The Old Brewery, Tadcaster, North Yorkshire
There’s a certain ring to that, straightforward, better than slogans and mottos. But old? Established in 1758? These are newcomers . . . but only compared to continental breweries like Weihenstephan (1040) and Brasserie de Rochefort (1595).
For the tasting at Growler & Gill, Dave Rodriguez and his colleague Scott represented the brewery. They described a fascinating old school operation, emphasizing the unique “stone Yorkshire squares” fermenting vessels, huge slate vats.
“The brewery still has its own cooper making and repairing all its oak casks. All Samuel Smith’s naturally conditioned draught beer is served from the wood,” and that wood is delivered locally by horse-drawn wagon. By the way, if you want to try Samuel Smith on draft you’ll have to travel to Yorkshire, or at least England, to pubs that serve only Samuel Smith products. From this you may gather that this tasting was exclusively from bottles.
Leading off was India Ale, their IPA, a traditional English style with more malt than hops, smooth and well balanced. Caramel follows malt and is almost–but not quite–sweet, held in check by hop bitterness. This has a nice finish, quiet, but the floral hops assert themselves on the end. It pours with a light head which dissipates quickly. In the realm of “nothing new under the sun,” at 5% ABV you can think of this as a sessionable IPA, just an old-fashioned sessionable IPA. In fact, all six beers in the tasting are 5% ABV, so this was a nice sessionable session.
Next was the Nut Brown Ale, the only one of these that I had had before. It pours a slightly pale brown, with over an inch of tan head which lingers. Malt & yeast come in firmly on the nose with maybe a touch of chocolate malt. On the palette it is very caramel right up front and continues with a bit of malt backbone and a bit of effervescence. Again it’s smooth and balanced. A roasted, almost smoky tang creeps in on the finish, but mostly the caramel persists . . . and a hint of hazelnut.
Oatmeal Stout followed. While the head persists there’s a hint of toffee and almost of nutmeg, but once the head dissipates there’s not much nose, just a touch of chocolate malt. Roasted barley arrives strongly on a bed of malt, still with a bit of spiciness. The stout is silky smooth without bitterness. The malt gets nice character from 25% oatmeal. It’s easy drinking with a very long finish.
Next was the Organic Chocolate Stout, one of many organic offerings from Samuel Smith. They note that these are “USDA & UK Soil Association Certified Organic” so tradition can meet modern concerns. This stout starts with a big head which gives strong cocoa on the nose. This is big time chocolate, almost milky in flavor but stout all the way in character, very nice smooth stout. Long finish without bitterness.
Moving on to the fruit ales, the Organic Cherry Ale is pretty intense fruit with pale ale underneath…fairly far underneath. This is not as intense as a Kriek lambic but it’s up there. You have to be in the mood for fruit, and this would be perfect in a flute glass. If you like lambic you’ll like this.
The evening was a bit of an eye-opener for me. I had a slight prejudice against Samuel Smith dating back twenty or more years ago. At that time, Sam Smith was almost the only craft beer out there, or at least the only one readily available on the shelves of the liquor stores of Hoboken. The problem was that it tended to sit on those shelves for a long time, and in clear glass bottles, so the skunk sometimes attacked. Most of the time it was very good, but once you get burned a couple of times, the memory lingers. Today? Brown bottles and quicker turnover deliver bright, fresh goodness.
An interesting p.s. from their website: “All Samuel Smith’s beers and ciders are suitable for a vegan diet (except cask conditioned Old Brewery Bitter and bottled Yorkshire Stingo).”