Little Critters

Sheffield Beer City: Interview with Little Critters head brewer Joe Lockrobin

With Sheffield Beer Week making its welcome return to the city, we pay timely homage with a small tribute to the local beer scene, meeting and interviewing a handful of the makers and creatives who make it all come together.

First up, Exposed speaks to Joe Lockrobin, head brewer of award-winning Sheffield microbrewery Little Critters.

Top image: Ross Jarman 

How did you get into the brewing scene?
Unlike many other brewers, I never really brewed at home. My way into it was working in bars; I worked in Leeds and the beer scene was quite advanced over there, so that was my route in. Brewing started for me as I began working at Little Critters. I was taught by the brewer who worked there at the time and had various bits of guidance until October 2019, when I took over the brewery side of things.

What was it that drew you into it as an industry?
The beer. *Laughs*. But when I first started out in brewing, it felt like I had been given some good career advice as it really fitted my skill set. There’s hard work to be done, which I’m not shy of, and you have to be quite methodical in how you work, which also suits me nicely.

What defines craft beer to you? It seems a pretty vague term at times.
Well, it seems everything can be craft. I think when something becomes fashionable it gets jumped on a bit, which is fine, of course. But what is craft? So, yesterday when we were chopping up smoked chillies for our new brew – that felt pretty crafty. Then other days we might be making our 4.2% blonde, a beer we’ve been making every week for five years and sell by the bucketload. It’s not necessarily an easy definition. We, Little Critters, see ourselves as an introduction to craft beer, almost like a stepping stone. We started off as a cask brewery, which ultimately is real ale, but then lockdown came in, so we diversified and went tinning. Now we have those two ways to market. Cask took a hit last year, so the tins really balanced it out and saved us really.

“We started off as a cask brewery, which ultimately is real ale, but then lockdown came in, so we diversified and went thinning.”

Is that a bit of a brand ethos then – providing an introduction to craft for people who might not see themselves as craft beer drinkers?
I suppose so. I think there’s a massive market there for it, appealing to people who are just getting into craft beer, or those who are maybe a bit put off by the beard-stroking IPA eulogising. I guess you could call it a palatable craftiness. Regarding the ethos, another important part of that is not taking ourselves too seriously; I think that’s important for us as a brand and, hopefully, that comes through.

Little Critters are known primarily for dark beers – stouts and porters. Is that still the onus moving forward?
I think so, but it depends really. The boss likes stouts, and we seem to be able to make them well. Personally, I’d like to start having a good crack at some nice pales. I sent one out recently for tinning and it’s a good one. It’s called Macaw Blimey, a double IPA at 7.7%. When you make something strong, you can afford to use more hops in it, so it’s a nice, hoppy, fruity pale.

Regarding the ethos, another important part of that is not taking ourselves too seriously; I think that’s important for us as a brand

What’s your most popular beer at the moment?
It’s a tough one. The beer we brew the most of is probably a blonde, but we’re really known for our hazelnut milk stout, Nutty Ambassador. We’ve got a fantastic one called Great Danish, an 7.4% maple and pecan stout that’s absolutely banging. We’ve got a 10% chocolate and caramel stout, Mallard Reaction, which we released just before Christmas. For me, they’re really, really decent stouts of ours.

Take us through the process of an idea for beer formulating to being produced?
Matt [managing director] is the main ideas guy. We’ll discuss a few ideas, pick something we think will sell, discuss a name, and then send what we have to Jim Connolly, the artist who does our designs, and he’ll normally come back some great stuff. What I usually then need to do is take a recipe, tweak it and sort of translate it onto our kit. I think everyone’s brew kit is a bit idiosyncratic, so there’s a bit of a process there too.

Which Sheffield venues will people be able to find Little Critters in?
Tin-wise, we go to most of the beer shops you’d imagine. Beer Central are great advocates, the Dram Shop in Walkley takes loads and Hop Hideout take some too. Cask kind of goes all over – we sell particularly well in Nottingham and towards Leeds/West Yorkshire way.

littlecrittersbrewery.com // @littlecrittersbrewery




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