At the current time the beer industry is considered to be alive because of a massive injection of enthusiasm and ideas; according to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in the past year 187 breweries have launched themselves into the market. This river of beer has also not gone unnoticed by the press. The Telegraph proclaimed that 'A Craft Beer Revolution is Brewing' (13 December 2013) and the Guardian urged 'all hail the British craft ale revolution' (26 October 2013).
For the consumer more breweries, more beer and more choice is undeniably a good thing. Living in London, near the South Bank, I don't have to go far to find
evidence of this new beer revolution. Up the road from me is the
wonderful Kernel Brewery, across Borough Market is Brew Wharf, going a
bit further would lead me to the Meantime Brewery, while in my local
vicinity I have six dedicated ale pubs serving a cornucopia of different
beers from across Britain. I am, without a doubt, sharing in the beer bonanza.
But can it be considered that because of these trends the brewing industry is successful? The story of the new UK's beer revolution tends to be written, in large part, by those on the outside of the industry who consume its products. We hear precious little about what is going on inside it. For example, is the beer market is becoming saturated? Do changes in the price of ingredients alter which beers are produced or is this down to the whim of a brewer? How many breweries are producing beer that is poor that may lead to their eventual closure? Are brewers thinking the market for beer will grow, or is their uncertainty amongst them? Where do new entrants learn how to run a brewery and what is information sharing like in the industry? Lastly, are any of the new breweries making profit? No one outside the industry can realistically answer these and other questions...yet.
Being fascinated about the management and operation of the modern brewing industry - something that stems from my career as a business historian - yesterday I issued a simple request on Twitter: 'does anybody know of a micro/craft brewery that may want to talk about their finances and business model?' The response was not encouraging. I was advised to contact a number of breweries, but in general I got the impression that getting under the skin of the industry would be hard. But I am not fazed, I plan to go ahead a project to understand it as much as I reasonably can. My findings, I hope, will be documented here.
I have a starting point though. One brewery, the Pilot Brewery in Leith, replied to my request, albeit briefly. After less than a year of operation their finances were 'perilous' and their business model was 'ill-thought-out'. This was a slightly tongue in cheek comment, but could this be the case with some new and young breweries? I can't tell you, but I hopefully will be able to in the future....