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A Short History of Sunfest

A Short History of Sunfest

This weekend should have seen us hosting Sunfest up at our very own pub, The Rising Sun. With lockdown restrictions having been in place over the past 16 months, and the pub closed for much of this time, sadly for the second year in a row it hasn’t been possible to run an event which delivers what we want it to, and what you’ve come to expect from our annual beer festival – but we thought we’d spend some time reminiscing over Sunfests gone by, and start to look forward to those still to come!

This past couple of months would have been an absolute hive of festival fuelled activity, with hours and hours of work going in behind the scenes. Picking the beers of course is one of most time consuming but most rewarding jobs – we’ve always had an emphasis on seeking out new beers and often even new breweries! As you will see below, the beer selection has grown over the life of the festival, but we started as we meant to go on with over 60 beers on for the very first event back in 2007. Once the beers are picked, the next big project has to start – the programme! Our festival bible and a real labour of love. As the festival gets closer, the whole Abbeydale team from the brewery and the pub pitch in to get everything ready, culminating in set up day at the start of the festival week. We learn a new lesson every year (and then desperately try to remember what it was by the time the next year comes around). A mammoth task fuelled by a round of bacon butties and the occasional shower in a lively beer!

And finally, it’s time for that first half pint in a festival tankard – personally, I always kick off my Sunfest with the annual charity beer. Supporting local charities is something we’ve always done, creating a special beer raising funds as well as partnering with charities over the festival weekend (the festival and associated charity beers combined have raised over £20,000 for local charities over the years) – we’ve tried to include links to charities below so please support them if you are able. Edale Mountain Rescue was the first of these in 2007, and we brewed the original version of Salvation for them. A far cry from the stouts that feature under this series today, this was a 4.3% hoppy pale ale. It was the first beer to sell out in the beer tent, very much setting a trend for the charity beer over the years. A total of 63 beers were featured at the first Sunfest, including 12 of our own beers – the very first time this many Abbeydale beers had featured together! (And 2007 seems a bit longer ago when you consider that at the time the beer prices ranged from £1.00 to £1.50 per half!) It was a rainy weekend (the year of the Sheffield floods), but the start of something very special.

The very first Sunfest ready to serve pint number one!

The second Sunfest saw us support Sheffield Hospitals Charitable Trust, at the suggestion of Rising Sun regular Roger, who subsequently became a voluntary salesman for us, telling pubs around Derbyshire about his beer “Pain in the Arch”. The beer list was notable for a high number of beers from the Cotswolds, thanks to our driver Dave taking a busman’s holiday to source and collect them… it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it!

2009 is the only year I can’t find a programme for, but I’m reliably informed that we supported the Shepherd Wheel Restoration Fund this year as we’ve got a mention on their plaque!  

By year four the beer selection had reached 100 and we were treated to a particularly sunny weekend. We worked alongside Rain Rescue this year (who have kept us all entertained with their annual dog show ever since) to come up with one of my favourite beer names for our charity beer, “Waggin’ t’Ale”.

Another long standing relationship was solidified in 2011 as Whirlow Hall Farm Trust helped us create Dr Morton’s Cow Polish, as well as keeping our bellies full with their amazing BBQ and hog roast, which is always a treat at the festival each year. Our Dan missed the hectic week before the festival despite having sourced the beers due to a pre-booked family holiday… we let him off once we found out that on this holiday he proposed to his now wife, Lucy!

A revolutionary moment occurred in 2012, as for the first time we had keg beer on offer!  The programme here begins: “It is over six years since Pat said to Rob [then GM of the Rising Sun] at the bar one Friday evening “I think we should have our own beer festival.” “Yes,” agreed Rob complacently, “we could easily put twenty beers on”. “Actually,” said Pat, “I had something rather bigger in mind…”

By 2013 we’d upped the keg offering to 6 lines, including an Abbeydale one for the very first time! The beer in question was Ascension, 6.0%, a one-off which was specially dry-hopped for the occasion and came with the disclaimer in the programme, “no, we are not doing keg!” – how times do change, as by 2014’s festival we were onto a beer made for keg ON PURPOSE (just the one, mind you), the beer in question this time being Pale Ale #3. The hardcore Abbeydale fans amongst you may be aware that these this series is what led onto the development of Heathen, our first “core” keg beer, originally known as Pale Ale #7.

2015’s Sunfest was our first opportunity to show off the newly (nearly) refurbished Rising Sun – you might remember there being lots of signs of workmen being busy, as work recommenced on the Monday morning following the festival, meaning getting takedown done efficiently was more important than ever before! We partnered with the James Brownhill Memorial Fund this year (and again in 2019). Ethna from the sales team curated the beer list this year, which meant that we had plenty of her favourite stouts on (including a keg of our very own Midnight Special Porter) – and very delicious they were too!

And just like that, the festival was 10, as we hosted Sunfest X in 2016. This coincided with the brewery’s 20th birthday, so a double cause for celebration. “Not Just Jam” with Seven Hills Women’s Institute was our charity beer this year, raising funds for Light Sheffield. We included plenty of beers brewed by women this year too! The keg list had by this point increased to 20 – including the first outing of Heathen as one of our official core beers, at the forefront of our Brewers Emporium range.

2017 was my third Sunfest as part of Team Abbeydale and I was put in charge of curating the beer list. I decided we needed to show off a bit more, it is our festival after all! So this was the first time we filled an entire bay of racking with our own beers, including a number of event exclusives brewed especially for the festival. Our charity partners this year were Cavendish Cancer Care who we’ve worked with many times over the years (in fact, a few of us are running Sheffield Half Marathon for them this September, so this seems like a good opportunity to give our fundraising page a cheeky mention!). Landlord Garry joined the pub team in time for the 2018 festival (at which we supported local children’s hospice Bluebell Wood), and by 2019 we had our very own lager, with Sunfest giving us the perfect opportunity for a big Heresy launch party! The festival exclusive pilot recipes continued over these most recent years, with everything from table beers to DIPAs to dandelion and burdock doppelbocks being trialled, helping to inspire full scale brews along the way (or not, as the case may have been…!). And although the balance shifted a little, dropping the cask a little to a choice of 72, we upped the keg accordingly meaning that over 100 beers have continued to be on offer each year – one of the largest selections in the city.

And that little whistlestop tour through the years brings us to 2020 and 2021, where Sunfest has taken a hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. All that’s left to say is a huge thank you to everyone who’s been involved over the years (particularly, a shout out to Rotherham CAMRA who take over the bar for us on the Saturday!), and please be assured that we’ll be back as soon as we can. We reckon Sunfest 2022 will be the very best yet.

Please share your memories in the comments below!



  • About Us

    A true Sheffield institution founded in 1996 and based in the heart of the Antiques Quarter, Abbeydale Brewery blends heritage and tradition with creativity and innovation.

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  • Contact Us

    Abbeydale Brewery Ltd
    Unit 8, Aizlewood Road
    S8 0YX
    Telephone: 0114 281 2712
    Email: [email protected]


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