Sheffield Beer Week director Jules Gray: ‘Beer is such a great thing’

With Sheffield Beer Week celebrating its 5th anniversary this year, we sat down with director Jules Gray over a pint of ale to get the inside scoop on this year’s week-long celebration of all things beer.

Up until the beginning of the 18th century, the majority of brewers were women. It was generally considered the ‘job of a woman’ to brew beer at home and whilst those times changed once 1918’s Representation of the People Act was passed by Parliament, women almost completely disappeared from the beer industry as it became commercialised and male-dominated.

Photo: Nicci Peet

According to 2018’s Gender Pint Gap report by Dea Latis, only 17% of women drink beer once a week compared to 53% of men. The report also highlighted that male-driven advertising is a major barrier for more than a quarter of women who drink beer. For the 18-24 year olds, the percentage is up to 48%. These stereotypical marketing campaigns, along with the lack of a positive diverse representation in the beer industry, is why diversity and inclusion are key strands at this year’s Sheffield Beer Week.

Director Jules Gray is keen to celebrate the broader diversity of people who work and flourish in the industry, from different backgrounds, ethnicities, genders and physical abilities. “It’s good to open up and start talking about these challenging topics,” Jules tells Exposed. “The UK has the lowest percentage of female beer drinkers – it baffles me! It could be down to marketing or certain pubs being more male-dominated. There have been times when I’ve asked for a third or even a pint at a bar and got a funny look. It can be very patronising and not fully welcoming. People may not even realise they’re putting these barriers up. That’s just one side of it, there’s many other different viewpoints to consider.”

Sheffield Beer Week is celebrating its 5th year in March and despite Sheffield’s pedigree and thirst for beer known nationally, Jules is modest when talking about the milestone. “I’m really pleased – I never imagined we’d get to five years! It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, we’ve seen lots of positive change in Sheffield over the last few years. Independent businesses in Sheffield are getting national awards and we’ve had businesses from outside of Sheffield relocate to the city, from as far as the United States for example. It’s a very exciting time!”

True to form, the week (11-17 March) has more events than you can shake a bag of hops at. The success of last year’s Photography Trail sees Bristol-based food and drink snapper Nicci Peet join Yorkshire’s Mark Newton in an exhibition-meets-ale trail across six venues: Bath Hotel, the Rutland Arms, Shakespeares, Sheffield Tap, Hop Hideout and the Kelham Island Brewery’s new event space. “The People’s Photography Trail is another really exciting event. It’s expanded since last year to include a stamp card trail with local artists getting involved with pin badge designs. It’s all about showcasing creative talent. Beer, photography, art – it’s all creative endeavours to me.”

Art is well represented at this year’s event, with Kelham Island Brewery pumpclip designer Jim Connolly hosting an exhibition and Sheff-based designer Lorelle Skelton producing a unique pin badge especially for the Beer Week. Another huge part of the event is the many collaborations with breweries local and national.

“There are a lot of collaborations with breweries and venues that are hush-hush at the moment. One thing I can say is Thornbridge Brewery is hosting an event with Burning Sky Brewery with a special food and drinks pairing menu. This will be launching at the Stag’s Head. Beer and food writer Melissa Cole is also partnering up with Abbeydale Brewery for an event – so keep an eye out for more details on those!”

Indie Beer Feast kicks the week off on 8 – 9 March, with a number of breweries launching their collaborations with Sheffield Beer Week during the two-day event including Liverpool’s Neptune Brewery and North Yorkshire’s Turning Point Brew Co. “It really does kick the week off well and this year it’s grown to two days.”

“There will be seven or eight breweries launching their collaborations, including Neptune, at Indie Beer Feast. It’s themed as a ‘Seasonal Celebration’ with breweries creating a special brew featuring a seasonal ingredient. Festival goers will be the first to try these brews.”

Rounding off our catch-up before Jules puts the finishing touches to Sheffield Beer Week, she leaves us with this.

“Beer is such a great thing. I just want to challenge dated stereotypes and champion diversity in the brewing industry and across beer consumers because fundamentally that diverse pool of people will ultimately make the beer industry and scene a richer place to be.”

We’ll drink to that.

Sheffield Beer Week 2019 takes place between 11–17 March. Head to for updates.

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