Down a lane in Keighley, in the old West Riding of Yorkshire, they brew the greatest ale in the world. Timothy Taylor, the brewery is called, or Timmy Taylor’s, should you feel sufficiently familiar. And if you are not familiar with the ales brewed by these modest Yorkies, you’re clearly not an ale-drinker. And if you’re not an ale-drinker then you’re not properly English.
Modest Yorkies, you may say: that’s a new one. Well, they are. If you excel as they do, you don’t need to blow your own trumpet. Paul Tortelier, the great French cellist, was once asked to nominate his favourite composer. ‘Bach,’ he replied. ‘And if any musician tells you different, he is lying.’ You might say as much of Landlord, the most famous ale in the Taylor stable. If you don’t know it is the greatest ale known to man, check your pulse.
Malted hops and barley. There isn’t much to making ale, except the skill that comes with years. Peter Eells, the head brewer at TT, retired last year, going out in glory after the Campaign for Real Ale voted Landlord’s younger brother, Boltmaker, its champion beer of 2014. Best Bitter, Boltmaker used to be called. There is also a Golden Best, a Dark Mild and, in winter, Ram Tam.
We’re lucky in England to have so many wonderful brewers — and so many people who enjoy drinking their work. It’s something we do very well. One thinks of Harveys of Lewes, Batemans of Wainfleet, Joseph Holt of Manchester, Fullers of Chiswick, the Wye Valley Brewery and Bathams of Brierley Hill. But the reputation built up over the decades by Timothy Taylor, a reputation that has become almost an article of faith among beer drinkers, owes nothing to happenstance.
They started brewing ale in Keighley in 1858, ten years after two of the Brontë sisters, who lived up the road, published Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. On the brewery’s 150th anniversary eight years ago they put up a marquee at a local prep school and held three days of licensed revelry. In my fridge there remains a solitary bottle of Havercake ale, brewed specifically for the nonce. Perhaps it will mature, like a fine Burgundy!
What, then, is the reason for the Taylor triumph, which has continued under the new head brewer, Andrew Leman? It has-something to do with the water taken from their own spring, and quite a lot to do with the hops brought in from Herefordshire and Kent, and also from Slovenia, close to the Austrian border. The rest is down to human agencies like the nose, and a pride in their own traditions.
All brewers seek a balance between malt and hops. Landlord, a hoppy pale ale, is, if well kept, a majestic compound of bitterness and maltiness. Though to call Landlord a ‘pale ale’ is like calling Uncle Vanya a ‘Russian tragedy’. There are ales, and there are tragedies, and they’re not all the same.
Michael Jackson, whose writing about beers of all kinds did so much for the discriminating drinker, found parallels in rugby league for Landlord’s hoppy maltiness, or malty hoppiness. It was, he said, like a combination of loose forward and scrum half. By the time you’ve worked your way through a gallon of the stuff, it makes sense.
Wherever you live, you are likely to find Landlord in a pub near you. It really is true what they say: by ’eck, the greatest ale in the world.