It’s a bold move to try and muscle in on Sheffield’s bustling beer market with so many great breweries in and around the cask-centric city. Despite a global pandemic also adding to the list of challenges he has faced (and will continue to face), Sam Bennett, owner of Grizzly Grains Brewing, is doing just that. A former charity worker, and now full time with the brewery, Sam is one of the latest producers trying to add to Sheffield’s broad brewing heritage, doing things the Grizzly way.
Only a stone’s throw away from the city centre, Sam is ideally situated when it comes to spreading his beer around the vast array of pubs on his doorstep. But, after looking at his operation, he is a one-man-band in the truest sense of the term. Sharing his premises with another project he’s involved with, a local beekeepers and honey producer, his brewing kit isn’t quite as big as you may think.
Sam initially started on a pilot kit in his cellar at his home in Walkley, before moving onto his current site now at Sheaf Gardens, “It was either a large home brewers kit or a very, very small brewing kit,” Sam explains as part of the recent podcast we recorded together. But he wasn’t phased by the scale on which he could initially produce and Sam appreciates the task ahead of him and how lucky he is to be able to supply his local area, “We really are spoiled in Sheffield for the quality and number of pubs that we have got.”
“The original plan was to brew on a really tiny scale and see if it was good enough,” Sam continues, reiterating the quality of beer he finds himself surrounded with locally. Being local doesn’t grant you a free pass into the beer scene, you’ve got to prove yourself and that’s exactly what he did and continues to do. Faced with the closures of the pubs he was attempting to supply, like many, Sam had to change how he operated for a short time, “I wasn’t geared for anything other than cask to begin with. I brewed [roughly] every fortnight into casks, filled bags in boxes and did home delivery.”
Due to his scale, this may not have been the most profitable method of him shifting his beer, but it helped him continue to promote his brand whilst his outlets were closed. Following this success, he continued with small pack and bottled his beers into 2021 until pubs began to tentatively open their doors once again. “I started to do a couple of keg runs, but continued to do bottles as it was nice to get things into bottle shops,” Sam goes on to say, once again emphasising the availability of quality beer he is surrounded with and also competing against.
Now operating on a slightly larger kit, Sam believes he has found his niche with which to carve his own path and identity. “When I started, I thought I was going to do loads of keg beers that were really hoppy. The further I get with this, I’m happy to be a more traditional and cask led brewery, with 80-90% of my output now being in cask,” Sam tells me, which he is extremely pleased with. But, just like being local, shipping in cask doesn’t count if the product isn’t up to muster or pique the interest of potential customers, so how does he do that?
“I made four fruited saisons, a rauchbier and a sourdough fermented sour ale last year (2021), and I’m currently in the process of making a Roggenbier,” Sam proudly tells me, showing he isn’t afraid to do things a little differently. It’s this difference that sets him apart, which is demonstrated by his fruited saisons and his sour ale, Hunt for Bread October, as he works with local producers to source ingredients for his beers. Bread October was fermented purely on a sourdough culture from a local baker whilst a local orchard donated apples to be used in his apple saison that would’ve otherwise gone to waste. The brewery owner is also involved in a local program, the Sheffield Wheat Experiment, which is a community project that is trying to grow a wheat crop specific to Sheffield’s climate.
It’s these nuances that are giving Sam not only a great USP for his beers, but also allowing him to demonstrate his passion and commitment to his local community and trying to make a more sustainable future for his business and the industry as a whole. It’s this locality that has ultimately established him thus far, “Without the likes of Shakespeares and Walkley Beer Company buying my beer, Grizzly Grains wouldn’t be where it is today,” Sam concludes, with both companies stocking his beers on a regular basis.
There are many issues facing the beer industry right now, but sustainability is at the very forefront given the rising costs many brewers are currently facing. They may be small steps, but they are very important nonetheless not only helping Sam build Grizzly Grains’ brand, but also helping change the ways in which we consume and produce beer in the future.