Brewers clamour for spots to host their own bar at Sheffield’s BeerX Festival

Alex Barlow delivers a tutored tasting session
Alex Barlow delivers a tutored tasting session
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Twenty individual brewery bars, manned by brewers themselves, are one of the highlights of this year’s national BeerX Festival, which opens in Sheffield on Tuesday.

Breweries from across the UK have been clamouring for places, with more than 50 applying for the 20 available positions in the festival’s new Brewers’ Yard at iceSheffield.

A brewer pouring malt

A brewer pouring malt

BeerX has grown steadily over the last three years. Over 1,200 conference attendees are confirmed for this year’s event and 30 per cent more delegates have signed up than in 2015.

In total over 8,500 delegates, exhibitors and festival-goers are expected from the UK and overseas, reflecting the ongoing growth of the British beer industry.

Mike Benner, SIBA’s managing director, said: “We had the idea for Brewers’ Yard back in 2014 after the second BeerX and we’ve been working to make the dream a reality since then.”

Brewers’ Yard will be housed in a purpose-built space adjoining iceSheffield and will feature 20 independent breweries each serving two keg beers, plus bottles and cans.

The 30-metre bar at BeerX

The 30-metre bar at BeerX

Mike continued: “Alongside our main 30 metre bar, Brewers’ Yard is a fantastic offering for festival-goers.

“It is a unique opportunity to interact with brewers and we will look to expand this area in future. Over 300 different beers will be served throughout the event.”

Brewers’ Yard breweries were selected at random from over 50 that applied. Successful local breweries participating include Sheffield’s Stancill and Bradfield Breweries and Bakewell’s Thornbridge Brewery.

BeerX begins on Wednesday for delegates and exhibitors attending SIBA’s annual conference. It will once again comprise SIBA’s national beer and business awards, a trade exhibition, seminars and keynote speakers.

Mike Benner said: “Sheffield has supported BeerX since the inaugural event in 2013, we’re delighted to bring it back.

“We’ve made some big changes since last year in order to provide more beers for people to try, run additional free sessions for the public to attend and offer a broader, more varied programme for delegates. We’re attracting bigger sponsors, such as NFU Mutual, and again have involvement from UKTI. We are already planning for 2017, there’s so much we want to do.”

Sheffield’s brewing heritage, pub culture and title of Britain’s best beer city, as cited by the New York Times in 2014, make it an unquestionable location to host this major national event.

There are now more than 1,500 breweries in Britain and across Yorkshire and the Humber over 73,000 jobs - 2.9 per cent of employment - is supported by the beer and pub sector.

Tuesday is judging day for SIBA’s national beer competition, which sees around 80 judges take on the enviable task of deciding Britain’s best beers from winning regional entries. The awards are considered some of the most prestigious in the country, with over 300 beers submitted.

Winners are announced that evening and for the first time the awards are open for the public to attend.

A busy conference day for delegates follows on Wednesday incorporating a trade exhibition, a presentation by Welcome to Yorkshire’s CEO Sir Gary Verity and SIBA’s business awards and keynote speakers. A highlight is Ray Daniels; American beer author, former Brewers’ Association manager and founder of the world’s leading beer sommelier certification programme, Cicerone.

On Thursday SIBA will announce details of the national 2016 SIBA British Beer Report and SIBA British Beer Insight Project, highlighting key findings of their annual members’ survey looking at production, employment and more.

The Insight Project will provide original information about consumer and licensee knowledge of, and interest in, British and locally brewed beer.

The festival is open to the public on Wednesday and Thursday from 6-11pm, 2-11:30pm on Friday and 12pm-midnight on Saturday.

There is added value for ticket holders this year. Friday has free sessions running from 3pm including a beer and food pairing session and brewers’ panel led by resident Radio 2 chef Nigel Barden, with the former offering free food and drink samples to all attendees.

A free tutored tasting with Sheffield beer expert and Sentinel Brewing Co. founder Alex Barlow follows, with free bottle sampling after.

Sheffield soul aficionados Vernon Lewis and E-Maculate take to the stage on Friday evening, while former Inspiral Carpets frontman Tom Hingley headlines.

Saturday kicks off at midday, with the final three Six Nations rugby matches shown live on a giant screen from 2:30pm. Sheffield supergroup The Bootleggers will round off proceedings on Saturday evening, enabling rugby fans to celebrate or commiserate.

The Fat Cat’s vintage Routemaster bus will once again provide free transport on a loop from the city centre to iceSheffield, with designated ‘bus stops’ at the Fat Cat, the Devonshire Cat and Sheffield Station.

Bus journeys are free but donations for BeerX’s 2016 charity partner, the Sheffield Children’s Hospital Charity, are appreciated.

There is also a Supertram stop outside and those with a designated driver can enjoy free parking at iceSheffield on the Friday and Saturday.

Advance tickets are available from the SIV and We Got Tickets websites priced £8, while door entry is £10. NUS card holders, CAMRA members and members of the armed forces pay £6.