York has that unbeatable formula of blending history and cultural appeal with a widely diverse offering in its pubs and bars.
There’s the city’s traditional pubs – buildings dating back to the 11th century – with gnarled wooden beams that have witnessed centuries of humanity imbibing the ales of the day, right through to contemporary chic bars with high ceilings, light hardwoods, brushed steel and hand painted murals.
There’s so many beers on offer in these pubs that you’d might think it’s a beer festival every day. And you’d be right…
A beer census has just been completed in the city. Organised by York CAMRA discovered that York boasts
- 291 different real ales
- and 240 different craft keg beers.
And the average price of a pint in York…
- of real ale is £3.60
- of craft keg beers is £4.54.
Although that shows a small drop in the number of real ales (from 328 in 2016) it shows a big increase in craft keg beers (from 138 in 2014).
Clear beer trends
Talking to the organisers of this fourth city beer census, there have been some noticeable trends over the six years that they have been running it.
There’s been a significant increase in the numbers of beers available, with a greater percentage of beers being sourced locally – which can only be very good news for the local economy with its vibrant independent sector.
The census’s organiser Lucy Buykx says:
It’s really good to see the continuing trend of diversity in beer choice, in real ale and craft beers.
What’s also great to see is increasing numbers of Yorkshire beers on sale.
That’s good for our local brewing businesses and for drinkers. Locals can support our local artisans and it helps bring tourists to enjoy a truly York experience.
The big corporate brands haven’t disappeared though as they slowly but surely get their acts together to try and catch up with the more nimble and inventive independent producers, so names such as Guinness; Molson Coors and John Smiths still have a significant presence in York’s pubs and bars.
But the national trend is that drinkers go for styles first before brands which can only be good for diversity.
Pushing taste boundaries
The commensurate increase in the diversity of styles echoes the national trend, with brewers resembling alchemists these days as ingenuity pushes the boundaries of (good) taste even further.
When I first moved to York there were a few basic styles that you were guaranteed to see on any visit to a pub.
Bitters (standard and strong), milds, stouts and lagers were ubiquitous and the range of choice was pitiful.
National brands such as Tetley’s and John Smiths dominated pubs tied to major brewers, with just a few chinks of light such as the Ackhorne; John Bull; Maltings; Spread Eagle and Tap & Spile that bucked this trend, serving local or regional ales from smaller brewers.
Things have changed in a tectonic manner since then as the beer census results show. York has again mirrored the wider UK picture in beer trends in that whilst real ales available have fallen slightly, craft keg beer has risen.
The craft beer explosion has transformed many years of indolent consolidation in the beer industry and a few mainstream styles into a revolution that is the biggest thing for a generation.
A rising tide floats all ships – so traditional real ale fans shouldn’t see the rise of craft beer as the brews of Beelzebub, but something to be welcomed in promoting beer overall.
York is a microcosm of the burgeoning of the UK brewing industry, with over 2,000 now plying their trade.
These days in the city’s hostelries you can’t move for the huge range of different hop forward pale ales which have made an astonishing re-emergence, as the nation’s tastebuds have become more curious and adventurous.
In York now you can taste English IPAs; East Coast IPAs; West Coast IPAs; double IPAs; black IPAs; Milkshake IPAs; Grapefruit IPAs – I could go on and on.
It’s not all about IPAs though and all styles are evolving at a breakneck and often bewildering speed.
Fancy a Tiramasu Stout?
On a night out in York you’re just as likely to encounter a Cranberry and Ginger Dark Sour; Coconut Milk or Tiramasu Stout; Apricot; Cherry or Strawberry Fruit beer; Marshmallow Porter; Orange & Cinammon Amber Ale; Gooseberry Gose; Farmhouse Saison; Bavarian style wheat beer and imperial stouts aged in wooden barrels.
York as a city and as a high profile destination is well placed to take advantage of what is called “the experience economy”. People are now cutting back on buying stuff in favour of doing stuff and when they go out they want to be wowed.
With this dazzlingly diverse array of beer styles and sheer volume of choice, it’s little wonder that York is a magnet for visitors who want to combine tourism with bacchanalian revelry.
York is no longer a poor relation when it comes to restaurants either – it finally reflects the UK’s foodism culture and has the 3rd highest percentage growth in new openings of any city in the UK over the last 18 months.
So whether you’re a resident or planning to visit York over the coming months, you can eat, drink and be merry in the most beautiful of surroundings, in what is according to a recent YouGov survey, the UK’s favourite city.