Keeping a List, Checking it Twice

Various bits of beer news in the last few months have prompted a fresh round of declarations that the good times are over, the hangover is coming, the ‘shake out’ is due.

It’s certainly true that after a decade when it felt like the news was almost entirely good — new bars, new breweries, more beer styles! — there has been a bit of a dip in levels of excitement.

Our gut feeling is that it’s overly pessimistic to assume everything is about to come crashing down and that the gloominess is to some extent personal: people are exhausted and bored. (See also: the death of beer blogging.)

Having said that, it is also likely that some ventures commenced in the white heat of 2010-11 are reaching their natural end. That is to say, they’ve either succeeded, in which case they’ve ceased to be new and exciting, have settled into a groove, or perhaps even been sold on; or they’ve folded because the people behind them have run out of money and/or steam, or just want to try their hands at something else.

Our contribution to the collective fretting, which we hope will provide a picture of what’s going on and help maintain perspective, is a table of good and bad news which we hereby commit to keeping up to date throughout the next year.

Please do get in touch if there are things you think need to be recorded on either side — specialist bars opening or closing, breweries folding, and so on. We’re especially interested in total brewery numbers for Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester, if anyone has those at hand.

So far, a week into January 2017, it doesn’t look so bad. But let’s see.

26 thoughts on “Keeping a List, Checking it Twice”

  1. From my consumer perspective, two observations;
    – Beer quality, cask and keg, has been pretty good over the last year into this, at least using the Beer Guide and other reliable sources

    -A lot of pubs are worryingly quiet, and not just on weekday lunchtimes. Worse, I can now go in a GBG pub and not see a single pint of real ale pulled in 20 odd minutes while I’m there (example – 3 pubs in South-East London on Saturday afternoon).

  2. A shake-out is not a bad thing, its a good thing. A bit of price competition would be bloody welcome in the craft beer market. A lot of bars are still so expensive that 90% of people who might otherwise drink it, don’t.

    Hey brewers, publicans, you do realise that cutting prices to stimulate demand doesn’t necessarily mean cutting profits, right?

    B&B: a table showing the various capacities of the different breweries would be interesting. Its hard to compare without knowing what ballpark you’re talking about.

    1. This is more about gauging mood than anything else — does it *feel* like we’re still enjoying a boom, or as if the moment has passed?

      Re: capacities, I’m not sure exactly what you’re after. It’s probably easy enough to dig up figures to support what we all know in broad terms, i.e. that most beer is still made in a handful of huge breweries and this apparent boom is all about tiny outfits producing relatively small amounts of beer.

      1. I’m curious as to where exactly the bigger craft breweries sit in the general order of things.

        Are Brewdog bigger than Adnams? Are Beavertown bigger than Batemans? etc etc.

        We have 1,500 breweries, but is it the case that 90% of beer is still brewed by 10% of the breweries?

          1. I did a bit of digging the other day as part of an unrelated discussion, and found that the apart from Brewdog, who are currently in the process of upgrading their Ellon brewery from 220,000hl to 1,000,000, the biggest UK crafties – I looked at Thornbridge, Beavertown, Williams Bros and Tiny Rebel – seem to have around 30,000 to 60,000 hectolitres capacity.

            This is roughly in the same ballpark as a small-to-middling regional, Robinsons or Harveys, say, but smaller than the likes of Adnams and Fullers, let alone Greene King and Marstons.

          2. Where does that put Brewdog on the list, then? Top 25?

            I have to say that if some of moderately well-known craft brewers are as big as some of the regionals with pub estates like Robinsons, that’s pretty impressive and probably more than I expected.

          3. Good digging! But remember difference between capacity and production. BrewDog cite 1,000,000 hl capacity, and Oakham 100,000 hl capacity, whereas Thornbridge and Beavertown’s ~30,000 hl are actual production. Capacity is just potential production.

  3. “after a decade when it felt like the news was almost entirely good”

    Hmm, I must have dreamt those 15,000 pub closures and on-trade beer sales falling by a third 🙁

  4. Depends what gives you a good feeling, if it’s a new brewery launching a fennel and cumin sahti-IPA hybrid, then those days of novelty, awe and wonder are perhaps coming to an end. If it’s more people quietly picking up BrewDog cans for £1.50 in the supermarket as the craft beer market share creeps up towards 10%, then you might be in luck.

    1. What share is it in the US, do you know? It feels a lot bigger than 10%, but I might be wrong.

        1. But by the US definition, all British regional and family brewers up to and including Greene King and Marston’s would be considered “craft”.

          1. Different definitions for different markets. “Craft beer” over here basically means any style of beer that wasn’t widely available 20 years ago.

  5. From a new-wave craft-y perspective, I’d say that it doesn’t feel like the beginning of the end but maybe it is the end of the beginning. Supply is catching up with demand and the list of “places that could easily support a craft beer bar / posh bottle shop but don’t currently have one” is getting shorter. The odd failure doesn’t mean that the sector isn’t still growing, but it does look like growth is getting harder-won.

  6. Bad (or possibly just puzzling) news is the seeming closure of a craft-focused branch of Bargain Booze in Stockport (specifically Davenport).

    No joke, this was a serious, full-blown-Omnipollo-and-all craft beer offie (croffie?).

    1. Manager tells us via Twitter that it will be open again ‘very soon’ so we’ll hold off adding it to the list.

  7. There are going to be badly run craft beer bars and shops, same as anything else. As long as there is a net gain every month, which there is, then momentum is still there

  8. A few interesting points, I’m pretty sure that Tiny Rebel aren’t yet at the sort of capacity mentioned, although their new brewery probably will be. More importantly it’s not possible, assuming that you are at peak capacity on your current equipment to just lift production and reduce price, even if you where minded to, because stainless and ingredients don’t come for free, and increasing production of a product like beer isn’t a linear exercise in increasing production leading to cost saving on each unit, because you need more people, more space and more vehicles, more energy and more water, all of which in this day and age cost money.

    I’m not sure that capacity is of particular relevance anyway, I know brewers that are both larger and smaller that sell beer cheaper, and in both brackets who are more expensive as well, there are many many aspects that are more important than capacity.

    The challenge that faces beer, in my opinion, is to move away from this nonsensical idea that ‘a pint’ should cost a certain amount. This doesn’t exist in any other market, you don’t expect to buy Chateaux Neuf for the same price as bag in box Merlot, I brought some gorgeous Psychopomp Gin for Christmas from a local producer, it cost me significantly more than a supermarket bottle of Gordons, and it was significantly more pleasant to drink regardless of both being ‘Gin’.

    A pint of Ale should always be available at the price that suits the ever less conspicuous ‘Working Man’, but at the same time I’m not expecting it to be Cloudwater’s latest DIPA variation, or Lovibonds Sour Grapes.

    1. The challenge that faces beer is that we have 1,500 breweries, most of whom seem to be utterly clueless when it comes to strategy. How anyone could possibly consider going into business without studying some of the rudimentary elements of the subject is beyond me. It would be more efficient if they just took all of their money out of the bank and set it on fire. At least it would keep them warm for a few minutes.

      We need to get away from the idea that just because a brewery is small and inefficient, it is somehow the responsibility of the consumer to reach into their pocket and subsidise the brewer. Avariciously looking to maximise short-term profits instead of ruthlessly growing market share by targeting an increasingly crowded niche market in a rapidly growing and unestablished industry is an incredibly poor business strategy. Incredibly poor. Downright stupid. Brewers who do this deserve to go bust.

      Say what you like about them, but Brewdog seem to be one of the only craft breweries out there who know the first thing about business.

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