Passing Thoughts on Yorkshire Beer

Collage: Yorkshire Beer.

We spent a few days in Yorkshire last week (Leeds-Harrogate-York) and reached a couple of tentative conclusions.

1. Timothy Taylor Landlord, like Bass, and probably like many other beers, can be so different as to be unrecognisable from one pub to the next. We’re not saying it’s an inconsistent product but that it has a lot of potential for change depending on how it’s handled by pubs. We had pints that were bone dry and stony, and others that were sweet and nectar-like — older and younger respectively we assume. We almost always enjoy it but there seems to be a real sweet spot where it becomes a little less cloying and gains a sort of peach-like flavour without completely drying out. Expert opinion welcome below, of course. In the meantime, we’ll keep testing our findings when we can.

2. We might have finally zeroed in on the essence of Yorkshire bitter. Tetley*, Black Sheep and Taylor’s Boltmaker, as well as looking more alike in the glass than we recall, all had the same challenging, hot, rubber-band tang. We’ve noticed it before in Boltmaker but honestly just thought it was on the turn. But there it was again in multiple pints of Boltmaker, in different pubs, even in different cities, and in multiple pints of the others, too. It’s most pronounced in Boltmaker (Jessica likes it, Ray finds it too much) and gentlest in the current incarnation of Tetley (Ray likes it, Jessica finds it rather bland) but definitely the same thing. This is where our technical tasting skills let us down, unfortunately. Is this maybe what people mean by ‘sulphurous’? Again, expert suggestions welcome.

* No longer brewed in Yorkshire, we know.

3. Northern pale-n-hoppy beer is more to our taste than London or Bristol takes on the same style, on the whole. We knew this already, really, but this trip confirmed it. Without wanting to seem dogmatic about clarity (we’re not) beers from breweries such as Northern Monk, Rooster’s and Ossett were perfectly clear with a lightness and dryness that made them impossible to drink in anything less than great hearty gulps. Even with plenty of flavour and aroma there’s a certain delicacy there — perfect engineering. We did find ourselves wondering if perhaps we’ve grown to prefer sparklers for this style because (per this post for $2+ Patreon subscribers) the notorious widget has a capacity for rounding off hard edges and smoothing out flaws. ‘Don’t @ us’, as the kids say.

15 thoughts on “Passing Thoughts on Yorkshire Beer”

  1. Ah – TT conditioning, Stonch’s Mastermind subject (eg http://www.stonch.co.uk/2015/10/what-i-did-wrong-as-publican-2.html ).

    But the short version is yes, it varies hugely depending on how the pub looks after it, TT in general seem to give it less conditioning at the brewery than most and the yeast itself seems to be quite a “slow” one. That pear/peach is a classic feature of their yeast though. Stonch reports that the official brewery advice is that it needs 5 days conditioning in the cellar, without any kind of spile.

    Your average multi-pump pub assumes that it’s just like any other beer and gives it a day at most – it’s an example of what one loses when pubs don’t have the opportunity to really get to know the “personality” of their beers.

    Most of my drinking of Yorkshire beers was in less educated times, now it is only a very occasional pleasure and to be honest I’m not sure I get your rubber bands, “rubber band” suggests either skunking, a mild infection by wild bugs, or possibly the yeast getting over-stressed?

    Oop north there’s always been a bit of a tradition of using some sugar which counter-intuitively dries out the beer as well as lightening it, so I guess that’s what you’re picking up on. Plus maybe a bit more hopping in the knowledge that it will be served as God intended…

    1. Over-stressed yeast was our feeling but if it’s deliberate/consistent then maybe that sounds unnecessarily pejorative. Yeast treated a certain way to achieve a certain character, perhaps.

      1. Squares could be emphasising it maybe. Another option is that you’re picking up on phenolics from the yeast of Britain’s “Little Belgium” – Tadcaster and parts of Burton use saison yeasts that aren’t particularly closely related to most British yeast and which are mostly POF+.

        Harvey’s yeast came from John Smiths – do you get the same taste from that?

          1. This sounds like time for one of your blending experiments – can the addition of say 20% Saison Dupont make a beer turn Tyke?

            Or can the addition of Saison Dupont turn London Pride into Harvey’s Best?

            It’s kinda fascinating how all the new knowledge about yeast DNA is allowing us to make connections that people had only dimly sussed before – Pete Brown raved about the Yorkshire Saison that Wiper & True made with WLP037 (allegedly the Sam Smith’s yeast) but they were promising a Manchester Saison with WLP038 (labelled Manchester but actually a cousin of John Smith’s) but nothing seems to have come of that – perhaps you can ask them if you see them?

        1. That’s interesting. The thought that Tad and Burton might be important brewing centres not just because of the water, but because of the yeast too is intriguing. That said, I would have thought that Sam’s and the Bass products that used to come out of the Tower brewery had the least Yorkshire-like character I can think of back in the day, and that Wards and even Stones from Sheffield were much more so, along with Tetleys and Taylors. Although John’s clearly had it, too.
          Mind you, those Bass products didn’t really taste of much at all.

          1. Yeast is pretty mobile, and those Yorkshire yeasts don’t look like outliers, they look like someone has moved them straight from Belgium, probably more than once – who knows, possibly with shipments of hops?

            Export brewers like those in Burton had rather different requirements to the typical “local” brewer, the export brewers were desperate for good attenuation to prevent secondary fermentations en route. Saison yeasts have great attenuation, so it kinda makes sense.

            Unfortunately all the attributions are a bit tentative at the moment, it really needs some more experiments (both phenotype and DNA) and some of the yeast are seasonal ones that aren’t available at the moment. But so far we seem to know about four saison-type yeasts in Britain – Harvey’s/John Smith’s, WLP037 and WLP038 as mentioned above which are all POF+ and seemingly Yorkshire based, and one POF- one that is probably WLP026, generally attributed to Marston. So we could be looking at Yorkshire being POF+ and Burton being POF-.

            The John Smith yeast had a great reputation for dropping well, so it wouldn’t surprise me if it had spread to Sheffield.

            But it would be interesting to do a survey to see which northern yeasts a) were POF+ and b) had other saison characteristics like temperature tolerance and high attenuation.

  2. Landlord does indeed need decent cellaring; sadly a beer I’ve had more bad experiences with in the pub than good. As a Sheffield lad it was the beer of choice after the disgraceful asset-stripping and closure of SH Ward & Co; many of the old pubs switched to it. Ward’s itself needed a bit of care; at its best a gloriously malty brew with a distinctive whiff of sulphur and a dry finish. Maxim Brewery have kept the name going but God, miss the original!

  3. Yes, the cellaring of Landlord can make it variable, but I can’t say I’ve had many actual “bad” experiences with it; even not at its best, it’s normally drinkable.At its best, it is what so many modern beers notably are not – well-balanced. That’s something that, however much I like so many new beers, I do tend to miss.
    I don’t entirely get the “hot rubber band” thing, and I’m struggling to think of a characteristic that is shared by all the traditional bitters of Yorkshire, but the most common connection is probably the hopping, and that’s what I’ve always considered the real Yorkshire taste, with yes, a touch of sulphur.

  4. Tang: was it torrified wheat? In my home brewing days 20 years ago that was what apparently made a Yorkshire pale ale distinct was the addition of popped or torrified wheat.

  5. You bastards! I’ve been trying for years to put a finger on that “Northern twang” and when I first read your “challenging, hot, rubber-band tang” I thought, NO!!!. But I bore your comments in mind when in the Dog & Partridge tonight (reliable beer, not exciting, but the place to go for Black Sheep in Sheffield https://www.pubsgalore.co.uk/pubs/43131/), and I have to say I think you’ve got it.

    You bastards! (Sorry: repitition) I don’t think I’ll ever drink a Black Sheep again without thinking of rubber bands – or at least, without consciously avoiding thinking about them.

    I can’t say I’ve noticed it in Boltmaker, and in my opinion Tetleys just tastes sweet since they stopped brewing it in Leeds, but maybe that’s just my taste buds remembering what it used to taste like (and believe me, it bloody well wasn’t rubber bands: weirdos).

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