Region’s brewers lead way to a beer revival

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When a pair of 20-something entrepreneurs took over a micro-brewery in the heart of the Dales it was with a measure of trepidation.

But a year on, Geoff Southgate and Carl Gehrman, who had worked at the Wensleydale Brewery since school, are reaping the rewards of their dedication.

Julian Smith at Hambleton Ales in Ripon

Julian Smith at Hambleton Ales in Ripon

They are among a merry band of independent brewers in Yorkshire who are enjoying something of a renaissance in the region.

“Not that long ago a lot of pubs were not that interested in putting real ale on,” said Mr Southgate, 24. “Now when people are going out to drink they are actively looking for places that have real ale.”

A more discerning customer, the scrapping of the controversial Beer Duty Escalator and the first cut in beer duty since 1959 last March have all helped to fuel a rise in the fortunes of the region’s smaller breweries.

The past decade has seen the number of local breweries in Yorkshire treble, according to the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), which estimates the region is now home to at least 160 independent brewers.

SIBA’s commercial director, Nick Stafford, who is founder and owner of Nick Stafford’s Hambleton Ales in Ripon, said that consumers are interested in local food and drink.

“Nationally beer drinking consumption is going down but consumers are becoming much more discerning in what they drink,” he said.

“They want better value for money. They are turning to the smaller producer to get the most of their pint both in quality of product and quality of service.”

These thoughts are echoed by John Kelly, of the Kirkstall Brewery Company in Leeds, which was set up three and a half years ago and last year opened its first pub, The Kirkstall Bridge.

“Beer is not a generic commodity any more,” said Mr Kelly. “People are becoming increasingly knowledgeable and more demanding about what they want out of beer. They want quality and authenticity. The local brewing scene has really stepped up and started to produce. There’s a lot more going on now.”

Last year’s landmark decision to scrap the Beer Duty Escalator has also been hailed as “significant”.

Mr Stafford, who set up his business in 1991, said: “Along with every brewer and pub in the land, we applauded the decision to cut beer duty and scrap the Beer Duty Escalator last year.

“The end of the escalator has definitely led to a revival of confidence throughout the British brewing industry.

“At our brewery, we feel able to invest again in our business, we have added a kegging line to our ever increasing packaging service and taken on our first pub, the King William IV, Blossomgate. It’s all about creating jobs.

“The micro-brewing market is booming within an overall declining beer market so we are getting an increasing share of the smaller cake.”

A spokesman for the British Beer and Pub Association said that in general, micro breweries have been doing better than large breweries in recent years.

Yesterday Julian Smith MP was presented with an award for his support of British beer.

The MP for Skipton and Ripon earned a place on the list of Parliamentary Beer Champions on the basis of acts of ‘beer advocacy’ in Westminster, 
which led to the end of the Beer Duty Escalator and the historic cut in beer duty. The new 
scheme is the brainchild of SIBA, the British Beer and Pub Association and the Campaign for Real Ale.

Mr Smith said: “Our pubs are at the heart of our communities and our brewers make some of the best beers in the world so I will continue to support efforts in Parliament to ensure they have a strong future.

“I, and other MP Beer Champions, were happy to support an end to the Beer Duty Escalator last year as a way of helping these local businesses to thrive and it is good to see that Hambleton Ales has benefited from our efforts.”

Life may be good for now but as March looms, the brewing and pubs industry is calling for a freeze on beer duty in this year’s budget.