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How do things look for Sheffield's breweries and pubs?

The Sheffield Brewery Company and Kelham Island Brewery have closed but Sheffield has more pubs. What does this mean for the city's beer scene?

A pint of beer outside Kelham Island Brewery mid-construction

Kelham Island Brewery under construction in May 1990.

Dave Pickersgill

Last November, in this publication, I asked, ‘with successive lockdowns and the impact of Brexit taking their toll, what does the near future look like for local pubs and breweries?’

Over the pandemic, pubs were treated unfairly and suffered badly. During one lockdown, they were banned from selling beer in sealed containers while supermarkets and off licences could sell alcohol to take away. Small breweries were also badly hit: their primary market was unavailable and they have since suffered price rises for both energy and, increasingly difficult-to-source raw materials. Many experienced staff have also left the industry, changing their career path.

In addition, rising inflation is creating customers with less ready cash; visits to the pub becomes both less frequent and shorter. This effect can easily be seen as pubs reduce their opening hours: many Sheffield city centre pubs that used to open at 12:00 are now opening later, particularly early in the week, and 16:00 is not uncommon. In more rural areas, many pubs remain closed in the afternoon and are often closed before 22:00. The cumulative effect has led to much tighter margins for our local pubs, bottle shops and small innovative breweries.

Beer barrels outside Kelham Island Brewery

Kelham Island Brewery in 2022.

Dave Pickersgill

Locally, the Sheffield Brewery Company was mothballed before Christmas while, more recently, Kelham Island, the oldest brewery in Sheffield, announced voluntary liquidation. Launched in 1990 by the late Dave Wickett in an outbuilding at the Fat Cat, it was the first new independent brewery in Sheffield for over 50 years. A move to a larger, adjacent site in 1999 saw Pale Rider (5.2. per cent) become the 2004 CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain. It remains the only South Yorkshire brewery to have a beer in the top three of this competition.

Looking to the future, despite considerable diversification, the number of UK breweries is falling. There are almost 2,000 listed in the 2021 CAMRA Good Beer Guide. There will be many fewer in the 2023 edition. For some pubs, summer 2021 will have been their final hurrah before inevitable closure. Multinational property companies will make their purchases and many will never reopen.

However, recently produced CAMRA figures state that Yorkshire and the Humberside saw a net increase of 36 pubs in the six months, July/December 2021 (8 permanent closures, 41 buildings converted into pub use and 3 new builds). The previous six months saw no net change (21 permanent closures, 20 conversions and one new build). This suggests that the number of pub closures is falling and that there is an increase in the number of independent, often smaller venues such as brewery taps and micro pubs. In addition, there is also the occasional welcome return. The White Hart (Oughtibridge), originally opened in 1825, closed in 2012 and was converted to a bridal shop. It has recently reopened as a Public House.

The future is unwritten. Suffice to say, this time next year, there will be fewer breweries and the number, mix, management and location of our pubs will see major changes.

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