Strong demand for ale in a depressed UK beer market has helped Greene King to report a rise in sales for the first half of its fiscal year.

Net sales for the 24 weeks to 18 October rose by 4% to GBP464.5m (US$763.7m), compared to GBP445.5m in the same period of last year, Greene King said today (1 December).

Net profits increased to GBP37.7m, from GBP20.4m last year, largely due to lower one-time costs on the pub and beer business.

CEO Rooney Anand said: "Whilst the environment remains demanding, each one of our businesses has made substantial progress in their respective markets and profit growth has been achieved in Retail, Belhaven and Brewing Company."

Strong demand for ale across the UK has boosted the firm.

Greene King's beer business, which includes Old Speckled Hen, IPA and Abbot Ale, saw net sales rise by 9.4% for the 24 weeks, to GBP45.3m. Operating profits in the brewing division rose by 5.4% to GBP9.7m.

The brewer was also lifted by its Belhaven business in Scotland, which saw net sales rise by nearly 15%.

Against a UK beer market down by around 5% in volume in the last 12 months, Greene King's own-brewed volume sales rose by 10% in its 24-week reporting period. It is selling 6,000 pints per match at Twickenham, the home of the England Rugby Union team.  

"During the period, we continued rolling out our innovative 'Cask Revolution' dispense system and it is now in over 700 pubs across the UK," said the brewer. "We invested GBP1m in the technology and only install the system in quality cask ale outlets that meet strict criteria."

Abbot Ale is receiving a GBP0.5m marketing spend, which includes joining Old Speckled Hen in sponsoring the Dave television comedy channel. 

In its outlook, Greene King said its strong performance has continued into the second half, but warned that the consumer environment "remains uncertain".

For the full announcement, click here.