The UK now boasts more breweries per head of the population than any other country in the world, according to a new consumer guide which also reveals a significant swing to real ale among younger drinkers.
The Good Beer Guide 2015, published by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) reports that there are now 1,285 breweries operating in Britain - one for every 50,000 people and the largest number since the 1930s and 1940s. Over the past 12 months, 170 new breweries have opened in the UK, continuing an annual growth rate of over 10% per year.
Nearly all new breweries are producing cask-conditioned real ales as their core products, giving an even wider choice of beers for drinkers and a welcome boost to the embattled pub sector.
London, which was once one of the world's greatest brewing centres before falling into decline, last year saw brewery numbers double and has continued to support the growth with seven new start-ups this year, including the London Beer Factory. The new guide lists breweries across the UK, including the 8,000-plus real ales they produce, alongside 54,940 real ale pubs.
Editor Roger Protz said: "Real ale is the only success story in a declining beer market. New breweries, making handcrafted beers, continue to come on stream while many long-standing regional and family breweries are expanding with new equipment and new brands. Real ale has almost doubled its market share over the past decade."
The continued growth across the whole of the UK has been driven by small independent breweries which have been springing up all over the country, many experimenting with new types of beer.
The managing director of the Society of Independent Brewers, Mike Benner, said: "This latest Good Beer Guide portrays a British brewing industry in excellent health. New brewery openings over the last year take the total number of brewers in the UK to over 1,200, a figure that would have been almost unimaginable to readers of this guide in the 1970s."
The guide also underlines a big swing to real ale among younger drinkers, debunking the image of its stalwarts as a flat cap-wearing older generation. More than a third of young people aged 18-24 have tried real ale and of those 87% say they plan to drink it again. About 28% of drinkers are now aged between 18 to 34 - representing 2.2 million people across the UK. More than two-thirds (65%) of 18- to 24-year-olds tried real ale for the first time within the past three years, compared with 11% across all ages.
Protz said: "It is fantastic to see more young people discovering and enjoying real ale - that old stereotype of real ale drinkers being in their dotage never was true, but now it's dead and buried. What's more, the Good Beer Guide relies on recommendations by local Camra members across the UK and as more young people discover real ale we hope to continue to see the guide adapt and evolve alongside the British pub."
But with an estimated 31 pubs still closing every week in the UK, the guide also focuses on efforts to re-open them and safeguard their futures for the local communities. It highlights a groundbreaking £11.5m scheme that has so far saved 28 community pubs from closure, and is now spreading out from its Midlands base to other parts of the country.
Project William, the brainchild of Leicester family brewer Everards, gives smaller brewers the opportunity to run pubs. Of the 28 pubs so far re-opened, 14 had closed and 13 were trading so poorly they were unsustainable but are now being run very successfully, making a healthy profit.
The 16 regional finalists of Camra's Pub of the Year competition have also been named and are in with a chance of scooping the National Pub of the Year competition - announced early next year and won last time by The Swan with Two Necks in Pendleton. Pubs are judged on their atmosphere, decor, welcome, service, value for money, customer mix, but most importantly - quality of beer.
Nearly all new breweries are producing cask-conditioned real ales as their core products. Photograph: Bruno Vincent/Getty Images