There seems to be no doubt that the real ale revolution is here to stay – but to meet the challenge posed by new start-ups, breweries are having to come up with novel ways of fostering loyalty among drinkers.
The Sheffield Brewery Company, based at the JC Albyn Works in Neepsend, has just launched a new ‘beer club’, which will offer special events, advice nights for home brewers, and a chance for members to have a say in how the business is run.
Director Peter Rawlinson said he believed the club was the first of its kind in Sheffield, and that a test run in November proved successful. The first event proper is taking place on February 27.
“The whole cask market has taken off over the last couple of years, and more people are home brewing,” said Peter, who runs the Albyn complex and co-founded the beer firm in 2006.
“We thought it would be an opportunity to invite people who brew their own beer to bring some, have tastings and share their experiences – and they’ll no doubt give us tips on our beer as well. There are some very professional home brewers out there.”
The brewery takes up a large unit in the works, once home to the Blanco Polish factory.
“There has been a lot of interest in this area,” said Peter, who added that the benefits of regeneration are beginning to be felt.
“There’s a lot of character, certainly from an industrial heritage perspective. There’s a lot happening, what with the real ale trails, Kelham Island taking off, the really nice cafés round here and Yellow Arch studios becoming a live venue.”
The brewery process itself is overseen by Dr Tim Stillman, who has a PhD in biochemistry – invaluable in making beer, it transpires.
Tim’s ‘mash tun’, where malt barley is added to water, makes enough for 10 barrels, or 2,770 pints of beer.
Customers are now much more discerning in their choice of drinks, said Tim.
“People go for quality rather than quantity, and more breweries have started in recent years. We were the fifth in Sheffield and I think there are now 18. Our biggest selling beers are the weakest ones. If you make something too strong people will only order a half pint.”
The company’s core range of beers, which also include Seven Hills and Five Rivers, are now accompanied by one ‘special’ per month.
A new ale is currently being produced to help the Friends of Sheffield Castle’s campaign to excavate the ruins beneath the Castle Market site.
Peter said the drinks industry is ‘contracting’ as more pubs shut their doors, but he added: “The real ale market is bucking the trend. Big national brewers are even doing craft ales. Even Guinness is going back to some old recipes and producing a porter.
“It just shows these little niche brewers have affected the market.”
n Visit www.sheffieldbrewery.com or call 0114 2727256.