The five independent beers big breweries are afraid of

A few years ago, big brewers ruled the roost. Now, with innovative models and cult-like followings, small brands are increasingly calling the shots.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 27 Oct 2015

The trend for craft beer is nothing new in hipster circles, where the brand of your tipple is as important as the make of your trainers. In fact, so popular have independent breweries become that, according to figures by the Campaign for Real Ale, 158 new breweries opened last year – there’s now one for every 50 pubs.

Part of the reason for this is that lager is increasingly seen as ubiquitous – branding aside, consumers have trouble telling one apart from the other. Ale, on the other hand, is a labour of love for many brewers.  

With rumours doing the rounds this week that hipsters’ favourite St Peter’s Brewery is about to be put up for sale, MT looks at the five breweries putting up a fight against their larger rivals.

1. St Peter’s Brewery

Started in 1995 by John Murphy, the former owner of Interbrand responsible for creating the brands of everything from Hobnobs to Prozac, it’s no surprise St Peter’s was an instant hit among its hipster target market. Although the Suffolk-based brand runs just one pub, the Jerusalem Tavern in London’s Clerkenwell, it is stocked by Sainsbury's and Waitrose – and, if it is put up for sale, is expected to be valued at between £12-£15m.

2. Brewdog

In 2007 James Watt and Martin Dickie set out to shake up the craft beer industry by creating a brand younger drinkers (not too young, mind) could associate with. They came up with Brewdog, tagline ‘beer for punks’. When the time came for expansion, Watt and Dickie went for a typically off-the-wall approach, issuing £2.2m of bonds under a scheme they called ‘equity for punks’. The brand now turns over £11m, produces six million bottles of beer (with names like ‘Dead Pony Club’ and ‘Hardcore IPA’) each year, and exports to 38 countries.

3. Camden Town Brewery

Aussie Jasper Cuppaide started producing beer in 2010, converting a rail arch in Hampstead for the purpose. Camden Town Brewery really began to make its name last year when it created a limited edition beer to celebrate the Olympics from a recipe written in 1908 – the last time London hosted the Games. Now, it’s London’s third biggest beer producer by volume, behind Fuller’s and Meantime.

4. Curious brew

Kent may be famous for its beer, but PLUS-listed winery Chapel Down only cottoned on to the idea of getting into the beer business in 2011. Impressive, then, that last year the result – Curious Brew – was awarded a gold medal in the International Beer Challenge, which makes it, officially, the best beer in the world. And it looks as though the brand will continue to storm the market: according to results posted in April, turnover for the Curious brand rose by 242% during 2012, while turnover for Chapel Down as a whole rose by a third to £4.8m.

5. Purity Brewing Co

Based in Warwickshire, Purity Brewing Co – known for its Pure UBU brew – was founded in 2005 by partners Paul Halsey and James Minkin to brew beers using sustainable methods. Since then, it has produced 14 million pints of beer and in March, it raised £500,000 via the Enterprise Investment Scheme to open a chain of craft beer bars in Birmingham. Now, its founders say they are stepping up production by 150% to meet demand, making 140,000 pints a week.

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