Session #80: Plenty of Space to Grow

Various brewery signs.

This is our contribution to Derek G. Harrison’s Session #80, the topic of which is: ‘Is Craft Beer a Bubble?’

When we interviewed Simon Webster, chief operating officer at Thornbridge, we asked him whether the current enthusiasm for ‘craft beer’ could possibly last, and his response was emphatic:

Beer has changed fundamentally. I don’t think anyone is going to say: ‘Fuck it, I like bland beer after all.’ It’s here to stay. Some of the market in London might be down to fashion, and some of that might go, but the fact is that the market for this type of beer is just growing, just like the market for better quality food has in the last thirty years.

And that about chimes with our thinking: that people have learned there’s fun to be had in being picky, and it’s a hard habit to kick.

There have been several cycles of boom and bust in ‘alternative beer’ in Britain since the nineteen-seventies — read Brian Glover’s piece from What’s Brewing in February 1984 for a detailed, depressing account of the first crash.

But, dips and bumps aside, over the course of forty years, the direction of travel in brewery numbers has been ever upward, hitting 1,147 this year, compared to 170 in 1980.

Our suspicion is that the dramatic collapse in the number of breweries in the mid-twentieth century was an anomaly — an experiment in pure efficiency which failed to place a value on choice and provenance — and that there’s a process of normalisation underway.

It doesn’t seem inconceivable to us that we might one day get back to having a brewery in (or at least serving) every town, the availability of outlets (free-of-tie pubs and bars), and of capable brewers, being the current blockages.

So, today, we’re feeling optimistic that, short of everything going a bit Threads and the economy completely collapsing, there’s plenty of room for growth left.

But ask us again tomorrow.

Here’s some previous pondering on related subjects from May 2012, October 2012 and, with the greatest relevance, from January this year.

5 thoughts on “Session #80: Plenty of Space to Grow”

  1. Very well put, can’t say it better. Big brewing for various and probably unique reasons (phenomenon of “raiding”; undue influence of cost accounting centres on the product and ditto of marketing plans) managed by the 1970’s largely to neuter a consumer product that for centuries was marked by pronounced flavour whether maltiness, bitterness, yeast quality, lactic qualities or a combination. They tried to reinvent it but it didn’t work or at least they went too far. A correction has set in that is irreversible.

    It must be said though that fine beer never died out in England or some other EU countries as it did for a time in North America, for which kudos to the defenders there. Kudos in spades because it helped kickstart the reaction here whose shockwaves are having a fortifying effect back home.


  2. Just putting my hand up now to say my post for tomorrow was written a few days ago so it’s not plagiarism when I make more less the same points, albeit relating to a different country, without any actual research to back me up, and using wine and coffee rather than food as the parallel.

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