My earliest beery memories of Sheffield are sad ones. I recall going past Whitbread’s enormous Exchange Brewery which the group upgraded at a cost of £12 million then closed a couple of years later, such was the profligacy of the beer giants at the time.
There were two Bass breweries in the city and I visited one on the outskirts with views of the moors. It had open Yorkshire Square fermenters and – if memory serves me – was producing Worthington White Shield, the legendary Burton IPA that had become a beer on wheels when Bass got tired of brewing it in its native town.
Bass owned Stones, a fine beer that rivalled Boddingtons in its pallor and equally refreshing character. It was brewed elsewhere in the Bass group when the brewery closed but is never seen these days.
Closer to the centre, Wards was a Sheffield icon, producing soft, malt-driven, creamy but refreshing beers for legions of thirsty steel workers. I visited shortly before it closed, a victim of the shocking asset stripping that destroyed the Vaux group.
And then came Dave Wickett, who started the beer revival in the city, first with the Fat Cat and then Kelham Island Brewery. I got to know Dave well as we shared a love of both beer and football – I think we spent more time discussing the mixed fortunes of Sheffield United and West Ham United than we did brewing!
Dave told me a wonderful story of how he bought the Fat Cat, refurbished it and was ready to open but he didn’t have any beer. He phoned Wards, who were still brewing, and none other than the head brewer came round and asked to see the cellar.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he told Dave. “I’ll put a cellar tank in with pressure points on the bar and away you go.”
“I don’t want that,” Dave said. “I want casks and handpumps.”
“Nobody wants to drinks that anymore,” the man from Wards said and stormed off in a huff. In desperation Dave phoned Timothy Taylor in Keighley and asked if he could buy an 18-gallon cask of Landlord and was told Sheffield was outside the brewery’s delivery area.
So Dave drove to Keighley, put the cask in the boot of his car and took it back to the pub. Two days later he phoned Taylors who said they expected he’d been unable to sell the beer.
“No,” Dave told them. “It went in two days and I want two more casks.”
“In that case, we’ll deliver,” Taylors said and with just three cask of ale Dave Wickett helped the brewery turn Landlord into a national brand.
From small acorns…today there are 20 breweries in the city. The choice is amazing, with superb beers in some equally superb pubs. And what better way to greet visitors to Sheffield than to offer them a pint or two in the Tap at the station. Behind the downbeat address of Platform 1B stands an architectural gem serving fine pints.
Beer Matters has been recording the ups and downs of Sheffield beer and pubs for 500 editions. It’s a remarkable achievement and underscores all that is best about CAMRA – volunteers devoting many hours of their time to support good beer and good pubs on their local patch.
Many congratulations – and here’s to the next 500!