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How microbrewing is making a comeback in the UK

A close look at how local support is leading to the resurgence of independent microbreweries.

Popular trends with limited lifespans have been a constant feature of UK culture for years, but one historic tradition that Britain has maintained since the Middle Ages is the art of brewing beer. It's arguably one of the most enduring practices ever developed.

However, while for centuries people were creating their own brews on their own terms, things have changed since the industrial revolution. In an era of corporate giants and global brands, the days of crafting a few barrels of fruity ale in the garden shed seemed to have been forgotten. 

In modern times, it's all been about mass production and ensuring your beer is selling in as many places as possible. All the passion, talent and concentration that we used to pour into our beer had gone - or at least it appeared that way a decade ago.

Beer bouncing back

Fortunately, for those among us who prefer carefully crafted ales to watered-down lagers, people all over the UK with an appetite for traditional brews stood up - almost in unison - shortly after the turn of the new Millennium. They decided to do something about the erosion of independent brewing, and dedicate all their energy to creating something better than the market's biggest players were offering.

Microbreweries emerged everywhere, and one of the most impressive things was that - for the main part - they were all completely separate of each other. It was as if there was a universal realisation in the beer-drinking world: if you want something doing properly, it's best to do it yourself.

The growth of the sector has been phenomenal since then. Some of the biggest independent brewing names in the UK today originally started off as small-scale operations without visions of grandeur or widespread success. Initially, the focus was on making top quality beer for people to enjoy - profit appeared to be a secondary consideration.

Brewing for the better

You don't have to look too far for evidence of growth. BrewDog may be a Sunday Times Fast Track 100 company now, but at the start of 2007 it didn't exist. It was in April of that year that James Watt and Martin Dickie started to brew their own products after deciding they were bored of "stuffy ales" and "industrially-brewed lagers".

People are willing to pay more for products where a greater emphasis has been placed on artisanship and quality of production: they want to see - and taste - the difference.

To begin with, the pair brewed tiny batches for sale at local markets, but people's appetite for their beer and the support the brewery received means that the business now exports its products countries including Japan, Sweden and the US.

While the Camden Town Brewery hasn't yet grown on quite the same scale, its founder, Jasper Cuppaidge, started brewing during 2010 in the basement of a Hampstead pub called The Horseshoe. Now it has its own bar in Camden and its beers are sold at pubs throughout London. Again, Cuppaidge's inspiration came from wanting to brew something new for customers.

The local fan base 

Much of the success of microbreweries is down to local support - just as bands hoping to make it big in the music industry need to build a fan base, brewers have to secure the backing of their community in order to create a demand for their beers.

This is another great aspect of the revolution in microbreweries - people are willing to pay more for products where a greater emphasis has been placed on artisanship and quality of production. Customers want to see - and taste - the difference between hand-crafted brews and those which have been churned out by industrial machinery. The sales numbers suggest they like what they've bought.

Public backs brewing

The nature of smaller scale brewing means that many beer makers face monetary difficulties as they look to get their operations off the ground - but there are examples of the public proving more than willing to front the finance in return for seeing products come to market.

Fleur Emery raised £123,000 through crowd funding for her Green & Pleasant beer project, while BrewDog uses its own scheme - Equity for Punks - where fans are invited to invest in the business in return for shares, lifetime discounts and various other perks.

Microbreweries are then using this money to expand their operations, and the fact that it's all coming from enthusiastic supporters rather than banks or corporate investors means the public is helping to keep smaller brewers independent.

For many microbreweries, establishing a loyal customer base on a local level has provided the perfect platform for growth. The success stories suggest that this is a model other microbusinesses might seek to emulate.

Image credit: BitchBuzz