Sheffield is ‘real ale capital of the world’, report finds

The Sheffield Tap at Sheffield railway station
The Sheffield Tap at Sheffield railway station
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Sheffield is the world’s real ale capital – and with the right support could be turned into the globe’s premier beer destination for tourists, a 
report says.

The Sheffield City Region has 57 breweries, 31 of which have opened in the last five years, and the city has one brewery for every 23,991 people – nearly five times as many as in London, the study found.

A selection of Sheffield beers

A selection of Sheffield beers

New breweries are opening at an accelerating speed.

Sheffield’s brewers are planning to invest more than £3 million in expansion over the next year, and on a typical day around 400 beers are available in the city’s pubs.

The report says Sheffield has the right to compete for the title of the world’s greatest beer city – rivalling Munich in Germany, Bruges in Belgium or Portland, Oregon, in the USA.

“The benefits of doing so to Sheffield’s hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, pubs and cafes, not to mention the city’s image more generally, would be significant indeed,” it adds.

Alex Barlow, of Sentinel Brewery. Picture: Andrew Roe

Alex Barlow, of Sentinel Brewery. Picture: Andrew Roe

The paper, written by beer writer Pete Brown, was commissioned by Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Sheffield University’s director of city and cultural engagement, and follows reports focusing on music and the arts.

Based on surveys and interviews with brewers, the report says the city is the ‘best-kept secret in the beer world’, and that there is a ‘significant gap’ between the true strength of Sheffield’s beer scene, and the perception and promotion of it.

Real ale – cask ale containing live yeast, which undergoes conditioning in the pub cellar – is only a significant beer tradition in Britain, and a survey last year of 145 pubs in Sheffield identified 730 hand pumps selling 385 cask ales, a greater quantity than in Nottingham, Norwich, York, Derby or Leeds. “For such a compact city, such a championing of cask ale leads us to assert that Sheffield is the real ale capital of the UK and, therefore, the world,” says the report, which credits Dave Wickett, the late owner of the Kelham Island Brewery and Fat Cat pub, with beginning the trend for authentic beers in the early 1980s.

The impact created over a decade ago by Thornbridge Brewery means Sheffield was ‘arguably the birthplace of the British craft beer movement’, while the city’s beer festivals and real ale pubs attract enthusiasts.

Alex Barlow, of Sentinel Brewery. Picture: Andrew Roe

Alex Barlow, of Sentinel Brewery. Picture: Andrew Roe

The report also highlights the role beer and pubs play as the city’s ‘cultural glue’, offering venues for gigs and exhibitions.

It sets out a series of recommendations setting out how Sheffield should capitalise on its reputation.

There are signs that breweries are broadening their horizons and becoming more adventurous in the styles of beer they produce. A string of new brewery openings, such as Sentinel on Shoreham Street, means the city’s industry is ‘on the cusp of another big wave of expansion’.

But a dedicated online resource is needed to build awareness of Sheffield’s beer and pubs.

Beers produced by Sentinel Brewery. Picture: Andrew Roe

Beers produced by Sentinel Brewery. Picture: Andrew Roe

With more support, the annual Beer Week could grow to become an internationally-renowned event, and more educational courses in brewing could ‘spur a broader momentum’.

Meanwhile, a shared bottling and canning line could ‘make the most dramatic difference’, allowing firms to sell their beers further afield.

Alex Barlow, of Sentinel Brewery. Picture: Andrew Roe

Alex Barlow, of Sentinel Brewery. Picture: Andrew Roe