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From grain to glass: Sheffield wheat becomes Sheffield beer

Local 'nanobrewery' Grizzly Grains has teamed up with the Sheffield Wheat Experiment to produce Growers’ Union beer. One of the home wheat growers, beer expert Dave Pickersgill, tells us more. 

Brew Day 09 09 2021 Dave Pickersgill edit

Brew day at Grizzly Grains, September 2021.

Dave Pickersgill

In 2020, the Sheffield Wheat Experiment invited over 200 people to plant two square metres of wheat in their allotments, gardens, pots, public spaces or schools. My partner and I got involved.

Seeds were carefully planted, netting occurred and ten months later we harvested, before allowing the wheat to dry in our spare room. It was then threshed at a communal event held at Bloc Studios. The Sheffield harvest yielded 130 kg of grain, 2 kg of which went to local ‘nanobrewery’ Grizzly Grains, one of the smallest operations in Sheffield, to form part of a collaborative beer.

The mash for the Sheffield Wheat Experiment beer used malted barley, crystal malt, spelt malt andrice husks, with the locally-grown wheat forming the final 10%. The hops were a mix of East Kent and Northdown and the yeast was a Belgian wit strain. Two days before mashing, the wheat grain was ‘torrified’ using the large oven at Regather co-operative to help the starches break down more easily.

Grizzly Grains Growers Union Dave Pickersgill
Dave Pickersgill

The result was more than 200 33cl bottles of Growers’ Union, a 5.2% Belgian-style amber beer. After a suitable maturation period, the beer was sampled as part of an online tasting event hosted last week by Grizzly Grains brewer Sam Bennett.

Sam provided a succinct description of the brewing process and explored the key differences between ale and lager. To get warmed up, the 40 participants first sampled Helles Lager, a 4.1% gluten-free beer from local brewery Triple Point.

Then we moved onto the main event, the first commercially-produced beer that has included ingredients grown in our garden, Growers’ Union. This unfined, unfiltered, bottle-conditioned beer is a hybrid of styles. The nose and taste are malty, but it includes notes of apple, biscuit, caramel, dates, dried fruit, honey and toffee. An excellent use of locally grown wheat, we all agreed, with a label designed by local grower Rachael McNiven.

Throughout the evening, Sam expertly responded to a series of questions as we progressed to the final beer of the evening, Grizzly Grains’ Tilt Hammer, a 4.9% stout.

Grizzly Grains started brewing in 2020 at the owner’s home in Walkley. In March 2021, they moved to an industrial unit close to Bramall Lane, the location from which Sam led the beer tasting event. The original brewing kit came from Crosspool Ale Makers. When Crosspool became a cuckoo brewer in the unit, regularly sharing the set up with Grizzly Grains, Sam purchased the brewery’s newer plant. Originally operations manager at Heeley City Farm, he splits his time between the brewery and the farm’s honey operation, and the unit is headquarters for both. The brewery name came from his young daughter.

In the autumn, a kilo of the remaining harvest was used as the seed for the second sowing of the Sheffield Wheat Experiment and the rest became flour. As the experiment enters its second year, I look forward to seeing some of our wheat, now about 20 cm tall, becoming part of the 2022 edition of Growers' Union – a beer which is likely to reference Belgium, in a style which allows the wheat to dominate.

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