Taylor Made for More Success
It's the dawn of a new era at Timothy Taylor. The Yorkshire-based brewer of 'Championship Beers' has a new managing director.
These are challenging times to be assuming control of a brewery. While public interest in beer has never been greater, there is so much competition that even established names such as Timothy Taylor have their work cut out in maintaining market share.
But American Tim Dewey, who arrives with experience at SABMiller and in the whisky business, is quite rightly undaunted. This may not be the biggest regional brewery, but there are few companies with as much respect among the beer-drinking public.
Taylor's story begins with Bingley-born Timothy Taylor and partners opening a brewery in Keighley in 1858 and continues with his moving, on his own, across town to the present site, on the Knowle Spring, five years later.
Three generations on, the business remains in family hands, with Charles Dent, husband of Timothy's great granddaughter, newly installed as company chairman after twenty-two years as MD.
His successor Dewey arrives with the brewery in good shape, benefiting from serious investment in recent times that began with the installation of a new brewhouse, rescued from the closure of Oldham Brewery in 1991.
More recent additions have included extensive fermentation and conditioning capacity, purpose-built offices and a new boiler but, for all the investment, the company remains staunchly traditional. Cask-conditioned ales are its forte.
The brewers – headed by long-serving Peter Eells and number two Andrew Leman – know what they want and go out of their way to get it.
Golden Promise barley, commonly used in whisky making, is specially grown in the Scottish Borders, and this is mashed using water from the Knowle Spring that Timothy Taylor identified as a pure source more than 150 years ago.
The same single-mindedness is applied to hops. Rummage through the hop store and you won't find anything remotely exotic. Tried and tested varieties – in whole leaf form – are the preference.
All five regular beers feature the same hops – Whitbread Golding Variety, Golding, Fuggle and Savinjski Golding – only in different quantities in each brew. Some of these hops are scattered on the base of the hop back before the copper run-off to boost the aroma of the beers.
With only eighteen pubs in its estate, Taylor needs to look beyond its doorstep for the bulk of its business.
'We're a free-trade brewery,' says Peter, which makes it odd that the company just focuses on five cask ales and – apart from rarities such as last year's Tour de France beer, Le Champion – doesn't turn out specials or seasonals.
In today's pub world, where pump clips are changed more frequently than soggy bar towels, that seems a rather limiting approach but, when you have a reputation second to none and a whole host of awards on your walls, it appears you can concentrate on quality rather than quantity.
Highlights among these awards are the CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain titles presented to Landlord and Boltmaker. Landlord (4.3% ABV), the flagship beer, is arguably the classic British best bitter, perfectly balancing a combination of floral, fruity hops on a bed of silky malt sweetness.
It has won the title four times, between 1982 and 1999 – the most any beer has won it – but, just last August, Boltmaker (4%) proved that Timothy Taylor is no one-trick pony by also claiming CAMRA's highest honour.
It was the latest step in the rejuvenation of what was perhaps the company's least recognised brand. The beer was known simply as Best Bitter until 2012, when in an echo of the way in which the name of Landlord was chosen back in 1953, a competition was run to find a more dynamic title.
The competition was won by Phil Booth, landlord of Keighley's Boltmakers Arms pub, who drew on the town's association with the engineering trade for inspiration. With a new clear identity, the beer quickly enjoyed a lift in sales.
'Previously, if people asked for a pint of Taylor's Best, it wasn't clear what they were going to be served,' says Peter. 'Some pubs would serve them Golden Best, which is our mild, and others would offer them Landlord, as it's generally seen as the "best" beer Taylor produces.'
Golden Best (3.5%) remains a hugely popular beer locally. It is one of the rare breed of pale milds, rather than a dark, malty beer, and it drinks like a light, subtle bitter. There is also a Dark Mild (again 3.5%) in the portfolio, and another dark beer, Ram Tam, further up the alcohol range at 4.3%.
Is this a porter or a strong mild? No matter: it's a treat, bittersweet and tasty, with hints of blackcurrant layered through soft, dark flavours of roasted malt.
Complementing the cask ales is a trio of bottled beers – versions of Landlord, Boltmaker and the occasional brew, Havercake.
Boltmaker is the latest to be bottled, a decision that presciently just predated its Champion Beer success. To compensate for filtration, the recipe has been tweaked, with the strength raised to 4.2%. It's a moreish drop, balancing flavours of slightly toasted malt, nut and caramel with tangy, but mellow, hops.
Havercake was first produced in 2002, to honour the soldiers of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment, who were known as 'The Havercake Lads' after the oatmeal breadcake eaten in the Pennine towns and villages where they lived.
Made with two kinds of malted oats, it is a robust, copper-amber beer of 4.7% alcohol. The oats really make their presence felt from aroma to finish, giving a creamy sweetness to balance the firm bitterness of the hops.
As he warms to his task, Tim Dewey has much to play with. Most brewery MDs would kill for such a winning hand.
With a modern brewhouse, two Champion Beers of Britain and enormous brand loyalty, Timothy Taylor is ready to more than hold its own in an increasingly competitive beer world.