According to CAMRA (CAMpaign for Real Ale), in their Good Beer Guide, Yorkshire is officially the place in the UK with the highest number of breweries and the most different types of beers being brewed. The Yorkshire ales are some of the best in the country and as a beer connoisseur I feel very lucky living in this county.
Yorkshire Ales : A Success Story
The 2015 edition of the Good Beer Guide from CAMRA featured 141 breweries in Yorkshire with 60 different breweries in West-Yorkshire alone and still growing. There’s never been as many since the 1930’s! This is definitely a revolution. And the good news is that the demand for Yorkshire Ales is still surpassing the offer, so one can expect that the trend will continue.
Factors contributing to this success:
- A market that is more and more open to drinking real ale.
This is more of a nationwide phenomenon but young adults and women especially are the fastest growing market for real ale these days, helping fuel the growth. However, locally the fact that parts of Yorkshire are densely populated – West-Yorkshire and South Yorkshire especially – also helps with distribution and logistics. Cask ale has a short life span and local pubs are the best way for customers to enjoy it. Although the number of pubs has drastically plummeted over the past decade, bistro-pubs and microbreweries in Yorkshire are bringing in new and more savvy beer drinkers who are looking for a different experience. Breweries are finding new ways of bringing customers through their doors like guided tours, corporate events or beer clubs which are extremely popular. Supermarkets also play their part where more and more local bottled beers can be found on the shelves. Beer festivals organised throughout the year by pubs, breweries or local CAMRA branches attract more and more visitors and are not showing any signs of slowing.
- A revival of the strong brewing tradition.
Most of Yorkshire was at the fore front of the industrial revolution which also brought new brewing methods. Before that ale was an insipid and often disgusting drink. At the same time, the county’s urban population exploded and more and more pubs opened, serving good and tasty beer. Distribution was made easy thanks to a new network of canals and railways. However, with manufacturing processes becoming more and more automated, traditional Yorkshire brewers who couldn’t cope with expensive investment gave up and fewer larger breweries were able to take control of the entire market. Unfortunately at that moment beer quality went down as big corporate businesses were more interested in shifting quantity rather than making quality. However, not everything was lost and from the 80’s-90’s some entrepreneurs saw a gap in the market and went back to traditional real ale brewing. One example would be the Black Sheep Brewery in Masham, North Yorkshire, where its owner Paul Theakston broke through the rank and refused to let corporations dictate their law on this industry. With a genius business acumen he founded his brewery in a derelict malt house yards away from its former employer Scottish and Newcastle Breweries which had taken over his own family business, The Theakston Brewery. No need to say the name was fit for purpose! Today the business is a real success and I definitely recommend a visit as it’s got one of the best Yorkshire brewery tours you can get. A guided tour, a meal, a pint and a shop, what more can you ask for!
- A special ingredient: Yorkshire fresh water.
To make beer you need simple ingredients: malt (often from barley), hops, yeast and water. The latter is widely available across Yorkshire and is well-known for its excellent and pure qualities. It has to be noted though that there is an East-West division of water hardness in Yorkshire which can have a direct effect in brewing ale. Hard water is ideal to make stout-like ale and soft water is better for pale ale. Maybe it’s a coincidence but most breweries in Yorkshire are located in the soft water areas.
I am not the only one feeling the same way about Yorkshire ales. The BBC has already covered this success story twice in 2011 and 2015. And in 2014 the New-York Times published its list of the 52 places to go in the world and put Yorkshire in 22nd place just because of its strong and diverse beer offer!
Brewery Tours, Traditional Pubs & Real Ale Trails
The latest trend: Beer Clubs and Brewery Tours
Many breweries in Yorkshire are now open to visitors, like the Back Sheep Brewery mentioned above. For a small fee a guide will take you on one of the brewery tours (daytime or evening) , telling you about its history, showing you the brewing process and of course letting you taste the ales directly from the source! This is a perfect example of how this industry is responding to the market by diversifying their offer. Traditionally breweries used to be just manufacturing units, now many of them have also opened a restaurant on site or created a “Beer Club” like the Saltaire Brewery where every last Friday of the month, visitors can sample a variety of local and seasonal beers. Some even take bookings for corporate events or groups. Even better, some of these breweries organise beer festivals, letting other breweries sell their beers on the competitors premises! That’s the case at the Saltaire Brewery which organises their annual beer festival every September.
What I noticed though is that most of these breweries are members of SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers, which is a fantastic platform to promote small independent breweries against massive international corporations. No doubt that brewers who are part of this network exchange their experience and stories so this trend of “direct from the producer” will keep on growing if proved to be successful.
Finding the best Traditional Pubs
There are still some great public houses throughout the County serving the best Cask Ales you can find. Not all breweries are open to the public so pubs are, and will remain, the best way of trying your favourite tipple. Again the Good Beer Guide is probably your best bet if you want to find the best pubs around. There is even an app now which will help you locate and guide you to the nearest pub!
Cask Marque has also gone digital and released an app of all the pubs that display their label. An approved Cask Marque pub is a place where your ale will be served following these rules:
- Correct temperature: a cask ale should be served between 11°C and 13°C
- Good appearance: there shouldn’t be any impurities in the glass
- Perfect aroma and taste: at the correct temperature, ales reveal all their aromas and tastes and they shouldn’t show any sign of smells or tastes that shouldn’t be there
For the past years, Welcome to Yorkshire in association with Yorkshire Post has also organised a competition called “Yorkshire’s Favourite Pub” to find the best pubs in the County. Only 30 pubs make it to the final list so even though it’s not a comprehensive and detailed list of all the pubs in Yorkshire, at least these should deserve a visit! And if you want to contribute for next year’s winner, please vote here
Roaming around Yorkshire for Real Ale Trails
As explained above, God’s Own County is now really famous for its Yorkshire ales. There are a number of local places where you can taste some of the best tipple either directly from the breweries or from pubs serving cask ales. And we didn’t have to wait long before trails were invented. Welcome to Yorkshire has edited its “Delicious Ale Trail” for quite a while now. They now include the winning pubs from the “Yorkshire’s Favourite Pub” competition.
Another trail which is quite famous is the “Transpennines Real Ale Trail“, made famous by Oz Clarke and James May during their BBC programme “Oz and James Drink to Britain”. I invite you to read my rendition of the same trail. It was done a while ago but I still keep a fond memory of it!
Finally, I live in one of the most prosperous brewing valley in Yorkshire, the Airedale. And it came to me that nobody had really tried to connect all of the breweries so I made some trails. You will find them in my “Aire Valley Real Ale Trails” regrouping trails for the Upper Aire, the Worth Valley, Bradford and Leeds