IT MAY be pint-sized compared to the national brewers but Bolton’s Bank Top Brewery is more than holding its own.

Against a backdrop of harsh economic times, falling spending power and pub closures, sales of beers at the small craft brewery are surging ahead.

For Bank Top, like many other small independent brewers, the pickings are good as owner Dave Sweeney reports sales have already equalled last year’s best ever figures.

The brewery produced 14,367 nine-barrel firkins and is in a financially healthy position because its has little expenditure and no debt.

Mr Sweeney said: “Beer has gone up at least 10.5 per cent this year with excise and VAT taxes going up.

“Despite the recession and the increases, our customers have stayed loyal and we have sold one million pints this year.”

That is against continued Government increases in excise beer duty, increased VAT, and cheap supermarket loss leaders — and all in a recession where people are fearful for their jobs.

And while the brewery in Astley Bridge is doing well with a £1 million annual turnover, so is its first tied pub, The Brewery Tap, which has also increased sales compared to the same time last year.

As thousands of pubs up and down the country are seeing licensees leave in their droves, The Brewery Tap has prospered beyond expectations.

Mr Sweeney said small is better as the independent brewer can adapt and change its beers and offer greater choice to a local market much more quickly than the big brewers.

It means loyal drinkers are more likely to stay local to a local pub offering just what they want.

He said: “The big brewers will struggle and the smaller brewers will prosper though some will be bought out by bigger companies — but then history does have a habit of repeating itself.”

He also believes many licensees will rebel against the tie with pub companies and that smaller pub estates of four to six pubs will become the norm as customers return to their roots and seek out good local pubs, serving good real ales, without any frills.