I had a few days off over the weekend, but on Thursday last week I spent a very pleasant evening at the Liverpool Beer Festival, starting off at a reception hosted by the Caledonian Brewery of Edinburgh. Naturally drink was taken. Apart from Caledonian’s excellent IPA I sampled great beer from the newly-opened Betwixt Beer Company, an independent brewer based on the Wirral, George Wright’s of Rainford and several others, notably Southport Brewery’s ‘Golden Sands’. Much of the talk among brewers was of creditworthiness, pubs defaulting on payment, and the way the Dusanj brothers had managed to hang on to Cains.
The small brewers complained about trading conditions of course, but the ones I spoke to were remarkably upbeat. I hope they don’t read this report from the United States:
… there has generally not been much of a relationship between alcohol purchases and changes in GDP — the correlation is essentially zero. Nor have alcohol purchases historically been any kind of lagging or leading indicator.
But something was very, very different in the fourth quarter of 2008. Sales of alcohol for off-premises consumption were down by 9.3 percent from the previous quarter, according to the Commerce Department. This is absolutely unprecedented: the largest previous drop had been just 3.7 percent, between the third and fourth quarters of 1991.
Beer accounts for almost all of the decrease, with revenues off by almost 14 percent. Wine and spirits were much more stable, with sales volumes declining by 1.6 percent and 0.9 percent respectively. [More]
Now there could be a lot of reasons for this, not least bad weather, rising prices, and a shift to cheaper alternatives, but it looks like food and beverages are suffering very badly in the recession across the Atlantic. Regional and small-scale brewing doesn’t seem to be losing out disproportionately in the UK just yet, but these are worrying figures and possibly a sign of things to come.