Real ale in Sheffield is surging in popularity like the frothy head of overzealously poured pint.
Granted, the upward trend for well-made, characterful ales is echoed elsewhere in the country, but in a one of the biggest cities in Yorkshire – a county which itself is obsessed with brewing – it is even more acutely seen.
In late Victorian times, Sheffield was home to around 30 breweries (more than any other town in Britain except Burton on Trent), including the likes of Stones at Cannon Brewery, Gilmour’s at Lady’s Bridge and Tennant Brothers at Exchange Brewery. The last of the big breweries closed in the 1990s, but a malty aroma has since gradually returned to the some of the city's streets.
Across the city, more and more good quality real ale pubs are opening or being revitalised in an attempt to slake the Steel City’s collective thirst. And at the heart of any good pub is excellent beer. Here's our rundown of some of the best small, independent breweries in Sheffield. Some you may have heard of; others you're yet to discover.
Kelham Island Brewery
Where else to start to but in the so-called Valley of Beer that spans Kelham Island, Shalesmoor and Neepsend, where alongside some of the city's – or indeed the world's – finest pubs (find out more in our Sheffield Ale Trail), a handful of excellent independent breweries have been doing their thing for years. Since opening in 1990, Kelham Island Brewery has become one of Sheffield’s most successful exports. Easy Rider and Pale Rider never let you down, while there are regular seasonal ales on offer.
Where to drink: The Fat Cat, right next door to the brewery on Alma Street.
Producer of perhaps the best pale ale in Sheffield: the gloriously moreish Moonshine. Abbeydale celebrated its 20th birthday in 2016 and since starting out has gradually grown in popularity and stature, now making up to 160 barrels per week of up to nine different ales.
Where to drink: The Devonshire Cat
Sheffield Brewery Company
Another from the Valley of Beer, Sheffield Brewery Company is based in Albyn Works and holds lively tours, allowing visitors to see the process of ale-making and to sample some of the beers. Sheffield University alumni of a certain age may recognise the bar, which used to live in Ranmoor hall of residence.
Where to drink: no better place than the brewery tap, the glorious Gardeners Rest, or at the brewery itself when it opens on the first Friday and Saturday of the month (to coincide with Peddler)
Up the road from Sheffield Brewery Company, Stancill was set up by a former brewer of the much-loved Barnsley Bitter – an ale which has been revived under the Stancill banner. Like many before them, Stancill's founders set up in Sheffield to take advantage of the excellent water here, and it’s one of the reasons their beer is so good.
Where to drink: The Beer House
It’s not uncommon to hear people eulogising about Belgian Blue or Farmer’s Blonde at a bar and it’s easy to see why. Situated in the village of the same name, on the edge of the Peaks, Bradfield does numerous seasonal ales, including a caffe mocha bitter for winter.
Where to drink: The Porter Cottage
True North Brew Co.
A brewery established by the same team behind the Forum on Devonshire Street, this relative newcomer to the ale scene is found across Sheffield in the venues's much-loved family of pubs and bars. Most of True North's popular beers are named after local rivers, so you’ll find Loxley Pale, Don IPA and Sheaf Blonde. If gin's more your thing, they also make Sheffield Dry Gin – the first gin to be distilled and bottled in the city in over a century.
Exit 33 Brewing
Is Exit 33 named after the South Yorkshire motorway junction of the same name? If so, is it the only brewery to be named after a motorway junction? Either way, its beers are well worth a try. In fact, you may well have tried some without knowing it, owing to its previous incarnation as The Brew Company. The beer is served unfiltered and unpasteurised, with regular ales as well as the odd surprise.
Where to drink: the brewery tap is The Harlequin
Blue Bee Brewery
A core trio of beers make up the foundations of Blue Bee: Reet Pale, Hillfoot Best Bitter and Tempest Stout. There are also regular specials, often with fantastic names like Jarrylo IPA, Revenge of the Geek and Kikorangi Red.
Where to drink: The Rutland Arms, The Three Tuns
Just like many successful breweries before it, Neepsend is the result of three people’s shared loved of beer. Launched in 2015, and brewing in ten barrels from a location near the Ball Street Bridge close to Kelham Island, the brewery offers a core range of pale ale, IPA, stout and a blonde.
Where to drink: The Wellington, The Sheaf View
Master brewer Alex Barlow has been tempting people to an otherwise relatively quiet corner of the city centre since opening his brewery-bar on Shoreham Street in 2016. All core Sentinel beers travel just a couple of metres from the huge tanks to the taps.
Where to drink: the brewery itself!
Steel City Brewing
Steel City is a cuckoo brewery – borrowing brewing equipment from other makers in the city to make its own ales. Each beer is unique, with no recipe being repeated. This makes for an interesting and somewhat unexpected real ale journey. Thankfully, each beer has a 'worksplate' which outlines its strength and bitterness rating.
Where to Drink: Shakespeare’s
Tapped Brew Co.
If you time a visit to the Tap right, your nostrils will be met by the aroma of brewing beer as soon as you enter the back room. Inside huge copper vats, Tapped beers froth and ferment away. The brewery has a six-strong core line-up, including Miami Weisse (American wheat beer), Liberty (treacle stout), and Bullet (IPA).
Where to drink: Sheffield Tap
Tool Makers Brewery
Boasting a white rose as its pump clip and with a name like Tool Makers, this brewery is as Sheffield as they come. The beers follow the tool theme too, with names like Ripsaw, Pin Hammer and Crank It Up.
Where to Drink: The Forest
Fuggle Bunny Brew House
And the winner of the brewery with the best name in Sheffield goes to... A stone’s throw from Rother Valley Country Park, Fuggle Bunny makes a range of ales, from pale ale Cotton Tail to amber session ale Oh Crumbs.
Where to drink: Tap and Tankard in the city centre. Or if you're in Halfway, pop pop along to the on-site tap on Station Road, S20 (open Fridays).
- Words by
- Will Roberts
- Images by
- Nigel Barker