Samuel Smith's brewery was founded in 1758 in the small Yorkshire town of Tadcaster, and has been producing fine real ales as an independent brewery ever since. The business of making and selling beer has remained in the family for one hundred and fifty years, and the brewery today is managed by the fifth generation of Smiths.
Always choosing tradition over cost-cutting and modern mass-brewing techniques, Samuel Smith's beers are still brewed today in the exact same way dictated by Sam himself, all those years ago. Hops are still weighed by hand by someone proclaiming himself to be a Master Hop Blender, and the brewing water is drawn from a well which was founded over two hundred years ago. Samuel Smith's is also one of the last breweries to use the Yorkshire Square system of fermenting their beer.
The Yorkshire square process
The Yorkshire Square method of brewing deserves a node all of it's own, but here's the basics. A Yorkshire square is basically two open chambers linked with tubing, with a flat deck of slate above, through which the tubing (each called an organ pipe) is fed. A pump is used to bubble the fermenting beer from one chamber, onto the slate and back into the bottom chamber, creating a bubbling Vesuvius fountain of beer. This constant motion of beer keeps the ale well aerated and results in an effervescent brew, which is full of life.
The Yorkshire Square method produces a very distinctive flavour, partly due to the brewing process, but also due to the type of yeast used. The yeast used in the Yorkshire square system is unusual in that it acts very slowly, and so requires frequent aerating if it is to work properly. Typically, the yeast rises rapidly to the surface of the fermenting chamber and thereby reduce its ability to perform its task of converting sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Roster of beers
Samuel Smith produces ten different brews, each at around five percent volume, with the exception of my own personal favourite, the Imperial Stout, which weighs in at seven percent. Sam Smith beers are available in selected public houses throughout the British Isles, and have been distributed in the States since 1978 by Merchant du Vin.
Russian style imperial stout was originally brewed to satisfy the tough Czarist palette, and were frequently brewed stronger than their conterparts in order to survive a journey across the frozen Baltic. This stout has a very complex liquorish-like, burnt flavour; like a Guinness with an extra punch. It can easily be drank alongside cigars or caviar. It's definatly not a session drink - it's very heavy, sour yet sweet and slightly cloying.
Samuel Smith's India Ale is a suprisingly bitter, very hoppy drink with an aftertaste featuring a distinct citrus flavour, and a sweet toffeeness. The high hoppiness is down to it's Indian heritage - ships leaving London would sail around the Cape of Good Hope through the Indian Ocean to Bombay and beyond, and highly hopped beers were the only ones able to last the length of the voyage.
Known more often as "Mild" when taken from a draught, Nut Brown Ale is a walnut-brown colour, and, I have to say, not my favourite tipple by a long mile. As it's name suggests, it's nutty and malty, and leaves a lingering aftertaste. It's also horrid.
Now this is more like it. A thick, bubbly head guards a dark brown, almost black body with a strong treacley sweet taste, with darker bitter undertones. Suprisingly smooth all the way down, oatmeal stout is an excellent stout and a Sam Smith's classic. Bizarrely, oatmeal stout was originally marketed as a drink for lactating mothers.
Light, delicate and hoppy, these organic offerings are also according to the labeling, suitable for vegan drinkers. They're not brewed to the same traditional methods as the other brews, however, and feature more added sugars and carbon dioxide. Certainly worth a try, though, and definitely an improvement on many organic beers.
After the Industrial revolution, drinking glasses became clearer and cheaper to produce, and so paler ales became more popular. This offering has a very light malt taste and is both suprisingly strong and bubbly. It has a very clean taste that makes it great for session drinking. Traditionally served in nonik glasses.
Now, I'm not much of a lager fan, but if forced, this would be my lager of choice. It's fairly dry, quite hoppy and reasonably strong. It is brewed seperatly from the other Samuel Smith's ales, with a bottom-fermenting yeast that does not require the Yorkshire square process.
Porters were amongst the first commercially brewed beers, named for the train porters who were its original servers and consumers. Recent times have seen the porter fall from grace, at least within the UK; but this is a classic example of a porter done well. Sam Smith's "Famous" Taddy Porter is rich and very malty with a coffee like bitterness. The finish has a slight hint of chocolate to it, with a strong aftertaste. Delicious.
In those cold winter months, what could be better than settling down with a nice strong ale in front of a roaring log fire? Each Winter Welcome Ale is numbered, and each vintage has it's own dated unique label every year. The ale itself is an amber colour, with a floral aroma, and a very light, smooth taste considering it's six percent volume.
You can get in touch with the brewery for more information by writing to:
Samuel Smith's Brewers
Phone: (UK) 01937 832225
Fax: (UK) 01937 834673
The brewery run occasional tours around their premises, if you're interested then all you need to do is get in touch to confirm availability and book a place.
This writeup is dedicated to a man you'll only ever know as Barry. In the summer of 2003, I was working as a civil servant, and during my dinner hour, Barry and I would sneak to a nearby Real Ale pub, where he showed me the delights of Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout. Barry was a fair few years older than me, but we started the job at roughly the same time, and he took me under his wing. So, thanks, Baz. Next time I'm home, I'll look for you in The Old Black Boy.
- Merchant Duvin: Samuel Smith
- The Oxford Bottled Beer Database
- RateBeer.com: Sam Smith's
- Brew Your Own: Mr. Wizard