Black Sheep Brewery

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The Black Sheep Brewery is a brewery in Masham in the Borough of Harrogate in North Yorkshire, England.

Black Sheep Brewery
plc (over 1,000 shareholders)
IndustryAlcoholic beverage
FounderPaul Theakston
Production output
70,000 barrels Edit this on Wikidata
A group of visitors observes fermentation vats whilst on an official tour of the brewery facilities
A brewery guide distributes a sample of "Monty Python's Holy Grail Ale"


The Black Sheep Brewery was established by Paul Theakston in 1991. Following a successful launch as a Business Expansion Scheme, it became a public limited company (plc) in 1992. Theakston had been managing director of Theakston Brewery, also in Masham, since 1968. He began at the age of 23, taking over from his father, Frank.

Matthew Brown bought Theakston Brewery following disagreements between members of the family and other shareholders. In 1987 Scottish & Newcastle succeeded Brown as owner. Theakston left in 1988, and after a hiatus of more than a year purchased the North Yorkshire Malt Roasting Company, originally part of the former Lightfoot's brewery site, from an animal feed company, in order to start a new brewery in Masham.

Theakston wanted to use the Lightfoot name to bring back an old brewing tradition, but Scottish and Newcastle had already trademarked the name. The association of Masham with sheep led Theakston to come up with the name "Sheep Brewery" which rapidly became "Black Sheep" at his wife's suggestion. The first and original Black Sheep Best Bitter was sold at the Bruce Arms by its Landlord, David Young.

The brewery produces a range of well-hopped bitters, to distinguish itself from Theakston's range of fruity and yeasty beers. The brewery quickly became successful, and now produces over 75,000 barrels a year. The brewery has capitalised on its popularity by converting unused parts of the original maltings into a visitors centre from which tours of the brewery are conducted. In 1996, it served as host to an episode of the Two Fat Ladies cooking programme which was broadcast the following year.

For the first 15 years it paid its shareholders, including many real ale enthusiasts, steadily rising dividends. However it has since been forced to retrench, and has paid no dividend for several years. It is one of the largest shareholdings of the CAMRA Members' Investment Club.[1]

The brewery re-launched their Emmerdale Ale as a lower-alcohol beer (formerly 5%) on 27 January 2006 at The Crown in Manfield for the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). The launch party saw Chris Chittell (Eric Pollard from the Emmerdale TV series) pull the first pint of the new brew. Emmerdale Ale is no longer brewed. The night also marked the rebranding of Black Sheep's Special Ale (in cask form) as Black Sheep Ale, the name that it has been sold as in bottles since 1992, bringing both into line.[2]

In 2008, the brewery launched Draught Golden Sheep, a blonde cask beer with a refreshing citrus-hop flavour. It remains a seasonal brew. This, like all Black Sheep beers and indeed the brewing plant itself was created by Paul Ambler, Head Brewer since 1992 and later Operations Director. Paul Ambler has now retired. Comments Paul Theakston, "Over the years, Paul Ambler has been a fierce champion of the quality of our beer, which is the keystone of our success". Nevertheless, a growing share of its sales is in on-cask form.

All bottled beers brewed by the Black Sheep Brewery are suitable for both vegetarians and vegans.[3]

Cask beersEdit

  • Black Sheep Ale (formerly Special Ale), 4.4%
  • Best Bitter, 3.8%. The brewery's best-known product, available at a large number of pubs in the UK.[4]
  • Riggwelter, 5.9%
  • Golden Sheep, 3.9%

According to the website, "...Riggwelter takes its name from the local Yorkshire Dales dialect – when a sheep is on its back and can’t get up without help, local dialect says it is riggwelted.[5] This dialect word comes from the old Viking words: ‘rigg’(rygg) meaning back and ‘velte’ to overturn (the words and their meaning are still largely the same in the modern North Germanic languages).[6] Riggwelter is also popular in Sweden, being in the top 20 of bottled ales sold in that country.[7]

Bottled beersEdit

  • Black Sheep Ale (formerly Special Ale in cask form), 4.4%
  • The Monty Python "Trilogy":[8]
    • Monty Python's Holy Grail Ale, 4.7% — a golden ale
    • Monty Python's Flying Circus, 4.5% — an IPA
    • Brian, 3.9% — a pale ale
  • Riggwelter, 5.7%
  • Golden Sheep, 4.7% — originally produced specially for Tesco, as part of their "Finest" range
  • Yorkshire Square Ale, 5.0% — named after a particular fermentation system originated over 200 years ago using double decked vessels called "squares" made of slate or stone. The brewery stopped using the slate squares 10 years ago and replaced them with modern stainless steel round equivalents. The label's distinctive square sheep icon and sunset background was designed by Middlesbrough born artist Mackenzie Thorpe.
  • Imperial Russian, 8.5% — special brew porter.
  • All Creatures "Bright and Beautiful", 4.0% — brewed in celebration of the famous veterinary character James Herriot.


  1. ^ 'Portfolio'
  2. ^ Re-launch story Morning Advertiser - Retrieved on 23 July 2007
  3. ^ Black Sheep – no baa for Veggies Archived 9 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ "The Black Sheep Brewery, Masham North Yorkshire". Black Sheep Brewery. Archived from the original on 14 February 2009. Retrieved 9 July 2019.
  5. ^ Riggwelter Archived 14 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine - Retrieved on 23 July 2007
  6. ^ Riggwelter Archived 6 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine Black Sheep Breweries - Retrieved on 23 July 2007
  7. ^ Riggwelter exports to Sweden The Northern Echo, 8 December 2004. Retrieved on 23 July 2007.
  8. ^ "Monty Python - Our Beers". Retrieved 19 December 2018.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 54°13′31″N 1°39′30″W / 54.2252°N 1.6582°W / 54.2252; -1.6582