With the number of craft brewers on the rise, Sarah Freeman meets the photographer on a mission to celebrate the Yorkshire beer scene.
Mark Newton likes his beer. It’s Friday lunchtime in Whitelocks and given it’s almost the weekend he’s sipping a pint of Five Points Brew and reflecting on an 18-month project which has brought him a whole lot closer to Yorkshire’s burgeoning brewing scene.
“There is still a temptation to think that brewing is dominated by men with beards,” says the Leeds based photographer, who also sports some impressive facial hair. “To a certain extent it is, but in the last few years the scene has changed dramatically and what I wanted to show was the sheer variety of people who now work in the trade, from those who brew the beer to those who sell it.
“Twenty years ago, if you mentioned the word real ale then it was a bit of a turn off, unless you happened to be a member of Camra, but now people are really keen to talk about what they have drinking or some new brewery they have discovered.
“An entire industry has grown up around microbreweries and given that we were already a nation of pub goers, that’s something to be celebrated.”
Nationwide, figures show that the number of breweries rose by eight per cent last year – and 65 per cent in the previous five years. A boom in the popularity of small-scale breweries means Leeds has emerged as a capital of craft beer and across the county, kitchen sink operations are turning into major concerns.
“You can trace the history of brewing in Yorkshire back through the centuries,” adds Mark. “Given what’s happened to many other traditional industries, the fact that it has not only survived, but is thriving is something worth celebrating.
“What’s really exciting is that the people who rise to the top are really innovative. They are experimenting with flavours like lychees and grapefruit and beer is really having a moment just as gin did a few years ago.”
Mark works as both a commercial and wedding photographer, but in part inspired by his own love of beer he started to turn his lens on the pubs, breweries and bottleshops which he thought best summed up the current beer scene.
Initially focused on Leeds, that meant going on a bit of a pub crawl around some of the city’s most famous – and favourite pubs – from Whitelocks to the Duck and Drake and capturing the less established bars like Bundobust which specialises in beer and Asian street food.
“I guess I did want to debunk a few myths along the way,” he says. “These days you are just as likely to find women setting up a microbrewery of having an encyclopaedic knowledge of the craft ale movement and that’s what I wanted to show.
“It wasn’t about airbrushing more traditional images out of the picture, but I just wanted to give an accurate snapshot of what’s happening in Yorkshire right now.”
After exhibiting an initial selection of images as part of Leeds Beer Week last year, Mark decided to cast his net even wider and turn the project into a celebration of the whole of the county.
“I knew Leeds really well even before I started photographing its pubs, but then I found myself staring at a map of Yorkshire and thinking, ’Right where do I go now?’ However, the beer community is a pretty friendly bunch and it wasn’t long before I was getting recommendations.
“I set my own brief, which was to photograph the people and places as they really were. These are all busy people and I didn’t want these shoots to take be laboured or to involve a huge set up with lots of lights. I just wanted to see how they worked and capture them on camera as quickly and as least intrusive as I could.”
The final collection includes a number of independent breweries, from the Hop Hideout in Sheffield to Scarborough’s North Riding and Harrogate-based Roosters.
“I really did discover some gems along the way. North Riding has its own brew pub just a few minutes walk from the Open Air Theatre. As soon as I stepped inside I thought, ‘Why don’t I know about this place?’.
“That feeling happened quite a few times, but in some ways I loved the fact that there were really passionate people just going quietly about their business and producing something so great.”
With the support of the independent beer journal Hop and Barley, Mark is hoping that he can turn his collection of images into a coffee table photographic book simply entitled Beer Yorkshire.
“I have selected 85 pictures from the thousands I took over the last year and a half and I do think that together they tell a story of a really Yorkshire success story from the innovative start ups to established family brewers.
“We want to use really high quality paper so it becomes a work of art in its own right and really complements the passion and the craft of those who feature in it. We are looking to raise £16,000 to get the book published and we would to hear from anyone who might be able to help.”
Even with the selection finalised, Mark hasn’t stopped taking photographs of pints and he is always on the lookout for potential new subjects. And so far there has only been one brewery which hasn’t yet responded to his invitation to have their staff photographed.
“I haven’t entirely given up hope, but I sent Sam Smiths in Tadcaster an email asking if they wanted to be part of the project and so far I haven’t heard anything. It would be great to have a look inside, because I think one of the really interesting things that has happened over recent years is that you can have microbreweries which produce small quantities of beer being served in the same pub as these great big operations.”
And perhaps inevitably having spent so long rubbing shoulders with brewers, Mark is now entertaining his own aspirations to make his own beer.
“I’m not going to open my own brewery, but there are a number of places now where you can hire a keg so you can have a go at making your own beer without having to invest in all the equipment.
“That’s great. It means people can experiment and take risks and in many ways that’s what today’s beer scene is all about.”
Anyone who would like to find out more about Beer Yorkshire can contact Mark through his website at marknewtonphotography.co.uk