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

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

A member of staff working behind the bar of a pub

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 Region has a booming beer trade of 57 breweries, 31 of which have opened in the last five years alone.

Within Sheffield, around 400 different, unique beers are available in the city's pubs on a typical day.

Forty 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

“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 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

The 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.

Thornbridge 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.

The 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.

A snapshot of the beer industry in the Sheffield City Region (PDF, 3MB)

A global reputation

Sheffield is a research university with a global reputation for excellence. We're a member of the Russell Group: one of the 24 leading UK universities for research and teaching.