The last few years has seen beer lovers rejoicing at the surge in the production of craft beer in the UK and the seemingly unstoppable rise of the independent brewer – and if we look at what’s happening in the US beer market as a guide to what might happen in this country, there’s the potential for further growth. The global giants haven’t been resting on their laurels though – they were caught off-guard at first by the craft beer revolution, but quietly and stealthily, they’ve started to react. So what does 2016 have in store for the UK craft beer market? Here are some predictions from us…
Sales of the typical cheap, bland lagers have been in decline as drinkers turn to craft brews, the majority of which are ales and bitters. That doesn’t mean to say that lager is down and out though – lager sales still heavily outweigh those of ales and dozens of craft lagers have launched recently as brewers seek to redefine the much maligned beer style. We are expecting to see further craft lagers launched in 2016 as brewers look to capitalise on an upturn in popularity.
More acquisitions by the big brewers
Skyrocketing sales of craft beer have resulted in big brand beers flatlining, and it’s obvious that the big brewers weren’t going to stand idly by and watch. First there was SABMiller’s acquisition of Meantime, then AB InBev’s purchase of Camden and in the US, Constellation’s takeover of Ballast Point.
Craft beer enthusiasts have been crying foul and some have rounded on Camden for “selling out” but from our point of view, it’s an entirely understandable business decision, and I wonder how many other craft brewers would stick to their guns if the opportunity came their way?We do have concerns though – if we look at the US market where the global players have bought stakes in a large number of craft brewers, there have been many cases of costs being cut and quality suffering as a result. And, of course, the big brewers will be able to sell their newly acquired craft beers at a price point that independent brewers can’t match, meaning that many craft brewers might find themselves being driven off the shelf.
We expect to see more craft brewers being bought out in 2016 as the other major brewers turn their eyes to the UK market.
More craft offerings from the big and regional brewers
In contrast to the likes of ABInBev, Diageo have responded to the rising tide of craft beer by launching “The Brewer’s Project” – an experimental brewery that has so far come up with 4 very creditable craft style beers.
Adnams have been expanding their crafty feeling “Jack Brand” range of beers over the past couple of years, Shepherd Neame revived the Faversham Steam Brewery identity for their Whitstable Bay range of beers and Fuller’s have their Frontier small batch craft lager, Montana Red ale and Wild River Pacific pale ale.
With their established brands to fall back on, regional brewers are perhaps able to take more of a risk on something that might not work out, so we predict that 2016 will see more of these sorts of exciting and interesting beers launching onto the market as other regional brewers look to break into the craft beer market.
Experimental beers from small, traditional brewers
Following on from the previous point, we’ve recently spoken to a couple of small, local brewers who are working on their own experimental beer departments for 2016. They wouldn’t necessarily identify themselves as craft brewers, but they’ve been watching what’s going on in the craft segment with growing interest. They are planning to produce small-batch brews of something a little bit more adventurous, without jeopardising the production of their traditional beers.
Cans vs bottles
Canned beer has always been seen as the poor relation to bottled beer, but that’s been more to do with the quality of the liquid put in the can more than anything else – bland and insipid lager is going to taste bad whatever container you drink it out of!
US brewers have been leading the way with cans up until now, but we think 2016 is going to see more UK based craft brewers taking the plunge. When you look at the logic, it’s a no-brainer – it’s clear that sunlight degrades the flavour of beer and aluminium cans provide complete protection from UV. Besides, cans are easier to store and transport than bottles and the aluminium in cans can be recycled over and over again. The polymer lining in modern cans also means that the beer is protected from contamination or unwanted flavours.
Modern micro-canning technology makes canning affordable even for small craft beer producers, and there’s even a mobile canning line fitted into the back of a transit van that you can book to come and visit your brewery. From our point of view, cans look great too and provide the designer with a fantastic canvas to work with.
A few years ago, those that suffered from coeliac’s disease and gluten sensitivity had to pretty much give up on the idea of drinking beer given the paucity of gluten-free brews. Now though, there’s a growing range of options such as Celia, Greens gluten free beer and St Peter’s G-free to name but a few, leading the way in showing that gluten-free doesn’t have to mean flavour-free.
In 2016, expect more brewers to produce gluten-free offerings as they realise that there is a whole group of potential customers who aren’t as well catered for as they could be.
And a few we aren’t so sure on
Big brand lagers in sharing bottles have been around for years but will we see the trend becoming more commonplace in craft beer this year? The jury seems to be out at the moment – some craft beer retailers we’ve spoken to tell us that they are selling well, whilst others say there’s not much demand. We’ll keep our eye on this one.
Whale testicle beer
We read recently about Toast Ale, a Hackney based brewery making craft beer from surplus bread – a great idea that helps combat food waste and harks back to the oldest surviving beer recipes from 4000 years ago, but it was another recent beer related story that really made us do a double take: Hvalur 2 is a 5.1% ABV beer from Icelandic Stedji microbrewery that’s made from water, special berry hops and two types of malt and the crowning glory of a single whale testicle in each brewing cycle, weighing between seven and eight kilogrammes.
Personally, we prefer our whales alive and swimming in the sea – each to their own and everything but we’ll stick to our whale-free beers thanks.
So that’s our take on craft beer trends for 2016 – it will be interesting to see how things develop and how many of these come to pass. From our point of view though, just as important as the actual beer itself is the brand – the number of breweries and the volume of beer being produced is increasing at a much greater rate than the available shelf space and the number of venues selling it. It’s absolutely crucial for breweries of all sizes, from the smallest microbreweries right up the biggest conglomerates to continually invest in developing brands that set them apart and help them stand out in what promises to be an ever more competitive year.