His name doesn't appear on any pump clips but York-based brewing consultant David Smith is responsible for hundreds of beers all over Britain - including some of the most famous. He has been setting up and advising breweries, and creating recipes for brewers, for decades.

This summer marks 40 years since he began brewing and to mark the anniversary, he reflects here on the changes he has seen.


It seems a lifetime ago that I joined Sam Smith’s Brewery in Tadcaster in July 1976 and with so many changes taking place within the brewing industry over that time, it really is. Back in 1976 Sam Smith’s, Yorkshire’s oldest brewery also considered itself a ‘small independent brewery’ How that term has changed and come to mean something very different in the last forty years!

When I was applying for graduate jobs the Brewers Society listed seven national brewers (those with more than one brewery), around 90 regional breweries of various sizes, and just five pub breweries, remnants of a bygone age when once thousands of pub breweries and ‘common brewers’ existed on every street corner.

40 years later, five pub breweries have now grown to become almost 2,000 small independent breweries, with more coming on stream every year as the demand grows for well-crafted beers with greater depth and dimension of flavour. This resurgence in small scale brewing has been influenced equally by beer lovers looking for greater variety and by people who believe they can produce high quality products a discerning public will enjoy drinking.

Only after I’d been brewing for a number of years did it become apparent that these new wave brewers, such as the Firkin breweries in London, were really starting to take off and make their presence felt; this eventually offered me an opportunity to take my brewing career in a completely different direction.

It was in 1988, after one of my colleagues left Sam Smiths to set up a brew pub in New York, that I decided to start my own business offering advice and technical support to these rapidly emerging breed of new brewers; and Brewing Services and Consultancy was born.

Changes in CAMRA, SIBA and the IBD

I joined CAMRA to find out more about the wider brewing scene and about the types of pubs selling beers from this new breed of small breweries and next contacted The Small Independent Brewers Association (SIBA).

When I first joined, SIBA was still very much a fledgling organisation, with around 80 members. However, SIBA were instrumental in helping me to establish a client base and get my business off the ground. More and more breweries were coming to them seeking help with everything from start-up problems, quality issues or wanting to train brewers, all of which I could provide. Later, I served for many years as a Trustee and eventually became SIBA’s first technical director.

York Press: Brewing consultant David Smith at York Brewery

David Smith at York Brewery in 2013

Within a few months of entering the brewing industry I had been encouraged to join The Institute of Brewing, now the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD), as a means of learning more of the science and theory that under-pinned the practical knowledge I was gaining on a daily basis. This has continued throughout my brewing career, and continues to this day, thanks to the IBD publications and attending section meetings and seminars; and is something I continually encourage other brewers entering the profession to do.

The IBD is for all brewers, from large and small breweries alike. I regularly work with brewers wishing to study for brewing exams such as the General Certificate in Brewing or their Diploma in Brewing exam, as a means of improving their brewing skills and as a means of professional development.

Brewing is a science

For anyone wanting to become a better brewer then studying the science that underpins the brewing process and gaining an increased understanding of all aspects of the process is a must, leading inevitably to greater control of day to day issues in the brewery and translating into improved product quality.

I’ve worked with over 170 breweries in the last three decades, both in the UK and abroad. My goal is to provide support and training to help brewers consistently produce the best beer possible and individually reach their full potential as brewers. My four-day course, ‘The Fundamentals of Mini-Brewing,’ runs twice a year and covers the basics of good brewing practice with participants gaining a greater insight in to the art, science and craft of brewing.

Last year my son, Rob Smith joined me from Meantime Brewing Company, enabling us to double our commitment to bringing top-quality beers to market. Rob started his career at Dartmoor Brewery before moving to Freedom Brewery and eventually changing direction from production to quality control when he joined Meantime.

York Press:

David eyes a pint at Brew York in Walmgate, one of the newest breweries he has worked on

Brewing isn’t just a career for me, but a vocation, matured over four decades into a fully-fledged passion, almost a crusade you might say, to help brewers make top quality beers with every brew. A crusade that will continue for as long as there are people wanting to drink well balanced full-flavored beers and brewers wanting to produce them. After forty years in the business, I’m not quite ready for ullaging just yet!

The rise in micro-brewering has been spectacular - but let's keep it in perspective

I'm often asked how trends in beer drinking have changed and there have certainly been some big shifts over the last 40 years.

The overall beer market is shrinking although you'd never think it as we're seeing more variety on the bar than ever before. We are seeing a more discerning drinker emerging, looking for greater character and depth of flavour in their pints.

There has also been a greater move towards drinking local beers, giving rise to micro-breweries in every corner of the UK, from the Channel Islands to the Outer Hebrides. This is driving up sales of cask beer of all styles. Lately we have seen an increasing demand for beers in keg and can, once an anathema to the true beer aficionado.

However, when we talk about micro-breweries or craft brewers, we are still only talking of a very small sector of the total UK beer market, currently producing just five per cent of all beer consumed in the UK. To put it into perspective, Heineken in Tadcaster still brew more John Smith's Bitter in January alone than the sum total of output of all the UK micro-breweries combined for the whole of the remainder of the year. There is still a long way to go before local micro-breweries become the dominant force in UK brewing.

How tastes have changed...

Over the past 25 years, particularly in the small brewery sector, tastes have seemed to tend towards the paler, often more highly-hopped beers, usually with names such as Gold, Blond or simply Pale, as well as the modern IPAs. These often have nothing to do with their original India Pale Ale heritage but are, in the main, extremely highly-hopped beers with largely American or Southern Hemisphere varieties of hops.

There is little doubt that, over recent years, the range of beers being produced by each micro-brewery has increased. Sometimes this is down to the highly creative flair of the brewers, but more often it is a response to the demands of publicans wanting to offer their clientele different beers every week - tickers' pubs as they are known in the trade.

Why more choice isn't necessarily good...

Now while these pubs, and the drinkers who undoubtedly frequent them, have allowed new brewers to find an easy route to market for their beers, any long-established brewery will tell you that these tickers' pubs are the bane of a brewers' existence, never wanting the same beer twice.

Some brewers unfortunately fall into the trap of trying to produce new beers every month, if not every week, and as everyone knows it's not always easy to get things right first time. New creations, both good and bad, are continually foisted on the unsuspecting drinker.

Not all breweries are doing the right thing...

There are over 1,700 small breweries in the UK today, and these numbers grow weekly - with some help from myself I might add - so the number of beers being produced each year is rising exponentially. Where this trend is leading us now is towards the ever-more weird and wacky, and by no means always good beer. One man's sour beer is another man's vinegar.

York Press:

All my life I have been dedicated to producing good quality beers I believe any drinker will enjoy; beers with a good depth of flavour, not extreme but well-balanced and produced to a consistently high standard.

This is the true art of brewing and the mark of a good brewer but is something that many brewers fail to understand, let alone master. I can tell you there is nothing more satisfying than to watch someone go and order a pint of beer you have helped to produce, and even more satisfying to watch the same person go back later and ask for another. You know then you have satisfied that person's need for a decent pint.

My proudest achievements

I'm often asked which brewery I'm most proud of, or which beers I enjoy drinking the most. One brewery that always comes to mind is a brewery I helped set up over 25 years ago, for a gentleman named Bill Sharpe in the village of Rock in Cornwall. Sharpe's Doom Bar is now one of the largest cask ale brands in the UK. While it may have lost a little of its character along the way, now being brewed in 100-barrel batches rather than the ten-barrel batches, it nonetheless remains a consistently good session beer.

Closer to home, breweries such as Hambleton Ales, with a core range of beers from Bitter to Nightmare Porter, or York Brewery with beer styles ranging from a very blonde easy-drinking Guzzler to the dark and creamy Centurion's Ghost, have both been producing consistently good quality beers for over 20 years.

Some beers thrive without any hype

Latterly we have seen the likes of Leeds Brewery and Saltaire Brewery grow rapidly, becoming well established predominantly on the back of selling hundreds of casks a week of one good session beer, Leeds Pale and Saltaire Blonde.

Demand for these easy-drinking beers continues to grow although you won't often find them being shouted about on social media or beer blogs. But good landlords know good beer when they see it and know a well-balanced beer of consistently good quality will always sell.

And that is the key to success, being able to produce consistently high-quality beers week in week out that an appreciative drinker can enjoy, and looks forward to enjoying, time and time again. That is the hallmark of a truly good brewer. And that's where I come in...