Brits work up a thirst for US ale

American beers are booming over here with sales of £30m – thanks to the help of a pointy-faced mascot, reports Mark Leftly
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The Independent Online

In 1906, the 13 men working at the Stevens Point Brewery posed, each with a glass of beer in hand, for a team photograph. In the front row of that tatty black and white photograph sits a tired-looking chap called Nicholas, whose chin is covered by a white fluffy beard.

The image of his face, with eyeballs virtually enveloped by extraordinarily droopy eyelids, was doctored to turn his brow into a pointy triangle. More than a century later, he remains the mascot for the Wisconsin-based brewery, his weathered face now the logo on Point's beer labels.

Nicholas's mug will soon be seen in pubs and supermarket shelves across the UK as the Worcestershire-based American Craft Beer Company starts importing World Beer Championships silver medallist Point Black Ale and the Vienna-style Point Amber Lager.

American craft ale, which is often strong, extremely hoppy and carbonated, now accounts for about 9 per cent of the $96bn (£60bn) US beer market. These small batch-produced ales have become hugely popular in the UK, with sales increasing 86 per cent last year as grocers started stocking bigger craft brands such as Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn Brewery.

Sales volumes are expected to go up by another 20 per cent this year, taking the market comfortably through the £30m barrier in Britain. Real ale aside, virtually every other beer market is in decline.

"US microbreweries are churning out some fantastic beers," says American Craft Beer Company finance director Ed Firth. "The trend is that people are drinking less, but drinking better, and as we see a move towards minimum pricing these premium brands' prices will become more aligned with the mainstream."

The beer duty escalator means that the tax on a pint increases 2 per cent more than inflation every year, which will raise the Treasury an extra £35m in 2013 alone.

However, the British Beer & Pub Association says that the gain is easily wiped out by job losses, as people can no longer afford the price of a pint, an argument that reached the floor of the House of Commons in a debate on Thursday.

There is the benefit that the relative price gap between fully flavoured beer and watery mass-produced lagers no longer seems so obstructive.

Julian Grocock, chief executive at the Society of Independent Brewers, says: "Americans themselves call lagers like Budweiser a 'commodity beer'. If that sounds like I'm being disparaging it is, because I am being disparaging."

Britain's imports of citrusy, extremely bitter India Pale Ales – a hugely popular style across the pond – such as Maryland's Flying Dog Raging Bitch were actually inspired by the UK's Campaign for Real Ale. In 1971, Camra held its first annual general meeting to promote traditional styles of ale at the Rose Inn in Nuneaton, a move that inspired beer-lovers in the US who had seen large-scale consolidation lead to the mass production of tasteless lagers.

So the industry has gone full circle, with thirsty Brits downing the Rogue Brutal IPAs and Stone Brewing Arrogant Bastard Ales that the UK helped to inspire.

C&C set for London

The owner of Magners Irish cider and Diamond White has told investors it will move its main listing from Dublin to London early next year.

Top 20 shareholders have long called on C&C Group chief executive Stephen Glancey to make the change, to access the Square Mile's greater liquidity. Dublin's benchmark ISEQ20 Index has struggled through the financial crisis, with building materials giant CRH and convenience food group Greencore having already defected to the UK.

C&C already has a secondary listing in London though the bulk of its shares are traded in Ireland. The swap has been delayed this year as it worked on a $305m (£190m) purchase of Vermont Hard Cider Company, which owns US leading brand Woodchuck. Now C&C is expected to announce the switch of stock exchanges early in 2013.