Gordon Brown has bought joy to Britain's smallest brewers, with 14p per pint off their beer duty in time for the World Cup.

Several hundred concerns producing fewer than 18,000 barrels a year will benefit from the Chancellor's largesse, which is even better than expected: most observers had thought beer duty for small brewers would be cut by only 10p a pint.

The 50% cut in duty applies to the first half million litres, or 3,000 barrels a year produced by any brewer making fewer than 350 barrels a week. The maximum duty relief will be worth £120,000 per brewer, and the scheme is reckoned to be costing the government £15m.

The companies who will benefit include several of Britain's old-established family brewers, including Elgood's of Wisbech, Felinfoel, Holden's of Dudley and Palmer's of Bridport, as well as around 440 new small breweries that have started up since 1977.

But it is bad news for most of the country's 40 remaining family brewers, who had hoped that the duty cut would extend to them as well, and the very largest of the new brewers, who also find themselves over the cut-off point.

They include Ringwood, Hopback, Wychwood and Black Sheep, who all produce too much to benefit.

Nick Stafford, chairman of Hambleton Brewery in North Yorkshire, and chairman of Siba, the small brewers' association, which has been campaigning for progressive beer duty for the little producers, said: "This is very, very good news for the industry as it will allow some brewers to survive and will allow considerable investment.

"However, it should not immediately be taken for granted that this will mean cheaper beer over the bar."

The government claimed in a statement that duty relief will help nine out of 10 British brewers, "including all micro brewers and local brewers, the majority of which are based in rural areas."

It said: "Britain's several hundred small breweries make a valuable contribution to the nation's cultural heritage, particularly in rural communities, bringing both tradition and diversity to the UK beer market. The government is keen to celebrate the talents and skills of the nation's small brewers, and help them compete effectively for their fair share of the beer market." Some of the eligible brewers currently own their own village pubs, "and many more are expected to use the savings from the scheme to buy one," the government said.

Seven other countries in the European Union with strong brewing heritages, including Germany and Belgium, run similar duty relief schemes but the British government claims the UK scheme will be one of the best-targeted, simplest and most generous schemes anywhere in the EU, with the 50% relief for the smallest brewers the maximum available under EC law.

Despite cheers from the brewing industry's tiddlers, however, a study earlier this year by Dr Geoff Pugh and John Wyld, from Staffordshire University's Business School, together with David Tyrall from the Open University, says progressive beer duty would not have the huge direct benefit that Siba and the Campaign for Real Ale may have hoped for.

Instead it found that the common factor for those small breweries that did succeed was that they all owned their own tied estate, which means they owned at least one pub.

Dr Pugh said: "By owning a public house, a small brewery has direct access to their consumers and can overcome the distribution problem."

The Chancellor also announced a freeze on beer, spirits and wine duty by an 11p rise in duty on alcopops.