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Brewery openings plummet as UK nears peak craft beer

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Are we reaching peak craft beer? Photo: TNS/SIPA USA/PA Images

The number of breweries opening in the UK has plummeted in the past year,  suggesting Britain’s craft beer boom is losing steam.

New figures from the accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young show just eight new breweries opened in Britain in 2018-19.

That marks an enormous fall on the 390 breweries that launched a year earlier, and a five-year low for openings.

The accountancy firm suggested the industry’s “gold rush” phase was coming to an end, with greater competition making it harder for start-ups to break into a crowded market.

A key development has been the reaction of much larger established brewing firms, with larger players investing in or taking over promising craft beer start-ups.

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Examples include Heineken’s buy-up of Beavertown Brewery, Brixton Brewery and Lagunitas, and Fullers’ purchase of craft beer firm Dark Star.

James Simmonds, partner at UHY Hacker Young, said: “We’re not saying that the market is shrinking just the number of players is consolidating and sales growth is going to be harder to come buy.

“Craft breweries need to ensure their business model is s sustainable and profitable at an earlier stage and not just rely on the idea they’ll constantly be able to grow their way out of trouble.”

Recent research by the Society of Independent Brewers found many drinkers were unaware popular craft beers were produced by large companies.

43% of drinkers said they thought craft beer could only be made by small brewers, but there are no restrictions on use of the term. Only 2% of the 2,000 people surveyed said beer made by multinationals merited the craft beer label.

But the number of British breweries remains high, with 2,274 last year compared to 1,352 just five years ago.