Huddersfield’s Magic Rock have been putting out consistently highly-regarded beers ever since they started out in the Spring of 2011. That particular debut was the 7.4% IPA Cannonball, and was brewed on a kit they hadn’t performed any test brews on, lit by a boiler that had been commissioned only the day before. The resourcefulness clearly started right from the first day. After launching at the Grove at the end of June in that year (the first cask of Curious selling out in half an hour), within two days they had brewed the first batch of Human Cannonball, and within another month, won their first award. Magic Rock really came flying out of the traps – and have been on that upward trajectory ever since. 2012 saw the release of Bourbon-Barrel Bearded Lady, Clown Juice (surely their most under-rated beer to date), and the arrival of a bottling line. Last year, the twin juggernauts of Salty Kiss and Unhuman Cannonball were unleashed.
Yet, despite all these achievements, 2014 is the year when Magic Rock took that next step.
It’s because of what they’ve experienced, more than anything. The fact is, that early success led them to reach capacity almost within that same year, and many of the beers listed above were brewed in a site that they had outgrown – particularly with the arrival of the bottling line. Founder Richard Burhouse and head brewer Stuart Ross refuse to have their beers bottled off-site, as they know they can’t guarantee the quality, so everything is done in house. That’s a commendable attitude – but it requires the money, and (just as importantly) an adequately-sized house in which to operate. Right back at the start of the year, it looked as if Magic Rock were moments away from striking a deal that was sorely needed – a 16,000 square foot brewhouse and taproom, in a site near Huddersfield station.
Agonisingly, at almost the eleventh hour, the prospective landlords raised hitherto unheard of concerns about the tasting room. Following three weeks of negotiations, and after no change in outlook, Richard reluctantly pulled out of the deal. With architects and solicitor’s fees paid, and a new 50HL brewkit ordered and on the way, they suddenly had nowhere to go and nowhere to put it. To make matters worse, when the kit did eventually arrive into the UK, apparently illegal immigrants were discovered hiding amongst the shipment, and the entire lot was impounded. This is more than just simple frustration at a two-week delay in a new fermentor arriving – I’m not sure I can begin to imagine what it must have been like for Richard and the team, as these events played out.
Amazingly, as the same time as all this has been going on, Magic Rock have also produced stunning beers like Pith Head, Magic Spanner, Slapstick and Villainous (just a fantastic Vienna IPA). In April they won a World Beer Cup Gold medal for Salty Kiss – the only UK brewery to win the highest level of award this time around. They were also invited to take part in the Copenhagen Beer Celebration, What’s Brewing in Stavanger, and the Shelton Bros festival in San Diego. Most recently of all, their collaborations with Siren and Beavertown (Rule of Thirds) and Evil Twin (Pogonophobia) have ended the year on a high for many.
When thinking about the Brewery of the Year, it’s about more than just the beer. It’s a prerequisite, of course, but for a producer to stand out above the other breweries who are at the very, very top of their game at the moment (such as Siren, who were extremely close to getting the nod; and last year’s winner Buxton, putting out better and better beer). But to produce beer of the quality and imagination that they have done over the last twelve months, and to do all that against a backdrop of such upheaval, is something else. To put it in their circus parlance; for spinning that many plates without letting any fall, my brewery of the year for 2014 is Magic Rock.
Oh, and their year did eventually end on a high.
This is my last blog post before Christmas – I’ll be back just before the new year with my selections for Chris Hall’s Golden Posts, celebrating the best of beer blogging. Until then, many thanks to everyone for reading the BeerCast this year, particularly those who commented on the posts, or followed me on Twitter or Facebook. It’s been another fantastic year for British brewing, making it a pleasure to write about. Until the Golden Posts, have a very happy and beer-filled Christmas! Cheers!