The craft beer movement – where it all came from

The craft beer movement where it all came from

At some point, we’ll have to stop calling it a movement.

Surely one of the fastest-growing food and drink phenomenons in modern history, craft beer took a thirsty world by storm and is now a mature, vibrant scene bursting with creativity.

First, a definition: craft beer is individually brewed batches of beer. Smaller scale, usually independent breweries, rather than large corporates. According to the Brewers Association, craft beer “must come from a brewery that brews no more than 6 million barrels of beer per year, have under a quarter of the brewery owned or controlled by the alcoholic beverage industry, and has at least half of its volume in all malt beers.”

The general understanding is a little less strict – basically, small independent breweries making beer that’s flavoursome, unique and local.

Back in the 1970s, British beer was a bit dull. Back then, the majority of beer options were either global brands or historic ale institutions – at least in the UK. High-quality traditional British cask ales were dying out in favour of mass-produced keg bitter and weak lager.

This scene was shaken up by the emergence of an experimental attitude in the US, championing innovative flavours and methods. After the 1979 deregulation of brewing in the States, things really kicked off. Amateur enthusiasts began to make their own statements against the American mega-brands by brewing their own concoctions.

This influenced a gradual emergence of independents both Stateside and over here. Then, 2002’s Progressive Beer Duty, introduced by chancellor Gordon Brown, gave tax breaks to small brewers, kickstarting its gradual takeover.

The emergence of ‘real ale’ aficionados including CAMRA – The Campaign for Real Ale, founded in 1971 – didn’t bring a reputation for forward-thinking open-mindedness, although we do appreciate what they did for driving demand for quality beer around the country. The ‘Real Ale Twats’ comic strip from the Viz gently poked fun at the stereotype of the bearded beer nerds, only satisfied with the finest quality brews to anorak levels of specificity.

Thankfully they’re now taking a more progressive view of the beer scene, and don’t see brewers like us as the enemy. In fact, we’ve never been beer nerds, preferring to share our passion for great craft beer – everyone’s welcome: we just want you to enjoy it.

Throughout the 2000s, demand for craft beer ballooned and small brewers began to increase in number. In the year 2000, there were around 500 breweries in the UK. Now, there are over 2000!

 

The landscape of large breweries

Large breweries are still a dominant force of the global beer landscape, though. The merging of Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller was a turning point – the world’s biggest brewer bought the world’s second biggest brewer, and together they became… the world’s even-biggerest brewer. Nearly a third of all global beer sales go through this one company, and they’re raking in somewhere near $55 billion. They’re responsible for a large portion of the recognisable brands you see in most pubs these days.

While it’s great that there’s a huge market for beer, the power and reach of behemoths like this can make any small business nervous. (Or it would if we weren’t making such brilliant beer.)

Compared to big brands, you won’t find a massive price difference when shopping for craft beer. Craft beer is usually more expensive to produce than non-craft. This is because of smaller production runs, higher-quality ingredients, and higher quantities of those ingredients, like hops. So while some might tut at paying £5 for a pint of IPA in a city-centre pub, you get what you pay for. (And rent isn’t cheap these days). In fact, on the whole, beers haven’t proportionally risen in price much more than other retail goods. Creme eggs aren’t 20p any more, you know…

 

The future of craft beer

The good thing is that despite the existence of the corporate juggernauts, there’s still a growing space for small brewers everywhere. Beer is about more than marketing and availability. It’s about attention to detail, unique flavours, experimentation, heritage, and community. It’s no surprise that the craft beer community is so collaborative. If the market grows, everyone wins.

Sometimes you do see a ripple of discomfort when a small brewer is acquired by a big corporate. (It’s like an underground musician signing for a major record label. It’s a great success, but there’ll always be haters.) But it’s just the way things work – some aim for global domination, some like to keep it small. We think there’s room for both.

If you go into the fridge section at Ancoats General Store , just round the corner from our Ancoats brewhouse, you’ll see an astonishing range of craft beers in all kinds of colourful cans and bottles. There’s also a great range of pubs, bars, brewhouses and taprooms around Manchester (and cities and towns across the UK) serving tasty, innovative beer all over the place. It’s clearly a healthy and growing scene, and we can’t wait to see where it goes.

Keith McAvoy

Keith McAvoy

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