Sunday, 2 November 2008

Decline in publican brewers

The overwhelming number of brewers in the 19th century were publican brewers, or, as they would be called today, brewpubs. Though already by the middle of the century the majority of beer was being produced in increasingly large commercial breweries, publican brewers were still a significant factor in British brewing. That was to cahnge after 1870, when their numbers went into steep decline. It was part of a general trend towards a concentration of beer production.

Between 1880 and 1914, the number of breweries producing fewer than 10,000 barrels a year fell from 18,538 to 3,116. Over the same period, the number of those brewing more than 10,000 barrels slightly increased, from 502 to 531. The largest decline was amongst the smallest brewers, those brewing fewer than 1,000 barrels, the overwhelming majority of which were publican brewers. Of the 14,479 publican brewers in 1881, only 2,357 remained in 1914.

I can't see the number of brewpubs ever getting back to its 1870 level. Then again, 30 years ago I would have called you were crazy if you'd said Britain would ever have more than 500 breweries again.


The Woolpack Inn said...

Never say never!!

Hurray for brewpubs!!!

Jim Johanssen said...

I envy you, Houston 2.2 mil Pop. only one brewpub!
It is 25.7 Mi. away from me, but they did brew my pilsner a couple of times.


Stonch said...

It's surprising how much the idea of brewpubs lives on in the public imagination, despite their scarcity today. People are always asking me if my long term goal is to set up a brewpub - as if that's the natural progression for any publican who is enthusiastic about beer.

Anonymous said...

I guess that those figures would be drawn from the members of the Brewers' Society and then only those that submitted returns to them. I would guess that many small brewers would not have been able to afford Brewers' Society fees, even if they particularly wanted to be a member.

This was certainly the case with the new wave of micro-brewers, where the fees were prohibitively expensive and there was a minimum barrelage for eligibility anyway; hence SIBA was formed. I would think the society would be glad of 500 small brewers now that the society is just about extinct due to a lack of "big" brewers.

According to some of my previous writings, the 1870 total given there is 5,164 commercial brewing licences short, but my reference for my figure of 33,840 would have been lost years ago.

Also, there were three or four different classes of licence: Wholsale brewers, Victuallers (publican brewers?), farmers and private brewers.

Ron Pattinson said...

Graham, the numbers are based on the number of persons licensed to brew for sale. The 1870 figure of 33,840 is for the total number of licences issued.

Excluded from the figures I quoted are "beginners at 12s 6d", for the years up to 1880.

It's quite difficult to get long series of numbers all based on exactly the same criteria, especially ones broken down by output. The table I used in Brewers' Almanack has a whole paragraph of notes attached.

The number of brewers not for sale was huge in some years - over 110,000 in 1882. The earliest figures for these are from 1881, as , I guess, such brewers didn't need a licence before 1880.

Zythophile said...

The unexplained part of the homebrew pub phenomenon was how regionally varied it was - loads in Leeds, practically none in Sheffield, for example; huge numbers in Preston, very few in Manchester; masses in the Black Country, not that many in the North East.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I wrote a figure of "about" 100,000 private brewing licences for 1870 (and ~170,000 beerhouse licences).
Other figures wot I rote are: About 1500 in 1820; 4075 in 1824; 26,252 in 1825 (Result of Wellington's Beerhouse act); 49,228 in 1838 (the highest ever); 38,276 in 1862.

Another thing is that (certainly in the 20th century) there was definately a distinction between "Wholesale Brewers" and other "commercial" brewers. It was illegal for a wholesale brewer to sell in quantities less than a pin, and illegal for publicans to sell in quantities greater than a pin. This was still the case, and still law, in the 1970s when the first micros set up, and was another hurdle to overcome (which I think was just ignored in the end). I do not know how publican brewers fitted into this scheme of things, nor pub-owning brewers for that matter, so it was not straightforward. It was a minor headache, because, technically, brewpubs couldn't wholesale and brewers could not sell small quantities to the public direct from the brewery.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I'd noticed the huge number in Preston in Barber's book - literally hundreds. I have been meaning to find out why there were so many, and why none of them ever became big and famous. Something strange was happening there.