Celebrate Beer Day Britain and raise a glass to the rise of the micro
Login here to listen to the audio description
Today we mark Beer Day Britain - a lovely opportunity to celebrate one of the nation’s favourite drinks, and those who make it. The day marks the anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, which decrees, among the articles we may be more familiar with, “let there be throughout our kingdom a single measure for wine and a single measure for ale”. Our love of a pint, it turns out, is deeply rooted in history!
I’ve also been reflecting on the changes to how we buy and drink our beer over the last few years. Not long ago, the beer scene was dominated by big, mainstream breweries – think Carlsberg, for example, or Budweiser. But in the last 10 or 15 years, we’ve seen an explosion in craft beer producers, microbreweries and brewpubs, producing their own beers on a much smaller scale, and gaining increasing popularity with the beer-drinking public.
The roots of this craft beer revolution go way back. Historically, in the UK, beer was brewed at home by women, using their own pots and pans for the process. By the 1600s, more brewing was taking place at ale houses and pubs, the places where the beer was sold. As brewers became more organised, they formed guilds, and began producing collectively and more and inns and taverns began to buy beer from these breweries, rather than brewing it themselves. By the mid 1970s, only four pubs which brewed their own beer remained in the UK. It was in response to this sharp decline in independent and pub brewing of beer that the Campaign for Real Ale began, to promote traditional methods of brewing as an alternative to the big lager companies that were coming to dominate the industry. Though progress may initially have been slow, it’s been hugely successful – walk into a pub or even a supermarket now, and you’re likely to find a few craft options, and in many places across the UK craft breweries and microbreweries are easy to find.
To me, this is an incredibly hopeful story. In so many areas of our lives, the dominance of huge corporations seems impossible to resist, even with a commitment from individuals to supporting independent alternatives. But the huge success of craft beer in recent decades shows that, on the contrary, there is a huge appetite among the public for something different. It shows that when the alternatives are genuinely exciting and appealing, and when people come together to build a movement, we can turn the tide on decades of market control by the big companies.
As Green Party deputy leader, I’ve seen so many examples of people doing the same in their local communities, be it food or energy co-ops or innovative businesses. People showing that when the options are there, customers do want something different and grassroots initiatives can thrive.
In the wake of the pandemic, with the status quo disrupted and many people looking for a different way of doing things, rooted in their local area and the community they live in, we have an opportunity to take back control of the food we eat, the beer we drink, and the services we need to live. I like to think of the craft beer movement as a model for this change!