The Black Sheep Brewery, Masham

The town of Masham (Mass'am) in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire has a long tradition of brewing. The Theakston family brewed here for years - their Old Peculier ale is famed throughout England (and the whole UK, for all I know).

Paul Theakston left the family firm (T & R Theakston) in 1988 following their takeover by Scottish and Newcastle Breweries. He set up shop in the old Lightfoots maltings, vacated when that brewery closed a few years ealier. He was fortunate to get a site with a superb artesian well supplying good water, and so began to set up the Black Sheep brewery.

Using ancient mash tuns and the original equipment still in the brewery, he built a new brewhouse, turning out the first bottles in October 1992. Since then, the brewery has gone from strength to strength (literally!), producing four major brews, and the oddly-named Monty Python's Holy Grail blended beer.

Their main brews are:

  • Yorkshire Square Ale (5.0%), brewed in traditional square slate fermenting vessels. This is a wonderful golden ale, lightly hopped and yet full of flavour
  • Black Sheep Best Bitter (3.8%) is an excellent draught beer, ideal for a full evening's session
  • Black Sheep Special (4.4%), another draught, fuller-flavoured and more fragrant, yet light enough for an evening's drinking
  • Black Sheep Ale (4.4%) is the bottled version of the 'Special'. Described by the tour guide as 'a lady's beer', it nevertheless packs enough of a punch that three or four bottles will relax you very well!
  • Riggwelter (5.9%) is, in my opinion, their finest bottle. Dark and rich, it is definitely a brew to be taken seriously. Capable of laying out many a seasoned drinker, this is the jewel in the crown that is Black Sheep!
The brewery is open to the public, and their Visitor's Centre has a wide variety of merchandise, including a whisky with the splendid name of Sheep Dip. Complete with a restaurant and bar, a day out here means fine beers and excellent food, and the tour of the brewery is well worth while.