Sheffield: Beer City
It has been a while since beer writer and renowned local brewer Richard Hough moved to the Steel City. Here he takes a personal look at the current Sheffield beer scene and how it has changed in the 20-odd years since he moved here.
In 1995 there were just four breweries operating in Sheffield. They were Stones’, Ward’s, Kelham Island and the Frog & Parrot (remember Roger & Out, anyone?) In 1999, while I was editing local CAMRA mag Beer Matters, an extraordinary six month period saw the closure of both Ward’s on Eccy Road and Stones’ Cannon Brewery, with the loss of hundreds of jobs. Unbelievably, the nine-year young Kelham Island was now Sheffield’s biggest, and longest-established brewery. In 2004 their Pale Rider was voted Champion Beer of Britain.
Abbeydale had been going five years when, in 2002, I joined as Head Brewer. And yes, my CV did read “brews Moonshine for a living”! It became the biggest cask ale in Sheffield. The small breweries continued to blossom; not all of them, however, were destined to last – Drummond’s, for instance, lasted barely a year.
I set Blue Bee up in 2010; that took the number of breweries in the city to ten. Last year, that figure had ballooned to 26. We now have more breweries than at any time since 1900. Boom time for the Sheffield scene! With this amount of beer being produced, and a wealth of excellent pubs in which to drink it, Sheffield really is living up to its reputation as Beer Capital of Britain.
A couple of things are worth noting. The beer landscape is constantly changing. The drinkers are demanding better quality, and the brewers are responding with superior ales, and more interesting brews are being produced. The other is that the 2017 Good Beer Guide lists no fewer than 1540 breweries in this country. But we must ask – are we reaching saturation point? With the recent news that locally both Toolmakers and North Union are hanging up their brewing wellies, and with one or two others looking vulnerable, is the beautiful beer bubble finally about to burst?
Well, I don’t think so.
I am currently brewing at Neepsend. A successful first 12 months has seen the brewery go from strength to strength, gaining three Champion Beer of the Festival awards (including the Steel City last October), and we’ve also been voted ‘Brewery of the Year’ by TwoBeerGeeks. The Wellington pub at Shalesmoor is the Neepsend Brewery tap, showcasing a range of Neepsend products.
The beer scene in Sheffield is in rude health. A large number of breweries, producing some fantastic beers, available in some super pubs. Long may this continue, and here’s to the next 20 years of producing, and of course drinking, top-notch ale in this great city!