I have a new book out, A Craft Beer Road Trip Around Britain, with snapshots of 40 of Britain’s top small breweries from Scotland to the South West. Don’t rush to try to buy it from Amazon/your favourite independent bookseller, however, because it’s only available via Beer 52, the craft beer club people, who are giving it away to people who sign up to their “case of beer a month” service. Putting it together was quite fun, but hard work: getting craft beer brewers to co-operate in supplying information about themselves and their beers turns out to be like trying to herd cats, and my deepest sympathy goes to anyone who has had to put together one of those 666 beers to try before you’re dragged off to Hell-style compilations.
Still, at the end I found I had ended up with a big enough stack of information about a sample of craft brewers in Britain to pull out some interesting, if ultimately probably dubious, statistics. If we take the 40 brewers I interviewed for the book as typical (and I’m sure we can’t), we can draw the following conclusions about the British craft brewing industry:
Eight per cent of British craft brewers have a PhD
Probably the dodgiest stat of the lot; but it’s a fact that at least three of the 40 brewers in the book, James Davies of Alechemy in Livingston, Scotland (PhD, yeast genetics), Gaz Matthews of Mad Hatter in Liverpool (PhD, criminology) and Stuart Lascelles of East London Brewing Company (PhD, chemistry) are entitled to call themselves “Doctor”.
35 per cent of British craft brewers wear black T-shirts/polo shirts with their brewery’s logo on them
If the uniform of the 19th century brewer was a white apron and a red stockinette cap, as sported by Mr Bung in the Victorian Happy Families card game, and the uniform of the 20th century brewer was a white labcoat with pens in the top pocket, worn over a dark suit, then the uniform of the 21st century brewer is a black T-shirt, jeans and industrial boots – possibly, if the woman from Health and Safety is visiting, coupled with a hi-vis jacket and goggles.
48 per cent of British craft brewers sport a beard
The least surprising stat: while the craft brewers of Britain don’t normally go for the “big enough to hide several small birds and a couple of squirrels” face-bushes preferred by their American rivals, the bearded brewer has become almost a cliché, and almost half the brewers in the book had clearly not recently passed a razor over their chins.
35 per cent of British craft breweries have an address that begins with “Unit” followed by a number
Is it surprising that out of every 20 small breweries in the country, at least seven will be on an industrial estate? Probably not …
12 per cent of British craft breweries have an address that includes the word “Farm”
It’s on the face of it not that surprising, either, that out of 40 craft breweries, five should be based on farms, since farms today often have unused buildings – dairies, for example – that can be cheaply and easily adapted to provide a home for a small brewing set-up, while there are likely to be few neighbours in the immediate vicinity to annoy. And, after all, back in the 19th century thousands of farms had their own breweries, where they made beer for the farmer, his family and the farm workers. Indeed, quite a few commercial breweries began as farm breweries that expanded into supplying local pubs: Arkells of Swindon, to name one survivor of that tradition. On the other hand if you scale that five-out-of-40 up across the whole craft brewing sector today, that suggests more than 150 farms have breweries on them: I CBA to go through the breweries section of the Good Beer Guide to check, but than sounds dubious to me.
Eight per cent of British craft breweries are based in railway arches
And not only in East and South East London: Tickety Brew of Stalybridge, for example, is underneath the arches, too. The seminal role played by Network Rail in helping Britain’s craft brewing boom by supplying homes to small breweries to thrive in really should be chronicled. Mind, this is another probably dodgy statistic to draw from my book, since again it implies an improbably large number of railway arch brewer nationally, around a hundred.
Five per cent of British craft brewers have artistic graffiti all over the interior walls of the brewery
All right, I’m sure this really is one you cannot scale up from my small sample of 40 brewers, but at least two, BrewDog in Scotland and Tiny Rebel in Wales have brought in graffiti artists to liven up the inside of their otherwise boring boxes.
45 per cent of British craft brewers use Cascade hops in at least one of their beers
The only surprise here is that the number seems positively too low: Boak and Bailey have pointed out how incredibly influential Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has been on the craft brewing scene in the UK, so the fact that so many brewers in Britain use the hop found in SNPA should startle no one. At least Cascade has one British parent, Fuggles – does anyone make a beer with both Cascade AND Fuggles in it? Hmmm …
30 per cent of British craft brewers use Maris Otter barley
Fifty years old this year, and still popular, despite being more expensive than other varieties, Maris Otter is perhaps THE craft beer barley: though many bigger brewers won’t and don’t use it, and suggest its popularity is more down to the fact that it has a great marketing story to tell for any brewer using it .
40 per cent of British craft brewers have a home brewing background
Again that seems ostensibly too small, when only another 20 per cent of those I surveyed had an actual brewing industry background: did the other 40 per cent just fling themselves into the business with no experience of wetting malt at all? Well, some people do, actually, such as Otley, where the founders’ background was in running pubs.
Anyway, there we are: the typical British craft brewer is bearded, wears a black T-shirt, is based on an industrial estate, and brews at least one beer with Maris Otter barley and Cascade hops. Is there anyone who fits that description: Well, apart from the industrial estate, yes there is: step up, please, the bearded, black-T-shirted Andy Paterson, brewer at Dark Star Brewing in Sussex of Hophead, made with Maris Otter and Cascades. You, sir, are Mr Craft Brewer 2015!