“The spate of new micro breweries and the booming regional sector prove there is no ‘real ale crisis’, Protz adds. “In spite of the best efforts of the global brewers who dominate British brewing, there is greater choice today than at any time since the Good Beer Guide was first published in the early 1970s.”
The guide, which lists 4,500 of Britain’s best real ale pubs as well as all the country’s breweries, says the dramatic number of new producers as well as the stability in the regional sector has been fuelled in part by the government’s introduction of Progressive Beer Duty. PBD enables micros and small regional breweries that produce up to 30,000 barrels to pay less duty.
But the main driving force behind the upsurge in new breweries is consumer demand. “Beer lovers are tired of over-hyped national brands and avoid like the plague the bland apologies for lager and the cold, tasteless keg beers produced by the global brewers. Beers with aroma and flavour are back in vogue and smaller brewers are rushing to meet the clamour from consumers. With around 500 micros, 35 family-owned breweries and several bigger regional producers, there is now greater choice than at any time since the Campaign for Real ale was founded in 1971.Britain has more micros per head than any country in the world, including the United States.”
The 2005 annual report of SIBA – the Society of Independent Brewers, which represents most of Britain’s micros and smaller regionals – says sales among its members have grown by an average of 12 per cent a year compared to 2004, with six out of 10 SIBA members reporting growth in excess of 10 per cent. The micros’ share of the cask beer market has grown to more than 20 per cent, up from 14 per cent in 2003.
Roger Protz comments:
Even the Doubting Thomas of the beer world, the statistical company A C Nielsen, which in recent years has prophesised the virtual obliteration of real ale, reported in July 2005 that the decline in the cask beer sector had bottomed out and there were signs of recovery. Most significantly, Nielsen now supports what CAMRA and the Good Beer Guide have argued for years: that if the cask beer production figures of the four global brewers – Scottish & Newcastle, Interbrew, Coors and Carlsberg – are stripped out, the regionals and micros can be seen to be in growth.
* Timothy Taylor in Keighley, West Yorkshire, have invested around £11 million over a decade to enable production to grow from 28,000 barrels a year in 1997 to close to 50,000 today.
* Fuller’s in Chiswick, west London, is a now major national force, with London Pride alone accounting for 130,000 barrels a year, making it the biggest-selling cask beer in Britain.
* Adnams in Southwold, Suffolk, has had to add new fermenting capacity three times in recent years to cope with the demand for its beers.
* Everards of Leicester has invested £20 million in its pub estate and has reaped a rich reward. Cask beer accounts for 37 per cent of sales in its pub estate – a high proportion – and between 2004 and 2005 sales of Tiger Best Bitter increased by 40 per cent and Original by 55 per cent.
* Charles Wells of Bedford, the biggest family-owned independent brewery in Britain, has turned its Bombardier premium bitter into a national brand that is now in the Top Ten biggest sellers.
* Hydes in Manchester has doubled its capacity from 100,000 barrels a year to 200,000, aided by the contract to brew cask Boddingtons for Interbrew.
* Daniel Thwaites, a regional giant in the North-west, went down the nitro-keg route in the 1990s but has now returned to the cask fold with enthusiasm. Cricket hero Andrew Flintoff appears in special promotions for the brewery’s Lancaster Bomber.
* Ringwood Brewery in Hampshire started in 1978 as a tiny micro brewing just 10 barrels a week. It is now close to 30,000 barrels a year and built a new brewhouse in 1994 and added new fermenters in 2004.
* Sharp’s in Wadebridge, Cornwall, started in 1994 in one unit on an industrial estate. It has now spread to most of the estate and vies with the long-established St Austell Brewery as the biggest producer of cask beer in the county.
* Copper Dragon in Skipton, West Yorkshire, opened in 2003 and has quadrupled production in just three years.
* Hogs Back in Tongham, Surrey, has commissioned new coppers and fermenters to cope with demand, a demand that is met not only by selling to pubs by also by e-commerce.
* The jointly-owned Brakspear and Wychwood breweries in Witney, Oxfordshire, reports sales of Hobgoblin up by almost 50 per cent in the year to the end of May 2005, contributing to a tripling in cask sales since the beer was re-launched in 2003. And sales of Brakspear Bitter grew by 20 per cent in the free trade – a figure that excludes sales in the Brakspear pub estate.