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Number of new breweries has peaked

Extensive research undertaken for the 2017 edition of The Brewery Manual has found that the number of UK craft brewers has stabilised after years of growth.

Researchers endeavoured to contact and interview virtually each and every brewer in the United Kingdom to arrive at a definitive number of commercially operational national, regional and craft/micro brewers. At of the end of calendar year 2016, the total was 1,544.

Of these the majority were smaller producers, brewing less than 30,000 hectolitres (18,330 barrels), 1,505 in total.

And after a six year surge in brewery openings, 2016 may mark the high water mark of brewery numbers in the UK.

Brewery Manual researchers identified 60 breweries that began operations during calendar 2016, a considerably lower number than the 100-plus totals recorded each year from 2010 to 2015.

Against this there were 58 breweries that ceased operations during 2016. And when breweries reporting that they have suspended brewing but remain in business are considered, for the first time since the introduction of Progressive Beer Duty in 2002 there is a decline in the number of operational breweries.

“After years of rapid expansion in numbers the industry has been due for a correction,” said Brewery Manual publisher Larry Nelson.

“Stabilisation of brewery numbers in 2016 may be a blip, or it could be the start of a slow contraction in brewery numbers. The early numbers for 2017 openings suggest that this may be the start of a slowdown in new brewery growth.

“That isn’t necessarily a bad thing for craft. When the American craft brewing industry underwent a contraction in numbers at the end of the 1990s demand for craft beer continued to rise year-on-year.

“The same dynamic is true for the UK: underlying demand from beer drinkers for new beers and new beer styles remains undiminished. In terms of brewing creativity we live in a golden age for the industry.”

The Brewery Manual’s enumeration of commercially operational breweries has been welcomed by SIBA.

SIBA membership director Tony Jerome said, “Recognising that different authorities arrive at their estimates on different dates and assumptions, we applaud The Brewery Manual’s definition of a brewery having to sell beer commercially. This research project seems to us to be the most reliable data source available.

“From these figures, SIBA estimates that we represent 80% of the beer produced by independent breweries brewing under 200,000hl. This does show that SIBA is the true voice of Britain’s independent brewers.”

Brewers remain optimists

The Brewery Manual’s annual survey of craft brewer attitudes found that despite pressure on margins, a decreasing number of pubs, and unprecedented competition, a record number felt that their businesses would perform better in 2017 than in 2016.

Fully 77.5% said that 2017 would prove to be better for their businesses than the previous year. Against this only 1.5% said business would be worse and 21% said that 2017 would prove to be the same as 2016.

The finding is based on a survey of 120 randomly selected brewers who were interviewed by Brewery Manual researchers.