Types of UK Brewery

From time to time, we feel compelled to categorise things. It never really works but, in the attempt, we usually learn something.

This time, we found ourselves wondering about the many different types of brewing business to be found in the UK today and how they relate to one other. (We did something similar before, but that was more abstract.)

Chart of UK brewery types.
(CLICK TO ENLARGE — OPENS IN NEW TAB/WINDOW)

We’ve tried to provide an example for each type, though we struggled to think of an active cuckoo/gypsy brewery, and a very approximate sense of what arrived when.

If the family groupings we’ve come up with work, then you should be able to think of a brewery and find a home for them.

Much more likely, however, is that the first comment below will name a brewery which breaks our classification system.

Flawed or not, we’d be interested to see similar attempts from those who know the beer scenes in Germany, Belgium, the US, or anywhere else — does this look pretty familiar, or wildly different?

31 thoughts on “Types of UK Brewery”

  1. Pretty good. You can overfit these things though – the more categories you create because you don’t want any exceptions, the less powerful and insightful the diagram becomes. I’d probably lose at least a third of the categories.

    1. Enforcement — any brewery that doesn’t fit into a category will be forcibly closed down and the proprietors sent to a gulag.

      (Fun, and to help us organise our thoughts. EDIT: And maybe help people who don’t live and breathe our beer culture to understand some of its oddities.)

  2. So are beerd a spin off of bath ales?

    The difference between dark star and thornbridge is awfully tenuous, no?

    1. Yes, Beerd is Bath Ales.

      Superficially, yes, Dark Star and Thornbridge look pretty similar, but DS started out a decade earlier with a flagship beer that was a dark, fairly malty cask ale, and only got into hoppy beers later; whereas Thornbridge has been all about Jaipur (explicitly inspired by US IPAs) almost from day one.

  3. I think IndyMan Brew House would fit the bill as an active cuckoo – Claudia regularly borrows breweries for her beers (some billed as collabs some not).

    1. That’s the one we thought of but couldn’t quite work out from their website what’s going on these days.

      1. What’s going on us gazza’s the webmaster but too busy with hopcraft to update it! Farcebook and twitter are the online presence at moment…

  4. Fabulous. (1) What app did you use to create this? (2) Your use of “US craft” is way too early. There is a very eager effort by big U.S. Craft and its BA trade association PR folk to suggest “microbrewery” was not the accepted term well into the 2000s. The earliest “craft” can be applied with any sense of meaning is around 2005 in both the sense of the taxonomy and the design of beers. Beer is not “craft” without and until the fringey ingredients and techniques gain a foothold over normal and, dare I say, traditional brewing.

    1. An obscure little software package you probably haven’t heard of. (Microsoft Word.)

      The term ‘craft’ is maybe a bit anachronistic though it was being used fairly frequently by UK commentators in the mid-90s. (See Brew Britannia, pp184-186.) Remember, over here, we had ‘real ale’ and ‘not real ale’, and the US scene seemed to offer a third way.

  5. I was about to say it’d be interesting to match styles to these, but then I remembered the Dark Star comment, which implies style is already in there… sort of. Confused now. I don’t think the term ‘micro’ is quite right for Dark Star & others like it though – micro to me implies one man in a garage, maybe one step above the Sunbeam level. (Sunbeam beers are ace, btw – and cover a lot of ground stylistically without going wacky. How the guy does it I don’t know.)

    Also, the layout seems to say that there was nothing but industrial brewing and brewpubs until Adnams et al split off from the industrial category, which can’t be right.

    Where are Rooster, Kelham Island, West Coast, Marble et al?

    1. “Where are Rooster, Kelham Island, West Coast, Marble et al?”

      They’re all 3rd/4th wave micros, I think.

      “nothing but industrial brewing and brewpubs until Adnams et al split off”

      What else do you think there was? (Bearing in mind ‘industrial’ in this context just means a factory rather than the kitchen in a house or pub.)

      (EDIT: We could maybe split it into, e.g., porter breweries and pale ale breweries?)

      1. No, I’m coming at it from a different angle, i.e. ‘industrial’ as a boo-word – the example of Whitbread confused me. The chart seems to imply that at some point Adnams’ (etc) became less industrial and more family-ish, whereas it’s actually the big concerns that split off.

  6. What do you take to be the kick off points and distinguishing features of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th waves of micros? Does a 4th wave micro look a lot like a 2nd wave one except that it started later?

    1. Yes, that’s about it, so we could easily have loads more waves, or just two. (First wave and second wave are easy — there was a crash in the early 80s, so we reckon second wave is anything that came after that.)

      Maybe (picking up Phil’s question about styles) we could say:

      First wave = Bitter/Best Bitter
      Second wave = Golden Ale
      Third wave = funny hops/spices
      Fourth wave = proto-craft (IPA &c.)

      But that’d be messy with lots of exceptions.

      Guess the point is that Rooster’s (1990s) was a bit different from, say, Selby (1972), even though they both just looked like ‘micros’ (i.e. not Watney’s) at the time.

  7. I don’t see how 1st wave craft can’t simply be called 5th wave micro. Its just a series if increasingly open-minded and outward looking breweries opening every 5 years or so.

    It might be more useful to plot a 2d diagram with age of brewery on one axis and traditional vs cutting edge on the other.

    1. We wanted to capture specifically, though, that breweries such as Sambrook’s and Gadd’s, with an allegiance to ‘real ale’ and commitment to traditional styles, continued to open in the 00s long after Alastair Hook had kicked off Meantime with an explicit influence from the US and ‘craft’ rhetoric.

  8. It’s obvious that a lot of work and thought has gone into this chart, and I don’t wish to denigrate it in any way. To me though, it looks far too busy and complicated, as it is trying to encompass too many things.

    I have to admit to not being a fan of trying to pigeon-hole things, so I’m probably not the best judge but, as one other correspondent has pointed out, what is the point of it?

    1. But *trying* too pigeonhole things, even if it doesn’t stick, can be instructive. It’s a thought experiment, I guess.

  9. I can offer myself up as another example of the cuckoo brewery – and I distinguish myself as this rather than a gypsy because in my mind the two are slightly different. It doesn’t really change anything in the model you presented, which is certainly food for thought.

    I brew using another brewery’s equipment but in all other respects it is an independent operation, separately registered with HMRC at the host brewery’s premises, buy my own ingredients, own my own cask stock, design and make my own beers and handle my own sales, accounts and deliveries. That’s not to say both myself and my host don’t help each other out from time to time – we’ll deliver each other’s beers, buy ingredients off each other or share delivery costs on a pallet, etc.

    Conversely I see a gypsy as potentially brewing at various other premises, and potentially therefore needing different commercial arrangements with the host(s) as in this country at least it would be difficult to be officially registered at different premises each time you brew. Probably a step nearer to contract brewing but retaining the creative control that may be handed over more to a contracted brewery.

    So, that’s why I offer myself as a cuckoo, rather than a gypsy. I think Steel City would be the same category, whereas I’m not sure if Indy Man Brew House would be cuckoo or gypsy for example.

    Of course all I’ve done now is create another potential ongoing debate about definitions…

    1. Thanks for the insight, David.

      The difficulty for us, I think, is in keeping track of who is gypsy/cuckoo at any one time — people who are good at it tend to get frustrated and acquire premises eventually. Even Mikkeller are settling down now, aren’t they?

      1. Yes, I believe Mikkeller are moving from a gypsy brewer to one of a “fixed abode”. I’ve really moved from gypsy to cuckoo myself and it is a natural expectation that some gypsy/cuckoo brewers at some point take the plunge and try to turn it into a full-time venture. Will I do the same? Unlikely at least for now, there’s a need for the full time job to be paying for commitments that can’t be ignored, and investing in a brewery of my own while taking a potential drop in income is just a step too far.

        I certainly agree it is hard keeping track of who is brewing on what basis – back to the old issue of transparency I guess. I make a point of recognising the host brewery on my bottles and pump clips, though actually when the only thing that sets me apart from a full-time brewery is that someone else owns the kit I’m brewing on I sometimes wonder if that is unnecessarily transparent to my own discredit, effectively opening myself up to being wrongly thought of as having less than full involvement in the beers I produce…

        1. David — I’d (obviously) say stick with transparency — it only looks *more* suspect if you hide the facts. Being honest gives you an opportunity for dialogue, too, i.e. blog posts setting out exactly who did what, where, when.

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