Sheffield Beer City: Hymn to Ninkasi
Next up in our spotlight on the Sheffield beer scene, we grabbed a bev with Andrew and Nathan, brothers-in-law who opened craft beer bottle shop and bar Hymn to Ninkasi in the heart of Little Kelham a few months ago.
Top photo: Ross Jarman
What was behind the decision to open Hymn to Ninkasi?
N: Me and Andrew had spoken about doing something like this for a while. I guess lockdown gave us a bit of headspace to put a business plan together, and then we started looking for a location. We found this unit and it really stood out: interesting shape, based in Kelham Island, a popular beer area. It seemed to fit.
A: Yeah, we’d been talking about it for a long time, but I suppose three years ago we started talking about this kind of model.
N: Craft beer was really booming, an innovative industry growing up and down the country, plus the fact we both love our beer. There’s so much out there now, it’s actually one hell of a job to curate it, to bring it all together and balance out our offering. We also wanted to bridge the gap between craft beer people and people who might prefer other stuff, but without losing our identity, so we offer a good selection of spirits and wines, too.
You’ve both come into this from entirely different industries. How’ve you found that crossover?
A: Refreshing and completely different. Starting up a brand-new business from scratch has been very exciting. We have had to make hundreds of decisions along the way, from designing the place to filling the fridges. This unit had been empty for three years, so it’s been incredible to bring something to life.
You mentioned the challenge of curating an ever-evolving selection of craft beer. How do you keep on top of that?
N: It’s a careful balance. Most of the brewers that we stock, we have met, and at the very least have tried their range in person; we know we can trust the quality control involved.
A: Social media is a big help in keeping up to date on the latest lines. We are following over 200 producers and they are releasing and promoting new beers every day. I think that’s an allure to the craft industry – more of a person-to-person angle. You’re not dealing with faceless corporations and people know who’s behind the beer they’re drinking.
N: We know them, or at least a good chunk of them. In terms of a more general culture shift, people have moved away from multinational corporations to independent businesses when they can. This industry is a good example of that.
Most of the brewers that we stock, we have met, and at the very least have tried their range in person; we know we can trust the quality control involved.
On a personal level, what sort of beers are you into?
N: I love IPAs. But I also love big, chunky imperial stouts.
A: I’m similar to Nathan I would say, though that we’ve got some amazing continental beers in too, which I’m also a big fan of. I’m also partial to the odd G&T, so I’m really pleased we are stocking great quality, local batch spirits.
N: We’re confident that we haven’t got a single bad beer; there’s something in those fridges that every craft beer fan is going to like.
We’ve seen a rise in hybrid sit-in/takeaway craft beer venues, bridging the gap between bar and shop. What appeals to you about this model?
N: I guess it’s choice. We’ve got a few locals who will come in for a drink regularly, but on other evenings they might just browse the fridges and take three or four cans home.
A: It’s moved away from buying a multipack of 12 or 24 of the same beer. More and more people would prefer taking home three or four different beers, stuff they haven’t tried before, and trying out new things. But the model itself allows for you to cater to two markets: nightlife and home drinking.
It kind of turns it into a bit more a client-style customer relationship. You’re not just pulling people a pint and that’s it?
N: Absolutely not. We know a few of our regular customers now, so know what to recommend when they come in. And also, people want to know more about where their beer is from, what the brewery is all about, so it gives us the chance to really have a conversation. We’re a local neighbourhood bar and the interaction is a big part of that, if people want it.
If you could condense the Hymn to Ninkasi ethos, what would it be?
N: I’ll just give you our strapline: drink in – take out – explore!