Samuel Smith's Brewery, Oatmeal Stout
Tadcaster smells. Based halfway between Leeds and York in North Yorkshire, this little town of just 7,000 people is home to three breweries, two of them spawned from the same family; John Smith’s (yup, the one with Peter Kay) and Samuel Smith’s. The aroma of spent grain hangs in the air, as does the mythology surrounding the Smith’s family history.
There has been a brewery in Tadcaster since the 1300s. In 1758, on the site of the current brewery, a well was sunk, and The Old Brewery was founded. That was purchased by Samuel Smith in 1847. Business was going so well that they opened a new brewery down the road called John Smith’s (named after Samuel’s son John who was now running the brewery), drawing on the same water source.
Samuel Smith Jnr was about to inherit the main brewery after his dad John died, but John’s brother William had other ideas. A family rift led William to up sticks and move all the brewing equipment to the newer John Smith’s brewery, leaving Samuel with the empty shell of the old brewery. Whilst the beer trade was strong enough for Samuel to recover the old brewery, John Smith’s (now owned by Heineken) and Samuel Smith’s (still fiercely independent and owned by the same family), would forever be separated.
Whilst Samuel Smith’s remains the smaller of the two breweries (they claim to produce 5% of the beer brewed in Tadcaster), it’s certainly no shrinking violet. They operate just over 200 pubs and ship a lot of bottled beer to the States. If you’ve ever been in to a Samuel Smith’s pub you’ll know the emphasis they put on tradition (no music, no brands) and there can’t be many brewers that still provide full-time employment for a cooper (makes barrels), a signwriter, and an ostler (“the horse guy” as he’s known at the brewery). They are also one of the last breweries standing to still use the ‘Yorkshire square’ system, which probably has a lot to do with the silky smoothness of this week's beer, the Oatmeal Stout.
It pours like oil; viscous and dark, but the smell is much less sinister with burnt caramel, nuts and milky coffee. The taste is more dry and bitter than the smell suggests, but sweet chocolate dominates along with a rich cereal graininess no doubt provided by the oatmeal. Served at room temperature as a pudding in its own right, this beer is a bit of a classic. For good reason.