Regional brewery

Regional brewery

Regional brewery is a term used in the United Kingdom to describe a long-established brewery that supplied beer to tied pubs in a fixed geographical location such as South Wales, the Midlands or the Isle of Man.These breweries were generally founded before 1900, though one, Holdens Brewery, was founded in 1920. Some date back to the early age of rail, Frederic Robinson in Stockport being a good example.

In size and style a regional brewery may come between the financial power and market domination of the big breweries and the freedom of expression of the modern small breweries. Often family-run on marginal profits, the regional breweries have been the backbone of British cask ale for over a century. Some are famous, such as Young's and Fuller's, and Robinson's,others such as Holden's or Hyde's are almost unknown outside of their region. During the early years of the 21st century many allowed themselves to be taken over by the big breweries, or, in the case of Brakspear, have sold off the rights to their beers to another company.

A "regional" is a brewery that has grown strong over the years through delivering beer that the locals wish to drink. This sometimes means that a regional's beers will have a distinctive quality, peculiar to that region such as McMullen's AK or Batham's Mild — a quality not found anywhere else. The regionals are fairly traditional, somewhat conservative, brewing mostly bitter with the odd seasonal winter warmer or a spring mild as variety. Though some, such as Young's, which serves the more sophisticated clientele of London, are perhaps a little more adventurous, producing beers that are somewhat modern, with a wider mass appeal.

The growth in popularity of bottled beers has allowed the more forward thinking of the regional breweries to expand their market base beyond their region. Shepherd Neame was among the first to exploit the potential of bottled beers; Badger and Adnams soon followed.

In some regions, such as Kent with Shepherd Neame, one regional brewer will dominate. In other regions, such as those spreading from the West Midlands up to the North West of England, several regionals compete for business, and the area in and around Manchester provides plenty of choice for those wanting to sample a few different regional breweries. London is the battleground for Young's and Fuller's, though the regionals touching the boundaries of London, such as Shepherd Neame, McMullen and Greene King have a presence in the capital as well.

The unique flavour of the regional breweries is most noticeable when travelling north past Oxfordshire. Near Birmingham the beers become softer, creamier, with larger heads — much of this is to do with the sparkler used when pulling the beer from the cask, though the beers are also brewed with a different hop profile in mind. The hoppier beers are those brewed in and around London — an earthy, dusty hoppiness, typified by the Goldings hop grown in Kent. Beers in Wales tend to be thinner, weaker, sweeter and less hopped than elsewhere.

Many regional breweries supplement income by contract bottling and packaging. The small brewery Highwood, for example, has used Robinson's, Brakspears and Thwaites in the past for Jolly Ploughman batches. The regional will send a tanker to suck up the beer, and the small brewery will get it back bottled and packaged neatly on pallets ready to deliver to supermarkets. Regionals would have bottled a far higher percentage of their production in the past, but in the late eighties many regionals, with the rising popularity of the nitrogen flush system, found that bottling was no longer worth their while and bottling lines were either run down or stripped out entirely. With the market for bottled premium ales growing again, those of the regionals who retained and improved their bottling facilities are seeing increased contract work. Regionals also tend to do some wholesaling of national products — anything to keep the money coming in.

Progressive Beer Duty, introduced by Gordon Brown in 2002 after campaigning by the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), uses a sliding scale to give tax relief to smaller breweries and has led to problems for a number of regionals, which are in that awkward zone where they often find they have to pay exactly the same duty on a cask as the nationals, but without the same distribution network or economies of scale. Those regional breweries on the sliding scale part of the duty calculation, just below the 3,000,000 litre barrier, see little incentive to increase production moderately as it could have a negative effect when the duty bill comes in. They are lobbying to change this and customs and excise are gathering evidence to see what effect raising the tax barrier to 20,000,000 litres will have.

External links

* [ SilkTork's article on Regional breweries]
* [ History of a UK Regional Brewery in Northamptonshire]

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