Tuesday, 12 February 2019

A visit to Black Sheep Brewery



 Hidden behind the White Bear Hotel in Masham is the town's other brewery, Black Sheep, housed in the former maltings of the Lightfoot Brewery, which was taken over by Theakston in 1919. In fact the White Bear Hotel occupies the former Lightfoot Brewery buildings, the original White Bear was destroyed by a bomb in 1941, not deliberately it seems, a damaged Heinkel was shedding it's bombs before it crashed.
The front of the Black Sheep Brewery is rather industrial, it's the rear of the premises where the impressive and more photogenic side is.
The ghost sign underneath the Black Sheep Brewery letters refers to the previous use of the building as a maltings.
 Whereas the outside blends the historic and industrial, inside there is a modern bar, bistro and shop
 There were more people on this tour than on the one a few hours earlier going around the Theakston Brewery, a lot more, there were 3 people on the Theakston tour, including myself, whereas there were about 25 on the Black Sheep tour, this could be put down to better marketing but also the Black Sheep Brewery has room for coaches in the large car park.
First up on the tour was a corporate video, explaining the history of this brewery, founded by Paul Theakston in 1992.
                                                     Below: The Theakston family tree
The brewery appears to have been designed with tourism in mind, from the shop and bar to the video room and walkways. A short walk from the video room and up some stairs we come to the tall and long room of the former maltings, now home to the mash tun and copper.
Both pieces of equipment were second hand, the copper coming from the former Hartley's Brewery of Ulverston, Cumbria which closed in 1991.
 Above: a close-up of the mash tun and Steele's Masher
Below: the copper
Back to the the other room for another copper and the hopback

The fermenting room features round Yorkshire square fermenters which sounds like a bit of a contradiction in terms but, bear with me for this! The Yorkshire Square method of fermentation refers to the two-part open-topped fermenting vessels and the rousing pipe which circulates the fermented wort over the yeast. The multiplying yeast expands into the upper vessel, separating the beer from the yeast. Originally these vessels were square or rectangular but difficulty in cleaning  and sourcing new vessels resulted in the round Yorkshire Square being invented.
Above: An old Yorkshire Square at the brewery
Above: the rousing pipe and the yeast below
Above: cut-away diagram showing the Yorkshire Square fermenter
Black Sheep brewery are one of the few breweries using this method of fermentation.
Below: the racking hall
The tour guide on this tour was one of the most knowledgeable and informative guides I have been with on a brewery tour. Well versed in the history and function of the brewery plant, he also threw in a few amusing anecdotes, such as when the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, visited the German-born Pope Benedict XVI he took him a bottle of Black Sheep Monty Python Holy Grail beer!
Tours of Black Sheep Brewery cost £9.95 pp (2018 prices) and if you only have time to visit one brewery in Masham, I suggest visit Black Sheep rather than Theakston's as the tour is far better.

Masham is not short of pubs, however I only had time for a swift pint in the Bruce Arms before catching the bus back to Ripon.

Monday, 11 February 2019

A visit to Theakston's Brewery

 The small market town  of Masham is home to 2 breweries, Theakston and Black Sheep, both owned by different branches of the same family.
Theakston's was founded in 1827 at the Black Bull pub and expanded here, to Paradise Fields in 1875. Theakston's was owned by Scottish & Newcastle between 1987-2003 and some of the beers were brewed elsewhere, now the brewery is independent once more all the beers are brewed in Masham.

Masham is surprising in that it is home to to large breweries, as the town is quite isolated, to reach here by public transport is a bit difficult but is possible, there is a two-hourly daytime bus service running from Ripon (it's a City!) to Richmond. Ripon is served by an excellent bus service from Leeds and Harrogate, buses run every 20 minutes during the day and hourly at night, free WiFi on the very comfortable buses as well!

The brewery itself is rather difficult to photograph from the outside, not being on a main road but almost hidden down a lane in this flat market town, no hills to have a strategic view here.
The unmistakable Victorian Tower Brewery
Below: the former maltings of the brewery
The Theakston's Visitor Centre is tucked away around the back of the brewery, housed in the former brewery stables.
The visitor centre is named after the original pub that Robert Theakston had started brewing in, back in 1827 and the Paradise Fields that the brewery moved to 1875
The visitor centre features a bar and a shop selling plenty of Theakston's breweriana, though, unfortunately no book on the history of the brewery.
Above: The brewery yard from the visitor centre
Below:the malt on the ground floor of the brewery, waiting to be hoisted to the top of the tower brewery

 Above and below: the grist mill at the top of the brewery

From the grist mill to the mash tun, via, of course, the Steele's Masher

I did ask if this was the original mash tun as it looks it, the tour guide said yes, I then asked if this was the oldest working mash tun in the country, unfortunately the tour guide didn't know and replied that there were breweries older than Theakston's, naming Jennings and Robinson's, I replied that both have had major refits and don't use the original equipment. So is this the oldest working mash tun in the country? Harvey's or Palmer's may be brewing with something older but most other regional brewers have modernised or upgraded. Still if it works, why upgrade?
The day of my visit was a brewing day, so there was plenty of steam around to cause the autofocus on my camera to malfunction, however, the photo below is in black and white as it shows the steam rising into the louvered roof and escaping.

Back on the ground floor this fine vessel is the hopback
Below: the open square fermenters, although two at the end appear to be covered

Below: racking room

Final stop off was the cooperage, house in the old blacksmiths shop next to the stables. 


Then back to the Black Bull in Paradise for the beers



Three thirds of Theakston's beers are included in the price of the visit (£8.50 2018), yes the one on the right is the famous Old Peculier, named after the "Peculier Court of Masham", an ecclesiastical court set up in the twelfth century so that the Bishop of York did not have to make the long and dangerous journey to the town.
Overall an enjoyable visit to a brewery, although it's rare for me not to enjoy them! It's not often I visit an almost unchanged Victorian Tower Brewery, the heat and the steam
A bit let down by the knowledge of the staff, then again this was an ordinary visit, I often find the general pr staff unable to answer my questions! The only other fault is that in the extensive shop that sells everything from branded shirt to branded cake, there is no book on the history of this brewery.

The next post will be of the other brewery in Masham, Black Sheep.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Best Beers in Wales

The annual number crunching is finished and the list of the Best Beers in Wales from the Anheuser-Busch Inbev subsidiary Ratebeer is as follows:

1 Tiny Rebel Imperial Puft Porter - Imperial / Double
2 Loka Polly India Pale Ale Citra Ekuanot IPA
3 Lines Line CD - Double Barrel Farm Blend (Burgundy / Pinot Barrels) Sour / Wild Ale
4 Tiny Rebel Stay Puft Imperial Chocolate  Porter - Imperial / Double
5 Lines Line A - New Zealand New England IPA - Session
6 Tiny Rebel / Arbor Bonsai IPA
7 Lines Line A - Pale Oats on Delta Resin IPA - Session
8 Lines Line FA - Primary Brett Imperial stout Stout - Imperial
9 Lines Line A - Dry hopped IPA IPA
10 Loka Polly Double IPA Mosaic Simcoe IPA - Imperial / Double
11 Lines Line ACD - Farmhouse IPA Sour / Wild Ale
12 Tiny Rebel / Siren Didgeridank IPA - Imperial / Double
13 Tiny Rebel Clwb Tropicana IPA
14 Tiny Rebel Stay Puft Chocolate Porter
15 Tiny Rebel Loki Lite IPA - Session
16 Tiny Rebel Captain Insano IPA - Imperial / Double
17 Tiny Rebel Hadouken IPA
18 Tiny Rebel / Dark Star Rebel Alliance Saison
19 Lines Line CA - Nelson Saison Saison
20 Loka Polly Stout Citra Columbus Stout
21 Crafty Devil You Love Us IPA
22 Lines Line AD - Double IPA Blend (Nelson, Citra, Chinook & Amarillo) IPA - Imperial / Double
23 Tiny Rebel Dirty Stop Out Stout
24 Tiny Rebel Lock Stock IPA - Imperial / Double
25 Tiny Rebel / Fierce Beer Orange Mocha Frapp Stout Stout
26 Tiny Rebel Sugar Rush Stout - Imperial
27 Tiny Rebel Stay Puft Porter
28 Loka Polly Espresso Breakfast Stout Aurora Stout - Sweet
29 Tiny Rebel Tiny Batch In and Around the Mouth IPA
30 Loka Polly Stout Simcoe Stout
31 Hopcraft Sharks Against Surfers Pale Ale - American
32 Tiny Rebel Cali Pale Ale - American
33 Loka Polly India Pale Ale El Dorado Mosaic IPA
34 Lines Line DE - Blackcurrant Oak BA  Sour / Wild Ale
35 Tiny Rebel The Vader Shuffle Porter
36 Tiny Rebel / Weird Beard Dirty Perle Stout
37 Loka Polly Double IPA Simcoe Waimea IPA - Imperial / Double
38 Hopcraft A Good Rogering IPA - Black / Dark
39 Tiny Rebel Cereal Killer IPA - Session
40 Lines / Fyne Ales Green Lines Saison 3.54 14 Saison
41 Hopcraft Devilfish Ink IPA - Black / Dark
42 Tiny Rebel Bass Drop Stout - Imperial
43 Hopcraft Citraic Pale Ale - American
44 Hopcraft Graveyard Eyes (5.3%) Porter
45 Tiny Rebel Urban IPA IPA
46 Tiny Rebel Peaches & Cream IPA IPA
47 Loka Polly Pale Ale Mosaic DDH Pale Ale - American
48 Tiny Rebel / Dugges Pina Colada Pale Ale Pale Ale - American
49 Tiny Rebel The Full Nelson Pale Ale - American
50 Tiny Rebel Sonic Boom Typhoon IPA - Imperial / Double

No surprise that Tiny Rebel dominate this list, they brew fantastic beers.
Ratebeer also has a list of the top places to drink beer in Wales:

1. Tiny Rebel Cardiff (91 visits)
2. BrewDog Cardiff (87)
3. City Arms (Brains) (84)
4. Hopbunker (84)
5. Tiny Rebel Newport (80)
6. Chapter Arts Centre (78)
7. Clytha Arms (77)
8. Albion Ale House (77)
9. Vinomondo (77)
10. Gold Cape (JDW) (77)

Over at Untappd the list of Best Beers is a bit different:

1. Tiny Rebel Brewing Co Imperial Chocolate Stay Puft
2. Tiny Rebel Brewing Co Imperial Puft
3. LOKA POLLY Chinook Mosaic Double IPA
4. LOKA POLLY Mosaic Simcoe Double IPA
5. LOKA POLLY Citra Simcoe Double IPA
6. LOKA POLLY Simcoe Waimea Double IPA
7. Tiny Rebel Brewing Co/Siren Didgeridank
8. LOKA POLLY Citra Ekuanot India Pale Ale
9. LOKA POLLY Ekuanot Mosaic Double IPA
10. LOKA POLLY El Dorado Mosaic India Pale Ale
11. Tiny Rebel Brewing Co Chocolate Stay Puft
12. LOKA POLLY Citra Simcoe India Pale Ale
13. LOKA POLLY  Citra Double IPA
14. LOKA POLLY Citra Ekuanot Double IPA
15. LOKA POLLY Citra Columbus India Pale Ale
16. LOKA POLLY Chinook Vic Secret India Pale Ale
17. Crafty Devil Brewing Co  Not So Safe As Milk
18. Celt Brewing Ogham Ash
19. LOKA POLLY Citra DDH Pale
20. Tiny Rebel Brewing Co Bonsai
21. LOKA POLLY Ekuanot Simcoe DDH IPA
22. LOKA POLLY Galaxy Mosaic India Pale Ale
23. Crafty Devil Brewing Co Tax Man
24. LOKA POLLY Mosaic Simcoe Pale Ale
25. Tiny Rebel Brewing Co Captain Insano
26. Tiny Rebel Brewing Co Clwb Tropicana
27. LOKA POLLY Amarillo Mosaic India Pale Ale
28. Tiny Rebel Brewing Co Stay Puft
29. Crafty Devil Brewing Co Cry Baby
30. Crafty Devil Brewing Co Magic Bus
31. Purple Moose Brewery (Bragdy Mws Piws) Chocolate Moose
32. LOKA POLLY Ekuanot DDH Pale
33. Tiny Rebel Brewing Co Rhubarb & Custard Sour
34. Tiny Rebel Brewing Co But Did You Die?
35. LOKA POLLY Aurora Espresso Breakfast Stout
36. Crafty Devil Brewing Co You Love Us
37. Tiny Rebel Brewing Co Hadouken
38. Crafty Devil Brewing Co  Safe As Milk
39. LOKA POLLY Hallertau Blanc India Pale Ale
40. Tiny Rebel Brewing Co Peaches And Cream IPA
41. LOKA POLLY Simcoe DDH Pale
42. The Waen Brewery Snowball
43. LOKA POLLY Chinook Ekuanot Pale Ale
44. Tiny Rebel Brewing Co In & Around The Mouth
45. Tiny Rebel Brewing Co Lock Stock (Tiny Batch Edition)
46. Tiny Rebel Brewing Co Power of Grayskull
47. Crafty Devil Brewing Co/Left Handed Giant The Devil We Know
48. Crafty Devil Brewing Co Sweet Emotion
49. LOKA POLLY Citra El Dorado Pale
50.  LOKA POLLY Mosaic DDH Pale

Tiny Rebel again coming top with the list heavily dominated by them and North Wales' Loka Polly. According to Untappd "A beer must have 150 ratings or more to qualify for this list".
Untapped also produce a list of top breweries in Wales, according to them "A brewery must have at least 1,000 ratings and at least 5 beers in their portfolio to qualify for this list." Their top Welsh breweries are:

1. LOKA POLLY
2. Crafty Devil Brewing Co
3. Tiny Rebel Brewing Co
4.Wild Horse Brewing Co
5. West By Three Brewing Co.
6. PIPES™
7. The Waen Brewery
8.  Lines Brew Co.
9. Tenby Brewing Co
10. Grey Trees Brewery
11. Hopcraft Brewing
12. Gwynt y Ddraig (Cider!)
13. Heavy Industry Brewing
14. Purple Moose Brewery (Bragdy Mws Piws)
15. Velvet Owl Brewing Co.
16. Lithic Brewing (Brewery closed)
17. Brew Monster
18. Untapped Brewing Company
19. Mad Dog Brewing Co
20. Glamorgan Brewing Co
21. Mantle
22. Gower Brewery
23. Tenby Harbwr Brewery
24. Cwrw Llŷn
25. Cwrw Ial Community Brewing Company
26. Tomos a Lilford
27. Hallets (Cider!)
28. Hafod Brewing Company
29. Big Hand Brewing Co
30. Bragdy Twt Lol
31. Pixie Spring Brewery
32. Caffle Brewery
33. VOG Brewer
34. Mumbles Brewery
35. Kingstone Brewery
36. Great Orme Brewery
37. Conwy Brewery
38. Tudor Brewery
39. Tomos Watkin and Sons Ltd.
40.  Celt Brewing
41.  Bluestone Brewing Co.
42.  Facer's
43. Brains
44. Brains Craft Brewery
45. Rhymney Brewery
46. Boss Brewing Company
47. Evan Evans
48. Monty's Brewery
49. Bullmastiff Brewery
50. Brecon Brewing

Once again, no Welsh beers make it into the Beer Advocate list of top 100 beers from UK & Ireland

Again, CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, have failed to publicise their Champion Beers of Wales for last year, either on their National Website (winners not updated since 2016!) or on their Great Welsh Beer & Cider Festival website or even in a press release. However I found them elsewhere:
Gold - Boss Black
Silver - Grey Trees Diggers Gold
Bronze - Tiny Rebel Cwtch


Best Mild -Rhymney Dark, runner-up Caffle Catchpole
Ordinary Bitter - Rhymney Hobby Horse, runner-up - Purple Moose Cwrw Madog
Golden Ale - Grey Trees Digger's Gold, runner-up - Monty's Sunshine
Best Bitter - Tiny Rebel Cwtch, runner-up - Conwy Rampart
Strong Bitter - Grey Trees Afghan Pale, runner-up - Monty's Mischief
Old Ale - Untapped Ember, runner-up - Purple Moose Dark Side of the Moose
Speciality Beers - Untapped Crystal, runner-up - Purple Moose Ysgawen
Porter - Boss Black, runner-up - Tudor Black Rock
Barley Wine - Heart of Wales High as a Kite



Wednesday, 30 January 2019

A visit to Robinsons Brewery



A rather dull day in July brought me to Stockport, a town on the outskirts of Manchester, with plenty of rail connections to the City. A chance meeting some 25 or so years ago at the Stockport Beer & Cider Festival even ended up on me working in England, a story for a another day, perhaps? Anyway, back to the brewery, Robinsons started brewing on this site in 1838, at the rear of what was then the Unicorn Inn on Lower Hillgate, which has since been demolished in order to expand the brewery. This pub was situated in a steep valley which flows into the River Mersey further downhill, providing a clean supply of water for brewing the beer, although well water is used today. More about the history of the brewery and the Robinson family can be found in the book, The History of Robinson's Brewery which is available online or from their shop. Today Robinson's brew a range of beers including the Iron Maiden inspired Trooper and Old Tom Barley wine.
The visitor centre is entered from the other side of the brewery to the Hillgate Side and features a shop, bar and restaurant, as well as a museum.


The first thing I noticed on entering the visitor centre was the impressive old copper, now dissected and displayed for all to see.
 The dents on the central part of the copper were from the brewers throwing in cakes of sugar during the boil!
The old copper is an impressive bit of brewing history which was in use until recently. In fact Robinsons have installed a brand new brewery, alongside the older plant, a logistical feat that was made with only centimeters clearance to allow the new vessels in. Work began in 2011 and was completed in 2012.
Some old bottles of Old Tom, Robinsons famous beer that has been brewed since 1899

The tower brewery, the modern plant was installed on the side with the windows facing the road

A climb to the top of the tower brewery and these two odd-looking vessels were the first parts of the in-place old brewery to be seen. Apparently these copper vessels were used for cooling the beer after it had been boiled in the copper


Inside the beer cooler

Onto more familiar items next, below, the grist mill
 Below: mash tun

Below, interior of the mash tun

Above: A Steel's Masher, patented 1853
Below:The modern grist mill, able to handle different grains unlike the old one

Below: Modern mash tuns
Below: Modern copper (left) and holding tank(right)

Above: Hops are added to the wort by using these 3 chambers, each charged with different hop varieties or the same hop to be added at different times during the brewing. The hot wort is diverted from the holding tank into the charges and then carries on with the dissolved hop pellets into the copper for boiling.


Below: A "Hopnik" which is used for infusing hops and other flavours into the beer, more information on it here

Above: Not sure what this vessel is/was but it was at the base of everything else! Whirlpool?
Below: the open fermenters

Above: Yeast growing in an open fermenter
All packaging of the beer takes place at a different site, the beer is tanked to nearby Bredbury to be  casked, kegged or bottled. I did ask why the family had decided to fit a new brewery alongside the old one, rather than build a new brewery elsewhere at a more accessible site, "History", was the answer, "The family brewing business started here and will always continue here", replied the tour guide.
Then it was back to the bar in the visitor centre which was starting to fill up with diners.
Tours of Robinsons Brewery can be booked online and cost from £9.95 each with a "Gold" package including a gift bag and 2 pints at £24.95 (2019 prices). Enjoyable, although the tour guide could not answer a few questions I asked such as is Robinsons Unicorn the same as Robinsons Best but rebranded?
Above: Robinsons Brewery as seen from Stockport town centre

Stockport is also worth visiting for the pubs there
A pint of Robinsons in the historic Arden Arms (below)

Below: The Queen's Head, an historic Sam Smith's pub (most of them are!)

 Stockport is home to another brewery and bar, Remedy
There is also a micropub in Stockport, The Petersgate Tap


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