Twenty-nine reportedly close each week, yet for craft brewers the only way is up.

When beer lovers congregated for the start of the Great British Beer Festival in London this week, they did so amid a nationwide enthusiasm for craft brewing and ever more exotic drinks.

Yet as microbreweries are on the rise - with government figures showing a new one opens every other day - the demise of the pub continues.

Twenty-nine pubs close each week across the UK, according to the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), squeezed by new sales methods, rising property prices and competition from supermarkets.

There are 53,444 pubs in the UK, down from about 67,000 in 1982, according to the British Beer and Pub Association. In the six months to June 15 the UK lost 750 pubs, with a third of the net closures in London and the Southeast, where 411 shut their doors compared with 145 new openings.


Pub numbers have been falling steadily since 2007 following the arrival of the smoking ban, the rise of home entertainment and cheap supermarket alcohol sales as consumers chose to see through the recession by buying alcohol in shops and drinking it at home.

Pubs have also come under pressure from restaurants and cafes, forcing them to expand into catering and accommodation to keep revenues up.

Last year, the end of the traditional "beer-tie" agreement, whereby pub tenants pay less in rent but have to buy beer at a premium from the pub owner, meant large pub companies such as Enterprise and Punch Taverns made plans to restructure by selling off pubs. The industry is also warning that the new compulsory minimum wage will cause job losses and further closures.

Yet for microbreweries, the only way is up. Craft and locally produced beer is the fastest-growing segment of the UK beer market, powered by the continued demand across most consumer sectors for local products.

With the reduced number of pubs, craft brewers have increasingly targeted supermarkets that have spotted the thirst for artisan ales. In June, German discounter Lidl launched a selection of 48 UK regional beers, with more to follow in September, in the hope of replicating its success with a range of premium wines last year.

But craft beer has also ventured online. One start-up, DeskBeers, is offering workplace delivery of a minimum of 12 bottles of randomly selected craft beer to anywhere on the UK mainland. It works with more than 30 breweries, most of which are based in London, and delivers on average 1500 bottles a week.

Camra and the Department for Communities & Local Government have set up a joint initiative to save British pubs by having them registered as "assets of community value", a designation that gives local resources such as pubs, football stadiums and parks extra protection from property developers.

"The Great British pub's a national treasure, which is why we brought in powers so people can help protect their local by listing it as an asset of community value," said Marcus Jones, community pubs minister.


Several of the 800 pubs already listed as such have already used the protection to avoid being converted into shops or flats. Others rejoice in the increased sense of ownership.

Jones this week presented the first "This Pub Matters" badge under the ACV scheme to Tina Massie of The Red Lion in Knotty Green, Beaconsfield. "It is a fantastic honour and a real pat on the back for my team, who work so hard to keep the pub at the heart of our little village - a role it has played for more than three centuries," said Ms Massie.

- The Financial Times Ltd