Saturday, 13 February 2010
What's Up With Taylor's Landlord?
Timothy Taylors Landlord has always been one of my favourite beers, ever since I first tried it back in the mid 1970's in its Yorkshire home. I don't know whether this was a bit of a myth, but I do remember at the time, Landlord was primarily a bottled beer, and that allegedly only one of the company's pubs sold it on draught. It seems unlikely that the brewery would go to the bother of casking a beer for just one pub, and the only explanation I can offer as to how this story came about, is that there was a comment published to this effect in the 1975 CAMRA Good Beer Guide. Whatever the truth of this tale though, I do distinctly remember visiting the Hare & Hounds, at Lane Ends- high in the Pennines above the town of Hebden Bridge, the pub that was said to be the sole outlet for Landlord in draught form.
I was studying at Salford University at the time, and a group of us had borrowed the Student Union van for the evening. We had persuaded a non-beer drinking fellow student to be our driver for the evening, and armed with a map, set off for the Hare & Hounds. It was quite a long drive across the Pennines from Greater Manchester, but as it was a June evening we managed to arrive whilst it was still light. The beer was good, although at the time it didn't strike me as the best I'd ever tasted. The unspoilt, stone-built pub though, together with its rural location and striking scenery, were something different, and to a country boy like myself, stuck amongst the grime of urban Manchester, were heaven sent . What's more, the licensee didn't seem that bothered about closing time and it was very late, and we were all a little bit the worse for drink by the time we left!
I don't think I got the chance to taste Timothy Taylor's beers again until the early 1980's. The occasion this time was CAMRA's national AGM, held in Bradford. Even there it was necessary to travel out to Taylor's home town of Keighley in order to sample the beers. However, the fame of the company's beers was obviously spreading, helped in no small part by their winning several awards, including Champion Beer of Britain.
Slowly, Timothy Taylor's beers found their way down to the South East, and for a while it seemed that just about every free-house locally could boast a pump selling Landlord. This was good news, and a most welcome addition to the local beer scene. By this time I could definitely count Landlord amongst my all time favourite beers. When I had my real-ale off-licence, Landlord made regular appearances on the bar, and was a firm favourite with customers. It was always a very lively beer, and it was necessary to stand well back when spiling a cask of it.
Recently, (the last couple of years), Landlord seems to have been knocked off its Number One spot on the bar by an interloper in the shape of Sharps Doom Bar. This isn't a bad beer; in fact it's rather good, but it does seem to be everywhere at the moment. A friend who is a regular visitor to the West Country has remarked that Doom Bar is virtually unobtainable in Cornwall, as most of it is shipped up here!
Fast forward to yesterday. My son and I called in at the Punch & Judy, still the best bet in south Tonbridge for a decent pint. We had arranged to meet a friend there, catch up on the gossip and watch a bit of the Wales v Scotland rugby game. The pub was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday afternoon, due in no small part to the freezing cold weather outside. Alongside regular beer Harvey's Best, was a pump advertising Taylor's Landlord. I ordered a couple of pints and we sat down to enjoy the beer.
I have to say I was slightly disappointed. There was nothing wrong with the beer; it was in good condition and well-kept. It just seemed to be lacking that certain something. Landlord was always a complex, multi-layered beer, with a delightful hop bitterness present throughout. The beer we sampled yesterday was very one-dimensional, and was definitely lacking the complexity I had always associated with Landlord. I was left wondering as to whether this is the price of fame? It has happened many times before, as once classic beers end up becoming victims of their own success. I hope that this is just a temporary blip, but I will be keeping a close eye on what, for the moment at least, is still one of my favourite beers.