In 1975, when the Sheffield Branch of CAMRA was founded, the City of Sheffield had four large and long-established breweries; Stones Cannon Brewery (1865), Wards Sheaf (1896), Whitbread Exchange (1851) and the often-forgotten Hope Brewery on Claywheels Lane (1939). Almost 45 years later, none of these remain.
Today, we have 23 functioning brewing companies. Each has their own brewery, except the one cuckoo, Steel City, established ten years ago, currently brewing at Lost Industry after spells at he Brew Company, Little Ale Cart and Toolmakers. Their first beer, Hop Manifesto (4.8% with bitterness of 81), was a clear indication of what was to follow.
The 1990’s saw the closure of the large breweries. Part of the Bass empire, the Hope Brewery closed in 1992, the Exchange Brewery closed a year later with the sad demise of Wards, closely followed by Stones, in 1999. However, things were changing: as part of a nationwide Whitbread initiative, the Frog and Parrot utilised a cellar brewery from 1982. Their finest moment was when ‘Roger and Out’ was mentioned in the 1988/89 Guinness Book of Records as the strongest beer in the world (original gravity 1125, 12.5% abv).
1990 saw the first new independent brewery to open in Sheffield for over fifty years when Dave Wickett (1947/2012) opened the Kelham Island Brewery in the beer garden of the Fat Cat. Demand proved to be high: in 1999, they moved 100 m to their present location, subsequently winning CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain for Pale Rider (5.2%) in 2004. In 1996, after five years at Kelham Island, Pat Morton established Abbeydale Brewery and the world welcomed the award-winning Moonshine (4.3%), currently the top-selling cask beer in Sheffield. Ex-Kelham Island brewers went on to play key roles in a growing number of other new breweries including, Brewdog, Thornbridge and Welbeck.
The 1990’s saw three other short-lived breweries. As part of their Hollywood Bowl chain, Bass installed a brewery in the bowling alley at Centertainment (1998/1999) while Drummonds (1999/2000) are chiefly remembered for the name of one of their beers; ‘Drummonds Dregs’ (4.7%). In addition, the Beehive (as the Foundry and Firkin) became the local brewery for the Firkin chain (1996/2001).
The C20th.brought more change: Crown (Wood Street from 2012) brewed at the Hillsborough Hotel from 2001 until 2015, while Port Mahon (from 2008, Little Ale Cart) used the ‘brick shed’ adjacent to the Wellington from 2002 until 2015. The first decade also saw four current key-players commence: Bradfield (2005), Sheffield (2007), Brew Company (later, Sky Edge, now Exit 33, 2008) and Blue Bee (2011). The Frog and Parrot ceased brewing in 2007 while Little Ale Cart acted as hosts to several cuckoos including Steel City, White Rose and Doncaster-based, Toad.
The pace of change has recently increased: On The Edge, Tapped and Toolmakers (2013) were followed in 2014 by Emmanuales (ceased 2018), Fuggle Bunny and Stancil. 2015 brought Lost Industry, Neepsend, Regather and True North with Little Critters, Sentinel and Mitchell’s Wine Merchants and Hop House Brewing following in 2016. After a short, but torrid, existence Sentinel went into receivership in 2018, Triple Point obtaining the brewer and bar from the Receiver and opening in early 2019. 2018 saw Loxley, Dead Parrot, Hopscotch (renamed as the Crosspool Alemakers Society in 2019) and the wonderfully named St.Mars of the Desert: the brewery with the only koelship in Yorkshire.
Hence in 2019, Sheffield is well-placed for breweries – some in industrial units, some in converted older premises: some use state-of the-art kit, some are a little more rudimentary. However, overall, the quality of the product is much improved, with lots of innovation and a massive range. In 1975, all beer was fined and Saison was unknown in Sheffield while sour implied lemons, not a beer style.
The 1975 Sheffield CAMRA local guide lists only three pubs in the Sheffield One Postal District who are using handpumps: the Peacock Inn (Fitzwilliam Street, Tetley Bitter), the Red Deer (Tetleys) and the Red House (Wards). The Peacock is long closed with the Red House surviving until 2016. Hence, the Red Deer can claim to be the central Sheffield pub with the longest continuous use of handpumps.
Elsewhere in Sheffield, there are only three other pubs who have continuously used handpumps over this period: the Nottingham House (Broomhill), the Rose and Crown (Wadsley) and the White Lion (Heeley). Shakespeare’s, then a Wards pub, had handpumps but these were only for use ‘in case of emergency.’
Inside the Red Deer, towards the rear of the Lounge is a wall-mounted Joshua Tetley handpump. The accompanying plaque states: ‘The Joshua award presented to The Red Deer by Sheffield CAMRA to mark its nomination as the branches favourite Tetley pub in the area on the occasion of CAMRA’s 21st. birthday and Joshua Tetley’s 200th. anniversary of brewing on their Leeds site. September 1992.’ The Tetley brewery closed in 2011 and was demolished a year later.
Back in 1975, in a city which had only ten available cask beers, no-one would have predicted that soon there would be over 400 available on a typical day: mostly on handpump. We look forward to this number exceeding 500 at the next Sheffield Beer Census: scheduled for 20/21 February 2021.
As for the best beer produced in the city since 1975, we will each have our favourites. However, I will admit to a soft spot for a 2016 Blue Bee one-off, ‘HEY-HO Six-Oh’ – well, it was my birthday special!