Despite the number of UK breweries rising to more than 1,700, the persistent push by big brands to enter new and emerging segments of the market, such as craft, stifled choice, said the 2018 edition of the guide.
Such a trend was cited by Sierra Nevada ambassador Steve Grossman at the recent Beavertown Extravaganza beer festival in London.
They didn't want to get into craft because the beer is expensive to make
– Steve Grossman, Beavertown
He said: “In the past 20 years this industry has gone nuts. The big breweries have taken notice of this as the sales of their flagship beers started going down.
“They didn't want to get into craft because the beer is expensive to make, but they had to try it, so they started making craft beer styles themselves, but the consumer didn't buy it.”
However, Good Beer Guide editor Roger Protz, who recently announced he is to retire from the position, criticised AB InBve in particular for becoming too dominant in the marketplace.
‘The taste will differ’
In a press release marking the launch of the 45th edition of the guide, Protz said: “While many consumers will not be aware that their favourite local beer has changed from looking at the bottle, the taste will invariably differ.
“Brewing changes under new ownership - whether this is due to long-term contracts with suppliers leading to grain or hop substitutions or because production methods are changed to maximise profits at the expense of taste.”
AB InBev’s recent acquisitions of SAB Miller for £71bn effectively gave the brewer 30% ownership of global beer production and sales, he said.
Meanwhile, its acquisition of Camden Town Brewery for £85m, along with the unveiling of the brand’s giant new brewery in Enfield, could see what was a small craft brewery become London’s largest brewery.
Big Beer is on the march, and we risk losing our wealth of choice to merely the illusion of it
– Roger Protz, Good Beer Guide
Protz added: “First Big Beer buys up a swathe of independent breweries. Now it’s attempting to control the natural ingredients used to make beer. The power of these global behemoths is frightening and has to be vigorously resisted.
“CAMRA was first founded to challenge the handful of national brewers that had phased out good cask beer in order to promote fizzy keg beer, the quality of which would be laughed to scorn today.
“I believe we are seeing a real threat to a return to those days – on a global scale. Big Beer is on the march, and we risk losing our wealth of choice to merely the illusion of it.”
He continued: “Not only are consumers being misled, but these global brewers are changing the very character of the beers they buy and driving genuine independents out of business. It is most certainly the biggest single threat to consumer choice.”
Afford to buy malt and hops
The editor warned the brewing and pub trade that the giants can afford to buy malt and hops supplies 40% cheaper than even big and medium-sized brewers can.
As a result, small and medium-sized brewers face an increasing risk of being squeezed from the market, he warned.
Low production costs, deep pockets for advertising and marketing and the ability to sell beer at cut-throat prices would help the giants further dominate the beer landscape.
It is vitally important that beer drinkers are not misled, and are able to easily differentiate between beers produced by the Global brewers and those that are crafted
– Mike Benner, SIBA
Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) chief executive Mike Benner said: “The global brewers are seeking to capitalise on the growing consumer interest for flavoursome, independent craft beer, by buying out previously independent breweries or launching their own beers marketed as 'craft'.
“However it is vitally important that beer drinkers are not misled, and are able to easily differentiate between beers produced by the Global brewers and those that are crafted by truly independent British breweries, in order to choose how and where they spend their money.”
He added: “SIBA's 'Assured Independent British Craft Brewer' campaign was launched to do exactly this, with a specially designed logo for bottles, cans or pump clips making it crystal clear the beer was brewed by a genuine British independent craft brewery.”