Britain is awash with boutique beers and artisanal ales. The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) says there are now more than 1,000 breweries in the UK, the highest number for 70 years. A record 158 breweries have opened in the past year alone, defying the recession, an overall drop in sales and a crisis in the pub industry.
Camra's latest Good Beer Guide reveals there is one brewery to every 50 pubs, further evidence of a beer boom that has astonished even the campaign group. Many new breweries are small affairs launched by drinkers who, like their customers, reject the bland offerings and "lad" marketing spewed out by industry giants already losing their fizz.
Melissa Cole, a beer expert, blogger and the author of Let Me Tell You About Beer, says global concerns such as AB InBev (Budweiser, Stella Artois and Beck's) and SABMiller (Peroni, Grolsch) are late to the bar in the race to catch up with changing tastes. "A younger generation is looking for heritage, provenance and flavoursome beer," she says. "They're real-ale drinkers who are more adventurous and affluent. Smart brewers are offering them something classy and interesting. Brewers don't understand it – it doesn't fit into their world of pasteurised, micro-filtrated mass production."
Cole singles out breweries such as Redemption, launched by a former trader in north London two years ago, Dark Star, based in West Sussex, as well as breweries such as Greenwich-based Meantime, and BrewDog from Aberdeen (it makes Punk IPA, below), who are no longer so "micro" thanks to a growing presence on supermarket shelves, as well as behind bars.
The new brewer succeeds where the old brewer fails, despite their million-pound marketing budgets (according to Camra, total beer sales have fallen by nearly 4 per cent in the past year). "They've created a new way of talking to the consumer," Cole explains. "They appeal to people who want to see themselves as different, part of a movement. There's also a more highbrow engagement. They sponsor literary festivals and host meet-the-brewer events."
Can the hip drinker, to be spotted in and, increasingly, beyond the bare-brick bars of our cities, rescue an industry in which a dozen pubs call time every week? "The numbers are there to say pubs who do interesting cask ales and craft keg beers are surviving better," Cole says. "Pubs need to pay attention."