I remember at the time asking Graham Donning, now one of the organisers of the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival but who in 1991 lived in Ulverston, what the takeover had done for the beer. He replied that overall it was an improvement: the beer had become much more consistent, whereas the Ulverston-brewed version had been extremely variable. Robinson's say the beer is brewed to the original recipe, formulated in 1949. I'm unable to judge because I never drank Hartley's beers when the brewery was independent.
The brewery's own description of the beer is here, and it includes the phrase, 'pale, tart beer, with its rich body and subtle tang of malt'. To me it tastes like just another product from the Robinson's stable, unremarkable but unobjectionable, which is slightly surprising if it complies with the original recipe.
Then there's the pump clip which gives the name as 'Hartleys Cumbrian XB', displaying a picture of the Lake District and the slogan 'Brewed to Eric Simpson's 1949 Recipe'. They are clearly pushing the beer's Cumbrian origins, even though it hasn't been brewed in the area for nearly a quarter of a century. There is no mention of Stockport or Robinson's.
Is this another example - attractive design notwithstanding - of deception, similar to that by Sharp's Brewery who got a lot of flak last year when it was discovered that the production of bottled Doom Bar had quietly been moved to Burton on Trent two years previously? I don't think so: the situation with XB isn't comparable because Robinson's has never made a secret of the fact that Hartley's isn't brewed in Ulverston any more, and this is quite clear from their website. In contrast, I could find no mention even now (post-scandal) on the Sharp's website that some Doom Bar is not brewed in Cornwall.
XB is one of those standard regional brews that is acceptable, but it isn't a beer you'd actively seek out, and it certainly wouldn't impress those who live a life full of hop.