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Sheffield's Heritage Pubs in 2021

With successive lockdowns and the impact of Brexit taking their toll, what does the near future look like for local heritage pubs and breweries?

Sheffield Brewery 13 03 2020 1 web

The bar at Sheffield Brewery Company.

Dave Pickersgill

Four years ago, the first edition of Sheffield’s Real Heritage Pubs was published. It featured 65 pubs. Six are now closed, a proportion which is representative of the wider picture across the industry.

Over the last 18 months, pubs have been treated unfairly and have suffered badly as a result. During the last lockdown, they were banned from selling beer in sealed containers while supermarkets and off licences could sell alcohol to take away. Such sales were a lifeline in previous lockdowns, offering an opportunity to keep the doors open, continue employing people and welcome customers safely.

Many experienced staff have changed career path during the pandemic, leaving pubs and small breweries with a major problem. Changes in cross-border regulations have also resulted in European beer suppliers raising shipping costs or ceasing UK delivery altogether. The price of niche imported beers has risen and choice has also suffered. European barley and hops are both more expensive and harder to source. The cumulative effect has led to much tighter margins for pubs, bottle shops and small innovative breweries.

Most small brewers have diversified in response, but rising costs, coupled with the effects of the pandemic, are causing breweries to fold. There are almost 2,000 listed in the 2021 CAMRA Good Beer Guide. There will certainly be fewer in the 2023 edition.

Locally, the Sheffield Brewery Company, whose 4% American pale ale Get Thissen Outdoorz was runner-up in the last Champion Beer of Sheffield Award, recently announced that "due to Covid we have had to take the very difficult decision to suspend brewing for the next 12 months whilst we look at options for remodelling." In the interim, their bar will remain open.

Sheffields Real Heritage Pubs4th Edition
Sheffield CAMRA

The recent budget introduced the welcome principle that beer, cider and perry served in a pub or social club should be taxed at a lower rate to alcohol bought in supermarkets. But the minimum 40 litre container rule favours large multinationals, excluding beers from small breweries, many in Sheffield, that are available in smaller casks and kegs. A 20 litre limit would be far more equitable.

Looking to the future, the number of UK breweries could fall by between 10 and 20%. 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. One possible upside is an increase in the number of independent, often smaller venues - brewery taps, micro pubs and their ilk. Locally, The Bear, Heist Brew Co, Pangolin and Two Rivers are just a few, of many, examples.

As for heritage, the fourth edition of the Sheffield’s Real Heritage Pubs book is now available. How many of the 73 entries will be open this time next year? Currently two are closed: the Silver Fox and the Ship Inn. As Paul Ainsworth, Chair of the National CAMRA Pub Heritage group, put it: "This publication portrays the rich tapestry of Sheffield's pubs: from the nationally important to those where what remains, even if fragmented, should be cherished.

"A bonus, of course, is that many of these pubs sell great real ale."

Learn more

Dave Pickersgill is editor of Sheffield’s Real Heritage Pubs, which is available for free download via the Sheffield CAMRA website. Paper copies are in sale at many local outlets, £6.99 RRP.

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