley Brewery innovation and evolution.
Hoppy New Beer!