JD Wetherspoon, the UK pub chain, has become the latest to report rising demand for real ale over the last 12 months, and is to continue pushing the beers in the coming fiscal year.

Ale sales by volume rose 17% for the 12 months to the end of July, JD Wetherspoon said in its full-year results today (11 September).

The rise partially reflects greater exposure for the beers in Wetherspoon's 734 pubs throughout the year, but nevertheless comes in a UK beer market down 8% and 5% in the first and second quarters of 2009 respectively.

"We stock over 600 guest beers throughout the year, from a wide selection of microbrewers," said Wetherspoon, which reported like-for-like group sales up 1% to GBP955m (US$1.6bn) and pre-tax profits before exceptional items up 13.6% to GBP66m for the year.

Commenting on the group's real ale festival, which ran in April 2009, the group it sold 3.3m pints in 20 days, "an increase in like-for-like volumes of over 17%, compared with the same festival in 2008".

Rising demand for ale at Wetherspoon comes amid a boom for small breweries in the UK, despite a shrinking national beer market.

The UK has seen 71 new breweries open in the last year, taking the total to more than 700, according to the Campaign for Real Ale, which launched its Good Beer Guide 2010 this week.

"It is wonderful to see there are now over 700 breweries in Britain brewing far in excess of 2,500 different varieties of real ale, and so many fantastic pubs in which to drink this beer," said Roger Protz, Good Beer Guide editor.

Earlier this year, the UK's Society of Independent Brewers said sales among its 450 members increased by 20% in 2008, with average like-for-like volume sales up 7% on 2007.

Industry leaders believe there are now more breweries in the UK than at any point since the end of World War Two in 1945.

One of the most high-profile new brewers in the UK is Scotland's BrewDog.

Despite battles with The Portman Group over marketing tactics, two-year-old BrewDog has predicted a turnover of GBP1.6m in calendar 2009, following a 230% rise in volume sales in the first six months of the year.

The microbrewer, which owns Punk IPA and Tokyo*, reputedly the UK's strongest beer, sold 1.4m bottles in the first half of the year, compared to 400,000 in the same period of 2008.

Co-founder James Watt said: "The rest of the UK beer market is far from a picture of health at the moment, however we're standing steadfast in defiance of this decline."