Microbreweries buck industry decline

editorial image
Share this article

Microbreweries in Calderdale are going from strength-to-strength, bucking the trend of widespread decline in the alcohol industry.

According to industry figures, the real ale sector has been the only area of growth in the drinks industry as a whole over the past year.

Small-scale microbreweries which produce batches of cask and bottled beers for local customers have seen a dramatic 7.7 per cent growth over the past year, while the larger beer producers have seen their sales decline.

There are now 1,250 microbreweries in the UK that make up eight per cent of the total drinks market.

“In the old days, you’d get the mass manufactured beers - there was very little in the way of choice,” said councillor Ashley Evans (Lib Dem, Warley).

“The microbrewery evolution is adding to that choice because there are so many variations on a theme that people can provide.

“Their strength lies in the fact they can do short batch runs - they don’t have to spend millions of pounds on industrial engineering to produce the same beer for the next 15 years to make a return,” he said.

The increased popularity of real ales is due in part to diverse range of flavours and beers now available.

“It’s the difference between buying something mass-produced in a factory, and something crafted by local people,” said councillor James Baker (Lib Dem, Warley).

“It’s an artisan approach to brewing and there’s a lot of skill involved and a lot of individual techniques and ingredients.

“If you have one of the mass-produced lagers in Halifax, Brighton or Scotland, it’s going to taste exactly the same - with real ales there are thousands of locally produced beers, each with their own unique flavours and recipes.”

One of the breweries which offers a unique ale experience in Calderdale is Barearts at Todmorden.

Combining an art gallery, brewery and off licence, the company has carved its own niche as a connoisseur brewer.

“We do something quite unique which is to specialise in vintage ales which have been matured - there aren’t many people brewing vintage ales,” said Kathryn Cook, co-founder of Barearts.

“They’re brewed in the bottle for 12 months - we’ve got some beers which have been brewed for five years - It makes a huge difference to the flavour.”

The company has grown over the past few years and opened a second shop at Rishworth in December 2012.

Kathryn said the secret to their success is that they do everything in-house - from brewing to bottling, to marketing and distribution.

“We sell everything either in our shops or through mail order,” she said.

“We don’t sell to pubs, we don’t do beer festivals - people come to us.”

It is the success of microbreweries that has propped up the real ale industry, as the larger real ale producers have seen a gradual decline in sales.

“A few years ago I would have said localism has had a lot to do with the success of the micros, but I’m sending beer all over the country so that can’t really account for it,” said Dan Tasker, owner of Bridestone’s Brewing.

“I’ve got some very good local support from pubs and drinkers, but I think there’s much more depth of flavour in some of the smaller batch beers.

“We take in York, Liverpool, Chester, and there’s plenty of scope to deliver much further afield - we sent out three pallets last week to a wholesaler in Birmingham.”

The stereotype of real ale drinkers as older men with open-toed sandles, an unkempt beard and a passion for folk music and morris dancing has gone out of the window, with a new generation of younger drinkers and women getting a taste for craft beers.

Mike Hiscock, brewery manager at Elland Brewery, said: “There’s a different market drinking ale than there used to be, and I think Wetherspoon’s have had a lot to do with that.

“The style of beers that people brew now aren’t just your traditional brown ales - some of the pale ales look more like lagers than your traditional ale, and I think that’s certainly helped to attract the younger drinker.”

Sowerby Bridge-based brewery Slightly Foxed has seen rapid growth over the past 18 months, thanks in a large part to its relationship with pub chain JD Wetherspoon.

Slightly Foxed brews house beers for the Commercial Inn at Sowerby Bridge and the Percy Shaw at Halifax.

“We got to a stage about six months ago where we were producing sufficient product that we thought we could expand our customer base so we started supplying Wetherspoons in Halifax, Brighouse, Sowerby Bridge and Todmorden - it’s been a really big growth area for our business,” said Simon Trapp, co-owner of Slightly Foxed.

“We’ve been going for three years now - it took a year or so to establish the brand and get ourselves out the blocks, but for the last six months or so we’ve been achieving between 150 to 200 per cent growth on the previous year - it’s absolutely extraordinary.”