Steel City Beer Festival – 1975 to the present day

As we near the 2019 Steel City Beer & Cider Festival, it seems like the 500th edition of Beer Matters is a good opportunity to look back over the festival’s history.

1975 – 2018
The first festival was a single day affair, held in September 1975 at Sheffield University’s Tapton Hall of Residence and featured around 25 beers. The following year saw a move to the University Lower Refectory and by 1981 had become a 2 day festival featuring 60 beers from 40 breweries including Hartleys, Mitchells, Oldham, Paines and West Riding. Cider and bottled beer had also been introduced, and the admission price of £1.00 included the glass and the first drink!

The 15th Festival in 1989 saw a move to the Students Union of Sheffield Polytechnic. Admission was now £2.00 and an extra day had been added. In 1993 the Festival returned to Sheffield University, but this was for one year only as the Lower Refectory was then closed for redevelopment. So 1994 saw us back at what was now the Nelson Mandela Building of Sheffield Hallam University.

There we remained until 2001 which saw the move to St Phillips Social Club, Netherthorpe. No longer tied to University vacations in 2003 we moved to October enabling us to attract the student audience.

After 6 years at St Phillips in 2007 we were again looking for new premises due to the impending closure of the Club. We eventually settled on Darnall Liberal Club, but this proved to be too far out of town. The festival’s success was also hampered by the discovery of an unexploded WW2 bomb that delayed staff and visitors from attending! Initial plans for moving under canvas in Endcliffe Park fell through, so the first tented festival was held at Cemetery Park in 2008. After 3 successful years we were finally defeated by the weather. Whilst the punters cheerfully coped with the mud in 2010 after torrential rain the day before opening, the conditions for take down proved too much for the volunteers.

In 2011, we moved to the International Sports Hall, Ponds Forge after managing to get approval for an ambitious budget, as a substantial increase in attendance and turnover were required in order to cover the venue hire. It turned out be unseasonably warm for the beginning of October, we struggled to keep the beer cool and the punters stayed away. Despite a substantial loss, with a modified budget we managed to obtain approval for two further years before we had to call it a day.

So 2014 saw yet another new venue for the 40th Festival. The move to Kelham Island Museum proved a huge success and continues to this day.

2019
So what does this year have in store? An excellent choice of beer of course. Over 300 beers including around 50 keg beers, over 40 real ciders and 2 bottle bars featuring continental beers. Last year we introduced the Sheffield Beer Of The Festival award and will be repeating this again on Wednesday evening.
We are particularly excited that world-famous beer writer Roger Protz will be joining us at the festival and hosting a tasting session based around his new book on IPAs.

Another improvement for this year is the introduction of rinsing points where visitors can clean their glass between drinks. No more heavy stout foam remaining in your glass when you fancy a pale ale for your next beer!

We have our usual array of live acts, booked by the irrepressible Saxbob, and a great variety of food stalls, with extended vegetarian and vegan offerings this year. There is also a welcome return of the Sheffield WI who will be hosting a charity cake stall on the Saturday. In addition to this we have our ever-popular Tombola stall, traditional pub games and CAMRA merchandise desk selling books and t-shirts.

No article on the beer festival would be complete without a word of thanks to our dedicated and hard-working volunteers. Each year they arrive to set everything up, man the bars, run the various desks, do whatever needs doing to ensure the festival is the success it is, and then dismantle everything and put it back in to storage for next year. We cannot thank them enough for the time and effort they give. The festival simply would not happen without them. As a thank you, this year we are running a free staff trip to Harrogate, and as an extra reward for the Sunday take down volunteers we have a free buffet at the Rutland Arms. If you fancy joining our happy band please visit our website Sheffield.camra.org.uk/festival to get more details on volunteering. We can guarantee that you’ll enjoy it more than you expected.

Finally, don’t forget to look out for our festival beermats around the locals pubs. As we have done for the last 3 years, the festival side of the mats are all different and once you collect all 12 they fit together to form an image of the festival poster.
See you there.

Steel City Beer & Cider Festival, 16-19 October 2019, Kelham Island Museum, Sheffield.
Paul Crofts & Alan Gibbons