It seems that, between 1980 and 1983, around a hundred new breweries opened in Britain — about as many again as there were in total ten years earlier. Last year, as you’ll have heard repeated over and over, for the first time in a century, there were more than a thousand breweries operating across the UK. London alone now has almost fifty.
But how excited should we be about those numbers?
On the one hand, many small breweries, each brewing a range of beers, means lots of choice for consumers. There are multiple examples of the most obscure varieties of beer on the market — yes, but which British-brewed Berliner Weisse would madam like?
But, on the other hand, some of these breweries are so small, and their beer has so few outlets, that we’re not even sure they really exist in any meaningful sense.
Looking in more detail at the early eighties brewing boom, which was greeted with breathless excitement by beer enthusiasts desperate to believe, it’s notable how many breweries were literally just a bloke with a bucket in his kitchen, or off-the-shelf ‘brewpubs’ jumping on the Firkin bandwagon. Even some apparently bigger breweries were actually small ones occupying corners of grand buildings. Easy come, easy go.
Are there figures for the total number of different beers in regular production knocking about somewhere? Or the number of people employed in the brewing industry? One really interesting figure, following on from this discussion, would be how many breweries are making any kind of profit.