Samuel Smiths Old Brewery Bitter is the first of our ‘English Ale Month‘ reviews here at The Brew Club! Enjoy!
Many years ago, when I first got into unusual beers, such as those I review here at The Brew Club, I was fortunate enough to attend a tutored tasting evening with Michael Jackson, the Beerhunter. As part of his introduction he explained how he first got ‘into’ beer.
Michael’s first job, on leaving school at sixteen years of age, was as a ‘cub’ reporter for the local newspaper in Tadcaster, Yorkshire. At lunchtime on his first day his supervisor (a sub-editor) took him for lunch to the pub next door. As luck would have it, that pub was the ‘brewery tap’ attached to the Samuel Smiths Brewery and his first pint, as a callow youth, was of ‘Old Brewery Bitter‘. The tasting I attended was forty years after that event, but Jackson still rated ‘Old Brewery Bitter’ as a classic and their ‘Oatmeal Stout’ one of his top ten beers in the world.
The Samuel Smith brewery was founded in 1758, although the Smith family didn’t take it over until 1847. The family was also responsible for founding the John Smiths brewery next door (Samuel and John Smith were brothers), and while ‘Sam Smiths’ is less well known that John Smiths, Sam Smiths remains independent while John Smith has been variously owned by Courage, Scottish and Newcastle and is now owned by Heineken. The outcry when Heineken decided to move the brewing of John Smiths Yorkshire bitter to Lancashire was sufficient to get the brewing in the John Smiths brewery (next door to Sam Smiths in Tadcaster) reinstated. For now at least. Have these brewers no sense of history? Haven’t they heard of the War of the Roses?
Sam Smiths has another claim to brewing fame, they still brew using ‘Yorkshire Squares’ – large square, slate lined brewing vessels unique to Yorkshire brewing. It’s complicated, but Yorkshire Squares are double-decked vessels that allow the wort to separate from the top (fermenting yeast) – after a period where the wort is poured through the yeast. They also proudly proclaim that they’re still using a yeast strain dating back to the 19th century.
As an independent brewer (one of a fast diminishing breed here in the UK) they have an estate of 160 pubs around the UK, with (thankfully) a considerable number in central London. Their pubs, like their beer, are distinctive, welcoming, old fashioned, and the only beers and soft drinks they stock are produced by Sam Smiths. You won’t find Coke in a Sam Smiths pub. While this means that lager drinkers are presented with an unusual ‘own brand’ lager rather than their preferred brew it must be said that those lager drinkers are in the minority in these pubs. It would be like asking for the vegetarian option in a world famous steak house.
Sam Smith’s Wheat Beer is a pleasant surprise in summer months, something I’ll pencil in my diary for the coming summer.
Old Brewery Bitter is the Samuel Smiths mainstay, at 3.8% it’s very much a ‘session’ beer, and a fine example of a ‘Yorkshire Ale’, I tried it at a pub called ‘The Cardinal’ behind Westminster Cathedral, like most Sam Smiths pubs a well preserved classic style boozer. I was very pleasantly surprised when the barman poured it and charged me £1.88 – in my local a pint of bitter is £2.90 so that’s a considerable saving for a fine ale.
The head was rich and creamy and, as you will see, left a considerable lacing down the glass. The nose was pleasantly hoppy and the flavour was distinctively ‘nutty’… first cousin to Timothy Taylor’s Landlord… but not quite as strong.
I strongly recommend this one, I’ll give it four stars but let’s face it, if it’s good enough for Michael Jackson…