2016 was quite a year for beer... Our Beer Sommelier Maggie Cubbler looks back at the year 2016 in beer in the UK and US, and wonders what next for the 'Craft Beer Revolution'

Bubble? What bubble? With 2016 bringing another 730 new breweries into the US market that brings the total to 5,005 breweries now in operation – the vast majority of them being small and independent companies. According to the Brewer’s Association’s (BA) 2016 figures, the craft beer segment in the States had a bit of a slow-down in growth last year with an increase of only 8% as opposed to double-digit growths in the preceding years. Nevertheless, growth is growth, and it’s evident that new brewery owners are still confident that the market has many opportunities for success.

The so-called Craft Beer Revolution has had the better part of a decade to mature in the US and the UK market is quickly closing the gap – now, according to industry insiders, only roughly a year behind the level of that of the American market. Much like in the US, craft beer has become the most popular artisanal product in the UK with consumers now showing that they’re happy to pay a premium for what is perceived to be a luxury product. As craft beer continues to be in-demand, British brewers are enjoying progress and newcomers to the sector have pushed the number of breweries in the UK to around 1,700, or an increase of 8% over 2015.  

According to a 2015 survey conducted by the UK’s Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), 80% of their respondents expected an increase in turnover in 2016 with one-third forecasting a turnover growth over 25%. These numbers are indeed exciting and are partly thanks to a big change in beer-drinking demographics: roughly 24% of women report drinking more beer now than they did 2-3 years ago. Likewise, 9 in 10 consumers say they are interested in learning about different styles of beer while two-thirds of customers would like to know more about the ingredients in their beer. This indicates that the beer-drinking public finds beer an interesting and dynamic product. More beer education and staff training could further help growth in the sector.

While the UK has more breweries per capita than even that of the US, the American success can be attributed to a number of factors that can help maintain sustained growth: 1.2 million homebrewers (many of today’s most legendary craft brewers started as homebrewers); favourable tax laws (small brewers pay about 2p/pint as opposed to about 55p/pint in the UK); and towns and cities which actively pursue new breweries and brewpubs due to their economic advantages to their area (with even the smallest of one-traffic-light towns having one or the other). While it is admittedly a bit of apples and oranges, UK lawmakers hoping to help their constituencies benefit from the Craft Beer Revolution should consider amending their regulations regarding homebrewing, beer taxes, and planning permission. Doing so would bring the UK market to the same level of success and maturity of their American counterpart.