Generalisations about beer culture

Revisiting the Spread of Craft Beer


In February 2013, we reflected on just how far ‘craft beer’ had spread beyond the trendy bits of major cities. Our conclusion then was that it was a ‘noisy niche’ rather than mainstream.

But a lot has happened in the last year.

  1. We said a ‘craft beer bar’ in Truro would be a sign of ‘mainstreaming’: that hasn’t happened, but there is now a bottle and jug shop selling beers from Weird Beard, Brewdog and other pointedly ‘craft’ brewers.
  2. The same team opened a ‘craft beer micropub’ in Exeter (pop. 117,000) before Christmas — the last decent-sized, student-filled UK city to be without one?
  3. The Teign Cellars opened in Newton Abbot (pop. 24,000) in May, selling beers from breweries such as The Kernel and Magic Rock in sleepy Devon.
  4. The Hub, a posh burger and BBQ bar in St Ives, Cornwall, has amped up its ‘craft beer’ offer, serving beer from, e.g. the Wild Beer Company, from cask, keg and bottle, with (CRAFT KLAXON!) ⅓-pint measures available.
  5. Beyond the West Country, in Royal Tunbridge Wells (pop 55,000), Fuggles Beer Cafe appeared towards the end of last year.

Are bars and shops also opening outside major cities in parts of the country we know less well? We suspect so, and intelligence will be gratefully received.

Our guess is that, though ‘craft beer’ still doesn’t have an outpost in every town in the country, it might not be far off by the end of 2014.

53 replies on “Revisiting the Spread of Craft Beer”

North bar in Leeds now have branches out in the suburbs, notably in the sleepy town of otley 10 mile from Leeds. blind Jake’s in knaresbrough is outstanding (though can’t get away with city centre prices), I could go on but the high end beers and pricey us kegs are definitely making progress out of the cities. .

Macclesfield (population 50,000) pretty good. Redwillow brewery tap with 15 keg taps & 5 cask. Also at least 3 other outlets. It’s become a bit of a beer destination at weekends.

Thanks, chaps — had forgotten about the Redwillow place in Macclesfield (never been, but saw it mentioned on Twitter), and North’s expansion is a sort of micro-boom in its own right.

Kudos for the Dad’s Army reference in the picture – I think the slow creep of good beer bars is inexorable, and it’s not just travelling in a Russian Doll-style way, from city to smaller city, to large town etc. A lot of it depends on the leanings of the publican/bar manager, and what kind of beers they want to stock, as opposed to the changing drinking habits of the local populations. Like The Anderson, for example – one of the best pubs in Scotland – doing a fine trade up in Fortrose (population 1,206)

Reading has always been a decent Real Ale destination with a number of long-standing and very good traditional “Real Ale Exhibition Pubs” but opening at the end of this month is a new pub (The Greyfriar in what
used to be The Malthouse which has been closed for a few years) that is actively promoting itself as a craft beer venue with craft keg, foreign beers all promised alongside a cask line up which if it delivers will be a first for Reading. Also just opened is a new bottle shop, which alothough largely focussed on a wide range of ales from local traditional micro-breweries has a range that also encompasses the likes of local proudly craft brewer (and excellent they are too) Siren as well as assorted purveyors of “London Murky”. It will be interesting to see whether it draws trade from the existing circuit or whether it attracts a different crowd.

Your thinking is too product centric. Craft is a state of mind. Craft exists where ever you find pretentious middle class twats.

no craft beer bars in Southampton yet (2 universities!) but reading David J’s blog they can’t be far off with some brewery taps opening this year.

And, on Twitter, Yvan tells us that there has been ‘craft liftoff’ in Cambridge in the last year, too.

Depends what you mean by craft – does it have to be craft keg for example?

Does it have to be an obviously deliberate “craft beer bar”, or does an otherwise mainstream pub replacing guinness/amstel with an local stout/lager count?

Lincoln has a new craft beer bar – the Strait and Narrow – that opened last year (or maybe late 2012?)

Oh, aye… it’s all a bit wishy washy. Speaking for my view on Cambridge – as Bailey puts it below “know it when you see it” is about the best I can do… but another part is: has the venue *set*out* to be or do “craft”.

Pint Shop has very much created itself as a “craft” venue – going out of their way to get beers in from “headline” craft breweries and not shirking on covering style bases from traditional through to more “wild” beers. Cask and keg too. And, importantly to me, ZERO big-brand beer. All boxes ticked?

The Mill and The Cambridge Brew House put on non-mainstream UK & US keg (Magic Rock, Camden, Red Hook, etc…) and call that their “craft beer” range. They’re staying pretty safe there though & not varying wildly. Their cask line-up is pretty normal for good Cambridge pubs. As an overall bar experience this is what I’d call “semi-craft”. 🙂

The Blue Moon… I still haven’t pinned that one down. Only been once. I think it’s more in the cut of the Mill and Brew House than Pint Shop. Again it’s a “craft beer” range on the _keg_ front, alongside big-brand stuff. There are three cask lines – but again, pretty normal from what I hear. I need to get in there a few more times really.

The common thread here is keg… perhaps dropping/supplementing the Fosters/Stella/whatever in favour of UK micros in the keg lineup is the point at which a bar/pub goes from being normal/traditional to “craft”. Whilst we have excellent traditional pubs selling good “craft” cask ales in Cambridge – I don’t think we had any that could be called a “craft beer venue” until last year. Although I’m always in two minds about the Cambridge Blue on that front… it somehow doesn’t go *ping* on the “I know it when I see it”-ometer.

The historic lack of mainstream craft brands in Cambridge pubs is an odd one. It’s not like it’s a generally backwards place in general beer terms – it’s not been hard, relatively speaking, to find pubs with Belgian obscuro-bottle ranges, bottled Euro-craft, interesting European keg, US craft in bottles, and hoppy IPAs and imperial stouts from local breweries on cask, while Bacchanalia are pretty good on mainstream UK craft in bottles. So the fact that, until last year, it was pretty much unheard of to find Magic Rock or Buxton or Marble or Kernel in a pub on cask or keg or in bottles is all the more baffling…

The draught beer situation seems to come down to:

1. Tie on keg lines
2. Lack of supply

I’m told that in many cases keg lines are “tied” to a brand or distributor. So even if a pub could get something different in they can’t put it on.

As for supply – I know pubs who want Magic Rock, Moor, Kernel, Summer Wine, etc… but simply cannot get it. We’re too far out for the London distributors who can do a few kegs at a time and the pubs don’t have enough space to receive pallets. Two things have changed this:

1. Adnams – they’re supplying a selection of “craft beer” to places like the Mill and Brew House.

2. Pint Shop – they have the space to receive and store entire pallets worth of beer from a few breweries at a time.

And in time this will spread. I notice there is a mob selling “craft beer” via a webshop now. You can order a keykeg at a time.

The location is the key: The better known craft breweries tend to be distributed either in London or around Manchester/Sheffield way. Cambridge is close to neither – however we do see plentiful supplies of Oakham and Adnams as Yvan mentions.

And the good breweries we do have locally aren’t in what I’d think of as “the craft[1] club” – they do a lot of swaps with their chums, but mostly that’s with the more traditional sorts of brewers.

[1] “hipster”? “new wave”? Eh…

Ah, okay. I guess it’s nice to feel that it’s a problem of logistics / economics rather than a cultural hostility, at least…

We’re in ‘know it when you see it’ territory here, but I think we’re talking about places that (a) call themselves ‘craft beer’ bars; and/or (b) sell beers that, if we weren’t over-thinking it, we’d say were part of the ‘craft beer thing’.

I think an issue holding back craft beer from breaking into the mainstream is that so many pubs either a) sell their breweries beer exclusively, or b) has to pay pubco markup, which makes craft all but unaffordable (even if it was on the list which it probably isn’t).

Of the pubs not beset by these issues, I have noticed a massive increase in “craft” brand beers over the last year, mainly on cask but occasionally on keg.

On top of that, more UK towns/cities than not seem to have some kind of self consiously craft beer venue I would estimate.

Even wetherspoons is selling a saison and a black IPA.

I wonder if the presence of at least one ‘craft keg’ line is necessary to show how little they care about dispense?

The Front in Falmouth has cask, keg and bottles, but somehow isn’t a ‘craft’ place. (Others might disagree.) Too much dark wood and CAMRA bumph about the place?

This raises the question of what the word “craft” describes – is it the beer? the brewery? the bar?

Is craft beer just beer sold in a craft beer bar? or is it beer brewed by a craft beer brewery? Or is it something to do with the beer itself?

Little progression beyond the normal Real Ale based pub in Oxford – some breweries starting to appear more regularly, eg Siren making inroads on cask. Grapes (Bath ales) have a Beerd keg line now, and two Steenbrugge lines, but dropped Lovibonds to do so… :-/

Jam Factory the most “craft” (ergh). Bottles (inc Trappists, US imports) and keg lines (inc. Cotswold Brewing x 5ish, Punk IPA, Bellerose Blond, Westmalle Dubbel and Weihenstephaner Weissbier)) with only two cask lines. It’s nice, but also expensive, straddling the trendy bar/restaurant/art gallery boundaries (£6+ for a pint of Weihenstephaner Hefe anyone?!).

No surge in interesting bottle outlets either really that I can think of – I think there’s a market gap for a Craft Beer Co type place, but I’m struggling at the moment to see where it would go. it’s on Brewdog’s hitlist as places to go – I’m unsure if this is a good thing or not.

I guess the other part of the same question is how much “crafty” ideas are infiltrating the “traditional” real ale scene. For instance, I’m occasionally seeing relatively traditional real-ale pubs with Meantime or Freedom are occasionally replacing one of the mainstream lagers, or bottles from Brewdog or Rogue are appearing in the fridge, or cask lines from Oakham or Thornbridge. Or traditional real ale brewers (of various sizes) who are occasionally adding the odd US IPA or imperial porter to their lineup or talking about single hop beers or bringing in whole “crafty” ranges, or new breweries who you aren’t quite sure which side of the line they fall because some of their beers taste of grapefruit and others don’t…

It’ll be interesting to see if we’re heading to a place where “a couple of these ‘craft beers'” becomes a sensible thing for a normal pub to include in its offer if it wants to appeal to as many people as possible, in the same way that they currently offer cask bitters, a couple of wines, a decent range of spirits, the standard commercial lagers and ciders and so on.

Like DaveS I think the real sign will be whether your ‘normal’ pub stocks something ‘craft’. A lot of the time I don’t get to go to pubs with what I class as good beer, so I’d be more than happy if they started stocking some bottles or had a keg like for e.g. Punk IPA. A bog standard carvery near me has Sierra Nevada PA which is very welcome when the cask choice is normally tired GK IPA.

I went to the Castle Green Inn in Taunton at Christmas expecting something a bit ‘craft’ based on their Twitter presence as ‘The Taunton Beer Society’. And it was, a little bit. But mostly ‘real ale’, with a Wetherspoon’s-type layout.

Let’s wait and see what happens by the end of 2014, though.

Re Exeter being ‘last decent-sized, student-filled city’ — does Plymouth have a craft beer bar?

I was going to mention Plymouth too. I am pretty sure the answer is no. The only sign I have seen is that The Fortescue has bottles of Punk in the Fridge.

That does look good. I’m a fan of the building too. Off to Plymouth for a beery weekend in a few weeks, so I’ll report back!

A lot of microbreweries are more tooled up for sending their beers far and wide. Bottles & Key Kegs are one way distribution, and most micros are well set up for selling direct to retail outlets, pubs & restaurants as its how they get selling in the first place.

If you wanted something from a larger brewery, you might have to go through their distribution channel, which may not reach to your area.

I know the Weird Beard bunch have gotten their beer into several countries.

This tallies well with new pub/restaurant openings and the like, which may be looking for a competitive edge, and stocking good beers that can’t otherwise be found locally is a good way to do it.

Actually, the localism thing is interesting because it’s one way that crafty stuff sneaks into non-crafty pubs. Eg the last couple of times I’ve been to South Wales I’ve seen Tiny Rebel stuff in pubs where you’d be surprised to see Buxton or Thornbridge. Similarly Oakham in, er, whatever you call that area. And maybe this also gives craftily-inclined brewers a bit of an incentive to dabble in subtlety and understatement, since it’s more likely go down well locally.

well if we are talking about proper East Anglia…not just the bits people add on for fun 🙂 Id have said in Suffolk & Norfolk combined there were maybe only 10-20 craft beer pubs in total (that people would recognise as such,though Im sure the numbers will be disputed), but thats versus in excess of 1200 real ale pubs. so we are talking about a spread of maybe 1%-1.6%.

that to me says craft beer isnt spreading at all like everyone thinks,there are pockets where it is growing exceedingly well, there are entire parts of the country where youll draw blank looks even asking about it.

the problem is you get people extrapolating that super growth, or the total absence into the mean that everyone is experiencing, and thats just not the case

I mean you do goto somewhere like London, and you could do an entire craft beer pub crawl, eat your burgers served on chopping boards, read beer menus and the like, and never set foot in a traditional cask ale establishment. and you do sit there and go yeah these places are packed craft beer must be really taking off and the next big thing, and yet travel just a bit away from the cityc and its as if craft beer doesnt exist at all.

Using wikipedia, the biggest city in the UK with no discernible craft beer presence is…..

Leicester with a population of 330,574 (#7)

I’d also wager that Coventry is also yet to be touched by the spread of craft.

I’m trying to compile a list for the top 30 (by population, london by borough) which I’ll maybe blog.

Must mention The Offie in Leicester – not a bar, and arguably not part of the spread of craft, having been there for 30 years (introduced me to “interesting” beer as a student 20 years ago…)

Thanks for looking that up, Steve.

Really glad we included a question mark on that point about Exeter now…

Two years ago if you wanted a guarantee of finding us craft beer in Leeds id have named 2 bars (and a few maybes worth a pop in, just in case) , now ive got 8 in mind instantly (not including new north bar sister pubs) plus others worth a try. UK craft harder to define and count . Less marked rise in Belgian lines but still an increase. Ten years ago Leeds had. A brewpub (bit crap) and tetleys (plus some 1 or 2 barrel places ten miles out of town) now we have Leeds, kirkstall, ridgeside, sunbeam, brewpub still there, oh and tapped Leeds brew their own, oh and Leeds have second plant in their brewery tap pub. Real ale revolution going hand in hand with craft imports. Im seeing increased choice and increased quality. and for folks wanting normal price and strength cask beer the choices also increasing even if they might hate some of the more overtly ‘craft’ new bars.

Hmm, two years ago, guessing North Bar and Mr Foleys? I would perhaps add the MTT lot, but it does seem that every new pub/bar opening has at least a nod to ‘craft’ beer.

For me, one of the real nods to the change is that Arc Inspirations (purveyor of student/young professional bar experiences) have opened a new bar with a specific craft focus and rebranded one of their others in the same way. This is most certainly not a North Bar/Pivni sort of operation but they are responding to the demand.

I think you are right and DaveS`s standard will come to pass within the year virtually everywhere in England. The word craft is a current word to describe a phenomenon going on since the founding of CAMRA. At first, it was small breweries making their version of `brown beer`(even though it was never so simple). Couldn`t you get that in Leicester and Exeter and Reading… Now is beer made by small breweries which in some cases uses foreign hops or follows innovative styles developed in the U.S.. Some of it is just Belgian-style though, or lager. It is all part of a long-term movement. Craft is not an imaginary thing but it doesn`t stand alone, it is part of the movement which (partially) resisted the tidal wave of cheap lager which big brewing tried to make dominant everywhere in Britain.


In Britain, in my understanding, craft is not just a resistance against cheap macro lager, its also a reaction against poor quality cider (aka strongbow), stout (aka Guinness) and bitter – including cask bitter.

Hence my understanding that the craft “movement” is neither for or against cask or keg, but rather is opposed to the distinction itself, because it method of dispense does not correlate with the quality of the product.

Hence why I find it strange and somewhat contradictory when places that have multiple cask ales in varied and often experimental styles from new wave UK breweries are not described as “craft beer places”, whereas places with the same beers on keg are. (thoughts Yvan?)

As a rule (of thumb), if there’s a row of keg taps the beers you’ll see on them will be weirder, stronger, come from further away and cost a lot more. I think a bar selling beers from interesting local breweries on hand pump for £3ish is just as ‘craft’ as the one selling short-run specials from US breweries for £6+, but you can see which one is going to make the crafterati’s eyes light up.

Speaking of weird, strong, expensive and far away: seen (and indeed drunk) in my local Spoons yesterday: Stone double IPA, on cask, 8.5% and going for (brace yourself) £3.55 a pint. That to me is as good a demonstration as any that (as Zak said) the craft ‘revolution’ has already happened.

I do not see the argument that craft beer – some of which is cask itself – is a reaction to the kind of cask bitter made by surviving large breweries and the newer crop of brewers that emerged since the late 1970’s. Both are a development of real beer in the broad sense, i.e., when you look at the actual characteristics of the products.

Perhaps some brewers are pitching craft beer, especially craft keg, as a reaction to the earlier cask bitter, and maybe some consumers see it that way especially in a generational sense (my beer is different from my Dad’s albeit he is a CAMRA member, that kind of thing).

Even if that is so, that is a marketing gloss, it doesn’t IMO change what is really happening. Any form of craft beer except perhaps the most “craftiest” of the tribe is a genuine reaction to the watery lager and tasteless (or ill-tasting, in the view of many) keg bitters that were legion in the early 70’s.

The overall market situation is similar now to then except real beer in the sense mentioned now has a firm foothold.


Any new consumer driven movement is a reaction against what previously existed. The latent appetite for different styles of beer that led to the swift craft beer boom in this country was caused by dissatisfaction with what was currently on offer.

…and what was currently on offer included numerous unsatisfactory real ales. You can’t just pretend they didn’t exist 10 years ago, they did. They’re every bit as “culpable” as keg lager and keg bitter. They have to be, I don’t see how you can shut your eyes and attempt to rewrite history.

My thoughts are that a pub isn’t doing it “right” if they’re selling standard stuff via keg alongside a good range of cask. If you take the craft, quality, and interest of beer seriously you should treat your keg lineup the same as your cask lineup: varied & changing. (That said, having a couple of “house beers” as constants is aye-okay by me.) You could say that I think the typical good cask ale pub is 50% “craft” – which by my standards is a failing mark 😉

At the level of describing a bar/pub as “craft” I think the breweries are less of a worry. I’m happy to call all UK breweries “craft” – from Greene King & Sharp’s on down to some dude in his garage 🙂 Similarly happy to call all beer “craft beer” – 3.5% bitter through to 15% impy black saison. But a pub isn’t a “craft beer venue” if they sell the same 8 things forever & ever without change.

curious, not how I’d define it at all! 🙂

For me it is important to have variety between the pumps (eg 8 pumps, 8 different styles), but not necessarily from one week to the next.

The most important bit of the “definition” in my head is that the variety has to span cask AND keg. Doesn’t have to change every week… but the lineup has to be, at least in part, non-static. A core line-up of good cask/keg plus a few “guest taps” is fine. As with many such things its more of a scale rather than black & white. Pint Shop possibly gets “full marks” – whilst Cambridge Brew House is perhaps “75%”ish.

The Wirral Peninsula has a population of over 300,000. You would struggle to find a bottle of Duvel never mind anything more exotic. On the urban Mersey side of the peninsula you’ll be lucky to find drinkable cask ale so enquiring about craft beer would get blank looks. There were two decent beer shops from Ship in a Bottle but one closed down this year!

Further intel: “The Vine” a traditional pub on a housing estate in Lincoln has been rebranded as The West End Tap and has 6 keg pumps and 5 cask pumps, both including well regarded craft brands including Thornbridge, Oakham, Beerd and Brooklyn Lager.

Stumbled across it on Friday, as you would imagine it was bursting at the seams.

Later on we walked past 5 completely dead pubs followed by the Strait and Narrow where the punters were packed in like sardines. All craft places are: it really amazes me how slow the owners of struggling pubs are to jump on the bandwagon.

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