Yorkshire is the place to be for brewery and distillery tours
PUBLISHED: 14:24 14 September 2020
From ale to gin to whisky, a new book offers an armchair tour of some made in Yorkshire tipples. Time to plan a trip
Tykes are rightly proud of their ale. Yorkshire grows some of the world’s finest malting barley. It also has torrents of crystalline rivers gushing from the Pennines and an array of handsome grits, sandstones and limestones to build its breweries with. Great cities and picturesque little market towns have long produced beers with their own style – malty, low hop, and very drinkable – and their own tradition – served with a thick creamy head thanks to a simple device called a sparkler. But until recently, there has been little else. There never was much distilling here, nor cidermaking, and as for winemaking…
But today, Yorkshire’s got the lot: not only 300 breweries, near enough, but 45 gin distilleries, a whisky distillery, cider made by monks, and even vineyards. And like any true Yorkshireman, they combine a genuine welcome with an urge to show off. Breweries in particular, once firmly off-limits to the public, now open their gates for guided tours, a beer and a sandwich, and off-sales and merchandise on the way out.
The great urban breweries – Stones, Wards, Webster’s, even the mighty Tetley – have gone now, with one or two survivors such as John Smith’s – the other Tadcaster Smiths. But today’s cohort of breweries comes in a variety of shapes and sizes from homely brewpubs to national concerns such as Theakston, in Masham on the edge of the Dales.
With its fine Georgian facades, opulent parish church, and huge market place, Masham could almost be claimed by the Cotswolds. In medieval times it was a wool town, the entrepôt where sheep and fleeces were traded in huge numbers. It’s a popular spot with visitors interested in beer; for not only has it been home to Theakston’s of Old Peculier fame since 1827, it is also now home to Black Sheep, founded by a member of the Theakston family in 1992. Both breweries welcome visitors, and the pub that originally housed the Theakston brewery 200 years ago is today the cherry on Masham’s boozy cake: the Spirit of Masham distillery.
For a brewery on its grittier side visit the Fat Cat, previously the Alma, in Sheffield’s historic Kelham Island industrial quarter. A traditional urban pub with real fires, real ales, real pie and peas, and since 1990 a small brewery. It was so successful that a new, much bigger place had to be built in 1999; the original brewhouse is today a visitor centre.
Yorkshire’s first whisky distillery, like its breweries, owes its existence to the quality of the barley grown on the Wolds, so fine that it would be a crime not to distil it. So Jim and Gill Mellor, proprietors of Wold Top Brewery at Driffield, decided to correct the omission, bought two big pot stills, installed them in a unit on a rather forbidding industrial estate, and in May 2016 flicked the ‘on’ switch to introduce The Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery.
A lot of people don’t realise this, but gin – good gin, that is – is also made of barley malt. Yorkshire now has gin distilleries galore, and although many are too small to welcome visitors, two that do are Spirit of Masham at Corks & Cases wine merchant and Rare Bird at Malton: both (in normal times) run gin schools where you can mix your own botanicals. Whittakers on Harewell House Farm at Dacre Banks also has its own shop and (in normal times) offers tours of its brand-new distillery. But the most visit-worthy has to be Harrogate Tipple, if only because it’s on the historic and beautiful Ripley Castle estate.
It’s no surprise that such fertile soil should create so many and such wonderful grain-based beverages. But how about grapes? Bit far north? No! Yorkshire is now perfect for viticulture with four commercial vineyards. Most southerly is Whirlow Hall Farm on the outskirts of Sheffield, an educational trust which since 2018 has been making red, white, rosé and sparkling on a single hectare. The wines are on sale in the café and profits help fund the trust. Holmfirth Vineyard is not what you’d expect in Last of the Summer Wine Country: the architecture is modern and daring and the views are fantastic. Yorkshire Heart at Nun Monkton between Harrogate and York is one of the best-located vineyards in Great Britain and is also home to a microbrewery. Finally, Ryedale is Britain’s most northerly commercial vineyard, and you should just taste its bubbly!
Ryedale makes pretty good cider too, as does Ampleforth Abbey at Helmsley. The monks started making it as a fundraiser in 2001 using fruit from their 10-acre orchard and on sale in the gift-shop; some of the produce is distilled to make apple brandy.
Britain in a Bottle, £16.99 Published by Bradt Travel Guides