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Brewing keeps blooming in Blighty

By thirsty hack Ignatius Rake

Posted October 10, 2013
Not just for blokes: Growing numbers of women are drinking and brewing real ale. © Ignatius Rake

The number of breweries in the UK continues to grow, as does the number of female brewers.

According to a press released issued by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), the past 12 months saw 187 new breweries starting up in the UK.

This 14% increase now brings the total number of beer producers in the country to 1,147, up from 668 five years ago.

"There has been a boom in the growth of breweries over the last 12 months," says Roger Protz, editor of CAMRA's newly released Good Beer Guide 2014, "and with more breweries comes greater choice for the drinker and more opportunities to buy locally produced brews."

Indeed, the CAMRA beer bible now lists more than 5,200 regularly brewed British beers as well as 4,545 real ale pubs in which to drink them.

Moreover, these new breweries, CAMRA states, "have popped up across the UK in the most unusual of places", ranging from a beer-brewing pizzeria (the Crate in London) to a transformed dairy farm (Malt in Prestwood, Buckinghamshire) and even a converted school outbuilding (the Old School in Warton, Lancashire).

London in particular "has seen astonishing growth in the last 12 months", with the number of breweries inside the M25 more than doubling from 23 to 47, a figure that now also includes the "long-since-lost London brewery brand" Truman's.

Once the second largest brewery in the UK, the old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane closed its doors in 1989 prior to being converted into office and retail space.

In 2010, the brand was revived with beer brewed under contract by Nethergate (now Growler) in Essex and as such was not included in CAMRA's London figures.

However, this past September 14, Truman's officially returned to the Great Wen with the opening of a dedicated production facility in Hackney Wick, the output of which is "due to hit bars across the capital in coming weeks".

But it's not just the Big Sprawler where brewing's been blooming.

West Yorkshire too has witnessed "above average growth", gaining a further eight new breweries that have taken the total there to "a whopping" 57, the highest of any region in the UK.

"West Yorkshire has always been a strong area for beer, with Leeds, Bradford, Castleford, Halifax and Huddersfield, as well as many more smaller towns, boasting hundreds of fantastic real ale pubs," Protz states.

"In recent years, numerous new breweries, such as Collingham, Big River and Brass Castle, have sprung up to supply the local demand."

Meanwhile, in a different press release, CAMRA reports that "more and more women are setting up breweries or becoming head brewers", returning to an industry where they were traditionally known as 'brewsters'.

"It is only in modern times that men have overtaken women as the main brewers of beer, as historically it was women who dominated brewing," Protz says.

"It is fantastic to see more women rejoining the industry and in many cases giving the chaps a run for their money, such as the award-winning Brewsters Brewing Company in Lincolnshire," he continues.

Indeed, CAMRA notes, "one of the most important brewing positions in the UK" is now held by a woman, Emma Gilleland, who was recently promoted from head brewer to head of supply chain at Marston's.

"The rise in interest in ales by women is because beer is far more interesting these days," she explains.

"Only 10 years ago, the perception would have been that ale was bitter tasting and dark in colour."

"These days brewers are far more experimental and this has led to lighter beers with new aromas and tastes which are bringing women into the category."

"Once they have found a beer style that they like, they are hooked."

The press release also cites the case of Mallinson's in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.

Founded at a small six-barrel plant in 2008 by CAMRA members Tara Mallinson and Elaine Yendall, the company last year moved to a larger 15-barrel site to meet growing demand.

"Myself and Elaine set up Mallinson's in 2008 because we selfishly wanted to brew beers we liked to drink," Mallinson reveals.

"Brewing real ale is a great job."

"You get to experiment with new hops, rebrew old favourites and hopefully give the people who drink your beer a great pint."

Women, CAMRA says, are also making a name for themselves on the other side of the bar, with Sophie Atherton, for example, winning the 2013 Beer Sommelier of the Year award, having previously become the first fully qualified female beer sommelier in the country.

"One of the things I love most about beer is that there's always a style to suit the season, the occasion or just my mood," Atherton says.

"Whether it's golden summer ales, autumnal reds or a rich, chocolatey stout or porter by the fire in winter, beer's always got something to offer and an incredible range of flavours that means it's a drink everyone can enjoy."

And enjoying real ale is something women in Blighty are doing on an ever greater scale, with women now comprising 22% of CAMRA's 150,000-strong membership, a growth of 20,000 over the past 10 years.

Furthermore, the amount of women trying real ale has grown in the last three years from 14% to 34%, showing, CAMRA asserts, that the "wider availability and variety of beers is having a positive effect on the number of women giving real ale a go in the pub".

And talking of pubs, CAMRA has also now announced the 16 regional finalists for its National Pub of the Year award.

With the winner set to be announced this coming February, the competition seeks to judge pubs on their atmosphere, decor, welcome, service, value for money, customer mix and, most importantly, quality of beer.

In addition to the Baum in Rochdale, the current holder of the title, the shortlisted pubs are: the Nags Head in Reading; the Dove in Bury St Edmunds; the Horse and Jockey in Stapleford; the Berry in Walmer; the Freshfield Hotel in Formby; the Cobbles in Kelso; the Swan with Two Necks in Pendleton; the Quakerhouse in Darlington; Old No.7 in Barnsley; the Surrey Oaks in Newdigate; the Albion Ale House in Conwy; the Seven Stars in Rugby; the Trooper Inn in Stourton Caundle; the Hope in Carsholton; and the Old Spot in Dursley.

Copies of the Good Beer Guide 2014 can be ordered online via the CAMRA website, priced £10 for members and £12.99 for non-members plus post and packaging.

See also British brewing goes ballistic!, posted 21/9/12, The Great Wen goes "brewing crazy", posted 9/8/12, and Baum best boozer in Blighty, posted 23/2/13.

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