Exposed raise a glass at Stancill Brewery
It’s no secret that the Steel City today is something of a beer mecca. At last count, when the University of Sheffield published a report touting the city as ‘Real Ale Capital of The World’, there were a total of 23 breweries plying their trade here. That translates as one brewery per 23,991 people (nearly five times more than London); with the same report also finding that up to 1,000 different beers were produced by local brewers each year.
One might imagine that real growth for independent businesses may prove difficult in such competitive circumstances, but on the contrary, the beer scene around these parts continues to flourish and many brewers are upsizing to cope with levels of demand. Take Stancill Brewery for example: in the space of just four years, business partners Thomas Gill and Adam Hague have turned a post-uni venture into becoming one of South Yorkshire’s largest beer producers. Stancill today have four venues under their belt – The Horse & Jockey, Wadsley; The Norfolk Arms, Grenoside; The Albion, London Road; and The Closed Shop, Commonside – the latter two being added to the roster during the last six months.
“We’ve said we’ll have a consolidation year ever since we started, but it’s just never happened,” laughs Thomas as he gives Exposed a tour of the premises.
“The last four years have been a bit of a journey, to put it mildly. We’re not going to stop, though; we’re looking for more. I was in London over the weekend having a look at a few micropubs for inspiration. We like the idea of having somewhere that’s not necessarily a pub in the traditional sense, but an interesting small space to serve good beer.”
Stancill was born when the 150-year-old Oakwell Brewery closed its doors back in 2013, prompting Thomas and Adam – both fans of Oakwell’s trademark Barnsley Bitter – to purchase the brewing and filtration equipment and recreate it themselves. After finding the soft water Sheffield receives from the Peak District to be perfect for brewing, they decided to move the short distance to Parkwood Industrial Estate on Rutland Road, just a stones-throw from the city centre. It didn’t take long before they were forced to install some new conditioning tanks so they could increase capacity.
What’s behind the success then? Well, for one, the culture shift to supporting independents and a general eye-opening to the rewards of deviating from core brands helps, claims Thomas. “Before we got our first pub, The Horse & Jockey, it was an Enterprise Inns pub – same too with the The Norfolk Arms. They would have largely served core brands, and you do get the odd ‘Where’s your Carling?’ when behind the bar; but overall people are more open at trying real ales, blondes and beers. And once they’ve discovered one drink they like, they want to go and discover another.”
Something which also makes Stancill unique in Sheffield is they’re one of the only breweries to create a popular craft lager and pilsner – Stancill Lager (4%) and Sheffield Pilsner (5%) – entering an area that many brewers avoid due to expensive equipment costs. “We inherited some great equipment from Oakwell Brewery which allowed us to brew those drinks, both of which have been really well-received, and they’re definitely our most popular brews now.”
Today the brewery produces around 30,000 pints a week, with an ever-changing range of beers on offer (keep an eye out for the Christmas specials). They now employ 50 members of staff across their pub division and with their latest purchase, The Closed Shop, have been working on bringing the kitchen up to scratch with a new seasonal menu. Perhaps, following another busy 12 months, you might imagine 2018 being a good time to take that consolidation year. But from Stancill’s perspective, it’s more a case of striking while the iron is hot and continuing to get the best out of every venue and brew. “No, we’re going to keep on moving,” says Tom. “There’s enough of us brewers in Sheffield now. It’s a buzzing place, we’ve got to be the brewing capital for the UK – for real ale certainly, and the craft scene is coming along well too. We’ll be looking for new venues, working on new brews and really working to push our lager following the positive reception it’s had. Things are well-placed at the moment and we’re looking forward to the future.”