The beer industry seems to be going through a metamorphosis- moving it towards the finer parlors: treating it more like wine. But as the beer culture is showing signs of new consumer behaviors, is it also having an effect on the pub culture? CulTour magazine visited the cradle of the craft beer movement to find answers: The United Kingdom.
The micro brewing and craft beer production has had a major upswing in recent years. The industry seems to be flourishing: last year it was measured that the UK had over 1700 breweries, and was crowned as the country with the most breweries per million people. CAMRA’s annual beer guide (The Good Beer Guide) published a report in 2015 that established there was one brewery per 50,000 people: the largest number since the 1940s. Recent statistics have shown that there is an approximate increase of 10 percent of brewery start-ups annually, and nearly all of them are small scale cask producers.
It was in the United Kingdom during the 1970s that the microbrewery movement was awakened, when the Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA) was founded. It was a counter reaction towards mass produced and standardized beer provided by the British Beer Industry. CAMRA’s motive was to bring the traditional brewing methods back as well as to make the beer crafting more genuine and authentic again. The public’s interest was instantly massive and after two years CAMRA already had approximately 5000 members. The organization is still very much operating today, and has over 187 450 members (May 2017).
Even the terms are dynamic
The term microbrewery could be seen as a bit vague nowadays: it used to be more of a strict definition of the brewery’s actual size and capacity, but has moved towards being reflective of the brewery’s attitude against the industry and mass production. The microbreweries are often characterized by their will to experiment with new flavors, a versatility and responsiveness towards their customers, but above all: independence.
The craft brew has a more narrow definition: having no more than 30 people on staff or producing less than 5000 hectoliters per year and more than 50 percent of the brewery should be privately owned.
The cask ale production is also going through a revival, and increases in popularity. The cask ale is sometimes also referred to in the UK as real ale, which is unfiltered, unpasteurized and free from nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure. It is also kept and served from a cask, thus the name.
But other than the obvious flavor differences; are there any other in which the consumer may sense the difference of production, as well as the size of the brewery?
“I think often the smaller breweries are run with passion and with a real desire and drive to make incredible beer. Bigger companies have shareholders they have to consider and keep happy and I think that plays a part in the quality of the ingredients,” says Christian Townsley, founder of North Brewing Co.
A cultural change
The pub Editors Draught is located in a neighborhood that used to be the central part of Leeds, near where central station and the Yorkshire Post were based. However the city has gone through big changes during the recent years and the district is now mainly a business area. All around there are new constructions going on. The pub opened its doors to the public on November 10th 2016 and is taking part of the new beer revolution: with a specialization in craft beers and cask ales.
The location of the pub Editors Draught became the inspiration for its name and decoration: being situated in the old media district and the section called Writers block, but the general manager, Wayne Ince, implies that their concept is more focused on the beer.
“The idea behind the actual concept itself is that we do a lot of cask ale and craft beers, so it was about driving those new markets of craft beer and cask ale forward. Rather than our old standard Carling and John Smiths and the sort of old beers. They are not dying out but those brands are in their own community pubs. This is more about taking on the new market.”
Ince means that the new consumer habits of drinking beer are actually changing the climate of the pubs in England. “Nowadays you get a lot more people going out: spending more but drinking less because they are buying better products and they are quite happy with spending time with people who are alike, rather than just going to a football pub and having as much Carling as they can get down. The culture itself is changing across the country and this is what Editors Draught is part of,” he says.
Christian Townsley is one of the founders of Leeds based North Bar and North Brewing Co. It has been 20 years since North Bar opened and during this time he has the pub scene change.
“The pub culture has changed so much in the last 20 years. When we opened North bar the normal closing time was eleven o’clock. Then the licensing laws changed so then you could apply for a license to go on a bit later than that. Which was in keeping in what we wanted to do, but that had a damaging effect on the club scene. That late night clubbing scene definitely was a big shift. Now licensing laws have tightened up a lot, there is a lot of less tolerance for the old traditional British drinking culture. So I think that has made a big difference on the industry.“
The big shift
Claudia Asch, has been involved in the beer industry since 2011, working on one of the UK’s most eminent craft beer festivals, the Independent Manchester Beer Convention. She tells about how the shift in the industry began and the reason behind the increasing amounts of breweries.
“The UK always had a lot of smaller, local breweries, but in 2002, there was a taxation change for microbrewers brewing less than 5000 UK barrels per year. These brewers don’t get taxed as much as large breweries. That made it easier for new players to enter the market.”
On why there might be a difference in beer consumption, she means, could be a switch between generations. “I think older beer drinkers aren’t interested in innovation and new flavors, they just want to drink what they have always drunk and also not pay very much for the product. Newer or younger beer consumers are more interested in variety, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they get a quality product. As these younger drinkers become more experienced, quality will become more important. If breweries cannot produce quality-led products, then the customers might move on to other drinks that manage to fulfil their quality expectations.”
But she can see other possible reasons why the pub climate is changing. “I actually think that the availability of beer in bottle shops and the supermarkets has changed things a lot for pubs, with more people drinking at home than out – probably more so than consuming less in general.”
When asking if this new way of beer consumption may lead to women feeling safer at pubs she says that ”certainly in more modern beer places, women generally ought to feel safe.”
There is however another slow changing aspect that a woman with a beer passion might stumble across: “As a woman who goes to bars and pubs, I’m still surprised that I get asked if I like beer.”
With great beer comes great responsibility
A trend in the industry that has become visible is that the beers are getting stronger. “Ten or fifteen years ago a strong British beer would have been five or six percent. That would have been considered a strong British beer, but now five percent is very much standard strength for a beer. The strength of beer has gone up and the way that we drink has to change accordingly,“ says Townsley.
“It has definitely changed my drinking habits. I drink halves now because it means I could try more different beers. And I think that has to shift on the industry as well.”
But there are measures taken by the pub industry towards creating a safer environment. The pubs of Leeds have a connected radio system where they easily can share quick information about possible uprising situations. At Editors Draught, Ince says that they want to have an active role in creating a protected environment for their customers.
“We want to be responsible. We are serving better products and coming towards a much safer environment. The people who come here are in the mindset that they want to have a nice time. They are not here to get drunk. The atmosphere here is good. We don’t have doormen because we don’t need them.”
Tags: beer, Beer culture, England, pub culture