You’ve probably sampled beers with wonderful names like Wonkey Donkey and Golden Pippin over the Christmas and New Year period, but have you ever stopped to consider how beer is made? Do you, in fact, know your kilderkin from your firkin?

There are light and dark milds, bitters weak and strong, stouts and porters, fruit beers and real lagers, and seeing how some of them are made can make for a fascinating day out. Not only will you get to see exactly how the beer is made, but there’s likely to be the chance for a few sneaky tasters.

This is an opportunity to soak up the atmosphere.

You will learn how breweries work and how real ale is made, visit places like the mash floor and the malt store, see how the malt is produced and visit and talk with brewery workers. You’ll also learn about some of the more esoteric terms used in brewing, such as isinglass – finings made from the swim bladders of tropical fish which are used as ‘super egg white’ to clean the beer.

With such a glorious choice of Yorkshire real ales and the real brewery delights of Timothy Taylor, Black Sheep and Theakston located in Masham on the eastern fringe of the Dales, and various independent breweries championing the campaign for real ale dotted about Yorkshire, choosing a brewery to visit is easy.

If your interest lies more with traditional brews, then you can’t beat a visit to the Black Sheep Brewery which produces cask ales from a traditional brewhouse, using cast iron and copper vessels. Brews ferment in the unusual Yorkshire Square system, which gives Black Sheep beers their distinctive taste.

You can tour the brewery, visit the shop which sells a wide range of Sheepish items, and enjoy a snack or a meal in the bistro. Most importantly, for those over 18, all Black Sheep beers can be sampled at the bar.

Theakston also know that tours are thirsty work, so after witnessing the creation of ales first-hand, you will be invited to have a pint and enjoy British beer at its best in the brewery tap, warmed by a real fire.

Brewing in Tadcaster dates back to as early as 1371. Today there are three breweries, the smallest by far being Samuel Smith’s, which still uses water – drawn from the original well sunk in 1758 – fermenting ale and stout in traditional Yorkshire stone squares.

On the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, Cropton Brewery has been producing award-winning real ales since 1984 – ales with weird and wonderful names like Rudolph’s Revenge, Tunnel Vision, Monkman’s Slaughter and Blackout. Beer has been brewed in Cropton since 1613, but early brews were illegal, and any wrong do-ers were sent to York Jail.

Tthe ancient craft of brewing returned to the village when Cropton Brewery was established in the cellars of the New Inn. Customers enjoyed the first brew of Two Pints so much that extra beer was produced to supply outlets further afield. In 1994, the brewery was built at Woolcroft, the farmland behind the New Inn.

Closer to home is the Copper Dragon brewery in Skipton – a real success story. It is more than 100 years since the people of Skipton saw the last horse-drawn dray wagon travelling from Scott’s Skipton Brewery, delivering the final oak barrels of fine ales to their 32 tied establishments.

Wanting to recreate flavours from yesteryear using the choicest of ingredients, the brewery was created in 2002 and has proved so successful that it has had to increase its fermenting capacity to meet the growing demand for its award-winning ales.

All bottled beers from Copper Dragon are traditionally brewed to reproduce those unique cask ale flavours experienced in the pub, so you can also enjoy them at home. After a brief history, there will be an explanation of what real ale is and how the brewers select the barley and hops.

The Saltaire Brewery, established in 2005, welcomes groups of 20 or more adults to the visitor centre, where you can learn all the secrets of how to brew fine beer. It’s very entertaining, even if you aren’t a beer drinker.

And of course, once you’ve toured any of these breweries, there bound to be a chance to sample the beers on offer.

Fact File

Copper Dragon Brewery, Snaygill Industrial Estate, Keighley Road, Skipton. Tel: (01756) 702130. Tours, for four to 16 people, cost £5, which includes a £2 donation to Guide Dogs For The Blind.

Samuel Smith, The Old Brewery, Tadcaster. Tel: (01937) 832225. Tours cost £4 adults £3 under 18s, from Monday to Thursday. Must be pre-booked.

T & R Theakston Ltd, The Brewery, Masham. Tel: (01756) 680000 The visitorscentre, which is closed from January 26 to February 6, opens from 10.30am-4pm. Brewery tours from 11am-3pm. Tours cost £5.50 adults, £3.20 children, senior citizens £4.75, or £14.20 for a family ticket.

The Black Sheep Brewery, Wellgarth, Masham. Tel: (01765) 689227. Visitor centre opens January 21. Sunday to Wednesday 10.30am to 4.30pm, Thursday to Saturday 10.30am to 11pm. Families are welcome.

Cropton Brewery, Cropton, Pickering. Telephone (01751) 417330. Daily brewery tours available all year round. Group and evening tours by appointment only.

Saltaire Brewery, Dockfield Road, Shipley. Visitor centre open Thursdays from 7pm-9.30pm. Telephone (01274) 594959.