Ale's well for Derbyshire brewers as more get a taste for their tipples
After another successful Derbvy Winter Beer Festival at The Roundhouse, Oliver Astley asks local brewers what they are doing to top up sales in an increasingly competitive market.
THE Derbyshire Brewers' Collective has more than 20 members, and new breweries are popping up on a regular basis, but there is a finite quantity of beer that can be downed in the county.
Brewers both new and old are capitalising on Derby's reputation for real ale to keep expanding, despite growing competition from fellow local enterprises.
One of the most recent beer producers to emerge in the city is Shiny Brewing, found behind The Furnace Inn, in Duke Street.
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Owner Pedro Menon used the Derby Camra Winter Beer Festival to give his enterprise a high-profile launch.
"The event went down really well and I need to do more brewing to replace all the beer that was drunk at the festival," says Pedro.
"Running the pub means that I'm not brewing full time yet because there simply isn't the time available to do everything. I do the brewing, the accounts, purchasing, marketing and play for the pub's football team.
"The business plan is simply to use the old pub model – people come here to meet, talk and enjoy themselves."
Being the new kid on the beer block, Pedro has had to differentiate his operation from other real-ale pubs on Derby's circuit.
"Everyone does the same route and visits the same pubs, like The Flowerpot and The Silk Mill, so the plan was always to stock beers that no one else has because there are a lot of fantastic beers out there.
"We served our 200th different beer on our 199th day of trading and we're hoping that the variety of different beers will keep people coming back."
In an increasingly crowded market place, variety and novelty are one way to rise above the throng.
Ripley's Amber Ales has made a name for itself with unconventional flavours and brewer Pete Hounsell is a former industrial chemist keen to experiment.
He says: "At a recent beer festival we took two of our regular beers and two more unusual ones and it was the basil blonde and the one flavoured with Derbyshire honey that generated the most interest.
"It is getting harder because even though there are pubs opening, they are not keeping up with the number of new brewers setting up. That said, we are expanding in terms of production capacity over the next six to nine months.
"Interestingly, most of the extra demand is coming from towns and city centres rather than traditional country pubs."
One city pub that has embraced real ale is Mr Grundy's, in Ashbourne Road, Derby. General manager Andrew Spencer says: "There are new breweries coming into the market in the area, such as Shiny, so with more people entering the market, we are going further afield for sales.
"There is business out there for real ales and I spend a lot of time on the phone and sending e-mails with our beer lists. We sell a lot to Nottingham and we are part of the Castle Rock scheme, but to keep driving sales we have to keep our beers fresh and interesting."
Having bought into The Exeter Arms and The New Zealand pubs, Dancing Duck Brewery had a big presence at the winter beer festival.
This year is shaping up to be a good one for owner Rachel Matthews. She says: "Competition is getting tougher because there are better beers and better breweries, with about a dozen based in Derby itself.
"We don't have aspirations to be huge but we are expecting to increase production by a third and are buying a new van."
Among the first to push the real ale renaissance in the last five years was the Derby Brewing Company. It is now one of the city's largest producers of beer.
Director Trevor Harris says: "The market is saturated to a degree but I don't think of other breweries as competition because the more breweries there are here, the more interest there is generated from outside the city and that means good footfall in our pubs.
"We could do with more encouragement from the Government and during the election campaign Mr Cameron made noises about helping pubs which has come to nothing."
Derby Brewing Company's growth could potentially be stymied by the progressive beer duty threshold. Brewers producing more than 5,000 hectolitres a year start to pay higher levels of duty.
Trevor says: "Within the next 12 months, I expect that we will be approaching that limit, which means we'll have to make a decision. To make it worth our while going above the threshold, we will have to double production."
One encouraging sign to be seen at last week's beer festival was the shifting demographics of the attendees.
Mr Harris said: "To give the local branch of Camra credit, there were more younger people at the event, which bodes well for the future of the industry. It is also great news that Derby will host the national winter beer festival next year."