Golden era for microbreweries


Craft beers and ciders are enjoying a golden new era as microbreweries and other small-scale producers tap into the tastes of drinkers who like to support authentic local enterprises and try zingy flavours.

Head to almost any supermarket and the chances are there will be at least two craft beers on the shelves. It isn’t that surprising when you realise there are more beers being produced in Britain now than 70 years ago.

The surge in the number of microbreweries across Britain – from 500 at the turn of the century to more than 1,500 today – has played a significant part in this, as has the government offering subsidies to those breweries producing fewer than 900,000 pints a year. Those running the smallest microbreweries can expect a 50 per cent discount on duty – a relief to beer lovers after years of increases.

There are a lot of microbreweries around now which means it’s very competitive but that means there’s so much choice for the consumer.

Nick Stafford
Hambleton Ales

Nick Stafford, who owns Hambleton Ales in North Yorkshire and is operations director at the Society of Independent Brewers, says: “I would say the growth in microbreweries and a renewed interest in beers started around 20 years ago with locally-produced beers gaining traction among consumers. Then the millennial generation came along looking for new beers and the popularity really soared.

“Contrary to popular opinion, the amount of alcoholic drinks being consumed has actually decreased. I think the consumers are drinking less but that means they are more discerning about what they actually do drink.

“There are a lot of microbreweries around now which means it’s very competitive but that means there’s so much choice for the consumer. I think producers will have to come up with cheaper and better beer, with even more variety and styles – we’ll see lots of innovation in the coming years and the consumers will ultimately be the winners.”

Pushing the boundaries

Camra, the Campaign for Real Ale, has rejoiced as microbreweries have reinvented beer. Initially they revived traditional cask ale recipes but they then entered new territory.

BrewDog used to produce the world’s strongest beer,Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32 per cent ABV), although this has been made to look relatively tame by Snake Venom, from Brewmeister in Scotland, which has an ABV of 67.5 per cent. Now everywhere you look, weird and wonderfully flavoured brews abound.

BrewDog has pioneered craft beer this side of the Atlantic and inspired the proliferation of UK microbreweries. There is a BrewDog bar in most large British cities where visitors are encouraged to try before they buy and are offered shots of beer so they can sample a range of styles and flavours.

People can’t get enough of microbrewing. Last year, Camden Town Brewery was sold to AB InBev, one of the world’s biggest drinks companies, for $85 million. It had been started by crowdfunding, which required beer enthusiasts to dig deep into their pockets to fund the brewery’s growth. Backers were keen to keep that going right up until its sale.

A rosy future

Steve Magnall, chief executive of St Peter’s Brewery in Suffolk, says that the increase in craft beers means more of his customers are willing to try his products on draught. “As a small craft brewer, historically we may have been overlooked for bigger brands. Now, that is not the case. People are looking for different craft beers and seeking out new ones to try.

“It’s a great time to be a brewery and we’re constantly launching new brews to appeal to the customers’ eclectic tastes.”

St Peter’s specialises in a range of “lifestyle” brews including fruit beers, stouts and gluten-free options.

“All our other beers are in good growth as well. The prospect for the future is rosy in the UK and abroad.”

Although cider has not boomed as much as craft beer in recent years, there has still been a growing appreciation of the drink. The winner of the BBC Food and Farming awards was a south Wales cider producer,Hallets, founded by Andy Hallett, who has transformed himself from hobbyist to pro.

There are plenty of smaller makers creating top-quality cider, including the Cumbrian producers Solway Cider and autumn only Foxfield Brewery. Aston Manor cider, one of the largest independent producers in the UK, is expanding its footprint by 1,000 acres, while other makers are doing the same.

Craft beers and ciders are becoming the drinks of choice for those who want to support local small businesses – and have a glug of something with zingy flavour notes.

Top 5 craft beer recommendations

  1. Kelham Island Pale Rider
  2. Craft Dan 13 Guns
  3. Robinson Ginger Tom
  4. Whitstable Bay Pale Ale
  5. Beavertown Gamma Ray