Worth a Trip: Black Sheep of the Brewing Family
The village of Masham (pronounced 'Massam') on the eastern edge of the Dales is a place of pilgrimage for connoisseurs of real ale – it's the frothing fountainhead of two of England's most popular real-ale producers: Theakston's, brewed here since 1827, and comparatively new kid on the block Black Sheep, which was founded in 1992.
Theakston's most famous brew, Old Peculier, takes its name from the Peculier of Masham, a parish court established in medieval times to deal with religious offences, including drunkenness, brawling and 'taking a skull from the churchyard and placing it under a person's head to charm them to sleep'. The court seal is used as the emblem for Theakston Ales.
To the horror of real-ale fans, the Theakston Brewery was taken over by megabrewer Scottish & Newcastle in 1987. Five years later, Paul Theakston, who quickly lost the love for S&N and left shortly after the takeover, bought an old maltings building in Masham and set up his own brewery, determined to bring small-scale artisan brewing back to Masham. He managed to salvage all kinds of traditional brewing equipment, including six Yorkshire 'stone square' brewing vessels, and was soon running a successful enterprise, which he named Black Sheep.
History came full circle in 2004 when Paul's four brothers took the Theakston brewery back into family ownership. Both Black Sheep Brewery and Theakston's Brewery have visitor centres and offer guided tours (best booked in advance); Black Sheep also has its own beer-centric restaurant. The village of Masham itself is full of character and if you have time it's well worth an overnight stay to truly appreciate the beer and its sleepy environs – www.visitmasham.com has accommodation listings.
Masham lies on the A6108 between Ripon and Leyburn. Bus 159 from Richmond to Ripon stops at Masham (£4.30, one hour, three daily Monday to Saturday).