Wednesday 28 June 2017

UK brewery numbers may be declining again

That's the implication from the 2017 volume of The Brewery Manual, which aimed to survey all the working brewers in the UK.

Its researchers reckon there were 1544 "commercially operational national, regional and craft/micro brewers" in the UK last year. Of these, the vast majority - 1505 of them - were smaller producers that brewed less than 30,000 hectolitres (18,330 barrels).

They add that 60 breweries started operations during 2016. That's way down on the 100+ numbers recorded in each of the previous five years.

At the same time, there were 58 breweries that ceased operations and a few more that are still in business but are no longer brewing, which means that the total of working breweries has actually gone down since 2015.

Some observers have argued for a while now that the rapid growth in microbrewing was not sustainable, and that a period of 'rationalisation and consolidation' was on the way. Brewery Manual publisher Larry Nelson agreed, suggesting that "it could be the start of a slow contraction in brewery numbers.

"After years of rapid expansion in numbers the industry has been due for a correction," he continued. "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."


  1. I would definitely agree with the statement that, “The industry has been due for a correction”, and yet whilst reading through the Brewery News section, in a local CAMRA magazine - “Channel Draught” from Dover, Deal and Sandwich, I noticed there were at least 10 Kentish breweries which I didn’t recognise.

    Kent already has too many breweries in terms of the number of genuine free-trade outlets, so these new start-ups seem economic madness to me. I did get the impression though, that many of these newcomers are either brew-pubs or the proverbial “man in a shed” brewery.

    Whilst the enthusiasm of these new entrants to the trade is not in dispute, I do wonder where all this beer is going to end up? Discounting is one way, but that is the route to the poor house, so is what we are currently seeing in Kent, the last gasp in terms of brewery expansion, or is there still a genuine demand for yet more breweries?

    1. It's odd, isn't it? Some will sell the beer themselves, I guess, but others will struggle on, running up debt, before eventually shutting up.

      The other aspect is 10 new breweries there presumably means a few less somewhere else. Other men-in-sheds selling up?

  2. I think some of these new start-ups are concentrating mainly on bottles beers, selling them at farmers' markets and the like. This is pretty much a niche market though.

    As for some of the existing micro's throwing in the towel, I'm not aware of any closures yet, but I really can't see a viable and sustainable future for them all.

  3. That's a good point about bottles - localism and all those markets. It doesn't even have to be very good, it sometimes seems...

    Maybe the closures aren't in your area, but my impression is that for every micro that sets up with a new brewkit - often with just a 200 or 500 litre kit - there's another that's bought kit off a closure.