“Undisputed” is Rarely So

If you troll the beer blogs, or read The Times, you may have come across beer writer Roger Protz’s assertion the other day regarding the state of British beer:

Mr Protz said that Britain was now the undisputed top brewing country in the world.

On reading this at Alan’s blog, I was struck by the rather extraordinary nature of the claim, and emailed Roger directly to see whether it was a simple misquote, an overstating for media effect, or what. Here’s how he replied:

My rationale is that, yes, Britain does have more breweries per head than any other country (excluding Denmark and New Zealand, with tiny populations). I was at pains to stress in media interviews that I wasn’t claiming that British beer is better than, say, Belgian, Czech or German beer, but that the choice and diversity now available here is quite astonishing. I wasn’t waving a jingo flag because that’s anathema to me, but was stressing the facts in a bald way to a media that is generally hostile to beer and pubs.

That made sense to me, except for the bit about Britain having the most breweries per capita. Surely, I thought, brewing powerhouse Germany must have more. So I ran the numbers:

  • Population of the United Kingdom: 61 million
  • Number of Breweries: 711
  • Population of Germany: 82 million
  • Number of Breweries: 1250 (more or less)
  • British population per brewery: 85,794
  • German population per brewery: 65,600

Granted, Germany has been experiencing a good number of brewery closures of late, while Britain’s brewing industry has been growing, but that would still mean the German number would have had to drop by over 20% to 956 breweries in order to equal the U.K. count. And I somehow doubt that has happened.

Does any of this matter? Not in the slightest. As Roger further noted in his email, the latest Good Beer Guide has been receiving unprecedented media coverage, just as we’ve seen craft beer become very “in” of late on this side of the pond. And if you care about what’s in your glass, that’s great news all around!

4 Replies to ““Undisputed” is Rarely So”

  1. Of course, it matters if by that you mean his statement. But, yes, it doesn’t really matter which nation someone thinks is the top brewing country – as if “top” could mean anything.

    What does matter is moving past dull thought in beer writing, the bland – yes, jingoistic – association with nation or extremity or anything other than the quality of fluid in the glass before the drinker. If he meant “choice is astonishing” that is what he should have said. Anything else is the wisdom of branding.

    I am not sure I am “astonished” by much in beer short of Girardin but can agree that the market and choice is very robust if my travels are anything to go by. But can’t we just say that and avoid giving out arbitrary first place blue ribbons where none are needed and when all they do is create confusion?

  2. As astounding as this may seem, I must agree with Alan. My entire career as a beer writer, I have maintained that the only thing I interest myself with is what is in my glass — not where it’s from, how big a company brewed it or the number of medals or awards it has garnered. All else is strictly peripheral.

    That said, the media responds to lists and absolutes, so in an effort to further interest in the GBG, I understand completely what Roger was intending to do when he made that statement.

    On the subject of breweries per capita, that is meaningless to the extreme. Saskatchewan boasts a high such ratio and yet there are only a couple from which I would bother to drink. “Many” does not necessarily translate to “good.”

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