Celebrating a Stage Winner with Little Valley
It may seem already – a few months away from the Grand Depart – that Yorkshire is already packed to bursting with Tour De France posters, bunting and promotional events, but mark my words: it’s only going to get worse. Whether you’re into cycling (and it seems everyone except me is these days) or not, you can’t deny it’s a coup for the region; those lucky businesses along the route will enjoy a bumper weekend in terms of takings, and visitors from all over the country get to see the best of what Yorkshire has to offer.
Breweries are just one of those types of businesses looking to support the Tour as only they can – by brewing themed beers. Some may see them as novelty, but as I mention here, there’s no harm in it. Events like this should be commemorated in beer; why not? Especially when that beer happens to celebrate the life of one of Yorkshire’s cycling heroes.
Brian Robinson was born in 1930 in Ravensthorpe, and later his family moved to nearby Mirfield. In 1952 (as an amateur cyclist) he entered an early version of the Tour – the Route de France – but struggled on the mountain races; his own roads on the Calder Valley, as steep as they are, were no match for the Pyrenees. With typical determination, he persevered and represented Great Britain at the Helsinki Olympics the same year.
The year after he took on Cycling professionally and the years that followed saw his efforts improving. He was eventually picked up by Aston’s Hercules Cycle Company to form part of their racing team and, alongside his team-mates, became one of the first Britons to finish the (now) Tour de France in 1955. The team enjoyed mixed success on the continent and, in 1958, Robinson became the first British rider to win a stage of the tour – a feat he then repeated the year after. Not bad for a lad from Huddersfield, I think you’ll agree.
Sue Cooper of Little Valley Brewery (which itself sits atop of a monstrous climb) spoke of seeing ‘riders zooming past the brewery window’ on a regular basis, until one day one of them popped his head in. It was none other than Brian, asking if he could have a look around. When Sue and head brewer Wim Van Der Spek, decided to brew a beer for the Grand Depart, their first thought was to involve Brian.
Chance encounters seem follow Sue and Wim around. Sue and Wim themselves are both keen cyclists, and actually met whilst both cycling in Nepal. That chance encounter led to a relationship, a relocation to Yorkshire, and the birth of Little Valley Brewery. Meeting Brian eventually led to the brewing of Stage Winner; a 3.5% pale/blonde ale that’s softly sweet and boasts a dry, floral finish. As Brian said to me at the launch, it’s the kind of beer you want to refresh yourself before getting back on the saddle, and I couldn’t agree more.
Wim described the simple thought behind the beer in typically romantic fashion. ‘Brian’s a gentle guy.’ he said, ‘So I wanted to brew a gentle, soft beer.’ Yesterday – despite the inclement weather – was the first day of Spring, and the beer is spring in a glass, in my humble opinion.
I couldn’t agree more. Stage Winner – resplendent in its King of the Mountains livery -was launched last night at Brasserie Blanc in Leeds and will be appearing in both bottle and cask across the region during spring. Keep an eye out for it, and if you do see it, raise a pint to Brian. He’ll be watching the race with interest – hopefully with a pint of his own beer in his hand.