Craft brewers punch well above their weight – FEATURE

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By Adam Hardie, head of food & drink at Johnston Carmichael

It’s the Year of Food and Drink Scotland, with March celebrating Scottish beers and spirits in the month of Brewing and Distilling.

And rightly so. With more brewers per head in the UK than any other country across the globe, it is fair to say that the craft beer revolution is on fire. Scotland in particular is impressing on the international stage with its craft beer offering and with whisky having created a nation a trusted brand for its spirits, it’s little wonder why.

Craft beer is effectively a small fish in a big pond; representing only 2.5% of UK beer consumption, the mass brewers dominate the market. Yet the industry has experienced double digit growth of 15% over the last year, punching well above its weight and adding 6million litres to UK beer sales in 2014.

Johnston Carmichael has a strong understanding of this niche market, having supported a number of established brewers as well as growing companies and start-ups. This includes Ellon-based Brewdog, which this month was named as one of the 1,000 most inspiring companies in the UK by the London Stock Exchange. The company’s co-founder, James Watt, was also winner of the Grampian Food & Drink Entrepreneur 2015 Award at the recent Grampian Food Forum Innovation Awards. This category, sponsored by Johnston Carmichael, housed three brewers this year which is testament to the recent explosion in this industry; there are now in excess of 80 craft brewers in Scotland.

Also shortlisted in this category were Nigel Tiddy of Windsept Brewing Co., and Seb Jones of Speyside Craft Brewery, growing breweries following in the footsteps of their peers, such as Brewdog. Currently, many smaller, independent brewers are servicing consumers on their doorstep, concentrating on UK markets and in many cases, exclusively on their own local area. But with duty not being applicable on export, going global is an attractive proposition.

The larger players are making great strides in representing the UK beer industry, leading the way through exporting to international markets.

The main drivers of Scotland’s produce success are provenance, source and quality. The Craft Beer Clan of Scotland recognises this, and aims to take the great flavours of Scottish craft beer to new drinkers around the world. The organisation has brought together 19 brewers, and has had early success within the lucrative market of Asia. Craft brewing and craft distilling have a synergy and benefit from Scotland’s drivers and the demand these generate, an exciting opportunity for players in the industry, both big and small.

Further to this, a new industry body set up to represent Scotland’s growing independent brewers launched in January 2015 at the Scottish Parliament. The Brewers’ Association of Scotland (TBAS) will establish quality standards for the growing artisan beer sector, as well as attempt to deliver a unified approach to innovation, promotion and market development. Johnston Carmichael is an associate member of the association and through our work with many of the country’s craft brewers, we recognise that the Scottish beer industry is thriving, and that there are opportunities abound within Scotland and internationally.

Despite a number of challenges, such as recent changes to the drink driving laws in Scotland, this truly is an exciting time for an industry which is not only thriving, but leading by example on the global stage as it grows a dramatic rate. The craft beer revolution is a remarkable success story for the industry, with the potential to, like whisky, become part of our Scottish food and drink passport.

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