London brewing’s spectacular run comes to an end

London has had a glorious run with continued growth in brewery numbers over the past decade but a combination of Covid-19 and serious overcapacity signals the end of the golden run with as many as 40% of businesses set to fail.

According to a survey from the London Brewers’ Alliance (LBA) of its membership of 105 breweries only 60% believed they would survive the pressures they now face. This would take the membership numbers back to levels last seen in 2014 when they hit 65.

If we take LBA membership figures as an accurate proxy for London’s brewing industry then a serious correction is imminent. It clearly represents a sad situation for those businesses that will be forced to close their doors and it will adversely affect consumer choice but for the surviving breweries it will inevitably offer some respite from issues they have had with overcapacity in the industry. The situation has arguably been unsustainable for some time and Covid-19 has merely brought things to a head.

This represents a changing of the landscape of brewing in the capital that has been on a tear dating back to 2010 when in April of that year the LBA was formed by Phil Lowry with an initial membership of 13 breweries. These comprised Brew Wharf, Fuller’s, Stag, The Kernel, Sambrook’s, Twickenham, Ha’Penny, Brodies, Camden Town, Redemption, Windsor & Eton, Meantime and Zero Degrees.

The membership numbers enjoyed continuous growth from that point on, with impressive increases recorded each year. By the end of 2011 membership reached 25 (92% increase), end of 2012 35 (+40%), end of 2013 57 (+63%), end of 2014 65 (+14%), end of 2015 75 (+15%), end of 2016 84 (+12%), end of 2017 90 (+7%), end of 2018 101 (+12%) and end of 2019 106 (4%).

This signifies just how buoyant the London brewing scene has been over this 10-year period during which time it has undergone nothing short of a revolution. The recent news that Camden Town is to be fully consumed within its parent company AB InBev and no longer operate as a largely independent operation further confirms the view that we now have a very different environment to that drinkers and small brewers have enjoyed over the past decade.

[Thanks to John Cryne, chairman of the LBA, for supplying the membership numbers]

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

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