In the US, the craft beer market represents 8pc of total beer sales. Here in
Britain, that figure stands at just 0.5pc. But the UK is hot on America’s
heels, with sales of craft beers set to skyrocket next year. According to
figures from Camra, the real ale advocacy group, 187 new breweries launched
across the UK over the past 12 months.
An export champion
Innis & Gunn has been blazing a trail for UK breweries across the globe.
The Edinburgh-based company sold 15m bottles of its signature oak-aged and
rum-cask beers across the UK, Sweden, Canada and the US this year.
“In Canada, we are the number one and number two craft beers in the country,
beating Leffe and even Newcastle Brown Ale,” revealed founder Dougal Sharp.
“Eighty per cent of our £9.1m turnover comes from export.”
The company came about entirely by accident. Mr Sharp was working at family
brewery Caledonian when distillery William Grant approached him to create an
ale-finished whisky. Caledonian’s beer was used to flavour the whisky casks.
Instead of throwing the waste beer away, Grant’s staff were pinching it.
“They were bringing in jars, watering cans, anything they could find to take
the beer home,” said Mr Sharp.
In 2002, Mr Sharp left his job at Caledonian to pursue the fledgling
joint-venture with Grant’s and six years later, bought Innis &
Gunn (Mr Sharp and his brother’s middle names) outright.
Innis & Gunn’s sales are increasing rapidly off the back of a renewed
appetite for flavoursome beers across the world, up 23pc last year alone.
Case sales have doubled in the US, with 10pc growth in the UK. Mr Sharp has
updated the manufacturing process as the business has scaled, and the beer
is now brewed at the Tennant’s brewery in Glasgow.
Mr Sharp revealed one of the secrets to Innis & Gunn’s success. “Shrek has
done a lot to help the Scots abroad,” he said. “Scottishness is crucial to
the firm. If we could put castles and tartan all over the bottles, we would
shift a lot more cases. But I’m keen to keep the brand ‘modern Scottish’. No
An ale-lover’s paradise
Fans of craft beers can now buy tipples from UK marketplace, Eebria.
Founded by David Jackson last year, Eebria connects consumers with producers
around Britain. Orders are processed on the site, which launched in August,
and the ales are dispatched direct from the source.
“The producers love us because they control how the beer is stored and treated
right until it is sent out,” said Mr Jackson. “This means it’s at its best
when it reaches the consumer, rather than being kept in a warehouse where it
might have been left in the light, or at the wrong temperature.”
Eebria currently boasts 30 producers, but more are signing up each day.
“We grew 80pc in October and 92pc in November,” said Mr Jackson. “We’re on
track to double again in December before the big Christmas kick.”
The business only trades in the UK at present, but Mr Jackson has global
ambitions. “We chose the name Eebria, which is the Esperanto word for
‘tipsy’ because customers across the world will be able to pronounce it,” he
said. “Soon we hope to sell UK beers across the world.”
Eebria isn’t the only online marketplace to use this model. Ales by Mail,
BeerHawk, and Beers of Europe all sell craft beers online.
Daniel Lowe, founder of the Fourpure brewery (named because it contains just
four ingredients: hops, water, yeast and malt), took his home-brewing
business out of the kitchen and into an Old Spitalfields Brewery just six
weeks ago. The craft beer scene welcomed him with open arms, he said.
“Everyone helps each other out. There were just seven breweries in London
two years ago and now there are 52 of us. We are working together to grow
our share of the market.”
This community spirit goes beyond lip service. When the Kernal Brewery
upgraded to larger equipment, it gave its old brewing kit to Partizan
Brewery, based nearby in south east London. “We’re all members of the London
Brewers Alliance,” explained Mr Lowe. “Even Fuller’s is supporting craft
The gin chaser
It’s not just artisan beers that are seeing a fillip. That most British of
tipples, gin, is also in vogue. “Four years ago, Sipsmith was the only craft
gin distillery [to open] in London for 200 years,” said co-founder Sam
Galsworthy. “Now there are 12 in just four years.”
Sipsmith now boasts two pot stills, making 500 bottles a batch. Its range
includes London gin, vodka, a sloe gin, and a summer cup (like Pimms) for
the summer months.
“We are not only taking business from the big guys, they are actually copying
distilleries like us, making limited lines – like Gordon’s with cucumber,”
said Mr Galsworthy. “You’ve got dedicated gin bars springing up all over the
“But we are building a legacy, not an overnight success,” he added. “Gin is
here to stay.”