Whilst on our trip to the UK we were in the county of North Yorkshire so could not pass up a drive through the small town of Tadcaster and then onto Masham (near Ripon).
John Smith’s Brewery
On the main high street of Tadcaster is an impressive 19th century building that is the home of John Smith’s Brewery which dates back to 1883. This brewery, which is owned by Heineken now, is a national player within the UK market selling beers such as Extra Smooth, Bitter, and Magnet. Whilst we walked past one of the side entrances we saw a Muntons truck dropping off its load of grain. There has been noticeable updating, or extending, of the capacity of the brewery by the presence of old and new grain silos.
Samuel Smith Brewery
Almost directly next to John Smith’s Brewery is another famous Yorkshire brewery sharing the same last name, namely the Samuel Smith Brewery. This brewery differs from John Smith’s in that the front on the high street of Tadcaster is a pub/hotel rather than the brewery building itself with the brewery behind the high street row of shops. On the Sam Smith’s web site there are a large range of beers and ciders which are exported around the world.
After Tadcaster we moved onto the small town of Masham, just outside of Ripon, to visit the Theakston’s Brewery. Once we had parked the car and paid 50p for parking in the honesty box we followed the signs to the Theakston’s Visitor Centre. The path winds past a row of 10 feet high hops and is situated inside the Black Bull Pub. A tour is priced at GBP 6.75 each and includes a pint of beer or 2 halves or 3 thirds. As there were two of us and 6 main beers on tap we opted for 6 x 1/3 pints (or large samplers).
Our server also offered us a taste of the River’s Answer which was from a new test batch and made with smoked china tea. Below are the cask beers that we sampled:
- River’s Answer – 3.7%*
- Best Bitter – 3.8%
- Black Bull Bitter – 3.9%
- Lightfoot – 4.1%
- Four & Twenty – 4.2%
- XB – 4.5%
- Old Peculiar – 5.6%*
* designates our favorites from the sampler.
Normally the beer tasting would follow the tour but we had 90 minutes to wait for the next tour and because we were driving we decided to have them prior to the tour. On the tour itself we first of all had an introduction talk followed by entering the brewery and climbing up to the top of the main building which took about 5 years to build in the 19th century.
The sacks of grain used to be pulled through hatches to the top floor where the Grain Mill is located, this in turn feeds by gravity into the Mash Tun on the level below. Next to the Mash Tun is a Hot Liquor Tank for heating the mash and sparge water. Once mashing is complete the wort flows via gravity into the Boil Kettle located below the Mash Tun.
The brew house is 80 barrels and brewing is done 3 times per day, Monday to Friday. On the lowest floor is a filter for the boil kettle to empty into and remove the hops from the wort before pumping it into open fermenters where the house yeast does its work converting the wort into beer. Each open fermenter can hold half a batch.
During fermentation the brewers skim off yeast to be cleaned and used in future batches. Once fermentation is complete the beer is transferred into tanks to settle with the assistance of ground cod swim bladders. The majority of beer is placed into casks and dry hopped with some beer being transported to a bottling plant via tanker.
Once the tour was complete we returned to the Visitors Centre where in addition to a bar there is a merchandise shop. After leaving the brewery we drove past the local Post Office which was the first location for the Theakston Brewery before moving to its current location.
Black Sheep Brewing
Our last stop on this North Yorkshire mini-tour was to take a few photos of the Black Sheep Brewery which is located a few hundred yards from Theakston’s. Black Sheep gets its name from a breakaway member of the Theakston family who opted to setup his own brewery whilst remaining in the same town.