The Tadcaster brewer Samuel Smith seems to embody many of the attributes of the music hall version of the professional Yorkshireman. Stubborn, self-reliant, shrewd and reticent to the point of only getting a website in August 2010. They’re certainly eccentric and somewhat secretive – they never seem give interviews. Their London pubs are a bit love-or-hate, but they certainly care for the fabric of their buildings. A few years back, they closed their famous gin palace The Princess Louise for several months while they restored its 1891 interior. Given the quality of the work, literally no expense was spared. As far as I can tell, they didn’t even bother with a press release saying what they’d been up to. There’s something nicely old fashioned about their flagship ale, Old Brewery Bitter. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but I like it – it’s a decent standby for a swift quencher, and one of the few beers still drawn from the wood. They have a cooperage at the brewery. Local deliveries are by drays pulled by shire horses. Traditional isn’t the word.
Just one bit of folklore about Smith’s claims that the reason OBB is so cheap is that tax and duty apart, the brewery hasn’t raised prices since they first started brewing it. Ah, yes. Folklore. And Rumours. For fear of getting my wheels sued off I won’t go into any here, but speculation about one or other members of Smith’s senior staff on this site might somehow help explain why they’re taking the Cropton Brewery to court.
In 2008, Cropton launched Yorkshire Warrior, a 4.4% ruby ale. Profits from sales go the Yorkshire Regiment Benevolent Fund. More than £10,000 has so far been raised. The bottle displays the regiments’ badge, which of course features the Yorkshire Rose. Samuel Smith, in their wisdom, say that having the rose on the Warrior bottles is ‘confusingly similar’ to their own labelling. A writ has been served for ‘copyright infringment’. You now have the absurd situation of seeing Warrior bottles and pump clips with the county symbol on it blacked out.
Cropton, y’see, are a Yorkshire brewer. Go to Leeds on a match day and half the men (and I dare say a few women) in the city centre will have a white rose tattoo on their arm. How many businesses in the county incorporate it into their own logo? It’s everywhere. It belongs to Yorkshire. It does not belong to Samuel Smith, who in any case use the symbol upside down. They may have been around for 252 years but Sam Smiths shouldn’t take their great age as a guarantee of brand loyalty, especially when it comes to something like this. It’s so petty and wrong-headed it defies logic.
The case will reach the High Court next July. Cropton have said they will fight the claim all the way, but if they lose they are likely to face bankruptcy. I don’t know about anyone else, but I won’t be darkening the doors of any Smith pubs for a while.