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Samuel Smith's Old Brewery

Official Web Page 
The Old Brewery, Tadcaster, Yorkshire LS24 9SB, England
Tel: (01937) 832225   Fax: () -

Opened: 1758
Date Visited:

In my limited time as a beer reviewer, a few breweries have caught my attention. So many breweries offer excellent beers now that it’s difficult to pick out a favorite. There’s Rogue, with its sensational Shakespeare Stout, North Coast with a few excellent brews, while the bigger Samuel Adams/Boston produce a wide range of satisfying brews.

However in my quest for quality ales, no brewery jumps out at me more than the Samuel Smith’s Old Tadcaster Brewery. I’ve never tried the Lager, but in the other products, I can honestly say I’ve never had a bad beer yet. The Oatmeal Stout, Imperial Stout, Taddy Porter, and Pale Ale consistently pop up on other people’s favorite lists. This is no coincidence when you hear of the brewing methods, and commitment to quality from a brewery that manages to combine a range of traditional styles into their own unique character.

A Little Geography
This may all sound a little biased when you hear that “The Old Brewery” is based in Yorkshire, the county of my birth, and bears my own surname. I’ll be honest with you there is a certain bias in my affection, but many respected beer critics will agree with my sentiments.

Tadcaster itself is a little known town of 4000 people, halfway between Leeds and York. I say this very cautiously, but there’s very little of interest. Basically it’s a small market town, with a little Roman history. The Tadcaster website boasts of “a fairly wide variety of shops – ranging from a Pet Food store to a Piano store”; need I say more?

The town’s reputation is bolstered by its presence in the brewing industry. Tadcaster sits on an underground lake of limestone water, and began to gain a reputation for pale ales in the late 1800’s, becoming the north’s answer to Burton-upon-Trent (England’s brewing capital). Not only the home of Samuel Smith, the town also hosts John Smith’s and a small Bass brewery. As a result there’s also a few decent pubs in the town.

I would recommend that if you happen to be somewhere near York or Leeds, you should plan on making a trip to the Old Brewery. If you want to do a little shopping there’s a market on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

A Little History
The Samuel Smith Old Brewery is the oldest surviving brewery in Yorkshire and one of the oldest in all of England. It was founded in 1758 to serve “The White Horse”, a coaching inn at that time, which is still standing today. The Smith family bought the brewery in 1847. The John Smith brewery, incidentally, now owned by Scottish and Newcastle, was started later by a member of the same family. Still independent, the Samuel Smith Brewery is in its fifth generation of family management.

Many traditional ale styles became obsolete in the 1900’s, and Samuel Smith owes its current popularity to the 1980’s American microbrew market revival. Merchant du Vin, a Seattle-based importer, recognized this trend early. In 1978 they set an agreement with Samuel Smith to revive its own traditional styles for the USA market. At that time there were only 40 breweries in the States. This in turn resulted in a reintroduction of these brews in the UK and consequently to other export markets.

Yorkshire Squares
The Samuel Smith Old Brewery brews its beers the “old-fashioned way”. The most impressive technique employed is the use of huge slate fermenters, known as “Yorkshire Squares”. The Squares are giant open brewing vats, with single slabs of slate layering the sides.

Yorkshire’s slate was once used in many English breweries, as well as the streets of London. Samuel Smith is the last in Yorkshire, and among only a few elsewhere, to use this technique.

The slate fermenters impart a soft roundness to the beer’s character, something unmatched by other techniques. This is the main characteristic common to all Samuel Smith beers, and the reason its beers are widely acclaimed as some of the best in the world.

In addition to the soft roundness, the yeasts bred in the Yorkshire Squares system do not ferment the beer as easily as some, contributing to the beer’s full-bodiness, as well as something of a buttery flavor.


Beers Reviewed

(click on beer name for full review)
Imperial Stout Type: Imperial Stout ABV: 7%
Black, very little carbonation or foam. Strong aroma that hits you with every sip, mixture of sherry and roasted barley. Good flavor complexity, lots of malt, roasted, hints of smokiness and chocolate, slightly dry finish with a little sherry. A true world class ale.
Ratings: Appearance: 3/5 Aroma: 9/10 Palate: 5/5 Taste: 10/10 Overall: 18/20 Score: 4.5


India Ale Type: IPA ABV: 5%
An excellent flavor, mix of malts and hops, smooth and satisfying. Low in alcohol and hops for style. Still worth a try.
Ratings: Appearance: 4/5 Aroma: 7/10 Palate: 4/5 Taste: 8/10 Overall: 15/20 Score: 3.8


Nut Brown Ale Type: Brown ABV: 4.8%
As brown ales go this one is excellent, light in body, but very malty, roasted  with nice signs of hazelnut and a briefly dry finish. It’s also smoother than your average brown. 
Ratings: Appearance: 4/5 Aroma: 8/10 Palate: 4/5 Taste: 8/10 Overall: 17/20 Score: 4.1


Oatmeal Stout Type: Oatmeal Stout ABV: 5%
I need to update the notes on this some time as I  reviewed it in my early days, but more recent tastings reinforce this beer as my favorite.

Nose is fairly subtle, hints of malt and nuttiness. The taste is a sensation to savor. A great smooth but light body gives way to a strong malty sweetness, with notes of chocolate, coffee and nut. It almost seemed to me that someone had thrown a shot of port in there. It tastes much stronger than the 5% printed on the label. Slight bitter finish, but the initial flavors sit long and well. A perfect beer to sip and savor.

Ratings: Appearance: 4/5 Aroma: 8/10 Palate: 5/5 Taste: 10/10 Overall: 20/20 Score: 4.7


Old Brewery Pale Ale Type: Pale ABV: 5.2%
Deep amber, verging on red, fairly clear in body. In the aroma you get some of the bitterness from the hops as well as a hint of the sweet smoothness, as characterized by Samuel Smith’s slate fermentation. The palate is rather light, and smooth in body with an initial buttery malt flavor. There’s a little sourness in the finish and a satisfying bitterness. While I feel the heavier stouts and porters of Samuel Smith’s are a little more interesting, the pale ale is a better thirst-quencher and much easier drinking. Great session beer and enjoyably smooth.
Ratings: Appearance: 5/5 Aroma: 8/10 Palate: 4/5 Taste: 8/10 Overall: 17/20 Score: 4.2


Pure Brewed Lager Type: Lager ABV: 5%
Probably the best UK brewed lager. Not too lively appearance, but looks are deceiving. Nice spritzy palate, crisp, sharp dry finish. Enough hops, mellows into sweeter aftertaste.
Ratings: Appearance: 2/5 Aroma: 7/10 Palate: 5/5 Taste: 8/10 Overall: 16/20 Score: 3.8


Taddy Porter Type: Porter ABV: 5%
Dark brown to black, lightly carbonated with a fair tan foam that quickly disappears. Slightly burnt nose with an inviting sweetness. Flavors are very sophisticated, essentially rich and malty with a definite sweetness. Finishes slightly dry but the sweet taste still remains. I also noticed hints of oak and smokiness. Another beer to sip and savor.
Ratings: Appearance: 5/5 Aroma: 9/10 Palate: 5/5 Taste: 9/10 Overall: 19/20 Score: 4.7


Winter Welcome Type: Winter ABV: 6%
Nice strong brew, but pretty unsatisfying as a winter ale. Floral malty aroma, smooth palate, a little light on flavor and lacking that winter spiciness. But it is a Sam Smith's and benefits from their brewing expertise.
Ratings: Appearance: 5/5 Aroma: 7/10 Palate: 4/5 Taste: 7/10 Overall: 13/20 Score: 3.6

Last Updated: 07/24/2001

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