Ask someone down the pub for the reasons behind Britain’s recent Beer revival, and you’re guaranteed all sorts of different explanations. In 2017 the number of UK breweries passed the 2000 mark, which puts us well ahead of European neighbours. Most will have a reasonable argument for why, but you can bet your double-dry hopped DIPA that very few of them would mention Gordon Brown, ex-PM and former Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Three points are largely responsible for why British beer is at such heady heights: Changing consumer preferences and industry trailblazers, the recession, and progressive beer duties introduced by Gordon Brown. Much has already been written about the first, but it’s a safe bet that without Gordon’s handiwork and the financial bite of the recession, we wouldn’t have the thriving industry that we do today. Let’s dig in.
Changing Preferences & Industry Trailblazers
‘Craft’ anything has seen a revival over the past decade. Hipsters aren’t the only ones now digging into better food and drink, Urban markets with quirky food-stalls have popped up around the country. People want a closer relationship with products, better quality goods made with skill, interaction with producers on social media, and a story behind the things they’re buying. Craft Beer ticks all these boxes and then some.
Industry Trailblazers built on this, contributing to the revolution by inspiring others whilst also creating a bigger market for all. If Brewdog, founded in a Scottish garage by two blokes, could make a business out of Beer why couldn’t you? Kernel Brewery, first on the famous Bermondsey Beer mile, even helped other breweries further by teaching brewing and lending equipment (Dennett & Page 2016). With every day people setting up great breweries, and a willing customer base of more than moustached, flat-capped hipsters, the Craft scene was ready to take off. It needed a nudge though, that’s where the big-bad bankers come in.
2008’s financial crash played a role in British beer’s resurgence in two ways. The first was by so called ‘entrepreneurship by necessity’ – where talented would-be brewers were pushed into creating opportunities for themselves. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that in the midst of recession, a notable number of Brits turned to brewing as a way to drink better beer and put food on the table (Karaca 2015). Brewing was an exciting and feasible avenue to explore, and the recession may have provided the push for Britain’s new influx of master Brewers.
The second factor brought about by 08 is a more intangible one – the financial crash brought with it a desire for more accountability in business, closer ties with producers, and a more human economy (Thurnell-Read 2014). This worked as a driving force behind the changes in consumer preferences mentioned earlier. That said, by itself the crash may only have created a small groundswell in British beer. You could argue it was good old G-Brown who really mixed things up.
Gordon Brown’s Progressive Beer Duty 2002
In 2002 Mr Brown, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, gave small brewers a massive helping hand – and without it they wouldn’t have been competitive in a cutthroat beer market. He introduced a progressive beer duty that cut taxes 50% on the first 5,000 hectolitres (500,000 litres) produced every year – with the important caveat that it was ONLY for breweries producing less than 30,000 hectolitres (3,000,000 litres) total per year. This saved small breweries about £45 per barrel! With barrels sold retail at around £150, this meant Gordon had provided a competitive turbo-boost. It meant that small brewers could keep prices somewhat low, keeping their beer price-competitive with larger breweries (Dennett & Page 2016).
With the stroke of a pen, Gordon Brown had significantly helped level the playing field for UK brewers, and laid the foundations for the Beer revolution some years later.
Thanks to the efforts of Brewers across the UK, more people have access to quality beer than perhaps ever before (Brewing techniques have advanced considerably since the 30s). Here at Beer Hawk, we’re proud & passionate to be helping people across the country have access to Breweries they may not otherwise be able to enjoy- even breweries from outside the UK!
Irrespective of which factor contributed to our UK beer scene most, we’re glad it happened. Consumers, Brewers and the recession played their part, but without Gordon, Britain might not be the titan of great beer it is now.
So next time you pour out your preferred tipple, we hope you’ll join us in raising a glass to the unsung hero of the Craft Revolution - Gordon Brown, without whom countless small breweries would not have been able to grow, thrive, and expand our beery horizons.
Want to read further? Check out our sources:
Danson, M., Galloway, L., Cabras, I., Beatty, T., 2015. Microbrewing and entrepreneurship: The origins, development and integration of real ale breweries in the UK
Thurnell-Read, 2014. Craft, tangibility and affect at work in the microbrewery
Dennett-Page, 2016. The Geography of London’s Recent Beer Brewing Revolution
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