British Beer is Booming

Beer.jpg

Jan 16, 2015 by James

Although the Ancient Egyptians were the first people to brew barley into beer, it is undoubtedly true that Britain has taken beer and the art of brewing into its heart for many centuries now. There are more than a thousand breweries in the UK, and a whopping 82% of all beer sold in the UK is made here. That, as you can probably imagine, is an awful lot of pints.

 

Beer basics

Most beers are brewed from barley, but there is a host of alternatives including rice, wheat, oats, maize and spelt. Hops are added to offset the bitterness of the barley. The type of water used affects the flavour of beer profoundly, which is why particular geographic areas are often associated with specific beers, for example London is famous for its stout.

Beer is not a single drink: there are more than 60 styles of beer being brewed in the UK today. They include pale ale, pilsner, brown ale, bitter, porter, stout and even champagne and chocolate beers. This variety, along with the fact that alcohol is a flavour enhancer, has led many in the industry to claim that beers can be matched to foods in much the same way that wines can. It is suggested, for example, that beer is a particularly good match for sweeter foods such as chocolate, and for barbecued meats.

 

Thriving industry

The manufacture and sale of beer creates or supports more than 900,000 jobs in agriculture, brewing, pubs and hospitality and in the supply chain, so it is a major British industry. Even though UK alcohol consumption has fallen by 16% since 2004, and there are ongoing (strenuous) efforts to reduce problem and under-age drinking, beer production by British breweries has been rising – in particular in the independent, or 'craft brewery' sector.

Indeed there has been a great resurgence of small scale, artisan brewing in twenty-first century Britain, and this trend is growing. Production by independent British breweries was up by around 6% in 2012/13, yet another example of the steady increases seen since the turn of this century. Independent breweries are also generating new jobs, and are credited with inspiring the current trend for microbrewing throughout the world. Smaller, independent breweries have also re-introduced several historic beers to the modern British public.

 

Macho?

In the UK, beer has something of a masculine image: in a recent study, 79% of UK women questioned said they drank beer rarely or not at all. This is somewhat ironic, given that historically, many British brewers have been (and continue to be) female. A seventeenth century pamphlet, entitled 'The English Housewife', stated that being a competent brewer was essential to the role of wife and mother, while many nuns brewed beer in their convents.

In summary, while few would argue that British society has some problems with alcohol in general, beer specifically remains a key part of the national culture. Seven out of every ten drinks sold in UK pubs are beer, and while that situation remains, the outlook for British brewing can only be bright.