BRENTWOOD, England (Reuters) - Britain's love affair with quirkily named real ales and their demand for locally produced goods has led to a growing trend in micro-breweries that cater to the more discerning palate.
More than 1,000 brewers now operate across the country compared to just over 800 in late 2011, some working out of little more than a large garage but competing for drinkers with giants such as SABMiller and Greene King in a 16.5 billion pound ($24.82 billion) industry.
"We offer something different. We are not driven on a commercial bent to produce something that is universally popular," said Roland Kannor, managing director of the Brentwood Brewing Company, whose beers include Chockwork Orange and Marvellous Maple Mild.
"And it's nice to be selling something that people want to buy rather than have to buy."
With Britain only narrowly avoiding sinking into a triple-dip recession and wage growth failing to keep pace with inflation consumers have been careful about spending.
Still, campaigns supported by celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Nick Nairn have been launched to encourage people to shop locally while also getting something extra for their money.
"We plug into the idea that people have of local food and local produce and in times when people don't have much money they spend it on better quality products," said John Lewis, whose Treboom Brewery operates out of a former pig barn in Yorkshire.
The beer industry is worth around 16.5 billion pounds a year in Britain, the second largest in Europe after Germany, according to the British Beer & Pub Association. It is dominated by global giants who mass produce lagers, bitters and stouts.
Currently micro-breweries produce only about two of the more than 123 pints brewed for every resident each year but that proportion has been rising as sales of the big players decline.
Around 1,000 British pubs pulled their final pints last year, Britain's Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) said, but those offering something different from the off-the-shelf decor and standard menu of the chain pubs are still flourishing.
"We make our own ales on site and have a pizzeria that has all our own recipes made from scratch. It's what people want these days - there are too many of these generic bars around," said Adrian Redfern, bar manager at the Crate Brewery next to London's Olympic Park.
"Our customers range enormously - we have lots of CAMRA enthusiasts, we get lots of young people and we get loads of families."
While lager may still be the tipple of choice for the younger generation, a growing number are switching to the darker, less gassy, locally produced beers from micro breweries.
"There is a big increase in the number of young drinkers turning to cask ale - it's not just beardy-weirdies in too-tight t-shirts anymore," Treboom's Lewis said, adding that his golden-colored beers such as Yorkshire Sparkle were the most popular.
Joshua Crabb, an 18-year old student from east London agreed.
"It's going more mainstream. The people I hang around with are drinking it more," he said.
Editing by Paul Casciato