Samuel Smith, otherwise known as the Old Brewery at Tadcaster, was founded in Yorkshire in 1758. It’s a truly historic institution, as well as one of the few remaining independent breweries in England.
Celebrated for draft ales at its pubs around England, and around the world for its distinctive bottled beers, such as Pale Ale, Brown Ale, Taddy Porter and Imperial Stout, the company has never been much for marketing in the modern sense.
But that’s changed a bit since Sam Smith III, of the fifth generation of the Samuel Smith family, has been on the scene, serving as something of an international ambassador for the brand.
Last month, Merchant du Vin, the Seattle-based importer that first introduced Samuel Smith’s ales to the U.S. market in 1978, brought a limited number of kegs here for the first time.
And as part of a promotion that debuted Samuel Smith’s exquisite Oatmeal Stout draft at select beer bars, including Brick Store Pub in Decatur, Sam Smith III made a few appearances to share the story.
I caught up with Smith in the Brick Store’s cellar, where we talked about the family beer business, and drank pints of freshly tapped Oatmeal Stout.
Q: The big question is, why not draft in the U.S. before now?
A: We’re basically in the bottled beer business, and our bottled beers have a fantastic reputation. We’ve been selling them for almost 40 years over here. We really pioneered the concept of better beer in the U.S. right from 1978. But it’s all been in the bottle because we can completely control the quality. We know when we package that product at our brewery, we get it perfect, and not a lot can go wrong. Whereas, with a keg, it’s got to be fresh, the lines have got to be clean, with the right pressure, and it’s got to be served properly.
Q: The next big question is, why now?
A: I’ve been coming to the U.S. for a few years, and every time I come, I’ve been increasingly impressed with the skill levels of bartenders here. I think they’re on top of the game internationally. So that gave me full confidence, that if we only highlighted what we considered to be the best, such as the Brick Store Pub, that it would be served up really well, and we could have a bit of fun with it. And draft beer has grown and grown as a market share the past 10 years, so that’s where we need to be.
Q: And why Oatmeal Stout, other than the fact that it’s such a beautiful beer on draft?
A: Oatmeal Stout is a really, really special beer. In the 1980s, we looked back in our old brewing books that date back over 100 years, and we found our Oatmeal Stout from about 1900. At the time, no one was brewing oatmeal stout. It just did not exist in the whole world. But we brewed it, and it was absolutely stunning. It took off, particularly in the U.S., and became a sensation. Since then, we’ve inspired hundreds of brewers around the world to brew their own oatmeal stout. It was like nothing else.
Q: What ingredients go into the recipe for Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout?
A: We only use natural ingredients. So in our Oatmeal Stout, there’s only malted barley, oats, a little bit of cane sugar, hops, yeast and water. That’s all. But with those completely natural ingredients, we achieve that beautiful, creamy head retention, going all the way down to the bottom of the glass. Those are the sort of skills that we built up over the past 260 years.
Q: And now you’ve become a big part of that, too, right?
A: I’m the fifth generation in my family working in management at the brewery. I joined the business about six years ago, after graduating from college. I work there with my dad and my uncle, and I’m sales director of the brewery. I look after our trade in the south of England and exports.
Q: So that’s a pretty good gig?
A: I’m passionate about it. I think we’ve got a really great product. We’ve got a really great import partner in Merchant du Vin here. I love getting out there and meeting people. I love introducing people to our beer. And it gives me a lot of pleasure to know my family has been doing this for centuries, and I get the privilege to continue it.
Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout will be on draft the week of Nov. 13 at the Porter Beer Bar, 1156 Euclid Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-223-0393, theporterbeerbar.com. And on draft the week of Nov. 20 at Cypress Street Pint & Plate, 817 W. Peachtree St. NW, Suite E125 (corner of Cypress Street and Sixth Street), Atlanta. 404-815-9243, cypressbar.com.