Last week the Good Beer Guide 2015 was published by CAMRA and the picture it paints is broadly a good one. We lead the world when it comes to the number of breweries per head of population with 1 brewery per 50,000 people, and in the last year 170 more breweries have added to the books list. Our brewing trade is back up to the levels last seen in the 1930’s and 1940’s before the mass consolidations which took place in the 4 decades which followed that era.
Looking at Yorkshire, we have 141 breweries listed in the guide, 18 of them new since last year, whilst 99 news pubs from the region are also listed taking it up to a total of 393 pubs. Among the new brewery listings are some very worth entries, Bad Seed from Malton made some fantastic beers, whilst Stud Fold, local to Halifax, is producing some very nice session ales. Whilst I’ve not tried their beers yet, but both Atom and Small World have also been garnering some very good feedback on their products.
When broken down, West Yorkshire is shown to be a hot bed of brewing activity in such a relatively small area, with 60 breweries in that area of the county. Compare that to 46 in North Yorkshire, 25 in the south of the county and 10 to the east. We only have a population of 2.2 million, which means we have a brewery for every 36,000 people, way above the national average. However it must be noted that for their 46 breweries, North Yorkshire only has an official population of 601,000, so their 1 brewery per 13000 people beat us in West Yorkshire into a cocked hat, abhet in an area four times bigger than us.
When you compare Yorkshire to the combined forces of the Greater Manchester and the West Pennines (an area stretching from the M60 to Carlisle via Lancashire), a geographic region with similar areas of built up population and wide open countryside we come out very well indeed. Greater Manchester has 42 breweries (7 new) and West Pennines has 70 (10 new), so still shy by 31 breweries. We have some cracking beer cities and towns in gods own county, Leeds, Huddersfield, York and Sheffield among others, more locally there is Sowerby Bridge and Hebden Bridge, with numerous small towns following their lead across the county.
The fact is the number of breweries (a number we have no reason to expect to stop growing) and range of brewery types we have gives us a really healthy mix, from the relative heavyweights like Theakstons, Black Sheep, Copper Dragon, Ossett to the small one or two man operations brewing small batches of speciality craft beer with small to medium traditional brewers sitting in between. We have enough bars interested in new breweries to support growth of the part time single person operation into a commercial business which can provide them a full time living. Breweries are always moving up the pyramid in regard to scale of production, leaving room for those below to fill the gap.
Just look at the example of Mallinsons in Huddersfield, starting off as a two woman operation, expanding to employ a couple more people to help with the non brewing operations, then finding out the premises couldn’t support demand and moving to a brand new location with a brand new higher capacity brewing setup. The old building? Sold with the full brewing plant to the recently formed Hand Drawn Monkey Brewery, linked to the beer shop of the same name in Huddersfield town centre, who are now getting their beer served across the country. Hopefully they will too suffer the same fate on outgrowing the building and another small brewery will have the chance to go commercial off the back of their success.
For years, the beer industry consolidated and standardised into a handful of core breweries, with similar offerings across the brands. We are now in the middle of a relative explosion of breweries, craft and traditional, we have more beer to try and most of it is at least good solid drinkable session ales. If variety is the spice of life, then long may it continue.