Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Sam's Swim Against the Tide

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!


Stonch said...

To some extent Sam's redeem themselves by brewing passable lager (Pure Brewed) and wheat beer. I think most of their bottled stuff is overrated, and tend to avoid it. OBB is precisely the kind of bitter I don't like.

Having said all that, I still use their lovelier London pubs from time to time. The interiors are often magnificent, and sometimes they have a great atmosphere, attracting a very mixed crowd (old farts and students, both tight as duck's arses and therefore attracted by the low prices, provide the most obvious contrast).

I sat next to someone from CAMRA's head office last week at dinner and he was telling me just how secretive and strange the family are.

Tandleman said...

I have been known to drink both. I note that the hefe weizen is now no longer labelled as "Ayingerbrau" and that their connection with that famous Bavarian brewery seems to have ceased. It is a pretty good version of the style though.

Pure Brewed seems to me thinner and less of the beer it used to be, but still pretty good by UK standards. I have drunk it quite a few times in the summer in London when my distrust of London served cask beer is at its zenith.

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