I’ve spoken many times about wanting to raise awareness about the North East beer scene and this year it’s my mission to raise the profile of the breweries which are creating the fantastic beer scene here on Tyneside. So to kick it off in style, here’s my profile of Almasty Brewing Co, enjoy!
Out of a pretty innocuous lock up, tucked away on an industrial estate, great things are coming…
As you wind your way into Algernon industrial estate, you pass many industrial units all of which have the same uniform, low key facades, very much functional and expressionless, but as you turn the final corner an Almasty lurks. You may not see it yet, but it’s there….
Filled with images of mysterious misty forests, Almasty brewery has created a brand around the tag line “ale exploration”. This isn’t human exploration, its nature exploring its own back yard. There is a down to earth, connected to its own habitat, natural and organic development to the Almasty brand. Almasty is an old Russian term for a Big Foot or sasquatch. And this is a powerful beast, who lives in the shadows, perfectly suited to its environment. It’s elusive and mysterious, it’s much talked about but rarely seen. And when it does raise its head, its big news, it captures the public’s interest. It draws in officiandos from all over to come and investigate the sighting. The fascination is only strengthened by the mystery that surrounds it. Hopefully I won’t ruin the allure by telling you alittle bit about our Almasty, the brewery!
Here is a brewery which recently celebrated its 2nd birthday, and yet it’s a brewery which has been in the making for far longer than that. The Owner/Head Brewer/Tsar (OK OK I get it, that’s enough of the Russian references) Mark McGarry has a strong track record brewing for some of the region’s best known breweries. Somewhat inevitable that one day he was to take the step to open his own brewery. Your own brewery allows your own ideas to flourish that bit more and he’s taken the lessons he’s learned from his past and is brewing beers of impeccable quality. There is no core range. There are some pretty consistent styles but they are subtly varied to explore different nuances in the style, which keeps things interesting for the brewer and interesting for the consumer too. His IPA for example is delicious, whichever Mk you try. They each bear the hallmark of Almasty quality and yet the ingredients used will vary from Mk to Mk. The variations are openly noted for all to see, it’s not simply badged up as IPA its MK I, MK II, MK III and so on etc etc so for us consumers we can see the variations and how the beers evolve as Mark works around with them. The other style which I personally particularly enjoy are his stouts.
I have to admit, there has been a recent demand for what I see as American sweet imperial stouts. Thinking of Buxton’s Yellow Belly & Oscar Blues Ten Fidy being two examples of this. I liked these beers, but didn’t love them, experience dominated abit too much by the sweetness for me. My personal preference is the bitter, bold roast coffee, espresso of a stout rather than anything overly sweet. What struck me early on about Almasty is that Mark brews stouts exactly how I like them. I love that in this day and age there are such a broad range of imperial stouts, it’s a reflection of the current market place as a whole.
Mark had an Almasty Brewing Co bar at Indyman last year and I was lucky enough to sample the imperial stout he was serving that day, he also had a cherry version on and both beers were deliciously smooth, deliciously luxurious, with a big bold mouthfeel and well balanced roasted coffee/chocolate notes and it felt very satisfying to drink.
Recently, I was able to get myself along to Newcastle Beer Festival where the biggest draw for many was the Almasty Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout. Again, this was delicious, but felt bigger, more rounded and the bourbon in it warmed the cavities of your nose and kept the cold out. Delicious beer. But what I hadn’t appreciated was that this was infact the same beer that I had sampled at Indyman. It was freshly brewed for Indyman with some of it set to one side and barrel aged in various barrels to experiment with different flavours. Fascinating to see how the barrel aging process had changed the beer. It’s not just a case of the beer taking on the flavours from the wooden barrels, the beer itself changes over time too. So its smoother and different flavours come to the fore.
There are further barrel aged versions to come aswell, so keep your eyes peeled for those! Mark is very much an experimenter with beer. He has solid brewing experience and applies quality workmanship to his product, which allows him to experiment with less risk. He is more likely to produce something good when he has a sound knowledge and yoda style foresight to see what each adjustment will do to the ultimate beer. He recently produced an Irn Bru sour for the Newcastle Brewdog bar’s birthday celebrations. And I’m told it was a cracking beer. But a real step away from the norm, there is no norm for Mark, the norm is experimenting with beer and his ability makes each beer appear effortless.
I often get asked to pick out beer for people to try and my golden rule is if you see Almasty, drink Almasty, such is my regard for the beers. At many smaller beer festivals I go to its noticeable that hop forward beers usually served on keg, aren’t always able to translate that quality into a cask offering where there is no chiller. Almasty is one brewery that I know the IPA’s and Pale Ales do translate well. They have an overall quality to them which adapts well. And it’s noticeable that you see a lot of cask Almasty beers around the pubs and clubs. I have heard a few brewers, most noticeably Buxton Brewery, dropping their cask offering to all but their own tap house. Without getting too drawn into the reasons for that, I think it’s great to see breweries still developing great cask beer. I’m not blinkered enough to say keg is best, while I mainly drink keg I love a good quality cask beer. The trouble is cask beer is prone to being poorly kept which ruins the drinker’s perception of all cask beers and also the perception of the brewery itself. But that’s an argument for another time.
So what of the beers. With the beers not being widely bottled, I took it upon myself to get out and about into the pubs and clubs of Newcastle and sample the beers on draught.
Mk 7 IPA
Here is the flagship IPA range in all its glory. Almasty is a brewery as dedicated to cask as it is to kegged beer. I had this from cask in the Free Trade Inn and it’s an incredible beer. It leaves you with that feel good aura like you’ve just given blood. Order a pint, prepare for the big bold hop assault and follow it with some sweet biscuit malts to balance it all out. Delicious!
APA Classic American pale ale.
At 5% this packs a punch, delicious piney grapefruit and sweet mangos all blended together wonderfully. This is a real refreshing, sessionable beer. In a time when there are a million pale ales on the market its difficult to stand out, but this genuinely does. That’s testament to the quality of the beer, the quality of the brewer and the quality of the full package.
Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
Mark was incredibly kind to provide us with some bottles of this to review on the Beer O’Clock Show and what a beer! Here is a beast of a beer. I think it’s the hedonist in me that has a love of good quality high abv beers. I’m not a lover of abv for abv sake, the art of a high abv beer is usually to mask the alcohol burn. However, when you barrel age a beer in bourbon barrels you kinda want that bourbon to be prominent in the flavour or else the type of barrel used becomes irrelevant. I also see with all beers that setting is key. For me an imperial stout is the perfect nightcap. I like a big thick boozy imperial stout and to sit and slowly sup infront of an open fire.
Almasty is a key brewery to watch out for. Seriously high level of expertise employed here and the more Mark experiments the greater his beers will become. And to reiterate, if you see Almasty, you should drink Almasty. You can thank me later.