Sheffield beer festival clears way for annual celebration of ale

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SHEFFIELD’S big celebration of beer could return next year.

Organisers of the brewing industry’s conference and allied beer festival were so pleased with the response to their inaugural event at Ponds Forge that they are to look at a return visit.

“We have had the most positive feedback and I will certainly be saying that if we don’t go back to Ponds Forge, show me somewhere better,” said Julian Grocock, chief executive of the Society of Independent Brewers.

“ I don’t think there are places that leap off the map in terms of the space and the facilities. But it’s a committee decision and we can’t commit ourselves at this stage.”

More than 500 SIBA delegates attended the BeerX conference last Thursday and Friday - the first time that brewers from all corners of the country have brought their beers together under one roof,

In addition, a three-day beer festival in the Ponds Forge sports hall pulled in the crowds. There were 1,200 drinkers on the Friday night and 1,750 on the Saturday. More than 9,000 pints were consumed in one-and-a-half days.

“I thought it was brilliant,” said Mr Grocock. “The location was fabulous, although I suspect it will always be an issue with some London-centric people. Ponds Forge was a natural as long as people didn’t hang around too long in the Sheffield Tap when they got off the train!

“We were very well looked after, and the attendances were in line with what we expected. There were one or two hiccups in the execution, but there has been nothing but positivity as far as I am aware.”

The conference targets brewers, licensees and drinkers, with the growth in SIBA membership reflecting the growth of microbreweries around the country.

It was a feather in the cap of Sheffield and delegates praised the city’s wealth of real ale pubs, visiting places such as The Rutland in Brown Street, The Bath in Victoria Street, off Glossop Road, the Red Deer in Pitt Street, off West Street, and The Hop in West One in Fitzwilliam Street. Among the awards presented at the conference was an inaugural one for lifetime achievement, which went to the late Dave Wickett, who is regarded as starting the real ale ball rolling in Sheffield, opening the Fat Cat and neighbouring Kelham Island Brewery.

“Dave would be the first to say there are a lot of worthy contenders for the award, but we were in Sheffield and it was a no-brainer to a certain extent he should be the first recipient,” said Mr Grocock.

Dave Wickett died of bone cancer last May at the age of 64. The award was collected by his son, Ed, who has taken over from his father at Kelham Island. In the beer awards, Thornbridge Brewery won silver for Jaipur in the keg IPA category.