THE ale – there is no kind way of saying this – looks faintly repulsive; brown and sticky and bubbling away in its vat.
“Funny,” says Doctor Tim Stillman. “That’s what you’re drinking now – it tastes all right, doesn’t it?”
Welcome, reader, to The Sheffield Brewery Company.
You join us as the firm – responsible for Steel City homaging ales such as Crucible Best and Seven Hills – is preparing for its landmark fifth anniversary.
And that ‘faintly repulsive’ ale fermenting in the vat?
That’s Five Rivers and it’s one of the main reasons why, as the firm approaches that half decade milestone, sales are booming (“up 400 per cent in five years,” says Tim) and recognition has been racking up in the shape of various festival awards
And for the record, the finished article is indeed excellent; golden and refreshing.
“Glad you like it,” says Tim, head brewer and one of the trio of Sheffielders who founded the micro-brewery, in Burton Road, Neepsend, in January 2007. “That’s definitely one of the most rewarding things – when people like what you’ve created.”
That people like what The Sheffield Brewery Company creates, there is little doubt.
Don’t take The Diary’s word for it. Roger Protz, the UK’s premier ale hack and editor of Camra’s Good Beer Guide, described Sheffield Porter as “darkly delicious”; while those expanding sales have seen production jump from 40 barrels a month in 2007 to 160 in 2011. Bookings for private tours of the three-storey tower brewery, meanwhile, have never been so popular.
Not bad for three blokes who, when they set up, had no professional brewing experience.
“It was a risk,” admits Pete Rawlinson, a solicitor with Wake Smith by trade. “But we felt we could make it work. At that point there was only three other breweries in the city so we thought the market was there. The fact there’s now 10 shows we were right.”
It started when Pete – who owns the J C Albyn complex where the brewery is based – showed Eddy Munnelly, landlord at The Gardener’s Rest, in Neepsend Lane, round the empty space.
The 65-year-old publican suggested that with friend, Tim, a research biochemist at Sheffield University, the three should open a micro-brewery. Tim would be head brewer; Eddy would sell the beer at his boozer; and Pete would handle administration.
“It seemed a good combination – even if I was doing the boring bit,” notes Pete, 47, of Lodge Moor. “There had been an increase in real ale sales and we were confident we could create something a bit special.”
For Tim it was a particular risk as it would mean leaving his well-paid job at the university where he had been for 21 years.
“But I’d become disillusioned,” notes the 50-year-old of Crookes. “I’d been brewing as a hobby for 30 years and this was an opportunity to see if those recipes could be successful.”
They decided on the name while, appropriately enough, in the pub.
“It felt right,” says Pete. “Sheffield is associated with quality – and that’s what we wanted to become known for.”
And so they have.
There have been challenges over the five years – not least when the 2007 flood submerged their complex – but since that first pint was sold in The Gardener’s Rest on January 20, 2007, things have gone from strength to strength.
It is now sold in more than 25 pubs around the city. And to mark the anniversary the company is planning a series of events.
“It’s been a great five years,” says Peter. “Now we’ll be looking to push on for the next five.”
It’s a sentiment worth drinking to.
Allow The Diary to recommend Five Rivers.
Just don’t be put off by how it looks in that vat.
For events to be announced visit www.sheffieldbrewery.com