This question has been in my mind ever since I decided to re-enter the marvellous world of brewing. And, I have just read David Bailey's (Hardknott Brewery) blog on this very subject which prompts me to write down my thoughts and, in part, give my reply to his question.
My new venture in brewing as Gyle 59 is entering the brewing scene at what might be seen as the crest of a wave with new entrants aplenty. Having been away since May 2011, I have come back to a vibrant and enthusiastic world of beer that seems to me both exciting and slightly scary at the same time.
I can't disagree with Dave's comments on his blog, as he is basically throwing open the question. However, I am a lot more optimistic about the future. Sure, there will be casualties along the way but so there should be. If breweries haven't got a good product, haven't done their homework or simply don't work hard enough then no one should be surprised if they fail. It's not an 'easy' business.
If you take a stroll around London (or many other large towns and cities) and visit some of the high profile pubs (Brewdog, Craft Beer Company etc) you soon realise the people now drinking, enthusing and experimenting with beer are a wonderfully eclectic range of people. The old CAMRA image of middle aged men with beards and pot bellies has been fading for a long time now, but the sheer volume and variety of new beer drinkers is staggering. This is not confined to London, it's happening all over the country. This is evidenced by the increased range of beers on offer in so many more pubs than were offering it in the past.
All this makes me think that the answer to whether there are too many breweries is a resounding NO.
- There are more outlets for good beer than have existed for a long time and the demand for even more is evident
- More and more beer festivals (craft and traditional) are being held all over the country
- The volume of writing about beer that exists, whether in journals or via the internet, is huge
- New events are being created that combine beer, food and music in newer and more contemporary ways
- The range of people enjoying beer has expanded to seemingly include everyone. Beer can now been seen as non-sexist, non-racist, non-ageist... the list goes on.
- The British people seem to have stopped being slightly apologetic about their national drink and are celebrating its high quality. But not only that, we're happily taking on lessons from all over the globe to enhance the range and enjoyment derived from this immensely varied and adaptable drink.
- There are more and more businesses springing up to help breweries succeed. Whether they be distributors, event organisers, equipment manufacturers or marketing companies, there is now a huge number of businesses with a vested interest in promoting good beer
However, I do think the question in my (and David Bailey's) title is a good one. It's one to keep uppermost in one's mind as an existing brewery or a new entrant. It will undoubtedly help keep the mind focussed on remaining competitive, engaged and innovative. Which, after all, can only help to sustain and improve the quality of the beer being sold throughout the UK. And I'll happily drink to that!