Sheffield Beer and Cider Festival 2017

I love autumn. It seems at this time of year, there’s a large number of beer festivals taking place nearby. In fact, since the beginning of September, I’ve been to nine! I’ve written a couple of posts already about York CAMRA and Craft Beer Calling. This time, it’s the turn of Sheffield Beer and Cider Festival, organised by Sheffield CAMRA.

Industrial Heritage

This event was the 43rd of its kind in the Steel City. Quite an incredible run, and hard to believe that this was my first visit. This year, it was hosted at Kelham Island Museum. The museum is a pretty spectacular location and the festival is spread around to give you opportunity to explore. When the museum isn’t a beer festival, it is home to the story of Sheffield’s rich industry heritage. Near the temporary gazebos that mark the festival entry, there is a giant Bessemer Convertor, once used in the steel making process.

Outdoor marquee of beer

The first place I explored was outside, where a large marquee had been setup to house some of 250+ beers that were available. This was also where you could buy festival tokens. Sheffield offered a new experience for me here. I’m used to the bingo card system, or the simple £1/£2 per token system. Here, they replaced cash with tokens of all denominations, from £2 down to 10p. I do understand why some festivals choose not to operate cash bars, but I did feel here if they’d gone to all this trouble with this token system, they may as well have just used cash! Not to worry though, it was still a straight forward way to buy beer.

As well as beer, also in the outdoor marquee was cider and an old-fashioned pub games area (funnily enough called ‘Mike’s’). What was great to see was a range of soft drinks available too. These were in an obvious place that couldn’t be missed; thinking of the designated drivers, non-drinkers, or those who may have had too much beer!

Apparently, I host pub games as well as beer writing!

The beer list was impressive. A real mixture of styles, with traditional and modern beers. Because of the way the token system worked here, beer pricing was a bit more granular and complex than other festivals. I think, however, it worked out roughly around £3 a pint.

Dirty, Dirty Keg

Moving away from the marquee and into the industrial buildings opened a bigger world of beer. As you journeyed towards the upper hall, a small popular room on the way was hosting keg beer. Great to see keg, but as I’ve said before it would be nice not to have it segregated away from the cask beer. In here were the likes of Brew By Numbers, Verdant, Kernel and Thornbridge. By the time we got there for the Friday session, some beers had already sold out on this bar. It goes to show how popular keg beer is currently.

Challenging traditional thinking

The Upper Hall itself is an impressively sized hall. My friend told me that usually it houses an exhibition of vehicles, which are temporarily re-homed whilst the festival is on. Here, you found most of the cask beer, more cider, food, a stage for entertainment and a decent seating area. To be honest, once I got to this hall, I didn’t move very far again for a while!

Amongst the breweries represented in the hall were Magic Rock, Brew York, Five Points and the very local Kelham Island brewery, amongst many, many others!

Generally, the beers were in decent condition and tasty. Of course, personally, there were some stand outs, so here are my top three I’d recommend you look out for:

Crafty Devil Brewing – Mikey Rayer All Dayer (4.2% ABV)

Unfortunately, I missed out on this during my recent trip to Cardiff, so I made sure to seek it out at the festival. I wasn’t disappointed, an American Pale Ale, I believe brewed with mosaic hops. It was fresh and really tasty, think tropical and citrus fruits. This actually won beer of the festival here a few years ago, a worthy title!

Blue Bee – Tia Maria Coffee Milk Stout (5.7% ABV)

Blue Bee’s Ginger Beer was awarded a top three best beer of the festival this year, but for me this one was better. It tasted exactly as its name said it would. Incredibly smooth and flavoursome.

Neepsend – Salted Caramel Stout (4.9% ABV)

It was a day of super tasty dark beers. This was smooth, had a tasty caramel and dark malts flavour, with a light saltiness that rounded it off really well.

The upper hall

Support Your Local Beer Festival

Just a quick note on the website. I don’t think web design is a common skill within CAMRA branches. So, whether Sheffield CAMRA have got lucky, or they paid someone, I’m not sure. However, their beer festival website is the best I’ve seen for a local CAMRA branch beer festival. Graphically it looks great and the rich features available on the beer list is a highlight. As is the 2D/3D image of the museum map at the bottom of the page. When you’re used to published Excel lists, this is a real eye opener for the art of the possible when it comes to beer festival websites! The site is still available, check it out.

The Beer House sounds interesting!

One sad thing, though, was a conversation I overheard whilst propping up the bar in the Upper Hall. “Numbers aren’t great this year” I heard one volunteer say, meaning that customers aren’t coming through the door. I’m not sure if this was the case by the end of the event, but as someone who visits lots of festivals and who volunteers himself, this would align with a worrying trend of customer reduction at local CAMRA festivals. For me, this is a real shame, as I think this festival put on a great show in a fantastic location. I’d love to have a venue like this in Leeds, that would be willing to host a beer festival.

Despite that one area of concern though, this beer festival was a good one. Sheffield has a great reputation as a beer city, and this event plays a significant part to that. Assuming it is back and in the same location next year, I really would urge you to visit for yourself.

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