Sheffield alumni brewing up success

Thomas behind the bar at the Closed ShopTwo Sheffield alumni who have turned their passion for ale into a career have now also saved a well-loved pub, just up the road from the University.

In March 2017 popular student pub The Closed Shop, located in Commonside, Crookesmore, announced it was closing its doors after its previous owners ceased trading. After a spirited display by the local community and pub regulars, the pub was granted a temporary reprieve and stayed open. Then in August, Sheffield graduates Thomas Gill (BSc Economics 2010, MSc Economics 2012) and Dr Adam Hague (MB ChB Medicine 2013), along with their brewery stepped in to save the pub they had spent many of their student days frequenting.

In 2013 Thomas and Adam set up the Stancill Brewery after hearing that the Oakwell Brewery of Barnsley was shutting down. Not wanting to see the 150-year-old Barnsley Bitter the brewery was famous for stop flowing, the duo hatched a plan to dismantle the old brewery, move it down the road to Sheffield, and set up their own brewery here to ensure its continuation. And that is exactly what they did.

Since then Stancill has gone from strength to strength and has been continuing to grow and expand within Sheffield. We spoke to Thomas about beer in Sheffield, and his experience starting up a brewery.

Thomas outside the recently saved Closed ShopYou originally set up Stancill after hearing about the closure of the Oakwell Brewery, but had you thought about setting up a brewery before or was this a spur of the moment idea?

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be running a brewery straight after leaving university! I was studying in my final year and had made some tentative plans to continue them. When I was at university I quite liked the idea of pursuing a career within academia, but the chance discovery that Oakwell brewery was going to close took my career down a very different path.

My business partner and fellow Sheffield University student Adam and I both drank Oakwell beers from the minute we could set foot in a pub. There was always something special about the way the beer tasted and of course not forgetting the long heritage associated with the brewery. I felt it would be a very sad day for South Yorkshire if the original Barnsley Bitter recipe which has been loved across Yorkshire since the 1850s was consigned to the history books.

I decided to contact the brewery to find out what plans they had for the equipment; at the time the site had been sold so we didn’t have long to act. Although the decision to try and step in was very much a spur of the moment decision, we spent a lot of time planning and preparing our business plans so that we could secure the funds needed. After all this was in place, we had just four weeks to find new premises, remove the equipment, officially register the business and get the equipment approved to allow us to brew!

Sheffield has been called the real ale capital of the world, and a number of Sheffield alumni are involved in the beer industry - what do you think makes Sheffield so special for beer?

One of the reasons why Sheffield is so popular with brewers is the water which comes from the Peak District. Peak District water is very soft which makes it ideal for brewing as it can be used without adding any additives. In harder water areas the water has to be treated using a process called ‘Burtonising’ before a single hop can be added.

It’s easy to forget that Sheffield was once home to some the largest and best known breweries in the UK: Whitbread, Stones, Bass and Wards were all produced in the city, and of course not forgetting that it was also the first place in Britain where Carling was brewed. From its heyday in the 1960s, by the 1990s the entire industry had collapsed.

The resurgence of the real ale market in Sheffield is fantastic for the city and its reputation as the real ale capital is well deserved.

The Closed Shop is obviously a very special pub for you - what was your reaction when you heard it was going to close?

Adam lived very close to The Closed Shop and it very quickly became our local pub of choice when we were students living in Sheffield. I liked the intimate atmosphere in the pub and spent quite a lot of time outside of lectures perfecting my cue skills on the pool table.

It was a true community pub where both local residents and students were made to feel equally welcome, often resulting in some great banter, particularly on quiz nights!

I was saddened when I heard that the pub was going to close its doors, but we felt that we were well placed to step in and mount a rescue bid.

The negotiations were quite lengthy and complex, which went right up to the day we were due to exchange contracts, but we’ve signed a lease for twenty years, which means that we’ve been able to give the pub a long term future.

What are your future plans for the pub and the brewery?

We’re currently investing in the kitchen of The Closed Shop and so a new food menu will be coming soon. We’re also planning to give the pub a refurbishment at the beginning of 2018 to help re-create the community atmosphere that we enjoyed so much when we were students and the famous Closed Shop Quiz is returning very soon!

At the brewery we have recently invested in some new conditioning tanks which have allowed us to increase the number of brews we can produce each week. We’re planning to continue to invest in developing new beers and help more people to enjoy Stancill beers. Over the past few years, we’ve also invested in the development of a new pubs division and I’d like to see us expand our pubs division further in the future.

A report by the University of Sheffield in 2016 named Sheffield the 'real ale capital of the world'. You can view the full report, and others in the same series, here:

Sheffield Beer Report

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