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INTERVIEW: Raising a glass with Hop Hideout’s Jules Gray

From humble beginnings as an Abbeydale Road pop-up and with an imminent move to the exciting Leah’s Yard development on the cards, Hop Hideout’s Jules Gray reflects on her hoppy journey into the heart of Sheffield’s beer scene.

The fabled 2016 ‘Sheffield Beer Report’, now being updated for re-launch at this year’s Sheffield Beer Week, presented a wide range of data which posited the theory that the Steel City could stake a claim to be both ‘real ale capital of the world’ and ‘the birthplace of the UK craft beer revolution’.

A grand claim, perhaps, but the snapshot guide to the region’s beer industry certainly made for compelling reading as it highlighted the many independent businesses, events and dedicated individuals supporting a vibrant, ever-evolving scene.

As founder of Hop Hideout, Indie Beer Feast and Sheffield Beer Week, there aren’t many who’ve committed as much time and effort to putting the city on the beer map as Jules Gray. This month marks the ten-year celebration of Sheffield Beer Week, providing the perfect opportunity for Exposed to delve into the story of how Jules became one of the most prominent advocates for Sheffield’s beer scene.

I spent a lot of time getting shouted at by a lot of people, so I think that at least helped me to develop a thick skin. You get told that you can’t do a lot of things, not being given certain opportunities or feeling patronised, and I think a lot of that was due to me being a woman in a very male-dominated space.

Hailing from County Durham, Jules had her first job pulling pints of Brew XI, Guinness and – cue a subtle hint of foreshadowing – Stones Bitter for punters in a local WMC with a male-only bar area. She later came to Sheffield to study Media & Communications at Hallam University in 1999, spending the majority of her time on the Psalter Lane Art College campus, handily located a stone’s throw from famed traditional pubs like The Lescar and The Porter Cottage.

“I was into beer as in I liked it, but it wasn’t something I instantly saw a career in – more of a typical student experience of drinking beer in the Students Union, West Street pubs, going to gigs,” reflects Jules. “We did spend time at places like the old Beer Engine on Cemetery Road, The Lescar, which was much more spit and sawdust at the time, and of course, The Porter Cottage, where I may have been barred by Mandy at some point! However, if you asked me back then, at eighteen years old, what I most wanted to be, I think I would’ve said a presenter for MTV!”

Clearly, music was the first love before beer and brews could get a significant look-in. Amidst frequent trips to The Leadmill, Corporation and the upstairs gig room at The Grapes, Jules took a job at Forever Changes record shop on Ecclesall Road. Developing a deep interest in the DnB and UK hip-hop scene, she speaks fondly of iconic clubnights such as NY Sushi and frequent visits to The Tuesday Club (“I think I still hold membership card number one!”). Following university, she worked in clothing distribution for a skate store in Leeds before a stint at the iconic Fat City Records in Manchester – the heart of the city’s funk, soul and hip-hop scene.

Jules

An exciting move to the new Leah’s Yard development on the horizon for Hop Hideout

“That felt like my dream job, like I’d peaked,” she admits. “That said, the day-to-day duties were essentially packaging records into mail orders for eight hours a day. You met some interesting people through it and got tickets to some amazing gigs, though. Rio Ferdinand was a regular customer at the shop, and I remember going to see Snoop Dogg with him once. That was an experience.”

Even while fully immersed in the Manchester music community and rubbing shoulders with hip-hop-loving centre-backs, pubs still played a quietly influential role in the backdrop of Jules’ life. Places like The Marble Arch in Ancoats and North Bar in Leeds were key players in introducing her to quality cask and keg offerings from independent breweries in the UK and abroad, helping to lay a foundation of lasting appreciation for good craft beer made for the right reasons.

It’s interesting how sliding doors moments in life are often presented in such ordinary form, and that all-important break into the beer industry itself came in what she laughingly calls “very old-school fashion”: a job ad in the local paper. Initially working in technical support for the multi-national brewing company Molson Coors, Jules received training in cellar management and operations, gleaning further insights into the journey of beer from brewery to glass before moving into other areas of work for the brewery.

“It wasn’t until I began working at a big brewery that I saw the big supply chain that exists behind beer, all of these interesting careers and jobs and avenues into the industry,” she says. “I spent seven or eight years there, moving into sales after technical support, then moving into procurement, logistics, forecasting and software systems – it was really challenging but a very well-rounded experience.”

I was finding that everyone was talking about Manchester and Leeds when it came to beer and not enough people seemed to know about what a great scene we had in Sheffield. Sheffield Beer Week was all about changing that, bringing the community and championing what’s good about the city and its really incredible beer offering.

Despite this, the atmosphere often faced at work did not make for a conducive environment to move further forward in her career. “I learned a huge amount, but there were a lot of tensions in the company towards the end. I wanted to be a brewer, that was the end goal, and I got so close to it by working in beer planning, but I ended up leaving after seven years or so because it was a very stressful environment.

“I spent a lot of time getting shouted at by a lot of people, so I think that at least helped me to develop a thick skin. You get told that you can’t do a lot of things, not being given certain opportunities or feeling patronised, and I think a lot of that was due to me being a woman in a very male-dominated space. The statistics back it up – you can see how many women turn to entrepreneurship and setting up their own businesses because they feel that they’re not taken seriously enough in the workplace.”

Disillusioned by the big beer companies, Jules had been nurturing an interest in micro-breweries and independent craft beer for some time. While living in Birmingham, she became active in organising events for the local CAMRA branch and put on a well-received beer festival inspired by resident rock legends Black Sabbath. The dots were beginning to join and during a trip to a European beer bloggers conference in Scotland, a conversation with Zak Avery, the founder of Beer Paradise and co-founder of Beer-Ritz shop in Leeds, led to an interesting question: “Why don’t you set up your own beer shop?’”

Back in Sheffield and with this in mind, a unit for rent on the corner of Abbeydale Road offered an unmissable chance to make her mark. “I didn’t want to open an out-and-out bar because I didn’t want to work the unsocial hours, so Hop Hideout had more of a retail focus while also offering the opportunity to have a drink inside – the first place in Sheffield to do that, and I’m pretty sure it would’ve been the only beer shop in the UK at the time doing the drink-in model.”

I’m hugely excited to be a part of the Leah Yard’s community, and as a small business owner, I’m filled with positivity on this project and its surroundings for the city,

Beginning life as a pop-up, Hop Hideout opened in November 2013, later moving into a nearby café space and cementing itself as a favourite amongst other recently arrived independent beer havens such the revamped Broadfield pub and Picture House Social. The shop quickly became a key player in the city’s burgeoning craft beer landscape, proudly displaying the offerings of local breweries, while also curating a vast collection of beers from the UK and around the world. This popularity eventually saw the shop move to a larger space within the Grade-II listed Kommune foodhall in 2019.

Jules organised the inaugural Sheffield Beer Week in 2015. Initially a small-scale celebration spread across around 20 events and a smattering of venues, it has since grown into a citywide beery celebration involving up to 40 venues hosting a diverse range of activities such as the two-day Indie Beer Feast festival, plus a wide range of tastings, tap takeovers, brewery tours and Q+As with industry experts. “I was finding that everyone was talking about Manchester and Leeds when it came to beer and not enough people seemed to know about what a great scene we had in Sheffield. Sheffield Beer Week was all about changing that, bringing the community and championing what’s good about the city and its really incredible beer offering.”

‘Championing’ is an apt term; it’s at the heart of everthing that Jules does. Whether it’s promoting the work of marginalised groups in the beer industry through events and writing, to making collaborative beers that tell the story of activists who helped provide free access to the Peak District (keep an eye out for a brew honouring environmentalist Ethel Haythornthwaite at this year’s Beer Week), an ethos of independence, community and heritage underpins it all.

Jules

“I was into beer as in I liked it, but it wasn’t something I instantly saw a career in – more of a typical student experience of drinking beer in the Students Union, West Street pubs, going to gigs,”

After over a decade in the game, Hop Hideout has remained at the forefront of the city’s ever-growing beer community and she feels confident that the scene is robust enough to withstand the rising cost pressures facing it. “It’s difficult to run an independent business at the best of times, so you can imagine what it’s like now! However, I think you’re pretty much guaranteed that you’re going to sell good beer in Sheffield. There’s a positive community spirit around beer and in the independent businesses that produce and sell it. That doesn’t mean places haven’t been closing, but this city is good at adapting. It has become much more of a foodie city now, which goes hand-in-hand with the beer scene, and you can see the diversification in what the local breweries are producing. In 2013, there wasn’t many Sheffield breweries doing bottles or cans, and today most if not all breweries do it. There’s a much wider range of beer styles being made across the region; there’s still plenty of amazing cask and pale ale coming from the city, but you can now get amazing sours, IPAs, Belgian-style beers, European-style beers. The breadth and standard of beer has increased across the board.”

It’s clear from speaking to Jules that Sheffield’s beer and food offering has evolved significantly since Hop Hideout started out, in no small thanks to independent businesses such as her own constantly striving to spread the good word through a self-proclaimed “labour of beery love”. In an industry where trends and shifts are regularly in motion, she explains that it’s important to remain a step ahead of the curve – especially when interesting new opportunities arise. As such, Hop Hideout will be celebrating passing the 10 years in business mark by opening a fresh chapter with a hugely exciting move to Leah’s Yard.

The renovated Grade II* listed building, currently scheduled for a summer 2024 opening, will contain a handpicked selection of independent traders and local businesses and is being touted as one of jewels of the city’s Heart of the City regeneration project. With household names like Pete McKee already announcing their tenancy at the venue, Jules felt like it was an opportunity too good to miss.

“I’m hugely excited to be a part of the Leah Yard’s community, and as a small business owner, I’m filled with positivity on this project and its surroundings for the city,” she says when asked about the move. “There’s such great support in Sheffield for independents, and ultimately, we’re hugely thankful to our regulars and new customers who support and shop with Hop Hideout every week. If people give us a follow on socials, we’ll have more details about the move coming soon!”

@hophideout 

SHEFFIELD BEER WEEK X INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

To celebrate this year’s IWD which was recently celebrated on Friday 8th March, Jules took some time to pay tribute to inspirational women in the beer industry – both in Sheffield and further afield.

“Sheffield Beer Week has always supported women in beer. International Women’s Day falls during the week and events over the years have seen us collaborate with Rachel Auty at Women on Tap, beer and food photographer Nicci Peet and freelance beer writer Emma Inch. We’ve also hosted tastings with inclusive beer group Ladies That Beer.

There are so many women that inspire me across a range of industries, but it’s amazing to see the growth of women in the beer industry and the positivity it’s bringing.

“This year, we’ll be celebrating the launch of Dr Christina’s Wade’s book The Devil’s in the Draught Lines, which takes a look at 1,000 years of women in Britain’s Beer History (and you might see familiar face in there!) with a tap takeover from Queer Brewing, founded by Lily Waite (who provided her photography skills for the book). There will also be a special beer dedicated to Ethel Haythornthwaite, a pioneer for national parks whose dedication to the cause led to the founding of the Peak District National Park in 1951.

“There are inspirational women here in Sheffield working in all parts of the industry. These include Fay at Thornbridge, Liz at Acorn (previously GM at Sheffield Tap), Martha at St Mars of the Desert, Scarlett at Triple Point Brewery, Lucienne at Heist Brewery, Sue and Laura at Abbeydale Brewery and Helen-Fay at Lost Industry Brewing.

“That’s just to name a few! There are so many women that inspire me across a range of industries, but it’s amazing to see the growth of women in the beer industry and the positivity it’s bringing.”




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