Covid has devastated UK pub industry, says Camra

Coronavirus has had a “devastating” impact on the UK’s pubs and will exacerbate the decline in the number of independent breweries – for the first time in nearly two decades – an influential consumer guide has warned.

Thousands of pubs and breweries that survived the first lockdown are now fighting to stay afloat amid a slump in business following ongoing restrictions and curfews that could “make or break” the industry, according to the 2021 Good Beer Guide, published on Thursday by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra).

The annual guide – now in its 48th edition – is considered the definitive guide to the best pints of real ale pulled in the UK and this year features 4,500 pubs, from country inns to no-frills micropubs and taprooms. Despite being hampered by lockdown and ongoing restrictions, thousands of volunteers worked to compile this year’s entries. There are an estimated 40,800 pubs in England and Wales.

It reveals that the total number of independent UK breweries has dipped to 1,816 from 1,823 last year – the first time it has recorded a decline in numbers since the explosion in UK breweries started in 2008. While 163 breweries have opened this year and are newly listed, many more have closed their doors, cutting the net figure.

Camra’s national chairman, Nik Antona, said Covid-19 was the biggest threat to British pubs in the organisation’s 50-year history. “Many pubs and breweries have fought hard and the majority have survived the first lockdown, but it’s clear the industry was already in a vulnerable position when Covid-19 hit,” he said.

“Since then, breweries have all but been forgotten as new restrictions have been introduced, despite relying heavily on pubs as a key outlet for their products. It’s clear that preventing widespread closure and rebuilding our pub culture will be Camra’s greatest challenge yet.”

Among the independent breweries to have called time this year is the award-winning Pershore Brewery in Worcestershire, whose owners Elizabeth and Sean Barnett announced its closure “with very heavy heart” in September.

The guide’s foreword is penned by chef and restaurant owner Tom Kerridge who urges consumers to continue to support breweries and pubs to preserve them for future generations.

“These figures are an early indication that all is not as it should be following a difficult year of lockdown restriction and social distancing measures,” he writes.

“While every sector across the UK has felt the burden of Covid-19, brewers and pubs have taken the brunt of the impact. The one thing we have all missed during lockdown is human connection and social interaction, which above all else, is everything that the Great British pub provides – a warm, happy and friendly place for people to drink and eat.”

A spokesman for Siba, the Society of Independent Brewers, said: “2020 has been one of the toughest on record for independent breweries, who have seen sales slump by an average of 82% during lockdown, leading to two breweries a week closing their doors for good this summer.

Breweries have not had access to business rates holiday or grants, leaving them largely left out of government support packages. To make matters worse a tax hike is around the corner for hundreds of small breweries, which is likely to push many more struggling businesses over the edge.”