Beer and bicycles are a match made in heaven for a pair of brewery owners who have created a new beverage to celebrate the world’s most famous cycle race and one of Yorkshire’s greatest riders.
Prolific ale makers since 2005, co-owner couple Sue Cooper and Dutch master brewer Wim van der Spek clocked up countless miles cycling across the likes of India, Pakistan and Nepal - where they first met on their bikes - before setting up Little Valley Brewery in Hebden Bridge.
They always had it in mind to concoct a special recipe to celebrate the Grand Départ coming to Yorkshire this summer, especially as Stage Two of the opening leg of the Tour de France passes by their brewery as the route winds up England’s longest continuous gradient, at Cragg Vale, on July, 6.
The latest addition to their ten-strong range of beers will be unveiled at an event in Leeds today. It not only celebrates the race but also the achievements of a Yorkshire cycling hero.
Going by the name ‘Stage Winner’, the beer honours British cycling pioneer Brian Robinson. Born in Huddersfield in 1930, he was as selected to represent Great Britain in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki before going on to become the first Briton to win a stage of the Tour de France in 1958 and again in 1959. Renowned for his expertise at negotiating testing uphill climbs, Mr Robinson, who still rides regularly now at the age of 83, also won Dauphiné Libéré in 1961, an annual eight-stage cycle race following an arduous mountainous route in France.
As keen cyclists themselves, the couple hold him in high regard, but it was a chance meeting that led to their naming of Stage Winner in his honour.
She said: “Before Christmas I was in the office and there was this knock on the door.
“We have an off-licence here so it is not unusual for members of the public to call in. A flash of green caught my eye and when I looked up Brian was stood there in his full cycling kit. “Through knowing different people in the cycling world he said he thought he would pop in and say hello. I dropped everything. He brought some of his friends in and we gave them a tour of the brewery and a taste of the beer.
“From there we thought we are going to brew a beer for the Tour so we asked Brian to put his name to it. We met him and his wife in a pub early in January and we each had a list of names for what we should call the beer - and we came up with Stage Winner.”
The cycling hero has given his endorsement to the new brew.
“Sue and Wim are as passionate about cycling as they are about their beer so it is no surprise that in the year the Tour de France comes past their brewery they have created a beer to celebrate cycling success, In July I’m sure we’ll all be toasting the success of the Tour in Yorkshire with a pint of two of Stage Winner,” Mr Robinson said.
The beer will be available at independent pubs and beer shops around Yorkshire and is being unveiled today at Brasserie Blanc in Leeds, one of the outlets where it will be stocked. Mr Robinson and his wife Audrey have been invited to the event alongside members of the region’s beer and cycling communities.
Mr van der Spek said he was delighted to have Mr Robinson’s support:
He added: “Brian has always been a hero of ours. From the first time Sue and I met him we were truly inspired by his cycling achievements, and the fact that he is still such an active ambassador for the sport today.
In this special year, when the eyes of cycling fans around the world will be focused on Yorkshire, it seemed fitting to put the spotlight on Brian’s achievements with the launch of our new beer.”
‘Stage Winner’ tasting notes
Developed by Little Valley Brewery’s master brewer, Wim, ‘Stage Winner’ is a 3.5 per cent ABV cask and bottle-conditioned beer which has been brewed to create a “light and refreshing taste”.
Co-owner Sue said: “We wanted something that was suitable for lots of different types of drinkers and primarily we wanted it to be a light ABV so if you are out on your bike you can call into the pub for a swift one and still navigate home. It starts going out next week. We have done about 6,000 bottles and more for cask and we’ll keep rolling it out.”
It is a moderately hopped ale with a delicate level of bitterness and a malty texture, she said, and as with all Little Valley beers it is made from 100 per cent organic ingredients.