Up for for a crafty pint?

Enjoy taking one for the good of the house? There are now well over 1,200 microbreweries in the UK. And they're reviving the UK beer industry.

A microbrewery or craft brewery is a brewery that produces a small amount of beer. Exact definitions vary, but the terms are typically applied to breweries that are much smaller than largescale corporate breweries and are independently owned. Such breweries are generally characterised by their emphasis on quality, flavour and brewing technique.

The microbrewing movement began in the United Kingdom in the 1970s — although traditional artisan brewing existed in Europe for centuries — and subsequently spread to other countries. As the movement grew and some breweries expanded their production and distribution, the concept of craft brewing emerged. A related term, “brewpub” refers to a pub or restaurant that brews its own beer for sale on the premises.

New generation

In the UK in the late 1970s a new generation of small breweries focused on producing traditional cask ale independently of major breweries or pub chains. When some of the local breweries were taken over by large internationals some of the employees decided to make their own ales on the redundant sites. Alongside commercial beer brewing, training courses and apprenticeships were offered which many of the early pioneers attended before setting up their own breweries.

Customer service

Although the term “microbrewery” was originally used in relation to the size of breweries, it gradually came to reflect an alternative attitude and approach to brewing, which included flexibility, adaptability, experimentation and customer service.

Before the development of large commercial breweries in the UK, beer would have been brewed on the premises from which it was sold. ‘Alewives’ would put out a sign — a hop pole or ale-wand — to show when their beer was ready.

The medieval authorities were more interested in ensuring adequate quality and strength of the beer than discouraging drinking.

Gradually men became involved in brewing and organised themselves into guilds such as the Brewers Guild in London of 1342 and the Edinburgh Society of Brewers in 1598; as brewing became more organised and reliable many inns and taverns ceased brewing for themselves and bought beer from these early commercial breweries.

In the UK during the 20th century, most of the traditional pubs which brewed their own beer in the brewhouse round the back of the pub, were bought out by larger breweries and stopped brewing on the premises.

The trend toward larger brewing companies started to change during the 1970s when the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) pushed for more traditional brewing methods. This encouraged brewers to form their own small breweries or brewpubs. In 1979, a chain of UK brewpubs, known as the “Firkin” pubs, started running to over one hundred at the chain’s peak; however, it was sold and eventually the pubs ceased brewing their own beer.

Revival

There are now well over 1,200 microbreweries in the UK which has helped revive the UK beer industry.

Discerning beer drinkers are increasingly turning to locally brewed products, helping to revive an ale industry hit by rising duty, pub closures and the growth of supermarket sales.

The growth in demand for cask ale and the sprouting of craft beer makers has been a notable feature of the beer industry in recent years.

The British Beer website has a listing of most of the small breweries in the UK so if you want to try the local beer have a look on www.britishbeers.co.uk, or ask in your local pub if they have a regional brew.