Thursday, 21 July 2011

It's not Magic, but it does Rock

Last December I drove down to Matt Clarke's Hawkshead Brewery in the Lake District to meet up with two guys,  Richard Burhouse (mybrewerytap) and brewer Stu Ross. I had 'met' Richard on Twitter and we'd sent a few txt, chatted a bit on the phone and here we were, meeting. It's sounds like a date doesn't it? It wasn't.

Over the course of the evening Richard excitedly told me about his new project, a brewery called Magic Rock. He was starting up with his brother Jonny, his business partner Ed and Stuart as head brewer. His passion was palpable, but Rich is a passionate guy who gets visibly giddy with childish enthusiasm when he's talking about beer. Stuart is less giddy, a smiley, properly laid back Yorkshireman who is pretty keen on sarcasm whenever possible.

This isn't a review of personalities, the point is I desperately wanted them to do well because they are great guys; no airs or graces, no pretence, they just love great beer. Down to earth and honest.

The next time I saw Rich was when he came to stay with us in January. We took the train to BrewDog Aberdeen, got smashed and chatted beer. He was clearly worried. He was concerned about the financial outlay, the image, the potential for failure and all the other things that go hand in hand with starting a new business.

This was also the first time I saw the first draft of the branding and it was then I thought 'Christ I hope they get the beers right', because what he was showing me was awesome.

Magic Rock were always going to be stuck between a rock and a hard place because of the reputations of the owner and the brewer. They could pre-sell on reputation, but if the beers weren't at the very least 'good' that reputation could be ruined in a month. Business fucked, time to find a new job.
It's debatable what sort of pressure you'd prefer, the pressure of starting from scratch with no industry connections giving you time to tweak your product, or being thrust in to the industry limelight and pray to god that the response is favourable. Many with the former would prefer the latter I'm sure.

Well, it seems the boys have done alright, and I am sure they are breathing huge sighs of relief. Irrespective of how much faith you have in yourselves it's only natural to have doubts.

I won't do tasting notes, partly because I think they are pointless and partly because lots of other people have.

I will say I think Rapture needs work, a more malty base as it's a bit thin and I'm not sure the hop mix works. I get a lot of coffee on the finish which I can't say I like and the hops on the nose don't pay out when it touches the palate. Someone said it's like 5am Saint but better. I personally think 5am Saint is one of the best beers in the world, so I'd disagree with that. However, I also recall when 5am Saint wasn't that good either, and this is the first batch of a new brew on a new kit. It's not bad by any means, but I'm not convinced it's finished.

High Wire however is a revelation, a brilliant beer. It's got a beautiful balance, with all those smells and flavours you'd expect from a US style pale ale crammed full of hops. However, it doesn't go over the top with the hop base or the dry hopping. If they improve this I'll probably marry a bottle of it.

Cannonball is frighteningly drinkable for a 7.4% IPA. It hides the alcohol masterfully and the hops on the nose don't disappoint on taste. You could have several without checking the abv before getting quite a fright. There are plenty of established breweries who fail to make anything anywhere near as interesting or as good as this.

The worry for me was always 'will the beers match the branding' and quite categorically so far, they do. You can only do well when your branding is that cool and your beers are that good.

Couldn't have happened for two nicer guys either.

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