Brewing up a storm

Dave Wickett at the Fat Cat
Dave Wickett at the Fat Cat
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There was a time when Sheffield was home to dozens of breweries and – thanks largely to Dave Wickett – those times are coming back.

The former Sheffield Hallam business studies lecturer has had a hand in helping to set up most of the flourishing micro breweries in the area – either directly or thanks to the training his Kelham Island Brewery has provided.

This year marks the 30th year since he transformed a run-down Bass pub, called the Alma, into the Fat Cat - a haven for real ale and imaginative pub food.

It is also the 20th year since he opened the award-winning Kelham Island Brewery in the Cat’s back yard and took real ale to the United States.

“It has been a great 20 years,” says Dave of his time in the brewery business. “A really fantastic 20 years. I get a thrill inside working here. It’s a fun industry and we have been involved in so many fun events.

“A couple of years ago I attended a Yorkshire brewers’ event in Brussels and I was with the head brewer for the Coors plant in Tadcaster. I was asking him about aspects of his job, which I found interesting.

“He turned to me and said: ‘My job isn’t as interesting as yours. You can do anything you like. You can walk in and say we’ll brew a nice chocolate stout today, and the next day, we’ll brew a lighter beer, flavoured with elderflower. My job is to make sure it is always exactly the same.’

“Although his job was technically demanding, he’d not got the interest we had got.”

Variety really is the spice of life for the Kelham Island Brewery.

The Brewery has its three regular beers – Pale Rider, a former British Supreme Champion Beer and the brewery’s biggest seller; Easy Rider, another premium pale ale, which is slightly less strong; and Pride of Sheffield, an amber coloured bitter.

And then there are the specials.

“We started off doing one a month and we still do a ‘big’ special every month,” says Dave, “ but it gets so that we are doing another special virtually every week.

“Specials are a very, very important part of the industry. Once it used to be for a coronation or a Royal birthday, then brewers pooh-poohed it, but nearly every brewery in Britain does them now.

“It’s funny how you can always sell a special to someone. PubCos ask us to do one just for them and we have noticed in the pub that so many people come in and ask us if we have got something that is different.

“It creates a lot of interest for brewers – it gets them thinking what can we make that is slightly different, what haven’t we done yet. And, when they have done hundreds, it gets them reading and really working out what they want to do.”