The Black Sheep of my family beer

The Black Sheep Brewery
The Black Sheep Brewery
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It is possible to say with some degree of certainty that the first ale to pass my lips was brewed in the Yorkshire market town of Masham, just off Red Lane.

With a little research I could probably find the men who likely made it, and the fields in which the grain grew.

Theakstons, for it is they, was about the only beer – odd festive Party Four/Seven aside – ever found its way into my childhood home, and those brass ring-pulled thickset brown bottles (x 3 in a cardboard sleeve ) are the only ones I ever knew my Dad to empty with any regularity.

I have no doubt that one Christmas, birthday, some such, whether by crafty sip or grudging shandy, it was Theakstons blazed a boozy trail since followed by a river of who knows what.

But my feet carried me past Theakstons’ Masham brewery on a visit to that town last Friday. Not far past though...

Theakstons was taken over in tumultous circumstances by Scottish & Newcastle in 1987, and after one year wrangling with the new owners, former MD Paul Theakston (the man at the helm when I’d have had my first taste), baulking at corporate efforts to pry him away from production in Masham, quit.

And three years later set up a new brewery – the Black Sheep – a direct rival to the family firm, not more than five minutes down the road.

Although Theakstons came back to family ownership a decade ago, the split in this famous brewing family remains, and it is arguable that today, outside Yorkshire certainly, the Black Sheep is now perhaps the better known brand of the two.

Based in the former premises of the Lightfoot Brewery, a local rival bought and closed down by Theakstons in 1919, Black Sheep has built a solid reputation for both the quality of its stock cask ales and frequent interesting excursions into the bottled product.

By way of pilgrimage dived in for the whole tourist bit: took the tour (led by wag and raconteur Dave), and learned more about the brewing process in one hour than I’d managed to pick up in the previous 44 years; sampled some great ale in the factory bar – in thirds, a genius measure in any house with lots of pumps on offer; ate terrific liver and bacon from the kitchen, and, in short, had a great afternoon.

Tours every day, www.blacksheepbrewery.com/ for details.