LONDON: The number of breweries now operating in the UK has edged past 2,000, thanks to 300 new openings in the last year, suggesting a reversal of the consolidation that has characterised the UK beer market for decades.

Growth in sales across both pubs and supermarkets has seen many home brewers take up the start-up route and open microbreweries with specialist beer offers, the Guardian reported.

The figures come from a report put together by accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young, which found that new breweries rose by 18% in 2016, reaching 1,994 – the rate of growth over the last five years climbing to 64%.

For the first time since the 1930s, the firm said, the UK’s total number of breweries has risen above 2,000. “The craft beer boom has reversed around 70 years of consolidation in the brewing industry and there is plenty of growth still to come,” said James Simmonds, a partner at UHY Hacker Young.

In part, the company noted the unusual impact of a 2002 tax break, introduced by Gordon Brown as chancellor, which has meant that smaller breweries pay 50% less beer duty than large competitors.

“There has been a huge growth in independent craft breweries over the last few years, which has led to greater consumer choice and more different beer styles being available in the UK than ever before,” Neil Walker, of the Society of Independent Brewers (Siba) told the paper.

“This growth has been in direct response to increasing demand from beer drinkers, who are demanding better quality, better flavour and more choice – all things which independent craft breweries can offer.”

Examples of new offers include an Edinburgh-brewed gluten-free craft beer, founded by a coeliac (Bellfield), London Toast Ale, made from leftover bread, and IntelligentX, a beer that uses AI to integrate customer feedback into its recipe and create a continuously evolving product.

But as the product has become more attractive to consumers, multinational breweries are working to stave off the competition. “The majors are beginning to make a fightback by acquiring craft brewers and launching their own artisan-style brands,” Simmonds noted. As a result, craft brewers “will need to work hard to get their product into that limited shelf space and bar space”.

Meanwhile, a September report from UHY Hacker Young noted that another UK drinks category was seeing rapid growth in production: distilled spirits. Specifically gin, which unlike whisky – and beer for that matter – can be made very quickly, allowing makers to rapidly scale production. The number of distilleries has grown 107% in just five years.

Sourced from The Guardian, Bellfield, Toast, IntelligentX, UHY Hacker Young; additional content by WARC staff