Self-taught brewer describes why he thinks Sheffield is one of the "best beer cities in Europe"
While some of those involved in Sheffield’s rich and varied brewing industry always had their sights set on a career in beer, others find their way into it through a twist of fate or when an opportunity presents itself.
The latter is true of Mark Booth, the one-man-band behind nano-brewery, Crosspool Ale Makers Society (CAMS).
His first foray into brewing came about in 2017, when his friend Joe Bentley moved back to Sheffield after a stint in London; and the pair decided to attempt brewing for themselves.
I’ve always been interested in beer," said Mark.
"But I only started making beer because my mate suggested it. I hadn’t considered going into making something because I’m quite clumsy, and making things isn’t something you think you can do on this sort of scale when you’re so clumsy,” he added.
Joe had completed a course in home brewing down in London, and what began as a hobby soon turned into something more professional, leading to the pair launching small brewery, Hopscotch Craft Brewing.
Mark recalls the nerve-wracking experience when he witnessed someone try a sample of a Hopscotch beer for the first time, while he was out at the Old Workshop on Hicks Street, Neepsend.
"I remember the first time I saw someone order my beer. I was at the Old Workshop with my brother and someone asked to try some of my beer. He tasted a bit and said that’s quite nice can I have a pint, and my brother cheered,” said Mark,
In 2019, after finding that he and Joe got on better when they weren’t working together, Mark decided to go it alone and created Crosspool Ale Makers Society (CAMS).
"That’s how I accidentally fell into brewing,” joked Mark, adding: "We just go to the pub together now instead.”
"I was immersed in it, and had got so far with it that I didn’t want to give it up,” explained Mark.
Mark is a completely self-taught brewer, and has been given advice along the way by fellow brewers including Dan Baxter of Abbeydale Brewery Ltd and James Eardley at the Brew Foundation.
"I remember picking his brains at the start. There’s always someone who’s willing to give you advice. I don’t think people want to give their secrets away but they are there if you want advice,” Mark said of Sheffield’s supportive brewing community.
After officially launching CAMS during an event at Boozehound in Cutlery Works, Mark decided to expand and bought some equipment from another brewery. Today, he has a small set-up at his home in Crosspool for test brews and small batches, and rents equipment and space of other breweries such as Little Mesters, who are based at 352 Meadowhead.
"It gives you the flexibility. I could do it anywhere in Sheffield, or Yorkshire, really,” he said.
Mark currently brews for CAMS twice a month, producing approximately 1,500 litres of beer.
Mark says it’s important to him to reflect Crosspool’s history in the beer he creates, and one of CAMS’ first releases was named after 19th Century Sheffield businessman, Horatio Bright, who lived in Crosspool and set up Turton, Bright & Co, which manufactured high quality dies for the Royal Mint.
Mark said: “He lived in Lydgate Hall in Crosspool, and his story is known by the people who lived there.”
Another of CAMS’ beers was made with Mark’s brother in mind, and is aptly titled “He Ain’t Heavy.”
"Because my brother doesn’t drink ale, I said I’d brew a gluten-free pilsner because like me he has an intolerance to gluten,” said Mark.
But their most popular beer by far is Straight Outta Crosspool, a 5.6% West Coast IPA.
Mark says the beer has “a lot more colour” than your average pale ale.
While online sales mean CAMS’ brews are sold in locations including Brighton, Cambridge and Wales, Mark says he mainly brews with the Sheffield market in mind.
He explains that while there is a lot of diversity in the city’s beer scene, and that breweries experiment with different styles, for the most part, Sheffield is a “pale ale city.”
Mark said he believes Sheffield is one of the “best beer cities in Europe,” adding that only Brussels comes close to comparing.
"Sheffield and Brussels share a lot of similarities because we also brew plenty of different types of beer. They also manufacture knives and cutlery. I think they take their beer seriously, and explore a lot of different styles.
"They have a different pallette but it’s the same idea.”
Mark’s partner Stephanie Thorn is a director of CAMS, and the brewery is run between the two of them.
The only aspects of the operation not carried out by Mark and Stephanie are the striking illustrations on CAMS’ cans, bottles and pump clips which have been designed by Robbie MacDonald at Lovely Dog, and the canning which is done by a firm in Cumbria.
The relatively small-scale nature of their operation means Mark is incredibly invested in the opinions of others when it comes to CAMS’ beer offering.
As with most aspects of modern life, instantaneous feedback is all part-and-parcel of being a brewer today.
Untappd is a “beer tracking” app through which users log, rate and write reviews of the beers they drink, and Mark says the comments left by customers can make for “brutal” reading.
“People have said some very unpleasant things about my beers. Sometimes you wonder if people would say the same sort of things if you were sat next to you,” said Mark.
And after reading a particularly mean-spirited review that Mark showed me concerning a beer he recalled – that was unfortunately still being sold by a vendor – I can well believe it.
Mark says he reads the reviews because they can be useful and inform what he chooses to brew, and he welcomes constructive criticism, particularly if it is detailed.
"You can see what people’s feedback is. When it’s positive that’s lovely to see. Sometimes it’s awful, but you can’t make beer that’s going to please everyone,” explained Mark.
As with a lot of breweries, CAMS was forced to start canning their beers after lockdown and the closure of pubs meant their primary revenue stream dried up overnight. Mark says moving to canning has allowed him to experiment with the type of beer he creates and has meant that he has expanded the CAMS range.
One such offering, from a small batch that has now sold out, is a 5.5% cherry chocolate cake porter called Shut Your Cake Owl, a reference to the owl that has often been seen roosting in the day on Lydgate Lane, Crosspool during the first quarter of the year, causing it to become an unlikely tourist attraction during lockdown three.
Among the Sheffield bottle shops that have stocked CAMS during lockdown is the Itchy Pig micropub in Broomhill, which has also acted as a “collection hub” for customers.
As we slowly move towards something resembling normality, Mark says CAMS has got a few collaborations and arrangements with Sheffield’s pubs set up that he is excited about.
This includes a collaboration with Rafters, which will see CAMS brew their house lager, and they will also sponsor the pub quiz at the newly-revamped Fox and Duck pub on Fulwood Road in Broomhill, and will provide the pub with a regular supply of CAMS’ beer. Mark says CAMS is set to be the new sponsor of Crosspool’s Hallam FC and will supply them with a “Sandygate” beer in reference to their historic ground which is the oldest football ground in the world, and will also be sponsoring Sheffield Vulcans, an inclusive rugby team.