The attractive Yorkshire town of Tadcaster sits astride the River Wharfe between Leeds and York. It is largely Georgian in character, having lots of fine buildings of the period, many made from the local limestone. It is the same source of stone from which York Minster was built and one of those quarries is still active today.
Digging further into it's colourful past, remains can be found of Saxon, Roman, Norman and medieval history. However, It is the rich brewing legacy that drew me here. Records of brew-houses in the town go back to the 14th century. The underground aquifers contain water which is rich in magnesium and sulphate of lime, perfect for brewing.
The first large scale commercial well was sunk in 1758 and the Samuel Smith Brewery was built around it. The well is still used today and Sam's, as it is known locally, has the honour of being Yorkshire's oldest working brewery. Descendants and brothers, Samuel and John Smith went on to become embroiled in a bitter legal dispute in the 1880's. This led a furious John to build a new brewery as a separate business, right next door to his brother's operation. Both breweries still thrive today.
In 1883, a further rival brewery was established just across the developing town. Tower Brewery is now owned and operated by Molton Coors, which brews many famous name beers for other companies. Sniff the air here, it will do you good!
In the 18th century, mail coaches and travellers passing over the river bridge through Tadcaster en route to and from London and Newcastle often stayed overnight in the town. The Angel and the White Horse pubs were neighbouring but separate entities with a large arched gateway leading to the stables.
The Angel was a 'brewery tap', physically attached to Samuel Smith's Brewery, and was the showcase premises for it's products. In the following century, the White Horse became the Londesborough Hotel to cater for the increasing number of travellers. However, with much later brewery expansion, this was turned into administrative offices for the brewery, a function it still performs today. As part of the refurbishment, some of the old White Horse building was knocked through into the Angel pub (still following this?) to create one long pub, now imaginatively called The Angel and White Horse!
Two became one.
Viewed from Bridge Street, the pub is clearly of Georgian architecture and has the aged ash-white appearance granted it by the limestone construction. The arched gateway is still there, as are the working stables which look out onto a stone-flagged beer garden. The dray shire horses stabled here still deliver beer to local pubs by cart in the old fashioned way five days a week, and are often the stars of the show at local events in Summer.
This pub is still a brewery tap and has been refurbished again in recent years to provide a modern pub which retains many old style features. A great combination. It is beautifully decorated and has many old coaching prints or the era.
Cream marble floor tiles lighten the wooden panelled walls as you enter and you soon become aware of the open fireplaces, so welcome on a cold January evening. There are a couple of rooms adjacent to the bar, which has traditional standing room for vertical drinkers. A section with tables further into the pub looks out onto the stables, horses and courtyard.
Even further inside is a more enclosed dining area which affords greater privacy and beyond that, a further room which reminds me of an old fashioned board room. It is very comfortable and intimate.
Samuel Smith pubs serve only their own products, there are no guest beers or big brand name spirits or mixers. It is none the worse for that. They produce a huge variety of beers, from the signature Old Brewery Bitter to light AND dark mild, chocolate stout, porter and four variations of lager amongst several others. Their Yorkshire Stingo beer is brewed to a formidable 9% a.b.v and is not to be taken lightly!
Fruit beers, which are available by the bottle, are produced for Sam Smiths by the All Saints' Brewery, run by the Melbourn brothers in Stamford. This is because the water at Tadcaster is not compatible with fruit flavours. At All Saints they use antique steam powered equipment to produce a range of organic fruit beers. Anyone for raspberry, apricot, strawberry or cherry beer?
The Brewery have their own coopers for the manufacture and repair of the oak casks used to serve the beers from the wood. Most of the brewing process still uses Yorkshire Squares, actually made from slate, one of the last remaining brewers to use this method. The yeast strains used, date back to the 19th century.
Sam Smiths operate around 200 pubs, mainly in Yorkshire. One feature which many find attractive is that none have any music whatsoever. Peace and good conversation flow, just like it used to do.
Maintaining excellence in beer production whilst keeping costs down to customers is a priority for the brewery. The Old Brewery hand pulled bitter is a mere £1.80 a pint here and even Londoners can find a couple of Sam Smith pubs – though they may charge a few pence more than this. The bill for a round often leaves you wondering if you have been undercharged. The pint is a natural, hoppy, amber ale with a great taste. All of their products, apart from a couple, are approved by the Vegan Society.
Another quirk is that there are no actual chefs in Sam Smith pubs. The business has it's own cook-chill preparation facility for food, which is then shipped out to the various pubs to be finished by cooks and their assistants. Not high end dining, but on the whole, tasty and appetising pub grub. Costs are kept strictly under control with bargains to be had.
We sat in the first dining area in comfortable leather chairs and next to a crackling fire. Our friends started with one of the four House Sharer dishes, a large plate of nachos which came smothered in melted cheese, sour cream, guacamole and jalapeno peppers and submerged under a mound of beef chilli. I went old fashioned with a classic prawn cocktail, juicy prawns in marie-rose sauce which came with sliced rolls and a crispy salad, whilst my partner was impressed with a dish of assorted olives, cubes of feta cheese and olive oil, again with rolls to dip. All the starters range from £2.25 to £3.95 with sharers from £7.50 to £8.95. Everyone found their choice to be very tasty.
Four different choices of mains saw us presented with lovely arrangements on rectangular plates with various pots and metal baskets of accompaniments. My 10oz gammon steak was juicy and tender with the usual suspects of egg, chips and peas and more of the tangy salad. At £7.50 this was such a bargain and so very tasty. Other choices were mushroom, cranberry and brie wellington with assorted vegetables, lambs liver, onions, mash and vegetables and finally a chicken and Wiltshire ham pie served in a thyme and chive cheese sauce with vegetables. The mains varied from £5.95 to £7.95 – unbelievable value. Even a rump steak from the grill is only £10.50 whilst burgers are also available.
We couldn't manage any of the three traditional desserts even at just over three pounds.
All the smartly dressed staff were friendly and engaged in conversation as they went about their impeccable service. Brilliant stuff.
All of Sam Smith's bottled beer products are available from the brilliant deli and bottle shop a few yards up Bridge Street. There are many unusual beers and lagers which staff will happily make up into a presentation basket. These beers are proving very popular in the USA, which is undergoing something of an awakening for craft beers such as these.
In keeping with the old fashioned and admirable values of the company there is no website for the pub, which can be found at LS24 9AW. There is a free car park 100 yards down the road just over the river bridge.
Mel B is a girl from nearby Leeds and it was the Spice Girls who first sang 'Two Become One' in 1996. Whilst you would never hear this song played in a Sam Smith's pub, I wonder where they got the idea from?