Saturday 13 September 2014

Old Family Brewers of Britain. Part Six - Timothy Taylor & Co. of Keighley.

Timothy Taylor's Championship Beers

Timothy Taylor’s are an old-established regional brewer, based in the West Yorkshire town of Keighley. The company was founded in 1858 by Timothy Taylor, at Cook Lane, Keighley, but moved to larger premises in 1863 at Knowle Spring, where they remain to this day. The company operates 28 tied pubs, mainly within a tightly confined area of West Yorkshire, but over the last couple of decades have expanded into the free trade in a big way.

This expansion has been largely driven by their premium bitter, draught Landlord; a full-flavoured and well-hopped pale ale which had won a proverbial "barrel full" of medals, and caught the public imagination in a big way. At one stage Landlord was reported to be singer, Madonna’s favourite beer, back in the day when she was still married to film maker, Guy Ritchie and enthralled with all things English.

Five to ten years ago Timothy Taylor’s Landlord was one of the most widely available cask beers in the country, and was stocked by several pubs in my home town of Tonbridge, along with many others in the surrounding area. Since then the brewery seem to have pulled back somewhat, perhaps stung by criticism that Landlord had lost some of is character, and had changed from the beautifully balanced, delectably hopped, multi-faceted ale it once was to a much more one-dimensional beer, albeit still a “must stock” brand for many pubs.

Despite this recent apparent retraction, it is hard to believe that the company’s prize-winning, "Championship Beers" were at one stage confined to a small area of West Yorkshire. As proof of this, during the mid 1970’s, when I was a student living in Greater Manchester, just 40 miles away from Taylor’s home town of Keighley, their beers were unobtainable. It was therefore necessary to travel across the Pennines in order to sample these excellent beers; a journey which I undertook on a couple of occasions.

My introduction to Timothy Taylor's took place in 1975, and followed a recommendation to visit a pub called the Hare and Hounds at Lanes End, Chisley, high up in the Pennine Hills overlooking the town of Hebden Bridge. The recommendation came from a student friend and fellow housemate. Nick was a keen cyclist and used his bike as a means of transport to and from the university. He also enjoyed exploring further a field, and on one such expedition had visited the Hare and Hounds. Nick returned from his trip, enthusing about this wonderful pub, miles from anywhere, which sold superb Timothy Taylor's beer. He even brought me back a bottle of Landlord to prove his point

According to the 1975 Good Beer Guide, the Hare and Hounds was the sole outlet for draught Landlord. This was a “premium strength” Best Bitter, normally available only as a bottled beer. I personally have my doubts regarding that GBG statement, as I find it hard to believe that a brewery would go to the trouble of making a beer available in cask form for just one pub. Checking back through my collection of GBG’s, I noted that the following year, a number of pubs were listed as selling Landlord on draught; a fact which I feel proves my point.

According to the map, the Hare and Hounds was just about the nearest Timothy Taylor's pub to Manchester, and the opportunity for me to visit it arose a few months later when Nick and I, together with a group of fellow beer enthusiasts, organised a trip to the pub. For transport we made use of one of the students’ union mini-buses, and having found ourselves a driver for the evening, and bribed him to remain sober, we collected sufficient interested people and money to fill and pay for the mini-bus.

It was quite a journey to Hebden Bridge; our journey took us via the M62 and along the winding A6033, via Littleborough and Todmorden. By the time we reached Hebden Bridge it was just starting to get dark, but fortunately Nick remembered the way and after turning onto a narrow, twisting road we began to climb high into the Pennine Hills. Forty years is a long time, but I can still recall the spectacular view we had of the town of Hebden Bridge, far below us, lit up by the last rays of the sun as it disappeared behind one of the looming peaks, away to our west. By the time we arrived at the pub it was more or less dark.

First taste of  Taylor's beers at the Hare & Hounds, 1975
When one has been used to living in a big city for any length of time, one starts to get used to the noise of the traffic. This applies even to folk, such as me, brought up in the peace and quiet of a small village. It therefore came as something of a shock (albeit a pleasant one!) to arrive at this unspoilt pub, miles from anywhere, where the only sounds were those of our own voices. It was much more of a shock though, to discover that the pub was closed!

We knocked on the door and waited, but nothing happened. We peered through the windows but could see no signs of life. Deciding that we had perhaps arrived too early, we went for a short stroll up the road. By the time we got back the pub was just opening its doors, much to our relief.

The inside of the pub was both comfortable and cosy; the decor being of a style that was fairly typical of north-country pubs of the time. So far as the beer was concerned, the Hare and Hounds had three Timothy Taylor’s beers on tap, namely Golden Best (a light mild), Best Bitter and the beer we were all itching to try, Landlord. Most of us did the sensible thing and worked our way up, starting off with the Golden Best and ending up on Landlord. I can safely say that all the beers were superb.

The guvnor made us feel very welcome, whilst his wife was quite happy to provide us with pie and peas. The latter acted as welcome solid sustenance to soak up the excellent ale. The beer though was beginning to slip down just a shade too well, and even those of us who had tried to pace our drinking were caught out by the fact that mine host did not call time at the allotted hour. As our driver had no objections to stopping a while longer, we somewhat foolishly decided to carry on drinking. When we did eventually manage to drag ourselves away, I regret that the cold night air had an unfortunate effect on several members of the party, so it was perhaps just as well that we did not make any return visits to the Hare and Hounds!

Long-haired layabouts at the Hare & Hounds. Can you spot your's truly?
It was to be a long time before I drank Timothy Taylor’s ales again. I vaguely remember sampling one of their beers at a beer festival in Blackpool, but it was not until I attended the 1982 CAMRA AGM, held that particular year in Bradford, that I had the opportunity of enjoying the company's excellent beers once more.

Again a trip out to Taylor’s home territory was necessary, but fortunately this time it only involved a short bus ride. Myself, plus two fellow delegates from Kent, caught the bus from Bradford to Keighley for an evening's drinking, having spent the day listening to various and rather tedious, AGM motions being discussed. We had arranged to meet our respective wives and girlfriends there; the ladies having had more sense than to spend the day sitting in a stuffy hall day listening to a load of boring debates! Instead they had spent the day visiting Howarth, with its Bronte Museum, and had also been for a ride on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway.

We visited several pubs in Keighley that night but, unfortunately to my mind at least, none of them sold Landlord. The Golden Best and Best Bitter that they did sell though were extremely palatable, and we spent a very pleasant evening sampling these beers, before catching the bus back to Bradford.

During the late 1980's and early 1990’s Timothy Taylor’s ales began to make a somewhat infrequent, but nevertheless very welcome appearance as guest ales in the south-east. Certainly in Tonbridge Taylor’s Landlord was seen, and enjoyed, quite a few times in Uncle Tom's Cabin, (now known as the New Drum). Soon after this another Tonbridge pub, The Stag’s Head, began selling Timothy Taylor's on a regular basis. Somewhat unusually, the beer on offer at this former market pub was the Best Bitter, rather than the Landlord which hitherto had been the only one of the company's beers to feature in the free trade. For the best part of a decade the Stag’s Head continued to offer Taylor's Best, but following the relocation of the Saturday market to the other end of town, the pub lost a lot of its trade, and sadly closed a few years later.

As I stated at the beginning of this post, Timothy Taylor’s Landlord was quite widely available in West Kent, but now I can only think of a couple of local pubs that still sell it. However, the company have been back in the news recently, after their Boltmaker was crowned Champion Beer of Britain at this year’s CAMRA Great British Beer Festival, held at Olympia, London. This is the fifth time that Timothy Taylor’s have been awarded the champion beer title; the previous four awards having been for landlord.

Boltmaker is Taylor’s Best Biter re-badged. It is similar in style and taste to Landlord, but at 4.0% is slightly weaker in strength. Following last month’s award, the brewery expects to be running at full capacity to keep up with demand for the beer, so watch out for it in pubs and bars locally.

Before finishing, mention should be made of  Taylor’s Havercake Ale. Normally a bottled beer, I enjoyed this robust 4.7% Yorkshire Ale on draught last year, at the Punch & Judy in Tonbridge.  It was originally brewed to honour the soldiers of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment, affectionately nicknamed 'The Havercake Lads'. The name is derived from the oatmeal breadcake that was the staple food of the Yorkshire Pennine towns and villages where most of the soldiers lived.

I feel quite privileged to have discovered Taylor’s Landlord all those years ago, and despite its recent perceived loss of character, am still proud to regard it as one of my all time favourite beers.


Curmudgeon said...

The first Taylor's pub I ever visited was the Cross Inn in Heptonstall above Hebden Bridge, which doesn't look as though it's theirs any more.

I once saw someone order a pint of Landlord and blackcurrant in the Brown Cow at Bingley!

Paul Bailey said...

Perhaps we could run a contest Mudge, for the most revolting beer mixes. I've always thought the German Colaweizen (a hefeweizen mixed with cola), looked pretty foul, but I'm sure there are worse examples.

Neville Grundy said...

Landlord was my favourite beer for a long time, and it can still be good. Unfortunately, like many beers that are pushed out beyond the ability of the brewer to maintain consistent quality, it can sometimes be bland and uninteresting.

Paul Bailey said...

Nev, I'm sure we could all name several other once iconic beers which have suffered the same fate.

Call them victims of their own success, but when will breweries learn not to go for quantity at the expense of quality?