“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” Sherlock Holmes
Yeah, whatevs, pipe boy.
Though we’re still crunching data on brewery openings, closings and goings on between the 1970s and the present day, this optimistic post from Des de Moor, and some pessimistic responses on Twitter, got us thinking about possible signs the current beer boom might be coming to an end. Here’s what we’ve come up with.
1. Fewer breweries open than in the previous year
Er, yes, this one is a bit obvious. Previous UK brewery booms (early 80s, mid 90s) follow the usual ‘Bell curve’, and there’s no reason to think this one will be any different. Here’s 2006-08 from figures given by CAMRA at successive Good Beer Guide launches.
When the new GBG is launched in the autumn of this year, the ‘new breweries’ number will be significant. If it’s more than 158, then the boom is still going; if less… well, it’s not the end of the world, but it means we can start to expect
a slump the unfettered growth to slow down in the next few years. (Our guess (that’s a guess): it’ll be 180+, but then back down to 150 in 2014.)
2. The big-small operators start selling up
A final death knell for the 1980s boom was, we think, the moment when David Bruce of the Firkin chain of brewpubs sold his interest to Midsummer Inns for £6.6m in 1987. Clever people invest at the start of the boom and sell before it peaks. So, if, say, Martin Hayes of the Craft Beer Company, for example, decides to cash in his chips and sell his five (?) pubs to a bigger national operator, alarm bells ought to ring.
3. Big breweries get in on the act
We’re not saying big brewers can’t or shouldn’t ‘do craft’, but it might be a bad sign when they do. The 1980s boom was partly down to Whitbread, Allied and others getting in on the action with their own ‘fake Firkin’ brewpubs and the (half-hearted) revival of their own real ale brands. They undercut small operators and contributed to an over-saturation of the market. The equivalent these days might be the ‘pilot plants’ all the bigger breweries are opening; but a far bigger danger sign wil be the first Mitchells & Butlers brewpub or ‘craft beer bar’.
4. Hipsters move on from beer
Hipsters might not consume much beer as a total share of the market, but they own the buzz. They write blogs, reviews, newspaper and magazine articles, and work in TV production. They attract attention. If (when) they decide that Brewdog isn’t cool anymore and move on to, say, sloe gin, or mead, or whatever, it’ll be a rats- from-sinking-ship moment. This usually happens well before the peak of the boom, which suggests there might be a couple more years to go yet. Thirty-odd years ago, c.1980, key indicators were a drop off in CAMRA membership and in sales of the GBG, as those who’d got excited by the ‘real ale craze’ lost interest. What’s a modern equivalent? Sales of the Craft Beer London app? Brewdog shares? Google searches?
What we’re saying, we guess, is that there’s no reason to be gloomy just yet — there’s another year or more of boom to be enjoyed — but that anyone opening a brewery right now is doing so towards the peak of the curve and had better have a bloody good offer if they expect to be trading in three or four years time.
If you’ve got any guesses or suggested indicators, share them below.
UPDATED 09:30 24/01/2012 a slump is not what you call the end of a boom, apparently! You live and learn…