That is the situation the team behind Neepsend Brewery found themselves in when coronavirus restrictions led to the pubs closing their doors in March last year, ahead of the first national lockdown.
The brewery moved from just off the bridge on Ball Street to another Neepsend site in Burton Road over the first two months of 2020.
Neepsend Head Brewer Gavin Martin said the brewery had just got themselves set up to brew from the new site when the pandemic began to take hold.
“We just wanted to get stuck in, and to get started again, because it had been a very complicated process to move the brewery; and we had brewed once when the pubs were being shut. It wasn’t ideal,” said Gavin.
At this point, the majority of Neepsend’s trade came from cask and keg beer brewed for the family of pubs run by Neepsend co-owner James Birkett including The Sheaf View in Heeley; The Blake Hotel in Upperthorpe and The Wellington in Shalesmoor as well as a number of independent hostelries in Sheffield and further afield.
Gavin explained: “Because we just supplied pubs, we had to shut down totally.”
Like many breweries and pubs, lockdown meant Neepsend either had to diversify or close for the forseeable and face an uncertain future.
Thankfully, they chose the former, and set about beginning to can their brews for the first time.
“Bringing out small cans is something we’d always thought about doing, but it wasn’t a priority because we were always busy enough achieving the demand by just supplying pubs. But obviously, if anything was going to force us to make the change it was this last year,” the 33-year-old said.
Gavin says that Neepsend were able to rely on Sheffield’s ever-growing network of independent bottle shops to stock their canned beer.
“It’s kept the brewery going, but we’re not producing anything like the quantities we were for cask and keg,” he said, adding that the move to can production has also opened Neepsend up to a different section of the beer market.
Brewing for cans instead of for cask and keg beer has given Gavin the chance to try his hand at more adventurous flavours and styles, some of which have a much higher ABV (alcohol by volume) than the standard Neepsend offering.
“I love cask beer, it’s fantastic, but there are some things you just aren’t able to do because cask beer needs to sell quickly. And so they generally need to have a lower ABV, like you get with IPAs (India Pale Ales) and pale ales, which there is massive demand for on cask,” said Gavin.
He added: “Sours aren’t really set up for cask. There aren’t many pubs that are going to be able to be able to sell nine gallons of a sour beer quick enough.”
Among the new, and more experimental, beers brought out by Neepsend for can include a rich and tasty 9% Tonka, vanilla and chocolate stout called Gogmagog as well as a 5% lovely strawberry and rhubarb sour called Tallien and a 8% golden American IPA called Iktopi.
Neepsend are preparing to turn their attention back to cask beer as pubs reopen and edge towards inviting customers back inside, but they will continue to brew cans, too, now that they have invested in the equipment.
The brewery was established by Gavin and James in 2015, and Gavin says it was borne out of an opportunity that presented itself.
He was working at The Sheaf at the time, and prior to that, did not have any commercial brewing experience.
“I’d done home brewing before, and was an enthusiastic amateur. I’ve learned a lot on the job and have done courses as well.
“I think it’s quite common with smaller breweries to have people almost fall into it. Like it did for us, often the opportunity comes first and then you learn as you go along,” he said.
“We just wanted to brew good beer, there weren’t any huge concerted ambitions. It’s grown and evolved from there.”
Neepsend is probably best known for its 4% Cascade Blonde beer, and the brewery also intends to bring out some new cask beers as the city’s pubs prepare to reopen.
Gavin says he is happy to be part of Sheffield’s rich brewing heritage, adding that there is a real and genuine comeraderie among all those working in the city’s breweries and pubs.
“Although we’re technically competitors, everyone finds their niche in the market, and the community is very mutually supportive. The enemy isn’t the small, independent breweries, it’s the macro lagers and the chains.
“What’s good for any one of the independent breweries is good for all of us,” said Gavin, adding: “Sheffield’s always been a city that has particularly good cask beer and the scene is contiunuing to change.
He added: “You can see that if you look at the growth of the number of breweries. There are 26 now, and all but a handful – such as Abbeydale and Kelham Island Brewery – have started in the last 10 years.”
And among Gavin’s favourite of those 26 Sheffield breweries are St Mars of the Desert, who he says produce some “exceptional” beers; Blue Bee who “have been making fantastic cask beer for a long time”; Triple Point and he has also picked Lost Industry for their “fantastic sour beers.”