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.

    2. Brew­ery capac­i­ties and actu­al pro­duc­tion num­bers are noto­ri­ous­ly hard to come by, lead­ing peo­ple to make all kinds of wild asser­tions.

  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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