Pete and Tim, directors of The Sheffield Brewery Company

The Sheffield Brewery Company offers real ale at Sheffield’s Food Festival

In preparation for Sheffield’s annual Food Festival, which begins today, Sheffield Unchained has spent the week talking to some of the independent food and drink companies taking part in the weekend’s activities.

The free urban food festival aims to showcase the very best of the city’s local food producers. In honour of the festival the Sheffield Breweries Co-operative is hosting a mini beer festival, representing Sheffield’s burgeoning microbrewery industry and their special festival ales.

The Sheffield Brewery Company, which is part of the Co-operative, is offering tasters of their Sheffield inspired ales and is just one of the micro-breweries on the Real Ale Trail taking place throughout the weekend.

Albyn Works building in Sheffield

Albyn Works building in Sheffield

Peter Rawlinson, who co-manages the Albyn Works where the brewery is based, set up the company in 2007 with Eddy Munnelly and Dr Tim Stillman. Peter describes how the idea for the brewery came about:

“Eddy, who is the owner of the Gardeners Rest and Tim, who has a PHD in biochemistry, had been talking about setting up a brewery at the back of the Gardeners Rest. I suggested the Albyn Works, as the Land Rover repair shop, which had been based there, had recently gone bust.

The three of us began to meet in the Gardeners Rest and plan how we were going to set up The Sheffield Brewery Company empire and seven years later here we are. We’re not an empire yet but we’re doing all right, we have employed some people and all the money we earn goes back into the company. Over the last year we have employed two more people, which brings our grand total to four and our main income is brewing fine quality real ales. We also do brewery tours, which are really popular and this summer we had a couple of wedding receptions and private parties.”

Peter said he thinks the name ‘The Sheffield Brewery Company’ has international potential due to the growing interest in quality real ales in America and Asia. He also believes that Sheffield is still world renowned for its steel industry, and is therefore a recognisable UK city.

Tim Stillman showing us the Fermenters at The Sheffield Brewery Company

Tim Stillman showing us the Fermenters at The Sheffield Brewery Company

He admits this is ambitious thinking but said, “You can only hope and you have to aspire don’t you.”

Along with his aspiration is Peter’s awareness of the growing competition for microbreweries in Britain’s Real Ale capital:

“Unfortunately at the moment anyone who retires and has a bit of money or comes into early redundancy, is considering setting up a micro-brewery so we’ve gone from five or six in Sheffield to about twelve or fourteen in the space of six years. There is an awful lot of competition all over the UK, there were only around 500 when we started and now there are around 1000 micro-breweries.”

Peter attributes the surge in microbreweries to an increase in real ale drinkers despite a general decline in the drinks industry market. He believes people are beginning to value local produce and the integrity an independent can offer.

“Being independent means we can be more authentic and really strive to buy locally and use local builders, materials and suppliers.”

The Sheffield Brewery Company is certainly not shy of recycling and using second hand materials. Peter explained how their bar comes from the University of Sheffield’s old Ranmoor Halls, who were about to throw it away when Peter heard it was available and sent Tim and Eddy in a van to pick it up.

Boiling the beer at The Sheffield Brewery Company

Boiling the beer at The Sheffield Brewery Company

Tim, their head brewer explained how their tower brewery, which works by gravity and has all the ingredients stored in the roof, is the only tower brewery in Sheffield. He said it has been built from an authentic perspective and is therefore just like a traditional brewery.

All the beers at The Sheffield Brewery Company have been influenced by Sheffield’s heritage, with the Blanco Blond taking it’s name from the history of Albyn Works, which used to be a polish factory in the 1800’s.  Crucible Best has a pump clip that is green and during the snooker it is converted into a snooker table with six pockets around the sides. Peter said that after Seven Hills and Five Rivers they ran out of ideas and opted for Sheffield Porter and Sheffield Stout.

Fermenting beer at The Sheffield Brewery Company

Fermenting beer at The Sheffield Brewery Company

The breweries beers are bought throughout the city, with the Gardeners Rest always stocking them. Peter claims that Eddy ‘pretty much keeps the best beer’:

“Eddy keeps a remarkably good pint, which is why I go there all the time, he used to do Timothy Taylor’s Gold Best and he used to get awards from Timothy Taylors for how he kept it.”

Peter believes that Sheffield can now boast as the city with probably more microbreweries than anyone else and noted CAMRA’s (Campaign for Real Ale) claim that Sheffield offers the widest selection of ales outside London. He said that he would like the council and Sheffield tourist board to make more of an effort to promote these qualities.

“SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers, have just moved their annual conference to Sheffield and I have heard anecdotal evidence that more away football fans come to Sheffield because of the real ale than in lots of other cities.”

The Sheffield Food Festival claims that last year more than 184,000 people visited the city centre during the festival weekend. They said that the event “is our way of putting our local food economy in the spotlight- as well as encouraging us to think about shopping in a more sustainable way.”

Lets hope this year’s festival is even more of a success and that independents can unite to put the local economy in the spotlight all throughout the year.