About five years, after I got started on craft beer, my wife and I were invited to stay with our British friend Caroline. I wasn’t sure how I felt about England. All I knew at the time was London was the home to Wimbledon, the all-grass tennis tournament I have been watching with my father since I was wearing underroos.
Wimbledon was not going to be the only highlight of my visit. I would do plenty of research. I bought a DK England travel book and highlighted a few things I wanted to hit. Warwick Castle, Tower Of London, Oxford University and of course, the pubs.
London was also home to one of the oldest working breweries, Young’s (Ram Brewery). I am sure you have heard of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. We took the Underground to a section of London most Americans never see just to join a group tour. The tour was incredible. We were also taken to the area where they keep the mascot, the ram, and their Shire horses that were still delivering ale to local pubs within a five-mile radius. The horses were beautiful and I wished I could hop on the dray and deliver the kegs myself.
Until then I never gave much thought to the pre automotive delivery era. I mean a horse is just a horse right? Not quite. That’s like saying a beer is just a beer.
Smoother roads and the expansion of breweries in 18th century England gave Shire horses a new job. With their enormous weightlifting capacity, Shire horses became the delivery choice for British brewers.
So why did breweries choose Shire horses as their engine of choice? Let’s take a closer look at the big workhorse.
Shire horses are a breed of draft horses coloring from bay, brown, grey and black. The draft horse was bred for heavy hauling such as ploughing and farm labor. In the simplest terms draft horses are pretty damn big. With upright shoulders, broad short backs and powerful hindquarters, they are certainly ideal for pulling.
The height ranges from 16 to 19 hands high and weighs in between 1400 to 2000 pounds.
Shire horses are known to be gentle and can pull up to a five ton load.
Today Shire horses are used primarily for agricultural shows, small farming and competitions. But combine brewery tradition and nostalgia and you get a new glimpse into the beer delivery that once was.
In England where the Shire horses got their name, one can still find a few old school breweries delivering their fresh ale on a dray pulled by Shire horses within a five to seven mile radius.
Samuel Smith of Tadcaster and Wadworth Brewery are two breweries delivering beer the traditional horsepower way.
Fly to the states and visit Wynkoop Bowery in Denver, Colorado and you may have a chance to hop aboard the dray and witness the traditional delivery service first hand.
What are your thoughts on tradition? Do you have any experiences with draft horses?
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