Tastings School - God's own country

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God's own country

It covers 6,000 square miles, but does its beer measure up? Alastair Gilmour sets off for Yorkshire.

It has an economy worth £80bn. Its five million inhabitants call it God’s Own Country. Its colloquialisms are virtually impenetrable to strangers. Ireland?

Norway? Greece? Singapore? ’Appen as not, it’s Yorkshire.

Absolutely everything in Britain’s largest collection of counties is referred by its natives as “best in’t world” – its landscape, tea, cities, cricketers, puddings, you name it. So it’s probably a good idea to agree that its beer is, too.

But great beer is not just the product of its location, it’s the plant that brews it, the water that supplies it (plentiful in Yorkshire where even deluges are best in’t world) and the vital ingredient, the people who brew it.

Though not a brewer, Yorkshireman Jonathan Manby does speak a language of his own. His is a world of stave, jigger and flogger. Auger and knocker-upper are also everyday names. It’s not some lost tongue, Jonathan is one of only a handful of brewery coopers left in the land, making wooden casks from these tools in various sizes from firkins holding nine gallons to butts rejoicing in 144 gallons of ale made by T&R Theakston, the legendary brewery that produces Old Peculier and Black Bull Bitter.

“This is my computer,” he says, holding up a short stick. “The size I’m making here is between nine gallons one pint and nine gallons two pints. It’s pretty exact – rough, but it works. It’s surprising what you can do with a bit of string and a bent nail.” It’s little wonder that when Jonathan was being assessed for standard operational procedures as part of ISO 9002 all that the inspectors noted was: “Start off with timber and make a watertight cask.” “They just missed out the whole lot in the middle,” he says. “When I explained what I was doing, they said, ‘I’m not even going to start writing that.’” Virtually next door is that other North Yorkshire powerhouse, Black Sheep Brewery, which in 1992 was little more than an empty rat-infested warehouse.

Accelerated investment over the past three years have seen a huge new brewhouse and cask-handling facility assembled across three floors inside the picturesque stone building in Wensleydale. This new facility, running in parallel with the original, has increased capacity to 80,000 barrels and an enviable business with an annual turnover in excess of £10m.

The Black Sheep range – from Best Bitter to Riggwelter – owes its characteristics to people such as the brewer who leans precariously out of an open window, pointing to two copper pipes which are building up a head of steam.

“When that one drips every second and the other one drips intermittently, I know my temperature’s just about right,” he says, heaving himself back in. “It’s what traditional brewing is all about,” he adds, now waving his thumb in the general direction of a flickering clock face.

“And anyway, I don’t trust that gauge.” Whimsy aside, customers seemingly can’t get enough Black Sheep beers. Its Fanatics Club has more than 3,000 members who catalogue sightings of “Sheepy” delivery wagons and submit photographs of themselves wearing Tshirts at locations from Mount Kilimanjaro to, appropriately, belching geysers in Iceland. Even Pope Benedict XVI comes into the equation. He was presented recently with a bottle of Holy Grail – a particular export success – by Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York.

The address Turkey Lodge suggests the former pig farm that now houses Little Valley Brewery had another use. The totally organic operation sits on a hillside overlooking Cragg Vale, near Hebden Bridge, at the end of an eight-mile gradient which cycling Dutchman Wim van der Spek negotiates every morning.

“It’s a very good area for a brewery,” he says.

“This part of Yorkshire has very soft water and is central for delivering to Manchester, Leeds and Lancashire.” The little touch of wackiness that once lingered over organic beers – that they were the liquid equivalent of knobbly carrots and misshapen potatoes – has been blown away by dedicated professionals such as Wim producing astonishing aroma and flavour profiles. Little Valley Cragg Vale Bitter, for instance, bursts with spice and grapefruit.

“We combine the most pure, organic natural ingredients with environmentally-friendly methods,” he says. “All our ingredients are traceable; we use hop pellets, organic herbs, organic heather and a peat malt which produces a very smoky beer, like a German Rauchbier.” Wim also produces beer under the Suma Foods label, the largest wholefoods company in the country. Previously, he had been head brewer at the organic Black Isle Brewery near Inverness but his passion for beer began as a 15- year-old home-brewer who formed a school beer club, De Gustibus Est Disputandum. He eventually studied at the Doemens Brewing Institute in Munich.

Wim also attempted to cycle around the globe, heading for China to find the world’s highest-altitude brewery.

“It’s so high the water boils at 80ºC and I wanted to see how they did it,” he says. “I couldn’t find it.” To describe Sean Franklin of Roosters in Knaresborough as ‘running a brewery’ is doing a huge disservice. If it were music he was making, he’d be Nelson Riddle influencing Franz Ferdinand – art, Van Gogh with the nous of Antony Gormley. He is a master in the craft of brewing with an instinctive feel for malt, yeast, water and – especially – hops. He can tease aromas and flavours out of the little green plant that some of his contemporaries can only dream of – and without the undoubted advantage of a sense of smell.

“There are lots of aromatics here in the brewery and I get immune to them all until after a couple of hours away,” he says.

“Then my palate gets reset.” Roosters was set up in October 1993, since when Sean has quietly laid a trail for others to follow while building a worldwide reputation for his greenfingeredness and his ability to innovate.

Appropriately, it was another traditional business that first felt his passion – winemaking – working for the legendary Louis Latour in Burgundy in the mid-1970s and studying oenology in Bordeaux.

Sean explains the close parallels between beer and wine production, referring to the terpenes in grapes – also present in hops – which give them their fruity flavour. He describes rootstock, balance and varietal aromas in an easily-digestible manner which reinforces his theory that beer is more than an amalgam of hops, sugars and malts.

He says: “I now get as much out of beer as I ever got out of wine. What you’re selling is interest and excitement. We use American hops and also European, New Zealand and English ones, of course. The Americans are the most aromatic; there’s a greater chance of getting the kind of flavours I want out of them.

“We’ve expanded from a four-barrel plant to an eight-barrel one and now to 25. Every time you jump you’re fearful about being able to do it – each step represents a massive quantity, but after you’ve done it a couple of times you think, what was that all about?” When York Brewery opened in 1996, it was the first within the city walls since JJ Hunt closed 40 years earlier. Not everyone was convinced it was a viable proposition – six banks turned down managing director Tony Thomson’s request for finance.

A dozen years on, York is brewing five times a week on a 20-barrel brewhouse, operates several pubs, and sends its beer to every part of the country. The brewery, a former motorcycle showroom, is tucked away in a terraced street a short walk from the city walls.

It is very much a local attraction, hosting regular tours finishing in a heavily beamed, bare-floored, comfortable bar which would grace any city centre. Brewing awards are almost as regular as the four-times-a-day tours.

It represents a tiny percentage of the total, but the speciality continental beer market is developing faster than a high-rise froth. And much of it is being driven by James Clay & Sons which supplies supermarkets, pubs, restaurants, brewery groups and independent retailers with 250 of the world’s finest.

The Clay operation sits next to a factory in Elland, Leeds, which made the Gannex coats that Harold Wilson helped popularise in the 1960s. Arranged on an impressive racking system are boxes, crates, cases, pallets, packs, parcels and containers of beer, beer and more beer. It’s a glorious sight. Never before has the to-and-fro action of a forklift truck resembled poetry in motion.

To give an idea of the breadth of the James Clay portfolio, think of Trappist beers, Abbey beers, 50-plus fruit beers, dozens of sour beers, smoked beers, vintage beers and wheat beers in colours from blonde to brown to red to black, and in alcohol content from zero to 14%.

The company was set up in 1980 after Ian Clay, its founder and managing director, had been running his own bar and restaurant. His head, however, had been turned by world beer styles, particularly those with a European elegance and a je ne sais quoi.

He says: “We got to know wholesalers in Belgium and started bringing in mixed pallets to sell in the pub, then we started to get our own wholesale accounts. There was nobody else doing it.” The firm now supplies Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Oddbins.

“But it’s all small volumes and we’ll be taking a pallet into the depot at the same time as a truck arrives with a full load of Stella,” he says. “Speciality beer is a fantastically growing sector. It’s a market for discovery; people like to try different things.

“All our beers are brewed in their country of origin – the wheat beers and fruit beers are genuine. It’s much nicer to have 100 years of passion behind something.” The forklift reaches high for another The breweries (continued) order of Duvel then spins towards a loading bay. Poetry, sheer poetry.

Yorkshire may be better known in brewing circles by giants Tetley and the two Smiths, John and Sam, but the one-man band still manages to flex its elbows and to make inroads. One of those is Rob Wiltshire of Yorkshire Dales Brewery in Askrigg – brewer, delivery man, cask washer, fetcher and carrier.

“We’ve got our beer into some really good ale pubs,” he says, “and some very good restaurants like the Wensleydale Heifer.” The former IT professional had long been passionate about good beer and spent 18 months researching the microbrewing business before taking it up for himself. Progress through initiative and quality have resulted in being invited to send beer to Brussels for a reception for MEPs.

“When I was in IT I was doing work for an American bank but I was tired of being away from home all week,” says Rob. “But I had to decide if it was economically viable to run a brewery and if I could generate enough of an income.

“It’s going well at the moment, things are holding up, considering the market conditions out there.

We have four regulars: Askrigg Ale, Muker Silver, Booze Moor and Butter Tubs, all named after local places. But we’re also doing three or four specials a month such as Smoked Porter made with malt from Bamberg in Germany because people like all different beers – and it’s nice as a brewer to be doing something different. We’ve just done a pilsnerstyle lager which represents our 50th different brew.

“I travel all over with them to North Wales, Whitley Bay, Hull and Sheffield.

I was at a beer festival recently with a pal who used to be a lawyer. We were saying we didn’t make the sort of money we used to, but by ’eck we’re not half part of a great industry.” The likes of Yorkshire Dales Brewery may only contribute a minuscule amount to an £80bn economy but its people are true Yorkshire heroes.

Best in’t world? By ’eck indeed.

The breweries
ABBEY BELLS
Selby, North Yorkshire YO8 8QP
www.abbeybells.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Amber Neck Tie, 4.0% ABV
ABBEYDALE
Sheffield, South Yorkshire S8 0YX
www.abbeydalebrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER absolution, 5.3% ABV
ACORN
Wombwell,Barnsley,
South Yorkshire S73 8HA
www.acornbrewery.net
CHOICE BEER Barnsley Bitter, 3.8% ABV
ANGLO DUTCH
Dewsbury, West Yorkshire WF12 9AF
www.anglo-dutch-brewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Amber Pale, 4.4% ABV
ATLAS MILL
Brighouse, West Yorkshire HD6 1ES
www.atlasmillbrewery.com
CHOICE BEER Premium, 4.2% ABV
BAREARTS
Todmorden, West Yorkshire OL14 7LP
www.barearts.com
CHOICE BEER Light Cascade, 5.3% ABV
BLACK SHEEP
Masham, North Yorkshire HG4 4EN
www.blacksheepbrewery.com
CHOICE BEER Best Bitter, 3.8% ABV
BOB’S
Ossett, West Yorkshire WF5 9NQ
Tel: +44 (0)7789 693 597
CHOICE BEER Brewers Gold, 3.9% ABV
BRADFIELD
Sheffield, South Yorkshire S6 6LG
www.bradfieldbrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Farmers Bitter, 3.9% ABV
BRIDESTONES
Hebden Bridge,
West Yorkshire HX7 7JB
Tel: +44 (0)1422 847 104
CHOICE BEER Pennine Best, 4.0% ABV
BRISCOE’S
Otley, West Yorkshire LS21 3EL
Tel: +44 (0)1943 466 515
CHOICE BEER Dalebottom Dark, 4.3% ABV
BROWN COW
Selby, North Yorkshire YO8 8EH
www.browncowbrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER White Dragon, 4.0% ABV
CAPTAIN COOK
Stokesley, North Yorkshire TS9 5BL
www.the captaincookbrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Slipway, 4.2% ABV
CLARK’S
Wakefield, West Yorkshire WF2 9SW
www.hbclark.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Westgate Gold, 4.2% ABV
CONCERTINA
Mexborough,
South Yorkshire S64 9AZ
Tel: +44 (0)1709 580 841
CHOICE BEER Club Bitter, 3.9% ABV
COPPER DRAGON
Skipton, North Yorkshire BD23 2QR
www.copperdragon.uk.com
CHOICE BEER Golden Pippin, 3.9% ABV
CROPTON
Cropton, North Yorkshire YO18 8HH
www.croptonbrewery.com
CHOICE BEER Monkmans Slaughter, 6.0%
ABV
CROWN
Hillsborough Hotel, Sheffield, South
Yorkshire S6 2UB
www.hillsborough-hotel.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Traditional Bitter, 4.0% ABV
DALESIDE
Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG1 4PT
www.dalesidebrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Daleside Blonde, 3.9% ABV
DARK HORSE
Hetton,Skipton,North Yorkshire BD23 6LY
www.darkhorsebrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Hetton Pale Ale, 4.2% ABV
EASTWOOD
Elland, West Yorkshire HX5 9HP
www.eastwoodthebrewer.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Black Prince, 5.0% ABV
ELLAND
Elland, West Yorkshire HX5 9AE
www.eandsbrewey.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Best Bitter, 4.0% ABV
EMPIRE
Slaithwaite, Huddersfield, West
Yorkshire HD7 7HA
www.empirebrewing.com
CHOICE BEER Golden Warrior, 3.8% ABV
FERNANDES
Wakefield, West Yorkshire WF1 1UA
www.fernandes-brewery.gowyld.com
CHOICE BEER Malt Shovel Mild, 3.8% ABV
GLENTWORTH
Doncaster, South Yorkshire DN6 8PL
Tel: +44 (0)1302 725 555
CHOICE BEER Lightyear, 3.9% ABV
GOLCAR
Golcar,Huddersfield,W.YorkshireHD74NB
Tel: +44 (0)1484 644 241
CHOICE BEER Pennine Gold, 4.0% ABV
GOOSE EYE
Keighley, West Yorkshire BD21 5AX
www.gooseeyebrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Bronte Bitter, 4.0% ABV
GREAT HECK
Great Heck, North Yorkshire DN14 0BQ
www.greatheckbrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER YPA, 4.2% ABV
GREAT NEWSOME
Winestead, East Yorkshire HU12 0NR
www.greatnewsomebrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Sleck Dust, 3.8% ABV
HALIFAX STEAM
Hipperholme, West Yorkshire HX3 8EF
www.halifax-steam.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Cock o’ the North, 5.0% ABV
HAMBLETON
Holme-on-Swale,N.YorkshireYO7 4JE
www.hambletonales.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Stud, 4.3% ABV
KELHAM ISLAND
Sheffield, South Yorkshire S3 8SA
www.kelhambrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Pale Rider, 5.2% ABV
LEEDS
Leeds, West Yorkshire LS11 9RU
www.leedsbrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Pale, 3.8% ABV
LINFIT
Linthwaite, Huddersfield,
West Yorkshire HD7 5SG
Tel: +44 (0)1484 842 370
CHOICE BEER Gold Medal, 4.2% ABV
LITTLE ALE CART
The Wellington, Sheffield,
South Yorkshire S3 7EQ
Tel: +44 (0)114 249 2295
CHOICE BEER
White Rose Best Bitter, 4.3% ABV
LITTLE VALLEY
Cragg Vale, Hebden Bridge,
West Yorkshire HX7 5TT
www.littlevalleybrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Withens IPA, 3.9% ABV
LITTON
Queen’sArms,Litton,N.Yorkshire
BD23 5QJ
Tel: +44 (0)1756 770 208
CHOICE BEER Gold Crest, 3.9% ABV
MALLINSONS
Huddersfield, W.Yorkshire HD3 3HS
www.drinkmallinsons.co.uk
CHOICE BEER
Station Best Bitter, 4.2% ABV
NAYLOR’S
Keighley, West Yorkshire BD20 7DT
www.naylorsbrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Pinnacle Mild, 3.4% ABV
NORTH YORKSHIRE
Guisborough, North Yorkshire
TS14 8GH
www.nybrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Flying Herbert, 4.7% ABV
OAKWELL
Barnsley, South Yorkshire S71 1EZ
Tel: +44 (0)1226 296 161
CHOICE BEER Old Tom Mild, 3.4% ABV
OLD BEAR
Keighley, West Yorkshire BD21 4YL
www.oldbearbrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Bruin, 3.5% ABV
OLD MILL
Snaith, East Yorkshire DN14 9HU
www.oldmillbrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Old Curiosity, 4.5% ABV
OLD SPOT
Cullingworth, Bradford,
West Yorkshire BD13 5HN
www.oldspotbrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Inn-Spired, 4.3% ABV
OSSETT
Ossett, West Yorkshire WF5 8ND
www.ossettbrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Fine Fettle, 4.8% ABV
REDSCAR
Redcar, North Yorkshire TS10 1SQ
www.theclevelandhotel.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Sands, 4.2% ABV
RICHMOND
Richmond, N.Yorkshire DL10 4LD
www.richmondbrewing.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Sw’Ale, 3.6% ABV
RIVERHEAD
Marsden, Huddersfield HD7 6BR
www.ossett-brewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Sparth Mild, 3.6% ABV
RODHAM’S
Otley, West Yorkshire LS21 1BZ
Tel: +44 (0)1943 464 530
CHOICE BEER Old Albion, 5.0% ABV
ROOSTER’S/OUTLAW
Knaresborough, N. Yorkshire HG5 8LG
www.roosters.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Yankee, 4.3% ABV
RUDGATE
Tockwith, York YO26 7QF
www.rudgate-beers.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Viking, 3.8% ABV
RYBURN
SowerbyBridge,W.YorkshireHX62AZ
Tel: +44 (0)1422 835 413
CHOICE BEER Best Bitter, 3.8% ABV
SALAMANDER
Bradford, West Yorkshire BD4 9PH
www.salamanderbrewing.com
CHOICE BEER Mudpuppy, 4.2% ABV
SALTAIRE
Shipley, West Yorkshire BD17 7AR
www.saltairebrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Blonde, 4.0% ABV
SHEFFIELD
Sheffield, South Yorkshire S3 8BT
www.sheffieldbrewery.com
CHOICE BEER Seven Hills, 4.1% ABV
SAMUEL SMITH
Tadcaster, N.Yorkshire LS24 9SB
Tel: +44 (0)1937 832 225
CHOICE BEER
Old Brewery Bitter, 4.% ABV
JOHN SMITH’S
Tadcaster, N.Yorkshire LS24 9SA
www.scottish-newcastle.com
CHOICE BEER
John Smith’s Bitter, 3.8% ABV
SUMMER WINE
Brockholes, Holmfirth,
West Yorkshire HD9 7AB
www.summerwinebrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Aleshire, 4.2% ABV
TETLEY
Leeds, West Yorkshire LS1 1QG
www.carlsberg.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Tetley’s Bitter, 3.7% ABV
THEAKSTON
Masham, North Yorkshire HG4 4YD
www.theakstons.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Old Peculier, 5.6% ABV
THREE PEAKS
Settle, North Yorkshire BD24 9BD
Tel: +44 (0)1729 822 939
CHOICE BEER
Pen-yGhent Bitter, 3.8% ABV
TIGERTOPS
Wakefield, West Yorkshire WF2 9LN
Tel: +44 (0)1924 897 728
CHOICE BEER Longshore, 3.6% ABV
TIMOTHY TAYLOR
Keighley, West Yorkshire BD21 1AW
www.timothy-taylor.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Landlord, 4.3% ABV
WENSLEYDALE
Bellerby, Leyburn,
North Yorkshire DL8 5QH
www.wensleydalebrewery.com
CHOICE BEER Foresters Bitter, 3.7% ABV
WENTWORTH
Wentworth, S. Yorkshire S62 7TF
www.wbbrew.co.uk
CHOICE BEER
Old Father Thames, 3.4% ABV
WHALEBONE
Hull, East Yorkshire HU2 0PA
Tel: +44 (0)1482 226 648
CHOICE BEER Diana Mild, 3.5% ABV
WOLD TOP
Newton, Driffield, E.Yorkshire
YO25 3HS
www.woldtopbrewery.co.uk
CHOICE BEER
Wolds way Pale Ale, 3.6% ABV
YORK
York, North Yorkshire YO1 6JT
www.yorkbrew.co.uk
CHOICE BEER Yorkshire Terrier, 4.2% ABV
YORKSHIRE DALES
Askrigg, North Yorkshire DL8 3HG
www.yorkshiredalesbrewery.com
CHOICE BEER Butter Tubs, 3.7% ABV