Samuel Smith: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It?

Posted: February 17, 2011 in Beer School
By Eric and Mimi Griffith


Mimi and I just found another reason to stop procrastinating on our pub crawl across the British Isles.  The Angel & White Horse is a pub in Yorkshire next to the Samuel Smith Brewery. After tonight’s class, I’ve already played out the scene in my head.  On a chilly afternoon (not sure what time of year, but isn’t it chilly in England all the time?), we are sitting at the bar with several of Britain’s most engaging pub characters as the fire crackles nearby.

Suddenly we here the “clip-clop, clip-clop” of two gray Shire horses approaching the pub, and while we are most definitely excited to see the horses, we are even more interested in the wooden casks being delivered.  You see, they contain beer from Samuel Smith’s. This is the only way to sample the suds on draft.  All of the patrons sing a traditional English celebration song and we all dance joyously as the casks are tapped.  And…scene!

Luckily we don’t have to venture across the pond to taste the labors of the crew at Samuel Smith’s, because the distributors at Merchant du Vin have been importing the bottled version to the U.S. since 1978.  Jason Wallace, the Great Plains Regional Manager, was on hand to introduce us to a brewery that has been pleasing beer fans for over 200 years.


The Brewery

While most of the beer makers we encounter at beer school are trying to push the envelope and create new styles and quirky recipes, tonight’s brewery has taken the exact opposite approach.  Even the name, Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery, should tip you off to the fact that these guys like tradition and don’t plan on making changes any time soon.  Samuel Smith was founded in 1758 in the town of Tadcaster about 3.5 hours north of London, and the beer is still brewed there today. Besides using water from the same well since 1758, the brewery has pitched the same strain of yeast since the 19th Century.  But the most distinct feature of the Old Brewery is the Yorkshire Stone Square method of fermentation.  Instead of switching to modern materials such as aluminum, Samuel Smith’s has kept the tradition of fermenting in large square containers made of slate.  This stone is the same stone used to pave many of the streets of London, and it imparts a truly unique character to each of the beers.  Merchant du Vin imports 15 styles from Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery and tonight we tried four examples.

Organic Ale

He says It appears hazy and golden with a complex nose.  I found fruit, oak, maple syrup and earthy notes on my first sniff.  The taste is somewhat sweet with notes of honey and ginger.  While light on hops there is still plenty of flavor.  The finish is dry with hints of peat.  This is very drinkable.

She says- The first pour of the night was reddish gold in color, fizzy and crisp.  I picked up some fruity and caramel flavors.  It has an earthiness to it with a finish that reminded me of some Belgian style beers.  It was a very easy drinker.  Jason pointed out that all ingredients in this beer are certified organic.

India Ale

He says- A mild IPA at 46 IBUS, but traditional in the English sense of beers.  The nose gives me banana and grapes and the overall feeling is sweet.  The mouth feel is creamy and smooth as opposed to American IPAs that are sharp and biting at times.  This is a well-balanced beer, not as hoppy as American IPAs and not as earthy as other English versions.  If I am sitting at a pub all afternoon tossing back pints, this is the beer I want to have in my hand.

She says- This ale has a lovely amber color, but I didn’t pick up much on the nose.  The brewer describes it as being very hoppy, but as a hophead I found the hops to be quite muted.  It was hop forward, but different from American IPA’s.  I’ve always heard that English food is a bit bland compared to American food, and compared to the AIPA’s I’ve been drinking lately this one had about half of the hop punch.  This India Ale could be a great beer to help ease a somewhat newer craft beer drinker into more flavorful beers.

Nut Brown Ale

He says- Not a shock to say this beer is brown in color and is served with a decent head even for a small sample.  I observe the same yeast smell for all of the beers tonight and this is no exception.  Also I note chocolate, fruit and nut on the nose.  The feel is stickier than the first two brews, but the finish is dry with a slight linger.  I heard someone say this tastes like “liquid Nutella” and I tend to agree.  A very pleasant mix of hazelnut, chocolate, and caramel with hints of fig dancing around the finish.

She says- This ale was definitely browner in color than the first two.  It was crisp with no heavy aftertaste and a dry finish.  To me it tasted like what fall leaves smell like. It was very sessionable and easy drinking.  I think it would be a nice complement to spicy foods or BBQ.

Taddy Porter

He says- Nearly black in color this sample also sports a nice head.  The mouthfeel is lively and carbonated yet chewy at the same time.  The aroma matches the taste with sweet roasted nuts, chocolate, and toasty malts.  I found this one very interesting and complex.  It would make a great winter beer.  And although I did not get the salami taste that others in the class found, I could pick up some smoky notes throughout the beer.

She says- It has the color of dark chocolate with a creamy cappuccino colored head.  This porter has a rich caramel flavor, slightly smoky, but not too heavy or filling, which surprised me.  It also has a velvety mouth feel.  I think it would make a great after dinner fireside beer, paired with a good dessert.

Mimi’s Last Sip

I love that so far this semester all of the presenters have provided a handout with information about their samplings and company.  This week Merchant du Vin handed out a flyer listing all of the beers they import with tons of information about each brew in an easy to follow format.  It’s a great reference piece I’m happy to have.



About the Authors – Husband and wife Eric and Mimi have been attending beer school for about a year now and love every minute of it. Mimi was born and raised in St. Louis. Besides sitting down with a fabulous pint of beer, she enjoys gardening and spending time with her horse. Eric was born and raised in Texas. He enjoys sports and searching for the next great beer. A search he says he has been on for five years and one that will certainly never end. Mimi, on the other hand, just realized beer actually has flavor about a year ago. After having moved away for a few years, in 2007, this happy couple moved back to St. Louis and is enjoying all the St. Louis beer scene has to offer, especially Cicero’s Beer School. Cicero’s is lucky to have such an enthusiastic couple writing the beer school blog!

  1. Jason W says:

    Eris & Mimi,
    Thank you for attending last week & thank you for the admiration shown for Samuel Smith brewery in the write up!
    Jason -Merchant du Vin

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