'End of an era' as Covid claims legendary Kelham Island Brewery in Sheffield

Sheffield’s Kelham Island Brewery was ‘badly impacted’ by Covid and unable to recover, liquidators say.

Wednesday, 11th May 2022, 1:40 pm

Insolvency practitioner Begbies Traynor said sales had not increased enough to ‘generate positive cash flow’ after the pandemic.

It will put the firm into a ‘members’ voluntary liquidation’, a process which means ‘all creditors will be paid in full,’ it said.

Seven jobs have been lost.

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The brewery was next to the Fat Cat on Alma Street.

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A spokeswoman said: “Begbies Traynor has been engaged to put the company into liquidation. It is expected to do so in the next fortnight once the remaining stock has been sold.

“The company has been badly impacted by Covid and sales haven’t sufficiently recovered to generate positive cash flow.”

A members’ voluntary liquidation is used when a firm cannot continue but its assets are worth more than what it owes to creditors - it is ‘solvent on a balance sheet basis’ – she added.

Dave Wickett, of Kelham Island Brewery, with two footballing brews at Steel City Beer Festival.

It means that once the assets have been sold, creditors will be paid in full.

Government website gov.uk states that MVLs can be used to ‘liquidate a company you do not want to run anymore’, provided it is ‘solvent’ and can pay its debts within 12 months.

Bosses must also call a general meeting with shareholders within five weeks and pass a resolution for voluntary winding up.

Brewery boss Dave Wickett's Christmas card shows flooded out Kelham Island Brewery.

The size of the brewery’s debts was not disclosed.

Founded by university lecturer Dave Wickett in 1990, in the beer garden of the Fat Cat in Alma Street, it was the first new independent brewery to open in the city in almost 100 years.

It was also the oldest following the closure of all four of Sheffield’s large breweries.

Ed Wickett took over when his dad died in 2012.

Whitbread went in 1993, Hope & Anchor on Claywheels Lane finished in 1994 and Stones Brewery in Neepsend and Wards Brewery on Ecclesall Road both closed in 1999.

With the Fat Cat pub - which is remaining open - and the Kelham Island Tavern, it played a part in ‘beer tourism’ which attracted visitors and turned the area into the city’s trendiest residential enclave, with millions spent on flats in new blocks and converted works.

Kelham Island’s Pale Rider was a pioneering brew and one of the first to bring out the flavour of hops, according to Dan Baxter, sales director at rival Abbeydale Brewery.

He remembers having it for the first time while working at the Three Merry Lads in Lodge Moor 25 years ago.

He added: “It opened my eyes to cask ale. At the time popular beers were lightly hopped and typically less than four per cent abv, like John Smiths, Wards and Stones.

“Dave Wickett and Pat Morton, who owns Abbeydale, made these pale ales which brought out the flavour of hops, just like with grapes in wine.

“It’s the end of an era. They will be sadly missed. We used to communicate quite a lot and pass on information such as trade insights and customers with bad debts.”

Pale Rider won many awards including Champion Beer of Britain. Abbeydale’s Moonshine came a little later but is similarly admired. It still accounts for 50 per cent of what the company produces today, Dan added.

He said: “Once drinkers’ eyes have been opened to hops - that seems to be what people wanted.”

Since then the sector has mushroomed. A 2016 report by the University of Sheffield hailed the city the ‘real ale capital of the world’, with 57 breweries across the city.

There were 21 in Camra’s Good Beer Guide 2021, including Kelham Island and Abbeydale.

Dan said they tended to operate on three models. Brew limited amounts of one-off specials, stick to a tried and tested core range - which Kelham Island favoured with its five beers - or do both, which is Abbeydale’s approach.

He added: “You need to stay relevant and keep things interesting. But some people like to know what they are getting. And I think the true art of brewing is replication.”

He also believed Kelham Island Tavern opted not to go above the threshold of five thousand hectolitres a year, which attracts more duty.

He added: “I viewed them as having a nice thing going on. They were comfortable with where they were at. Maybe they were happy with not going for growth.”

Dave Wickett died from cancer aged 64 in 2012 and son Ed took over.

In 2007, during the Sheffield floods, the Fat Cat was closed for a month. A marker still on the wall outside shows how deep the flood waters were.

In 2020, Ed told The Star Kelham felt like a ‘ghost town’ following the closure of Alma Street to vehicles as part of a Low Traffic Neighbourhood.

The company’s website states the company was built using equipment purchased from the recently closed Oxford Brewery.

It allowed for full mash brewing of around 10 brewers barrels every week.

As demand increased a purpose-built brewery was constructed a short distance from the original brewhouse, which was converted into a visitors’ centre.

In March 1999 the new brewery opened with a five-fold increase in capacity to 50 brewers barrels.

By 2008, with the demand for real ale still on the increase, the brewery was again updated and production doubled.

One drinker who wrote to The Star said: “Anyone who walks through Kelham island will have had their senses aroused by the aroma of beer brewing close to the Fat Cat pub.

“It is a loss to our claim to be the beer capital of the world.

“Thank you to the brewers at Kelham island for the many hours of pleasure spent supping your ales in the hostelries of South Yorkshire and beyond.”

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