Nationally, CAMRA uses Brewery Liaison Officers (BLO) as a single point of contact between a brewery and CAMRA, someone who can act as a regular, knowledgeable and impartial link. Someone who will ensure that both the Good Beer Guide description and our information regarding their beers and are accurate. I am BLO for four Sheffield breweries: Abbeydale, Blue Bee, Bradfield and Loxley. Lockdown has affected these breweries in different ways. However, all are still brewing and working towards the future.
Abbeydale started 2020 on a series of highs: three awards at the Champion Beer of Yorkshire competition held at Rotherham Real Ale and Music Festival (Voyager: Bronze award (Golden Ale), Black Mass: Silver (Stout) and Absolution: Gold (Premium Bitter)). Later in the month, Heresy won the Gold medal at the SIBA Regional Keg Awards.
From late-March, production initially went down from eight brews/week to one brew but has since steadily increased. By mid-May it was back to ~40% of normality. New brews and beer for long-term storage in wooden casks continued to happen. The brewery was able to divert some production originally destined for casks into minikegs, and prioritised brewing beers which could be go into can and KeyKeg in order to make the best use of their new canning line. Their top-seller, Moonshine, was made available in cans and some cask was also supplied to pubs.
From late-March, Abbeydale provided mail-order. A month later, online sales were described as having ‘gone through the roof.’ Over a quarter of staff were furloughed, production staff running the canning line and doing some local deliveries. As pubs reopen, Abbeydale expect cask sales to increase and online sales to fall. However, they expect the latter to remain at a much higher level than was the case earlier in the year.
Not all was positive news. On 22 June, it was announced that the Devonshire Cat would not be reopening as an Abbeydale pub. Abbeydale had leased the premises since 2014. In addition, SunFest (the annual Rising Sun BF in July) was cancelled and there will not be a 2020 repeat of the 2018 and 2019 Funk Festivals. Hopefully, 2021 will see a return of these two popular events.
However, more awards followed in July. The SIBA Digital Beer Awards saw Voyager win a regional Silver medal (IPA) and Daily Bread win both a regional Gold and National Bronze (Best Bitter).
It was a similar story at another of our larger breweries, Bradfield. Some staff were furloughed, and brewing continued in order to replenish bottle and mini-keg stocks. This included Belgian Blue which is usually only brewed at Christmas. From late-March, the Brewery Shop was closed but a well-used local home delivery service became available. When pubs reopened, they were able to divert fermenting beer which was originally planned for bottling into cask to ensure that good stocks of cask beer were available. August sees their planned brewery expansion continuing and their three pubs doing well.
Blue Bee, one of the smaller Sheffield breweries closed initially, reopening in July. The beer range continues to diversify, hops remaining to the fore.
Loxley took the opportunity to refurbish the Wisewood Inn, our April Pub of the Month. The presentation was delayed, finally happening, complete with social distancing, just before the pub reopened on 6 July.
Throughout lockdown, Loxley continued to brew their core range, at a reduced capacity, mainly to fill bottles for on-site bottle conditioning. Sales were through social media, local deliveries, shops, the Raven and a small amount of cask for another pub to off-sale. In addition, some new markets developed.
The brewery has now started brewing keg beer and are about to add two new fermenters thus doubling production capacity. Their beer range has also been rebranded to match the bottle branding:
- 3.8% Pacific Pale, Wisewood Eight is now Fearn
- 4% Blonde, Wisewood One is now Revill
- 4% Yorkshire Bitter, Wisewood Three is now Halliday
- 4.4% Five Hop, Wisewood Seven is now Lomas
- 4.8% Citra IPA, Wisewood Four is now Gunson
These four breweries offer a microcosm of what has happened to hundreds of UK breweries: furlough, increased off-sales, lower cask sales, renovation and innovation. We look forward to many more brews from each.