Two Minute Tuesdays
We love Yorkshire. The people, the places, the food, the drink, you name it! To celebrate this great county, over the next few weeks we’ll be providing you with some snapshots of some of our favourite local craftspeople, innovators, and businesses.
This week we have Lee Grabham from Brew York craft brewery, York
Brew York is located inside York’s city walls, and responsible for some of the city’s best brews. They're a 15 minute walk from the train station and have a unique Taproom with riverside beer garden right alongside the Brewhouse, enabling you to try their beers at their freshest.
Lee, Brew York
York, North Yorkshire
1. So, first things first, what inspired you to set up your business?
A love of all things beer, I suppose. My social life was largely about visiting breweries and pubs. When I was offered redundancy I took the opportunity! I spoke to my now-business-partner Wayne, and we decided to go for it. We’d met on a stag do in Hamburg, and were both incredibly geeky about beer. We both had little homebrew operations set up in our sheds and had been sharing our beers with friends for free. We’d always had great feedback, so it made sense to make it into a business!
2. How did you learn to brew?
My dad was a keen homebrewer, and I’d homebrewed with him since I was 15. Back then it was a different concept. A big jar of extract from Boots, add some baker’s yeast, and hope for the best. Invariably you got something strong and that got you drunk, even if it wasn’t the best tasting thing in the world! We refined that over time, went to the intermediate step of Australian-style brew in bags, all in a single vessel. Eventually we moved onto multiple vessel brewing, which is what we do today. That was when the beer really started to come to life.
3. What does it mean to you to own a craft business?
It means many things. Firstly, working for yourself & the freedom of that. Not being answerable to anyone, and controlling your working days. One of the biggest things for me is job satisfaction – in particular seeing the fruits of your labours. Wayne & I both used to work in a corporate environment, where you’re just a small cog in a big machine. Doing what we do today is much more gratifying, and you understand where you fit in the picture. We’re really lucky because we have a taproom, so get the full satisfaction of serving someone a beer and watching their reaction there and then!
4. What’s been your proudest moment so far?
The one moment that comes to mind was making our debut appearance at York Beer & Cider Festival. We won Beer of the Festival with our beer the Tonkoko Milk Stout.
We walked in one day and someone said ‘you must be pretty pleased’, I said yeah, I was enjoying the festival, and they said no- you’ve just won beer of the festival! It was a bit of a shock, but absolutely brilliant.
We’ve won other, bigger awards, but that was our debut award at our home festival and so was particularly special.
5. What motivates you most?
It’s going to sound cheesey - but to always do better. As good as some of our beers are, and as complimentary as people are about them, as head brewer I always think of things we could do better. If it’s brewing better, packaging, or selling better. It’s about not resting on your laurels, and always looking for ways to do things better. We’ve found this to be especially true as the business has grown – as we get bigger, the quality of everything has to improve.
6. Any advice to aspiring craftspeople and business owners out there?
To anyone thinking of getting into it - just do it. Don’t live with the regret of wondering ‘what if.’ You don’t want to go to your grave wondering what had happened if you’d just tried it.
Make sure you have a fluid and dynamic business plan – what you think what the customer wants and what you deliver might be different. We’re lucky and have our taproom – we get immediate feedback.
For example, time and time again we had people asking why we made beers of a minimum 5%, so we started making some lower percentage session beers, which are now some of our best sellers.
Make sure you keep an eye on what your market is – the craft beer market is constantly changing. People used to go to the pub and drink the same beer time and time again. That’s not the modern beer world – people like variety now. They’re looking for a new experience and to experiment. You’ve got to have a constantly changing offering to succeed.
7. Describe your perfect Yorkshire day out.
I’m going to be selfish & describe something I like to do once a year – though my wife wouldn’t necessarily agree!
Once a year we hire a coach and head out into the North York Moors to spend a day drinking in some traditional Yorkshire pubs. The scenery is beautiful, and travelling around by coach really lets us sample what every pub has to offer.
Yorkshire is great for these traditional rural pubs that really are the heart of the community.
8. What are your top tastes of Yorkshire?
Harrogate Blue! I love blue cheese, and Harrogate Blue is just amazing. Yorkshire Provender soups, especially the tomato and wensleydale one. And you can’t beat a roast with Yorkshire puds. Ideally lamb or beef for me!
9. How would you define the Yorkshire spirit?
My stepdad has a phrase – the Yorkshire war cry. It goes ‘How Much?!’ But really that’s a bit misplaced – us Yorkshiremen aren’t tight. We’re very generous, and we like a drink!
The typical Yorkshireman likes to get stuck in & get involved. Quite a few of us are pretty competitive, we don’t like being beaten.
It takes quite something to knock a Yorkshireman down. And if you do knock us down we’ll just keep getting up again.
10. Anything coming up that people should know about?
The botanically flavoured beer Sweet Gin Music which we’re releasing in collaboration with Cooper King Distillery!
13th & 14th April is our 2nd birthday party, where we’ll also be launching ‘Empress Tonkoko’ – the big brother of our Tonkoko stout series.
11. What’s your favourite Yorkshire hidden gem?
It’s not so much of a hidden gem, but my favourite pub out in the Moors is The Blacksmiths Arms at Lastingham. They keep their beer really well, and the food there is out of this world. They always sort out a spread for us – beautiful handmade sausage rolls, mini Yorkshire Puddings, it can’t be beaten.
12. What’s your top pick for a Sunday dinner?
I’m a keen amateur chef, and I do a great slow-cooked leg of lamb that can’t be beaten. So that’s probably my favourite.
13 What’s your favourite piece of Yorkshire trivia?
My stepdad was once asked by some Australian tourists how to get to nar-es-boroo. It took a bit of back and forth before he realised they meant Knaresborough!
14. Who’s your Yorkshire hero?
Michael Palin – I’ve always really loved Monty Python, and in particular Michael Palin – his travel documentaries and the companion books. We even make a Tropical IPA called X-Parrot, named after the famous Monty Python sketch.
15. Favourite Yorkshire word or saying?
Like I said, I think it’s the Yorkshire war cry. How much?!
16. Best thing to come out of Yorkshire?
I don’t think anything can top Yorkshire Puddings!
17. You’re stranded on a desert island and can only bring one meal, one book, and one album. What do you choose?
I adore lasagne, so that would have to be the meal. I’m an avid reader and go through about 50-60 books a year, so it’s tricky choice… Probably Dune by Frank Herbert. The album would have to be Rage Against The Machine’s self-titled first album.