Number of Scottish craft brewers on the rise

James Watt and Martin Dickie, founders of BrewDog. Picture: Contributed
James Watt and Martin Dickie, founders of BrewDog. Picture: Contributed
  • Number of small breweries reaches level last seen in 1930s
  • 2015 total hits 93 with more in pipeline, despite pub closures
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The demand for Scottish real ale and craft beer shows no sign of going flat in 2016 as new businesses continue to enter market.

There were 93 breweries in Scotland in 2015, with 20 opening in the past 12 months, according to figures from the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra).

A total of 1,424 now operate across the UK – a number last seen in the 1930s. Industry estimates suggest Britain now has more beer producers per head of population than any other nation in the world.

Many of the Scottish breweries that have opened in recent years only employ a handful of full-time employees and rely upon promoting their products at beer festivals in order to attract the attention of commercial buyers.

But others, including BrewDog, have grown into major industry players in their own right. The Ellon-based company was established in 2007 and now employs 500 staff, as well as operating 42 bars worldwide.

Its purpose-built brewery opened in 2012 and now produces around 2.2 million bottles and 400,000 cans a month.

Brewdog co-founder James Watt said he expected more breweries to open this year and dismissed suggestions the market could become saturated.

“People want variety and they want to try different beers from different breweries, exploring all sorts of styles and twists on classics,” he said. “The whole reason they’re turning their backs on mass-marketed rubbish is that they want choice. The more choice, the better.

“However, only those breweries who really care about the beer will succeed, as any that are just in it for the bandwagon will get left by the wayside. There are already plenty of incredible breweries in Scotland and the UK, so any newcomers will have to be outstanding to make any noise. But if they’re good, which a lot of recent launches definitely are, then there’s nothing 
stopping them from being
successful.”

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The spate of new brewery openings contrasts with the global beer market, which is going through a period of consolidation. Two market leaders, Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller, are in the process of merging their operations. The resulting company will produce almost a third of the world’s beer supply, including such market leaders as Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona.

Beer sales in the UK rose 1.5 per cent in the year to June, the first increase in a decade. The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) blamed the 24 per cent drop in sales over the previous nine years on a 42 per cent increase in beer duty from 2008-2013.

John McGarva, who founded the Tryst Brewery in Larbert, Stirlingshire, in 2003, bucked that trend by steadily growing sales, largely thanks to word-of-mouth recommendations.

His company, which employs two other members of staff full-time, produces real ale which is sold through beer shops and not major supermarkets.

“It remains a very niche market,” he said. “I think we have reached a point where there are perhaps too many smaller breweries competing with the larger ones in Scotland. Many pubs in Edinburgh, which remains the biggest market, still don’t sell real ale.
 “The breweries that will survive are the ones that make good beer; it’s that simple. We’re fortunate that we have discerning customer base who are very particular about what they drink.”

While Tryst is only seldom served in pubs, it’s popularity at festivals and among specialist shops ensures its growth.

The number of pubs in Scotland has declined, in line with UK levels, since the late 1980s. But groups such as Camra still view them as vital to turning more customers on to microbrewery products.

“Demand is dependent on there still being pubs to serve beer in and the greatest threat to the current UK beer revolution is the alarming number of pubs which are still closing - around 30 a week across the UK,” said a Camra spokeswoman. “As long as there are places to serve it in and brewers continue to produce high quality and interesting beers, the number of breweries could continue to grow.

“It’s clear the resurgence of interest in good beer and pubs is linked to people wanting to make sure they get quality and authentic experiences, rather than overpaying for generic, mass-marketed products.”