Yorkshire Square Brewery is Leading the Cask Rebellion
This brewery is producing a fully proper version of British style beer rarely found stateside.
All photos by Maggie Rosenberg.
Cask ale lovers living outside of the British Isles know exactly what they’re missing, even in American craft brew country. They’re reminded every time they drink another fizzy, ice-cold beer. Any flavor that the beer has will seem, like the carbonation, quite forced. Hop notes are chewy and bitter, malts are sugary. We understand why these beers need to be brash. It’s difficult to sneak much flavor past the tickle of bubbles, the numbing cold of the ice box and the sting of alcohol.
Usually they just keep calm and carry on, surrendering themselves to the modern tastes of craft beer. We smile politely when someone hands us an “authentic” ESB straight from a keg. Personally, we had given up hope. Fortunately, one man persisted. Brewer Andy Black and brewery owner Gary Croft are doing something about it. After learning the art of English brewing at Rooster’s Brewing in Yorkshire, Black came back to the U.S. and helped launch Los Angeles’ first cask ale focused craft brewery, the Scottish influenced MacLeod in Van Nuys. For the newer Yorkshire Square Brewery in Torrance (L.A.’s brewery hotspot), Andy teamed up with England native, Croft, to focus on the traditional English flavors that transplants dream about when they book tickets to visit home. That means brewing traditional styles of English beer the right way. Bitter, Pale Ale, Stout and even Dark Mild are dispensed from eight hand-pumps filling your (proper) 20 ounce pint-glass. Eight pumps of fresh ale is hard to find even in the Old Country.
We happened to be there on a good day, our two favorite Yorkshire Square beers both had a picture of Will Smith depicting the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air next to them, symbolizing that these casks had been “freshly” tapped. Cask ale is all about is freshness. Cask ale is beer’s rawest, least adulterated expression. Every day that it lingers on the line, it slowly degrades.
Yorkshire Square Brewery is named for a bygone method of fermentation practiced in Yorkshire where wort is pumped actively during the fermentation process (also known as rousing). This method of brewing is unique to Yorkshire. Today, it is only practiced by the oldest, large breweries in Yorkshire because it requires special equipment. This is one of the only differences between classic Yorkshire beers and the painstakingly authentic efforts that are being brewed in Torrance. Imported British hops and malts are used, and hardened waters recreate the stony finish of proper ale.
Much like the seal of Vera Pizza Napoletana or the Slow Food’s snail of approval, the Cask Marque plaque certifies authenticity of properly served English ales. Yorkshire Square received theirs in 2017, making it one of 17 bars in North America to hold such a plaque. The seal certifies that the casks are handled, served and stored properly.
Authentically recreating European styles is a popular passion for craft brewers all over America, but for cask ale, local brewing is more than just a fun challenge, it’s essential. Unpasteurized beers don’t travel well, and a bottle of ale doesn’t taste quite like a freshly drawn pint. The only way to really experience proper ale is to build it. Yorkshire Square provides that rare experience of authenticity that curious food tourists seek out. Tasting ale at the brewery is much like visiting an authentic Japanese ramen shop, or a taqueria that makes its own masa. It’s a culinary adventure that will transport you thousands of miles.
Let’s be honest, the best British food has always been ale. The flavor of these unique beers comes from a conspiracy of water hardness, vigorous top fermentation and a serving temperature that doesn’t completely numb the tongue. Common aromas are of fall fruits, nuts and hay. For us, the most exquisite aspect of these beers are their mineral finish that gives them the dry length of Champagne, but with a dull froth rather than a nose-tickling effervesce.
Although being true to the ales of English styles tastes like the priority for the brewery, they aren’t afraid to allow some American influences to lend certain beers a specific sense of Southern California. The Little Nipper, is a dry-hopped golden ale and served hazy, as is the current fashion for many fruity New England-style IPAs. The Yellow School Bus is brewed with American hops and, like many an American adjunct lagers, corn. Still, it tasted mostly like a proper English Golden Ale with a bit of extra bite. With old methods and new flavors, a new authenticity is forged. These are beer styles that are authentically Anglo-Californian.
Running a brewery based on cask ale is a noble, but challenging undertaking. It’s hard to sell casks to bars, as few have the engines to serve it or know how to store it. Besides technical difficulties, British cask ale still has yet to captivate the craft beer community the way Belgian brews and extreme craft styles have. Low-alcohol, balance, minerality, and easy drinking are all hip descriptors for today’s new wave of wines, but craft beer drinkers have been conditioned to appreciate the opposite. We catch ourselves sometimes scanning the menu for high octane beers with eye-watering IBU levels, and maybe some grapefruit extract thrown in for something different.
To be a brewer of cask ale in the United States is to be a believer, and an iconoclast. Yorkshire Square has entered the fray swinging. When we visited, they were on the cusp of organizing the first annual Cask Ale Isn’t Dead Festival. The name is a reminder of cask ale’s greatest strength: It isn’t dead. It’s raw, alive and unpasteurized. There is more life in a cask of proper ale than a warehouse of macro-brewed kegs. The festival sees twenty-five Los Angeles area craft breweries bringing cask ale to the party with no pressurized kegs allowed. Andy Black may already be responsible for most of the precious fews casks of ale that exist in Southern California, but he isn’t going to stop the revolution just because he’s taken Torrance.
Our Four Favorite Yorkshire Square Ales (all under 5% abv!) to Fill Your Flight
Perfectly Adequate Ale
The name is a playful nod to subdued British enthusiasm. The beer is brewed in the “Ordinary Bitter” style. It’s bone dry with a pleasant floral hop bitterness in the back. It’s an easy drink, but with enough flavor to consider with each easy drink.
Early Doors Bitter
The ideal British drink is a pint of bitter. If you taste one beer from this, or any English brewer, it should be their bitter. The Early Doors ticks all the boxes with grassy aromas of English hops, a soft texture up from and hard minerals in the finish. If anything it’s a tad bit on the hoppy side from most, but we loved it.
We find stout to be the style most improved by cask conditioning. After all, Guinness’ nitro system is a recreation of cask ale’s soft carbonation. Yorkshire Square’s version, is brewed with oatmeal per Yorkshire tradition (i.e. Samuel Smith). The oats provide a round texture which is sharpened by bitterness from hops and dark roasted malts in the finish.
It’s very difficult to find the dark mild style of beer anywhere in the U.S, but finding a correct one served from hand pumped casks is a unicorn. Yorkshire Square brews one, but we preferred this untraditional variation. The Drift is darker and hoppier than proper mild. It’s still an easy drinker, but one that you can meditate on.