The importance of the brewing industry in Britain should not be under estimated. It impacts on many aspects of everyday life in both the social and economic arenas.
Let’s not dwell on the past. The old fashioned and romantic image of the brewery has very little to with the brewing industry of today. Many of the quaint traditions of yesteryear have been abandoned. More and more of the smaller regional breweries have been absorbed by the national conglomerates, and whilst many of the old names still appear on the beer pumps at your local pub,it is very difficult for the average drinker to know exactly where their beer has come from.
For example. Old Speckled Hen was produced in Abingdon by Moorland Brewery to commemorate the 50th anniversary of MG car production in the same town.Forty years later, Greene King aquired Moorland and moved production of Hen to Bury St Edmunds. The water was different, also the taste changed. Shortly after that the strength changed. This is typical of what is happening week in, week out throughout the country. A few smaller brewers are managing to hang on to their market – Harveys in Lewes is a good example, but there is not one regional producer in the market today which is not being watched and monitored by the big players above them.
Traditional British beer, or Ale as it is known, is only purchased by about 35% of drinkers today. Foreign beers now have the largest share of the market, with cider coming up the inside and growing in market share daily. In response to this trend, brewers are increasingly gaining the rights to produce foreign beers alongside their traditional ales. Shepherd Neame in Faversham is a prime example . Their famous ales such as Spitfire and Bishops Finger are now brewed in the same plant as lagers from Japan, China, India and continental Europe.
There was a time when all breweries had their own estate of pubs selling their own products. In recent years they have been disposing of these outlets and concentrating their growth on other areas of the leisure industry. Whitbread for example have the franchise for Costa Coffee, and other major players have interests in casinos and cinema chains.
A glance at the business pages of the financial pages leaves one in no doubt as to the importance of the brewers to the UK economy of today.