Sheffield is real ale capital of the world, according to new report

  • Sheffield city region can also claim the title of birthplace of the UK craft beer revolution
  • Report finds Sheffield has one brewery for every 23,991 people – 4.7 times more brewers per capita than Greater London
  • On a typical day there are 400 different unique beers available in the city’s pubs
  • The city region’s breweries turn out over 1,000 different beers each year
  • Sheffield is now urged to shout about its beer brilliance
  • City should also consider investing in a joint bottling and canning facility, helping Sheffield’s beers reach a wider audience outside the city region

Sheffield is the real ale capital of the world1 - and can also stake a claim to being the birthplace of the UK craft beer revolution2 - according to a new report commissioned by the University of Sheffield.

A snapshot of the beer industry in the Sheffield City Region (PDF, 3MB), written by internationally recognised beer writer Pete Brown, found that the Sheffield City Region3 has a booming beer trade of 57 breweries, 31 of which have opened in the last five years alone.

Beer pumpsForty per cent (23) are within the city of Sheffield itself which the report says: ‘makes Sheffield a significant brewing city by any measure’.

The study found the city of Sheffield has one brewery for every 23,991 people and the Sheffield City Region has one brewery for every 32,142 people. Compared to Greater London (one brewery for every 112,355), Sheffield has 4.7 times as many breweries per capita as the UK’s capital city.

What’s more, while growth has peaked in other cities, the number of breweries opening their doors in Sheffield is accelerating and could soon surpass its mid-19th Century peak.

The report also commented on the wide array of beers available, with every Sheffield brewer brewing an average of five beers on a permanent basis and around 11 seasonal, occasional or one-off beers every year. This means 1,000 different beers are produced by Sheffield’s brewers every year.

“With such a dynamic brewing sector, in the middle of a global boom in interest in well-made, flavourful beer, we should expect Sheffield to have a national or even international reputation as a premier beer city,” says the report. “And yet it doesn’t.”

Sheffield has always had a proud history of beer. Small but numerous breweries formed during the industrial revolution, providing refreshment to men in factories, forges and furnaces.

It’s the city’s turn to shout about our beer credentials and put Sheffield on the map as a destination for beer-lovers to rival Bruges and Munich.

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of City and Cultural Engagement at the University of Sheffield

The report, which is based on data and interviews with brewers, publicans, retailers and others close to the beer scene in Sheffield, calls on the city to promote its beer and pub scene and compete for the title of the world’s greatest beer city.

“Sheffield having pioneered the beer revolution now taking place across Britain – is in danger of being eclipsed in other cities, especially in the realm of craft beer,” says the report’s author, Pete Brown.

The report said there was a ‘significant gap’ between the reality of how strong and vibrant the beer scene is in Sheffield, and the perception and promotion of it.

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of City and Cultural Engagement at the University of Sheffield, said: “Sheffield has always been a city of makers - and it’s no surprise that this extends to beer too. It's great that we love our beer so much, but most of it stays in the city region, so people outside Sheffield don’t get to hear about it. A joint investment in a canning and bottling facility, as the report recommends, would bring Sheffield beer to a much wider audience.”

Beer tourism is big business and already contributes significantly to Sheffield’s economy. According to Andy Cullen, Chairman of Sheffield & District CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), beer tourists visiting the city’s pubs and festivals already generate more income to the region than the annual two-week World Snooker Championships at the Crucible Theatre.

The revival of brewing in Sheffield pre-dated the current craft beer boom – in many ways Sheffield was the pre-cursor to a national trend.

Report: A snapshot of the beer industry in the Sheffield City Region

The report points out that most of Sheffield’s brewers operate on a small scale - much like the ‘Little Mesters’ craftsmen of old. Joint investment in both physical facilities and a dedicated online resource, linked to from any Sheffield tourism site, would allow brewers to sell further afield and help to build Sheffield’s reputation as a beer city.

“Look at Munich, Bruges, Portland, London, and you’ll see that Sheffield has at least as much right as any of them to compete for the title of the world’s greatest beer city,” says the report.

“The benefits of doing so to Sheffield’s hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, pubs and cafés, not to mention the city’s image more generally, would be significant indeed.”

Professor Toulmin added: “Beer and pubs are the cultural glue that holds the city together - supporting the arts and communities to thrive by hosting events in back rooms and creating special festival ales. It’s the city’s turn to shout about our beer credentials and put Sheffield on the map as a destination for beer-lovers to rival Bruges and Munich.”

Notes about the report

1The report notes that Britain is the only country in which cask or real ale is a significant beer institution, and by being found to be the real ale capital of the UK, Sheffield is therefore the real ale capital of the world.

2Thornbridge began brewing what is now known as ‘craft’ beer as early as 2005. Two years later its head brewer, Martin Dickie, left to start BrewDog, the Scottish brewery commonly thought of as the originators of the UK craft revolution.

3The Sheffield City Region takes in South Yorkshire, Bassetlaw, Bolsover, Chesterfield, Derbyshire Dales and NE Derbyshire.

Breakdown of breweries
Barnsley 5
Bassetlaw 6
Bolsover 1
Chesterfield 3
Derbyshire Dales 5
Doncaster 3
NE Derbyshire 8
Rotherham 2
Sheffield 23

The report is the final publication of a three-part series commissioned to highlight Sheffield’s huge wealth of creative talent. The reports cover music, art and the beer industry, all of which cross over and link creatively between each distinct sector.

Download all reports

Craft beer

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.
Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2016 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.
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