Black Sheep Brewery in Masham, North Yorkshire

Annie Stirk discovers why Yorkshire makes such good beer

Masham, gateway to Wensleydale and dominated by its attractive village square, is home to two of Yorkshire’s brewing giants Theakston and Black Sheep. Black Sheep was set up by Paul Theakston in 1992 when Scottish and Newcastle moved in to take over the original family business. At the time, Paul felt he was over a barrel so in a flash of inspiration he decided to set up a rival brewery in the Old Maltings next door.

Struggling to find a name for the new business he remarked to his wife Sue, that the new venture would make him the black sheep of the family. That was a eureka moment. The Black Sheep Brewery was born and the rest is history.

In 2003 the Theakston family bought back their brewery from Scottish and Newcastle and now it’s all change again, as Paul gradually hands the brewing baton to his eldest son Rob, who will soon be very much at the sharp end of this thriving sixth generation family business. Paul, however, with 46 years of brewing under his belt and beer in his blood, admits he will find it difficult to let go but he is looking forward to a new era and a new generation bringing in exciting ideas.

What is surprising is that despite those early ‘beer wars’ there is actually a lot of co-operation between breweries – could it be down to that sense of bonhomie over the bar?

‘It is a very open industry with a lot of interchange between breweries,’ said Paul. ‘Brewers are a generous lot and are happy to share ideas. ‘It has also always been a tradition in the industry to send the new generation to another brewery to learn the ropes, so there are obviously no secrets between us all. Of course we compete like hell once we are out there in the market place, but behind the scenes there is always a good deal of support.’

One thing that won’t be changing is the traditional method of brewing these quirkilly-named beers. A unique Yorkshire square fermentation system, developed 200 years ago, is still in use today and is the key to producing the distinctive Black Sheep taste.

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Add to that a healthy dose of passion – ‘brewers are by nature passionate,’ says Paul – other quality local ingredients like the malt from Fawcetts in Castleford and crystal clear Dales water from their own well and you have the kind of beers that have Yorkshire folk and other aficionados coming back for more.

Quirkiness is one of the hallmarks of the business hence names like Riggwelter – local dialect for a sheep that has gone on its back. This is a name that sounds as though it was probably conjured up after a pint or two, and comes with a warning from some of the brewing team – this is definitely not a session beer or you will end up like a rigg sheep.

It’s not all beer though, this is sheep country too, and 80,000 of them are bought and sold each year at the annual Masham Sheep Fair in September.

Despite its outwardly sleepy appearance Masham also boasts over 50 other thriving food and drink businesses including delis, cafes, restaurants and hotels. Award winning luxury castle hotel, Swinton Park, presides majestically over the town with its 200 acres of rolling parkland, and is also home to the cooking school guru and television cook, Rosemary Shraeger.

They also know a thing or two about sausages in Masham and there is even a butcher’s named after this now legendary sausage – The Masham Sausage Shop. Richard Welford sells up to 1,000lbs of sausages per week, using meat from local rare breed pigs. There are up to 37 different varieties, from the traditional Masham sausage itself with its secret herb seasoning for the unique Hog and Hop sausage made with a glug or two of Black Sheep.

In the Market Square there’s Joneva, owned and run by John and Sandra Moughan. It is an Aladdin’s cave of a shop with 4,500 products offering everything from jelly babies to ham. Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t escape the beer here either. John and Sandra use it in their homemade fudge.  They replace the water in the recipe with Black Sheep or Theakston’s Old Peculier and the result is a very distinctive design on the top of the fudge – and it tastes pretty good too.

ContactsJoneva, 7 Market Place, Masham, Ripon. HG4 4DZ. 01765 689 021.

The Masham Sausage Shop, 11 Silver Street, Masham. 01765 689269

The Black Sheep Brewery, Wellgarth, Masham, Ripon, HG4 4EN. 01765 689227.

These pubs pull a great Black Sheep pintFor visitors and tourists a pint in the corner of a Yorkshire pub is a highlight of a visit.  For locals there is gossip to be swapped and a chance of bumping into one of the neighbours. Village pubs also provide a social service, providing rooms for local groups, like the Parish Council meeting or the Cricket Club AGM, or you can pop in for a paper and a pint on Sunday.  These Yorkshire pubs along with many others are the heartbeat of the community and the home of good beer.

Black Bull at MoultonThe Butchers Arms at HepworthThe Fox and Hounds at BullamoreGeorge & Dragon at AysgarthThe Wensleydale Heifer, East WittonThe Crab & Lobster at AsenbyThe Carlton Bore, Carlton HusthwaiteThe Maltings, York

Try the Hog and Hop Sausage CasseroleServes 6

Ingredients75g butterOlive oil2 large onions, peeled and diced3-4 fat cloves of garlic, crushedHandful of fresh thyme12-18 Hog and Hop sausages (or of your choice)225g mixed mushrooms, either button or field1 large tin of chopped tomatoes225mls Black Sheep Beer 225mls good beef stock2 tbsp redcurrant jellyA few shakes of Worcester sauce or Hendersons RelishHandful of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

MethodHeat a large ovenproof casserole pan – add the butter and oil together.

Add the onions and garlic and cook until softened but not browned. Sprinkle in the thyme and stir in.

Add the sausages to the pan and cook, turning frequently, until they are lightly browned – approximately 5 minutes.

Add the prepared mushrooms – leave the button mushrooms whole but slice the field mushrooms thickly.

Continue to cook for a further 5 minutes until the mushrooms have reduced.

Next add the tinned tomatoes followed by the beer and stock. Finally stir in the redcurrant jelly and Worcester sauce.

Place the lid on the pan, reduce the heat and simmer gently for approximately 45 minutes.

Approximately 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time take the lid off the pan to allow the sauce to reduce. 

Thicken the sauce if required, scatter with roughly chopped flat leaf parsley and serve with creamy mash and seasonal vegetables.

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