A Yorkshire brewery being run by an American? Nay, lad, that wean’t do!

Timothy Taylor's
The team of brewers at Timothy Taylor's

Here for the Beer, from USA

There was some trepidation last year when Keighley brewer Timothy Taylor’s announced that Tim Dewey, an American marketing man who used to be a New England junior tennis hotshot, was to take over as the company’s first chief executive from outside the family owners.

Would the Victorian brewery – established in 1858 and the last of its type in West Yorkshire – be turned over to producing fizzy US lager, and would ‘Have a Nice Day’ replace the venerable slogan ‘For Men of the North’? Well, no, as it turns out.

More than half a year later, Timothy Taylor’s hasn’t gone all-American and the world hasn’t ended. Taylor’s famous Landlord bitter (endorsed a while ago by the likes of Madonna and Hugh Grant), is selling better than ever and the prizewinning Boltmaker brew, current Champion Beer of Britain, has taken off in a big way. And Tim Dewey is nicely settled in his job and preparing to make Yorkshire his family home.

I visited the brewery to meet Tim Dewey and discover how an American came to be in charge of such a traditional family owned Yorkshire company. Instead of the high-powered fast-talking corporate type I was expecting, I was introduced to an amiable guy with a well-rounded accent who would much rather talk about beer and his brewery than about himself.

But since his own story is such an interesting one, we’ll look at that first. Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Tim grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts, and in the late 1970s he was studying English
literature at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, when he took the opportunity to go to England and continue his third-year studies at Oxford, where he acquired his taste for English beer as enjoyed by Inspector Morse.

It was on a train to Wales that he met an attractive nursing student who was heading home to her parents in Swansea. This was Jane, who after a while of dating at a distance was to become Mrs Dewey. They lived in the US while Tim worked at university, but Jane missed her family. “I’d loved my time in Britain, so we moved over here,” Tim says.

Tim’s career path took him into marketing with Unilever, and Wall’s meat products division when it was struggling with a rapidly shrinking market. “Sometimes you can learn more from a
struggling business than a successful one. The expression ‘If you aren’t moving forwards, you’re moving backwards’ is a true one.”

Tim went into the drinks industry, working both for big companies including International Distillers and Vintners (now Diageo) promoting brands such as Smirnoff Ice, and smaller companies including the Juice Brewery, producers of non-alcoholic beer, and traditional Scottish distillers Grant Brothers, makers of Glenfiddich.

He was in charge of global marketing for the Scotch whisky liqueur Drambuie when he was head-hunted by recruitment consultants for Timothy Taylor’s, where managing director Charles Dent was about to retire after 20 years in charge to become non-executive chairman.

“I hadn’t heard of Timothy Taylor’s when I was approached, but I found out about Landlord,” Tim says. “Jane got me some, and I opened a bottle, poured it and thought ‘This is nectar.’

“I had worked in smaller family-owned businesses like Taylor’s and I understood that type of background. They wanted someone who could come and take the company forward through evolution, not revolution. The final part of the selection process was a presentation to the board about Timothy Taylor’s over the next three years. There’s already so much going on that’s right, that it doesn’t need any major changes.

“I’m really enjoying the job. We’re doing very well on the back of Boltmaker being named champion beer of Britain. Boltmaker has been fantastic for our sales,and there’s enormous interest in Landlord.

“It all creates a positive environment for how to develop the business going forward. I’ve made it clear that as much as excellent sales have materialised, it’s nothing to do with me; it’s what was put in place by the previous team that’s made my job easier.”

Tim is obviously proud of the brewery he runs, and we hop into his car for a short drive past mountains of aluminium casks into the new distribution centre on the former WASK foundry site. Cheerily swapping greetings with his workers, he opens the sliding door to the temperature controlled hop store, where a wonderful aroma of hops wafts out from the sacks. (Taylor’s, by the way, use only genuine dried hops – no liquid extract or pelleted stuff.) We stroll through the huge depot, from where a fleet of refrigerated trucks – the thoroughly Anglicised Tim calls them ‘lorries’ – deliver beer at the correct temperature all over the country.

Back at the main site, Knowle Spring brewery looks from the outside like local town breweries used to do before the mega-size beer factories took over. It’s somewhat random-looking with old stone walls, different roof levels and new extensions clad in steel. Inside is a different story, with hygienically lined white walls and immaculately spotless stainless steel ‘coppers’, fermenting vessels, pipework and automatic cask-filling machinery.

There’s a team of brewers, led by Peter Eells, who are proud of what they do, and there’s also that gorgeous smell of simmering beer that used to drift over so many northern towns. The company has so far invested £18 million in modernisation to take Timothy Taylor’s forward in a market where beer lovers are drinking ‘less but better.’

There could be no better advert than Tim himself: “I’ve always believed in living the brand. If you sell it, you should consume it. We always have bottles of Landlord on our wine rack.”

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