The number of small ‘craft’ breweries in the UK has exploded over the past five years or so. But as with every trend, from beards to burgers, people have been calling time on the industry (or ‘peak craft beer’) for a while now. The numbers suggest the industry is still expanding, though.
There were 36 new breweries opened in London last year, up 24% on 2014, according to figures obtained by accountants UHY Hacker Young. New brewery openings dropped by 10% in the rest of England to 249, but that still means there was a total of 285 new companies churning out barrels and bottles of hoppy goodness.
The rise in craft beer has emerged alongside a revival in the popularity of ‘real ale’. There is some overlap between the two but while the former is mainly associated with trendy urban hipsters, the latter is more the stuff of country pubs. According to the Campaign for Real Ale, breweries hit an 80-year high in the UK last year.
Read more: Hoppy days for craft beer
The boom in craft beer has come about in part because of the government’s decision, back in 2002, to cut the duty paid by small brewers. Those who produce less than 880,000 pints receive a 50% discount, which tapers off up to a maximum of 10.6 million pints. It also follows a big revival in small-scale brewing over in the US, which spawned big brands like Brooklyn Lager, Sierra Nevada and Goose Island.
Like many of these American brands, some of Britain’s craft brewers have caught the eye of generic industry giants AB InBev and SABMiller, which are currently in the process of merging. Last May the latter bought Greenwich’s Meantime Brewing Company and in December AB InBev got its hands on the Camden Town Brewery – cue exasperation from beer hipsters the country over.
With hundreds of new breweries opening each year, those who prefer their beer without a whiff of corporate ownership remain spoiled for choice. But concerns about market saturation are not toally misplaced. There is only room for so many brands behind the bar and in supermarket aisles and so only a tiny number of brewers can expect to replicate the successes of Brewdog and co. Nonetheless for now the industry is looking in good health. Someone get a round in.