Microbrewers are flourishing in Yorkshire but will the craft beer revolution run out of fizz, asks Neil Hudson
Yorkshire is undergoing a brewing revolution, with more microbrewers than any area outside London but according to some, while our thirst for craft beer seems unquenchable, the market could be fast reaching saturation point.
Unlike London, which leads the country in terms of the microbrewing revolution, Yorkshire’s geographical location means brewers here are within easy reach of more diverse markets, with the Midlands, Wales, the north and even Scotland practically on our doorstep.
And rather than the revolution being led by middle-aged drinkers, it’s today’s twentysomethings who are driving the desire for distincitive beers.
That’s according to Tom Stainer from the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) head office, who said younger drinkers were far more savvy than their forebears and in these austere times, they want more ‘bang for their buck.’
“The younger generation are much more discerning when it comes to craft beers, they are also much more likely to promote the brands they like on social media. These days, things like that are about fashion and identity and not so much about buying something which is mass produced.
“They also want to buy something which has quality attached to it. For people who are not going to the pub, they want something which has inherent value, people do not want to be ‘mass marketed’ at, as it were. What craft beer does is fits into that desire to make individual choices.”
Tom added: “Everyone is a bit more switched on now, especially when money is tight. Leeds has one of the most varied markets when it comes to craft beer.”
Nigel Poustie has run Sunbeam Ales from his home since 2012 and produces eight barrels a week. He said: “I got into it just after my son was born six years ago, it was a hobby but I am a fairly obsessive person so when my contract was due to change at work, I decided to do this full time. I’ve made about 24 beers but have about 12 on rotation. As a profession, I love it. I was given a lot of help and advice from people already in the business.”
Whether the craft brewing revolution is being driven by young, old or middle-aged drinkers, it’s certainly a force to be reckoned with.
The Good Beer Guide 2015 shows Britain now has more breweries per person than anywhere in the world. The market has grown over 10 per cent per annum over the last two years, which means Britain now has more breweries per head than any other country in the world.
There are now 1,285 breweries in the UK, 170 of which were added last year, with no sign of the trend slowing.
Good Beer Guide editor Roger Protz said: “Real ale is the only success story in a declining beer market. New breweries, making handcrafted beers, continue to come on stream while many long-standing regional and family breweries are expanding with new equipment and new brands. Real ale has almost doubled its market share over the past decade.”
David Jones runs Bier Huis, Ossett, which boasts the UK’s largest selection of craft ales, with over 220 different Yorkshire ales and 400 from around the world.
He said: “There probably are too many in Yorkshire but what tends to happen is the good ones will stick around, whereas the other ones fall by the wayside. Everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon. It’s a national thing but it’s being led by Yorkshire and London. The number of independent breweries popping up is increasing. It’s generally a friendly market but that doesn’t mean competition isn’t tough. I think in the end things come full circle so in time, the larger breweries take over the smaller ones as time goes on.”
Speaking of which, the ‘real ale’ success saga isn’t limited to microbrewers. Leeds’ biggest brewer, Leeds Brewery, has just announced it is opening its seventh pub, The Lamb and Flag, in the city.
Owner Sam Moss, who set this business up eight years ago with Michael Brothwell, said: “The building used to be a pub, The Thirteen Bells, in the 19th Century. For us, turning buildings into pubs is one of the most fun parts of the job.
“Over the last eight years the market has boomed and boomed and boomed. Eight years ago, there was just Tetleys, now we are the biggest brewery but just look at all the breweries in Leeds now and that shows no sign of slowing.
“The market is extremely challenging but that just means everyone has to up their game. We live by the ‘second pint rule’, which is, if someone has your beer and they go back for a second, you know something’s right. People are more informed, more intelligent. The increase in breweries is driven by demand.”
Sam added the brewery, which produces 30,000 pints a week, was “bursting at the seems”, adding they had just ordered new equipment.
Added to which, Kirkstall Brewery is soon to unveil a new, larger brewery building.
Sam Parker, Leeds Camra officer, has just launched his own microbrewery, Whippet Brewing Co.
He said: “I’m happy with the situation in Leeds. We all appeal to different parts of the market.”
CAMRA says there are over 1,200 breweries in the UK, the overwhelming majority being microbrewers - last year, 170 new ones opened and even more could open this year
The city’s newest brewery is the Whippet Brewing Co, run by Sam Parker.
Sunbeam Ales has 12 beers on rotation and produces eight barrels a week - Nigel Poustie started the business by making beer in his kitchen.
Leeds Brewery’s seventh pub, Lamb & Flag, near Leeds Minster, opens on Friday