Samuel Smith's Old Brewery at Tadcaster was established in 1758. It still delivers all of its cask beer in wood. It uses hard water from its own well and traditional Yorkshire stone 'squares' - roofed fermenting vessels made of solid blocks of slate with a yeast strain that goes back to the last century. They won't take anyone else's beers, wines, spirits or even soft drinks. They make and sell their own. They even have a few shire horses knocking around to complete this idyllic picture. It is strictly family owned.
So is there anything to detract from this perfect set-up? Well yes. They are secretive and frankly, rather odd. They own quite a few pubs around here as a result of the takeover and closure of Rochdale and Manor Brewery back in the 70's, but from the outside you can't tell. Neither pubs nor the drays that deliver the beer are signed as Sam's for reasons best known to themselves. They brew only one cask beer, the flinty edged, malty, mid brown Old Brewery Bitter.
Last night CAMRA business took me to a Sam's house. The Yew Tree is an attractive pub which used to distinguish itself by having an old Pullman Coach attached as a restaurant. Until they discovered all the asbestos that is. Like many Sam's pubs it has been refurbished to a high standard in the multi roomed layout they prefer. I like that. The beer is usually extraordinarily cheap. In this case OBB was £1.33 a pint. On form it is a mouthfilling, heavy, malty beer of character, albeit a malty one. But this wasn't on form. It was disappointing. Thin and malty with a yeasty edge. That annoying stage where it isn't good enough to enjoy, but isn't bad enough to take back.
In my own area, like elsewhere and I'm thinking particularly of London here, Sam's have a poor and idiosyncratic record of supplying cask beer. (I was particularly outraged when they refurbed the Anchor Brewery Tap and took the cask out.) The majority of "our" Sam's pubs don't sell it. Probably for all I know the majority elsewhere don't sell it. Bad enough to supply only one cask beer, but to limit its availability compounds the crime. As I said. Odd!
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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