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INTERVIEW: Topping up with Pete Brown

An in-depth 2016 report which pronounced Sheffield as the best city in the world for beer is currently undergoing a comprehensive update, ready for a fresh unveiling at the 2024 instalment of Sheffield Beer Week.

Renowned beer writer Pete Brown, hailing from Barnsley and a recipient of numerous prestigious awards for his work, has resumed his role as the report’s author. He took the time to have a quick chat with Exposed last month about the city’s thriving beer scene and what goes into pulling together a report of this nature.

Hi Pete, thanks for talking with us. Eight years after your first report on the Sheffield beer scene, what are you expecting to find this time around?
I’m hoping a lot of it stayed the same! Obviously, the last report was a hugely positive thing for the city to use in a tourism sense and the beer scene remains a key reason for people to come and visit Sheffield. As you said, the data is eight years out now, so it’ll be good to update it.

Journalists are often very keen to point towards ‘the end’ of something, and a lot of people claimed it was down to an over-saturated market. I don’t think it’s that. There’s a lot of proof that there’s plenty more scope out there for growth in terms of the number of people who want to drink interesting, well-made beer.

I’m anticipating that Sheffield will still be really strong in terms of concentration of breweries, the vibrancy of the beer scene and how many good beers you can get on the bar at any given time. In terms of change, I suppose the whole industry across the country has been through difficult times. We’ve definitely got to the end of the craft beer boom, whatever that was, and there’s no reason to suspect that Sheffield would be immune to that. We’ve definitely had some closures, but at the moment, I think, it’s looking like there have been more openings than closures as a whole, which is great.

Another thing from a Sheffield point of view. There was previously a slight criticism that while there was plenty of great breweries doing great beer, they were often in a fairly narrow set of styles. But I think that’s changed quite a lot, and you’re now getting much greater diversity in the city. You still get your Pale Rider-style 4% session pale ales on cask, but there’s much more out there too.

To pick you up on the point you made about us moving past the craft beer boom. Could you explain that in a bit more detail?
So, there were seeing a lot of new brewery openings happening each year and that started to decrease, followed by an increased number of closures. Journalists are often very keen to point towards ‘the end’ of something, and a lot of people claimed it was down to an over-saturated market. I don’t think it’s that. There’s a lot of proof that there’s plenty more scope out there for growth in terms of the number of people who want to drink interesting, well-made beer.

I’m anticipating that Sheffield will still be really strong in terms of concentration of breweries, the vibrancy of the beer scene and how many good beers you can get on the bar at any given time.

For me, it’s more about how tough the market conditions are. The price of practically everything a brewer needs has soared: energy, grain, aluminium, basic cardboard packaging. You name it, it’s gone up in price. Add the cost of living crisis facing consumers and there’s no surprise there have been closures.

Logistically, how do you pull something like this report together? Basically, what have you been up to?
A lot of different things! It’s about doing some good research and getting input from every brewery in South Yorkshire. We then go a bit deeper, do a number of in-depth interviews with people from the industry, and we’ll also take a broader look at the business trends in the city, the regeneration going on in certain areas of Sheffield, Kelham Island for example, and how that could be linked to the beer industry. You can often make the case that opening a good craft brewery or pub in an area can be a step towards regeneration. That’s just a small taste of what we’ve doing.

Has anything specifically impressed you about Sheffield so far?
What I love about Sheffield’s beer scene is how many small-scale operations are producing great stuff. Sometimes, it’s just one or two people going for it. It links back to the industrial tradition of the city’s little mesters in the small workshops.

Another thing that sets the city apart is just the number of great breweries and great pubs that combine to sell an amazing range of local beers. I’m looking forward to delving into that even further!

The report will be launched at the next Sheffield Beer Week, taking place from 4–10 March 2024.




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