The Rise of the Micro Brewery – The Fall of the Pub Chain
Following yesterday’s release of Britain’s top 16 pubs, more news about the real ale industry and the discovery that in the past 12 months, an incredible 99 new breweries have opened in the United Kingdom. This brings the total number of breweries in the U.K. to 840, an unlikely achievement in these tough economic times. A couple of counties stand out; Cheshire alone has seen the opening of 12 in the past 12 months and Yorkshire now supports 98 breweries.
Of course these are mostly small breweries, catering for a relatively low number of local pubs and sometimes just one. A small brewery attached to a pub is an increasingly common way for real ale aficionados to supply their own pubs with an individual beer for a reasonable price. Dent Brewery in Cumbria is a prime example of a this type of industry.
The success, or at least the enthusiasm, of small brewing entrepreneurs is in marked contrast to the more homogenous side of the beer industry. High taxes on alcohol and a population struggling financially means many of the big pub chains are suffering from low sales and low margins.
There’s also a marked difference between the number of tied pubs closing compared to free houses. The pubs tied to breweries are closing at the rate of 9 per week compared to 5 free houses. It has long been known by landlords and patrons alike that the behaviour of the big breweries is partly to blame for the problems faced by those who run their pubs; they are required to pay up to 45% more for their beer than those not tied and this, added to ever increasing rents, squeezes the landlords to such an extent they eventually give up.
CAMRA’s Good Beer guide argues that to save many pubs, they should be allowed to opt out of the requirement to buy only from the brewery and to be rent controlled to a certain extent. Another concession would be to allow at least one non-brewery, real ale to be sold.