Why the real-ale market is fighting rearguard action

(l-r) Peter Rawlinson, Tim Stillman, of The Sheffield Brewery and Mike Rose, of CAMRA Sheffield Branch enjoy a pint at Kelham Island Tavern. Picture: Andrew Roe
(l-r) Peter Rawlinson, Tim Stillman, of The Sheffield Brewery and Mike Rose, of CAMRA Sheffield Branch enjoy a pint at Kelham Island Tavern. Picture: Andrew Roe
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Although publicans and brewers have lamented closures, they say there are also positive signs around the rise of the ‘micro-pub’ and the real-ale market across Sheffield.

Dr Tim Stillman, co-director of The Sheffield Brewery, said: “An obvious one is the success of the Kelham Island Tavern, which was closed before it was converted into a real ale haven and has since won countless awards including two national CAMRA pub of the year awards.

“Six or more pubs in Walkley have been either demolished or converted into flats but one which was closed for a long time, The Blake, on Blake Street, was lovingly restored and is now a booming, welcoming pub offering a range of well-kept real ales.

“The Walkley Beer House has opened serving a range of bottled beers and two cask beers at the weekend to drink in or take home. Another ‘micro-pub’, The Beer House, on Ecclessall Road, has also opened recently.

“It’s not all doom and gloom in the industrial areas either. The Wentworth House is now reopened in the shadow of Forgemasters engineering and has been restored to its former glory. It also offers good food, and is conveniently located near the arena.”

Pete Rawlinson, Sheffield Brewery co-director, said: “When you look at the micro-pub phenomenon and the rise of the real ale market, it’s not all doom and gloom. There is growth in that market. The kind of pubs that are closing are ones that weren’t going to survive anyway.

“For example, there are three pubs in Heeley that are doing very well. They have created a hub in the heart of the community.”

He also said new legislation being introduced in the Small Business Act – despite some moves to ‘water down’ the act – should mean the pub estates will be obliged to grant more freedom to tenants to buy beer on the open market, instead of being tied into prices from the pub companies.

“So there’s going to be a massive flood of pubs coming onto the market when pub companies get rid of pubs,” he said.

“That might mean a lot more independent pubs open in the future.

“Even smaller pub companies are thinking of buying a few smaller pubs to improve their portfolios.

“It’s all on the back of the real ale market that is effectively showing positive signs of growth.

“I think the drinks industry as a whole is in decline, and the recession certainly hasn’t helped that.

“But it’s all about offering people a bit of a different model. I think the younger end of the market are looking at what’s going into the brews. That artisan, craft element.

“The pubs that are doing well are almost fitted out in an industrial style. I think there’s a modernity to it, mixed in with an industrial heritage.”