Craft beer is still a term that defies definitive explanation given different people attribute different meanings.
To most it’s a tedious affair, but those in the industry still squabble over the word “craft”.
To some craft means beer of an exceptional quality using the very best ingredients regardless of how it is dispensed. To others it is used as a method of differentiating the method of storage and dispense.
Purists hark back to when keg beer in the 1970s was synonymous with flavourless fizzy rubbish will argue that only real ale from a cask is craft beer worth drinking.
When talking of keg beer today I say that’s utter rubbish given the mesmerising wealth of flavoursome keg beers of all styles and flavours that are produced with love, passion, the best ingredients and incredible skill from modern day brewing alchemists.
For clarity, for the purposes of this review of York’s top craft beer bars, it means beer that is dispensed from a keg rather than a cask and not dispensed from a handpump.
There’s not a better time to be drinking craft keg beer and the following York bars are purveyors of some of the best from this kingdoms 2000 breweries and further afield.
130-134 Micklegate, York YO1 6JX
Sited at the top of Micklegate a few yards from the city walls this bar from independent Scottish brewing giants Brewdog opened after a protracted court battle with a local trader – much to the relief of their loyal following of fans in the York area.
I say fans because Brewdog as a company have so far attracted investment in their crowdfunding equity scheme from over 100,000 loyal drinkers.
The multi-roomed bar is huge. Depending on where you drink the décor ranges from upmarket hipster chic to unfinished DIY project. Not that the surroundings seem relevant when a big mural on their wall screams “craft beer for the people.”
There’s 14 different draft beers to choose from with their iconic Punk IPA headlining a canteen style backlit menu board above the bar. There’s a wide variety of their own hop-forward beers plus guests from the likes of Stillwater and Tempest.
25 Fossgate, York YO1 9TA
Fossgate rivals Bishy Road for the title of “independent central” given the preponderance of great locally owned businesses that make it such an epicurean honeypot.
Taking its name from its locality, this chameleonesque café bar attracts a varied clientele who come for top notch coffee and snacks during daylight and a warm intimate atmosphere with craft beers, spirits and cocktails later in the day. You feel welcome whether wandering in on your own or part of a group.
The bar area with its smart exposed brick backdrop is supplemented by a popular backyard where you sit amongst flora and fauna – and a plush upstairs Georgian lounge whose recent addition was necessitated by burgeoning demand.
The Lakins (brother and sister owners) have recently started brewing their own beer (their Space Craft IPA is excellent) to supplement a good selection of six draft beers from the likes of Magic Rock, Beavertown and Brass Castle. A new bar and microbrewery on Micklegate is in the works.
40 Goodramgate, York YO1 7LF
This cosy intimate bar has built an enviable reputation as a music venue with an eclectic roster of performers packing the place most nights of the week.
The diminutive bar area where more people stand to listen to music than sit is supplemented by significantly more seating in the upstairs lounge which leads to a compact roof terrace with one of the best views of York Minster of any pub in the city.
Like most café bars in York, daytimes see the Habit more popular for their home-made burgers and coffees whilst the evening clientele take advantage of a decent selection of beers, wines and spirits.
Despite space restrictions the bar has a generous choice craft keg beers as well as three handpulls. Favourite craft beers with the regular patrons include Beavertown Gamma Ray; Founders All Day IPA; Leffe and Leifmans fruit beer.
4 Monkgate, York YO31 7PE
A big makeover has given this pub not just a cosmetic facelift but a new credibility from a beer perspective.
It resides in the shadow of the magnificent self-contained 14th century fortress of Monk Bar (with its working portcullis) which was one of the four main entrances to the walled city of York.
This pub takes full advantage of its proximity to St John’s University attracting (not exclusively) a student clientele with its new funky colours; retro gaming stations and plethora of USB points. TVs situated throughout the place show regular sporting events.
With perhaps a nod to York’s national reputation as a beer destination city, the addition of five craft beer taps has stirred the curiosity of local residents and “town and gown” rub shoulders perfectly amicably.
There are five regularly changing craft beers mostly from popular Yorkshire breweries such as Brew York; Hop Studio; Ilkley and Beer Monkey.
1 Little Stonegate, York YO1 8AX
This subterranean drinking establishment that has a touch of speakeasy in its Spanish DNA has become a local favourite.
Regulars value its excellent selection of artisan drinks and also its slightly clandestine credentials with its blink and you’ll miss it single door entrance on Little Stonegate.
Its big next door brother Kennedy’s bar is the extrovert whilst Sotano plies its trade in the shadows.
It bills itself as a charcuterie and bar and there’s no denying the excellence of their extensive range of homemade Mediterranean tapas plates.
Whilst it’s well known for its range of top notch spirits (27 different gins alone) and a very decent cocktail menu, its craft beer offering certainly isn’t the poor relation.
There’s eight taps dispensing beers from the likes of Atom; Titanic and Tiny Rebel as well as hop forward American IPAs such as Hardywood and the Spanish lager Alhambra.
The Star Inn the City
Time was when upmarket restaurants paid less attention their beer menu than they did to their Twitter feeds – and most of them hadn’t heard of social media !
Andrew Pern’s polished jewel housed in a converted pumping station on the banks of Ouse next to Lendal Bridge is appositely representative of a certain breed of restaurateur who wants to get all components of the epicurean experience right and that extends to having a well-chosen selection of beers.
Yorkshire’s the capital of UK brewing with over 170 breweries and for an establishment that promotes it’s Yorkshire roots throughout its menus it also stocks two excellent local craft ales in Bad Seed’s session IPA & Great Yorkshire’s Blackout.
Given the splendour of the Star it’s no surprise that they wanted a “wow” factor with the beer as well, so installed four copper 500 litre tanks which serve as fresh a pint of Pilsner Urquell (pictured right) as you’ll find anywhere in the North.
3 Museum Street, York YO1 7DR
31-33 Goodramgate, York YO1 7LS
This diminutive bar trading in the shadow of York Minster has long been a favourite of craft beer aficionados with its virtually unrivalled selection of draught European beers; a good selection of bottled beers and a cornucopia of delights when it comes to wines and premium and rare spirits.
It also does a very healthy trade in Champagne and prosecco.
The building itself as you would expect from the locale is listed – virtually every building is in the street – and dates back to the 15th century and substantial remains of the timber-frame are visible throughout the building.
Beers from Belgium have always featured prominently and you’re more than likely to be lucky enough to find Tripel Karmeliet; Duvel; Leffe or Kasteel on draught as well as numerous more in the fridge.
Lagers such as Paulaner; Berliner and Kostrizer are a positive step up from mundanity and the wheat beer Hacker Pschorr is one of the best examples of its kind.
Nick Love is a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers and an experienced pub campaigner. He’s a regular interviewee on all things pub related on local and national Radio and TV and is York CAMRA’s Pub Protection Officer. He presents Jorvik FM’s mid-morning show.