Beer X marks the spot for UK beer capital

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Sheffield is once again set to affirm its status as the beer capital of the UK with the return of The Society of Independent Brewers’ (SIBA) BeerX festival.

Sheffield was cited as Britain’s best beer city last year by the New York Times and the return of BeerX for the third consecutive year – from today, Tuesday, to this Saturday – confirms its standing within the industry.

The event comprises SIBA’s national beer and business awards, a trade exhibition, seminars and keynote speakers for delegates, while the public festival of beer, which opens on Friday and Saturday, includes live music, big screen rugby, an array of street food traders and over 250 award-winning British beers.

Mike Benner, SIBA’s managing director, said: “Sheffield is the perfect location for BeerX - it is a city at the centre of the British craft brewing resurgence. Excellent transport links and an exciting brewing scene make it ideal.

“The city has really welcomed BeerX and it’s great that delegates and festival-goers can also visit some exciting bars and breweries while they are in the city.”

BeerX has grown year-on-year and over 1,000 delegates are confirmed to attend the event this week - almost 100 more than in 2014. In total around 8,000 delegates, exhibitors and festival-goers from across the UK and overseas visited the festival last year, reflecting the growth of British craft breweries and the interest surrounding the industry.

The entire UK now has more breweries per capita than any other nation in the world and sales of craft beer rose by almost 10 per cent last year to an estimated 1.55 million barrels.

A number of breweries from Yorkshire and nearby counties participate in the festival. These include the likes of Blue Bee, Ilkley and Brass Castle, which enter beers for SIBA’s national awards that are then served later in the week when the festival of beer opens to the public.

Derbyshire brewery Thornbridge, which operates a number of pubs in Sheffield including The Greystones, is also an annual participant and won gold in its category at last year’s awards for its Colorado Red Ale.

Set-up starts the week before the event: beer arrives for stillaging, satellite offices are established, the stage is constructed and the trade exhibition begins to take shape.

Today, Tuesday, is judging day for SIBA’s national beer competition, which includes a variety of styles from milds and stouts to porters, IPAs, lagers and more. These are some of the most prestigious awards in the UK recognising cask, keg and bottled beers with around 300 entrants submitting beers.

Charlotte Gorham, who has worked for SIBA for nine years and heads up competitions, said: “I’ve definitely developed a love of beer since I fell into the industry and I believe there is a beer out there for everyone.

“I would recommend anyone who thinks they don’t like it to come along to an event like BeerX and give different styles a try. You’ll find one you like eventually.”

The awards will be presented tomorrow, Wednesday, evening by SIBA chairman Guy Sheppard and BBC Radio 2’s Nigel Barden following a packed trade exhibition day and a range of seminars for brewers from industry experts.

This year will include topics such as The Beer Revolution with beer writers Roger Protz and Adrian Tierney-Jones and Beer Quality with Dr Charlie Bamforth, who specialises in the science of malting and brewing.

Thursday will begin with an opening address by Sheffield City Council leader Julie Dore, a strong supporter of BeerX since its inception. Key note speakers will include Bob Pease, CEO of the USA Brewers Association and SAB Miller's Katherine Smart.

Fun for the public starts on Friday, when the festival of beer flings open its doors.

A free tutored tasting with local beer expert Alex Barlow will kick off proceedings at 4pm, followed by another free tasting - this time of award entry bottled beers - an hour later. These sessions are a great opportunity for beer novices and aficionados alike to try different beer styles from a range of British breweries.

Main bar sponsor is There’s A Beer For That, a nationwide campaign backed by the newly-formed Britain’s Beer Alliance, which aims to promote the range and quality of beers on offer in the UK today.

Following the tutored sessions beer lovers can head to the 30-metre-long bar, which will accommodate more than 60 hand-pulls and keg fonts serving a changing selection of award-winning beers.

Ukulele supergroup The Everly Pregnant Brothers will take to the stage in the evening and entertainment will continue on Saturday. All the final 6 Nations rugby matches will be shown on a giant screen, with music from covers supergroup The Bootleggers in the evening, and of course more beer than you can shake a pint glass at.

‘Food Street’ will also provide festival-goers with a variety of tantalising treats from gourmet hot dogs to paella, fish and chips, churros, pizza and more.

Travel to the venue is easy with a Routemaster bus running from the city centre through Kelham Island and out to iceSheffield on an hourly loop.

Travel is free but donations for St Luke’s Hospice, the festival's charity partner, are encouraged. There is also a Supertram stop outside and those with a designated driver can enjoy free parking at iceSheffield on the Friday and Saturday.

Festival tickets are available on the door priced £10.