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Old Peculier Ale – What’s in a name?

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

Theakston’s Brewey based in the Yorkshire Dales market town of Masham has been brewing ale since 1827. It is still run by direct family of the founder Robert Theakston and is one of Britain’s oldest family brewing companies.

Probably the best known and loved of their ales is Old Peculier, which in itself has been brewed by Theakstons since the 1890’s. It’s a“full bodied, rich smooth tasting ale” and their bottle label describes it as having a “mysterious and distinctive flavour”. This mystery element probably accounts for why the brand is the main sponsor of the annual Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate each year!

The beer is a hark back to the early years of the modern brewing industry two hundred years ago, where many brewers produced a dark, strong stock beer in the winter months, to provide a base amount of fermented beer to add to beers brewed in the rather more volatile months of the summer.

Over the years Old Peculier has won many awards including the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA)’s Champion Winter Beer of Britain award and has been described by The Economist as the “doyen of real ales”.

At 5.6% ABV, Old Peculier is definitely not a session ale but after a long winter walk it is a lovely pint to sit and enjoy in a country pub in front of a roaring fire. Make sure you stick to a couple of you will find out why it is sometimes affectionately referred to as “Yorkshire’s Lunatic Broth!”.

The logo for Theakstons, which is also very prominent on the Old Peculier bottle and pump is quite distinctive and features a bearded man, kneeling and has the words – 1741 Seal of the Official of The Peculier of Masham.

This obviously gives the ale its name – Old Peculier. But what does it mean?

Well, in the middle of the 12th Century , Roger de Mowbray, the Lord of the Manor, granted the market town of Masham, St Mary’s Church and some of the surrounding lands to York Minster. These donations of land to religious establishments were common in medieval times as it was believed that it would speed the donors path through purgatory.

Masham and its lands were richly endowed and with a large income from sheep and their wool. So much so it became known as “The Golden Prebend of York” and a number of future bishops, cardinals and a future Archbishop of Canterbury previously held posts at Masham.

At the time of the donation of Masham to York Minster, the Archbishop of York decided that the journey to Masham to oversee the towns affairs was too long a journey so the town was designated “A Peculier”.

This meant that Masham as a Peculier Borough had its own ecclesiastical court and governed its own affairs on behalf of York Minster. This finally came to an end in the 1500’s after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when Henry VIII shut down the prebend and granted the jurisdiction and income from Masham to the Masters and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge.

The Peculier lives on to an extent in Masham in the form of the Masham Four and Twenty, a Peculier Court which now functions mainly to aid charitable causes.

So hopefully now, when you have a pint of this full bodied brew – you’ll spare a thought to the history behind the name.


Nov 30, 2020

Interesting; and I recall being at primary school with Simon Theakston; key family member before and after Theakstons had sold out and took the business back into the family; and of course the subsequent "split" and the creation of Black Sheep brewery by Paul Theakston. Both are my favourite tipples and unique in themselves. Thanks Tim


John Darby
John Darby
Nov 23, 2020

It's 'Old Peculier' Tim, not 'Old Peculiar'. Peculier is a Norman word meaning particular

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