Premium bottled beers continue to see rising sales and within this category the beers from smaller craft breweries are enjoying spectacular growth.

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The market for these beers continues to grow alongside increased brewery numbers and the universe of pubs that stock such beers maintains its upward trajectory. The younger male drinker is at the forefront of this trend, which has injected plenty of life into the beer industry.

This demographic has long since been among the earliest adopters of technology and regular buyers of goods online – especially when they are from specialist niche merchants. What might be surprising is just how small the online market in specialist (craft) beers remains.

Paul Kruzycki, managing director of Ales By Mail, is one of the leading operators selling craft beers online and he crudely calculates that the total market in the UK totals around only £3 million.

He cites Beers of Europe, BeerMerchants and Ales By Mail as the three leading operators who are then followed by an army of smaller merchants. Newcomers appear frequently such as eebria but then many unfortunately disappear quickly having realised that flogging beer online is a tough hobby to make pay.

This £3 million figure represents a very small percentage of the total online sales of beers, wines and spirits (BWS) – that came in at £82.2 million for August 2013 (up 16% year-on-year) according to the latest figures from the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index.

The average basket size across BWS is £117.06, which is significantly higher than the average of £40 that Ales by Mail clocked up across the 18,000 orders it delivered over the past year.  These figures suggest this is a market that is a long way from maturity and has the scope for somebody to grab it by the scruff of the neck.

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Kruzycki believes he is the man and to this end he is fast developing his operation. Around 50% of his business is fulfilling for other parties – including Meantime, Brewdog and the Craft Beer Company – and on the retail side he has recently acquired MyBreweryTap.

He is als0 selling through Amazon and supplying gift beer boxes to gadget site Firebox. Orders from this site account for a third of all the parcels despatched by Ales By Mail over the Christmas period.

A wholesale business to specialist beer shops is also a new revenue stream as is the growing amount of business done overseas. This all combines to have grown the business by 300% over the past 12 months.

If demand for premium, sometimes hard to find, limited run beers continues to grow then the online market could have a promising future that will take it some way from its present lowly £3 million of annual trade.