Paul Theakston outside the Black Sheep Brewery

Our Story

On these pages you can learn about our history and discover how it all began. You can find out about our traditional brewing process, learn about our time-honoured methods and special ingredients. Why not take the virtual tour find your way around our Brewery and get a glimpse of what our daily tours have to offer. Keep an eye out for our resident friendly ghost!

Our History

It is almost impossible to believe that The Black Sheep Brewery is only 21 years old.

In fact it was in October 1992 when our beers first made an appearance in pubs in and around the Yorkshire Dales. The delivery of those first casks of beer all those years ago began a new era for Paul Theakston, whose family has brewed in Masham for six generations.

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It also allowed him to put behind him the heartache left by the often acrimonious battles that culminated in the “old” family firm of T & R Theakston Ltd ending up at the time as part of Scottish & Newcastle Breweries.

The events that led to the loss of independence  of the Theakston brewery had rumbled on since the early 1970s, with Scottish & Newcastle finally seizing power in 1987. Although offered a position in the big company, Paul decided that that style of life wasn't for him. What's more, it would have meant him leaving his beloved Masham.

Determined to stay in Masham and being a long, long way from retirement (both age-wise and financially!!) it didn't take long for Paul to conclude that small brewery life was what he wanted.

The decision was made; create a new but traditional style brewery in Masham…

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A New Brewery

It would have been much easier to acquire a new factory unit, install some shiny, stainless steel brewing plant and produce perfectly acceptable beer, but that was a million miles away from what Paul had in mind.

Great beer is not just the product of the ingredients and the recipe, but also of the plant that brews it.

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In a world of ever increasing bland, mass-produced beer Paul saw an opportunity to return to what his family had done best since 1827, making real beer in the time-honoured fashion.

Fate played a kind hand here as an old maltings building, once part of Lightfoot's Brewery (Masham's “other” brewery purchased for Theakston's by Paul's grandfather in 1919) became available.

This landmark building, standing high over the banks of the Ure, had fallen in to disrepair as years of neglect as a semi-redundant grainstore had taken its toll. Despite its overburdening rat population, rundown fabric and the little matter of raising the money, Paul assembled a small team around him to fight the rats and build a brewery. A traditional country brewery.

Paul searched the length and breadth of Britain to find suitable plant and equipment. The early 90's had seen the demise of many breweries following the onset of take-over and rationalisation within the industry. At times it became a race against the demolition contractor to whisk away vital and rare equipment before it became scrap.

Paul Ambler (then Head Brewer, now retired) worked with Paul to restore and breathe new life into these bygone bits of brewing heritage.

The brewing copper, mash tun and hop-back came as a matched set from the old Hartley's Brewery, in Ulverston, in the Lake District.

The first three Yorkshire Stone Square fermenting vessels were refugees from Hardy and Hanson's brewery of Nottingham. The next three were literally snatched from under the ball of the demolition contractor who was levelling Darley's Brewery at Thorne, near Doncaster, to make way for a supermarket.

So it went throughout the summer of 1992, the two Pauls ingeniously stringing together all of the bits to create the brewery.

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A New Name

Meanwhile, all thoughts of reviving the Lightfoot’s Brewery name were thwarted when (coincidentally!) Scottish & Newcastle applied to register the name.

Another name was needed to reflect the area and history of the place.

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Use of the Theakston name was irretrievably linked with the old firm and anyway, we wanted to ensure that there was no confusion in the minds of the drinking public.

Also, there was trouble brewing over using the name of our hometown, Masham. Yes, you've guessed it, all of a sudden another brewery wanted to make it its own.

So we were back to thinking about what the area is known for…

Sheep have always figured largely in the history of the area. Masham was once an important centre for sheep trading and famous for its sheep fair.

However, Sheep Brewery seemed a bit tame. In a timely stroke of inspiration Sue, Paul's wife, coined the name Black Sheep Brewery.

Now we had a name that sat well with the area, spoke volumes about our maverick attitude to the multi-nationals seeking to dominate the brewing industry and captured the essence of the family struggle that led to our birth.

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Present Day

Giving tourists a taste of our beers was also high in our minds when putting the brewery together.

Although we were working with a Victorian building it was assembled in such a way as to provide access for the Visitor Centre that was to follow when funds allowed. This is now a major, year-round attraction in the Yorkshire Dales.

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Here we are over 20 years on, having survived probably the most tumultuous time in British brewing history. Many famous, long-established brewers have ceased brewing or gone out of business completely; Bass, Whitbread, Vaux, Wards, Mansfield and Morrells to name but a few.

Pub companies with thousands of outlets now dominate the industry and in the bottled beer sector the giant supermarket groups call the tune, but the Black Sheep Brewery has prospered, overtaking many famous old names.

October 2006 was a particularly exciting landmark for Black Sheep Brewery with the completion of two and a half years of major brewery development including an extra brewhouse, new fermenting vessels, conditioning tanks and cask racking plant.  All told, this has increased brewing capacity by 65% or so.

Over the last few years, Black Sheep has considerably expanded the market for its lead cask ale, Black Sheep Best Bitter, a classic 3.8% ABV Yorkshire bitter, and it is now widely available across the UK. In 2009, a brand specific illuminated handpump was also launched for Best Bitter – believed to be the first of its kind to the market – giving a cask ale the presence on the bar that it richly deserves.

Black Sheep Ale at 4.4% ABV, now in an eco-friendly lightweight bottle, continues to maintain its presence among the top ten premium bottled ale brands, and is available nationwide from virtually all the major supermarket retailers. Again, it is a classic premium bitter and as with all Black Sheep beers, full of character derived from the best possible brewing materials, plenty of time and patience in the brewing and our very special Yorkshire Square fermenters.

We only brew our beers from traditional high-quality raw materials: crystal clear dales water from our own well, Maris Otter malted barley for extra flavour, some wheat to fortify our beers' natural head, a little roasted malt for colour and flavour, and generous amounts of whole English hops to make the beer really refreshing. Such a raw material bill is more expensive than the average, but it's well worth the extra. The sixth generation of the Theakston family brewing heritage is now proudly part of Black Sheep, with Paul’s eldest son Rob as Joint Managing Director, and second son Jo as Marketing and Off-Trade Sales Director.

In the words of well-respected beer writer, Roger Protz, “Black Sheep Brewery is a modern day miracle.”
...we can’t argue with that.

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Tweeting Sheep

Q: If we were to launch an online fanatics club, what should it include?

20:01 - 30 Jan 2015

@RyanSidebottom & @RentonandParr thanks a million for your support. @BlackSheepBeer thank you for the delicious ale!

11:17 - 30 Jan 2015

@BlackSheepBeer on the bar to spoil you with a #free shot of pig courtesy of @GigglingPigCo it's gotta be #FRIDAY

10:24 - 30 Jan 2015

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Q: If we were to launch an online fanatics club, what should it include?

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