Beer as it used to be
In partnership with Timothy Taylor
Wednesday 09 October 2019
This article is from
Beer52 Awards 2019
Share this article
Speaking to Andy Leman, head brewer of the Yorkshire-based, 160 year old Timothy Taylor’s Brewery, in a quiet moment of his working day, the thing that sticks in my head are the words “beer as it used to be”.
A phrase not used to put down modern beers, but as a reference to the fact that Timothy Taylor’s beer is much the same now as it was half a century ago.
At that moment we were talking about their flagship beer Landlord, a 4.3% Pale Ale, and this beer is much the same as it would have been when it was first brewed to the same recipe in 1952. In fact, Andy tells me, they’ve pretty much been using the same suppliers and ingredients the whole time too, right down to the yeast.
“The yeast is the same culture we’ve been using for 40 years which we harvest each week. Most brewers might use the same yeast for about four generations as the yeast mutates and changes character, but because we’ve been using the same one for so long, it’s gone as far as it’s going to go and now provides us with stability in our brews.
“It’s DNA is fingerprinted regularly to check that it’s the same dual strains. The history of the yeast is that one culture came from Oldham Brewery in Lancashire, and the other from a Yorkshire brewery. Over time one became much more prevalent (95% of the culture) and we’re pretty certain that’ll be the Yorkshire one!”
The brewery goes to great effort to ensure that every aspect of the process keeps to its traditional roots. Worn out fermentation vessels are replaced with exactly the same shape and size to reduce any impact to the flavour of this championship beer; Landlord has an impressive number of medals and awards. Timothy Taylor’s is also lucky to have an artesian well (supplied with Pennine spring water that has been filtered through layers of limestone and black rock) meaning that all its beers have what Andy calls “a family taste”.
“When I say ‘beer as it used to be,’ I mean that we use mostly traditional methods which bring out the best in the ingredients we use,” he continues. “We use open fermentation, have no filtering or centrifuging, and use whole-leaf hops. The Golden Promise Barley we use allows the delicate flavours of our hops to come through. When you are using English heritage varieties of hops like Fuggles and Goldings, it’s easy to overpower them as they’re not as assertive as imported hops, especially if brewing with strong malts. But if you use them right you can get fantastic notes of fruit, mint, and lemony citrus”
Andy is keen that we don’t lose these traditional brewing styles. He talks about the flavour profiles that were the geographical standards when he started brewing as the third brewer in 1987. Almost like recognisable accents, at this time we had roasty and sweet beers from Scotland, Lancashire's were known to be sharp and bitter, and Yorkshire beers were bitter and sweet. He hopes that new breweries start to explore these flavours and the beer styles that our parents and grandparents would have enjoyed, and indeed that many of us remember from our first pints down the Blacksmiths Arms, or the Red Lion.
So does he think that the new styles are not as good? Absolutely not, just different from his speciality. Andy describes his journey in craft beer, and it’s likely one that many of us can recognise as very similar to our own exploring imported beer, drinking a particular country’s specialities and finding our own favourites.
“Initially I enjoyed some of the early imported American-style beers, heavily hopped IPAs like Sierra Nevada, which is still an excellent beer,” he says. “Then on a visit to Bruges with friends for a birthday, we tasted our way through around 65 beers, which introduced me to Trappist beers and sour beers, which I now really enjoy. Since then, I’ve tasted a lot of new beers and explored making a few that could be considered more modern styles. I have a bit of a favourite which is Harvey’s Imperial Russian Stout, barrel aged and with bretty notes. I ordered a case for Christmas last year and will do the same this year too. The interpretations you find of different styles are just so exciting. Don’t forget, most of us brew because we fell in love with beer. Of course we’ll always be trying and tasting new things!”
Andy sees his role as being the custodian of the brewery, its beer, its tradition and all that comes with it. Timothy Taylor’s is a family-owned brewery and, while the current Managing Director is not a family member, four members of the board are, and they expect that in the future there will be a Taylor sitting in the day-to-day leadership role once more. Andy took over as head brewer in 2015 after 28 years at the brewery, learning the ropes under previous head brewer Peter Eells who had been at the brewery for 31 years and head brewer for 20 of those.
He feels the weight of responsibility here, as he is only the sixth head brewer since Timothy Taylor’s started brewing back in 1858. He is focused in on quality and carrying forward the torch of such a famous beer and brewery. The raw material doesn’t come cheap, however, and Andy talked about the challenges over the years.
“While we've - touch wood - never had any disasters with the brewery, we've had ups and downs. 80% of our beer is cask conditioned and often served in what might be regarded as traditional pubs. When people are watching the pennies, our sales are of course hit as they buy fewer drinks in the pub. Most of our bottling is Landlord and Boltmaker (both bitters) and those are sold at the pubs too. When “smooth beers” – served with nitrogen to make keg ale less gassy and have a smoother mouthfeel – came out, we struggled, as everyone gave that a try. But they’ve gradually lost popularity and we’re still here.”
The brewery produces a number of seasonal beers in a modern style and they’ve kegged a few of those for festivals and events. The brewery understands the modern craft beer explosion well, even though you don’t tend to see Landlord pop up in many craft beer bars. Andy suspects a Yorkshire bitter is just not seen as exciting, even if it’s a great-tasting beer. Timothy Taylor’s has close links with Northern Monk and Magic Rock, as well as breweries like Thornbridge. The explosion of the craft beer sector overall is seen as something to inspire and drive innovation in its work, all while protecting the traditional heritage that Timothy Taylor’s represents.
Some of the staff at the brewery, which has been on the same site for 156 years, have had fathers, uncles, and grandfathers who all worked there. A few team members are retiring after 30+ years, and there are young staff members coming in. Perhaps the latest brewer to be recruited will, in 20 or so years, become the seventh or eighth head brewer.
The loyalty of the employees and Andy’s engaged and enthusiastic description of all he does makes it very clear to me that Timothy Taylor’s has achieved something that most craft breweries are striving towards. It's made beers the staff want to drink, that they believe in, and that have not been compromised in terms of taste or quality.
It’s built a home for its staff – not just a place to go to work – and with a strong core business it's brewing and testing new beers successfully. It’s also achieved fantastic longevity through a time where most of its peers went out of business.
I’m not sure any brewery out there could wish for much more. Add to that an award-winning beer like Landlord as a flagship, and Timothy Taylor’s should be considered a very successful brewery indeed.
Share this article