“At the opposite end of the brewing ladder, a fresh feast of local ales has frothed up in the last decade. But brewing has proved a hard business to enter; most pubs are tied to the national concerns, with the result that many of the pioneers of this brave new world have, sadly, gone to the brew house wall. On the brighter side of the glass, there are still bold ventures rolling out their first barrel every month. But how long will this continue when the trade is closed in their face?”
Brian Glover, 1984
Well, the answer is that thirty plus years later we are still rolling out the barrels! The trade is still largely "closed in their face" but we brewers are resilient and with time and pressure pub doors are slowly opening to us.
A new decade filled with hope and frustration
The early 80’s were very frustrating and worrying times for the new wave of brewers who, like myself, had started with a driving ambition to brew better beer. It might sound arrogant but we are thought we could make beer better. And so it has proved.... and contrary to the prevailing wisdom time has proved that small brewers are a power to create competition and push beer quality and variety up.
1989 Monopolies Commission Investigation
During that decade the new brewers were pushing for action to be taken on the tie and the 1989 Monopolies Commission investigation into “The Supply of Beer” brought changes which were intended to increase competition in the market place. These have had effects which are still rumbling through the industry. It took until 1992 to get the main recommendations enacted which started opening the market. One recommendation remained outstanding and that was the introduction of a Sliding Scale of Duty: it was to take a further 12 years of campaigning by SIBA to get that idea in to law.
The 90’s - Some hopes dashed but a market awakens
Through the late 80’s and early 90’s discussions were ongoing with various Government Departments about the introduction of the Single Market concept throughout the E.U. I was privileged to be the lead SIBA representative discussing with HM Customs and Excise as they were then the implications of the various options which were available to put into UK law. Without detailing the negotiations and discussions that took place through the late 80’s and introduced in the early 90’s I am proud to say that we were responsible for various fundamental changes in the duty payment structure which benefitted the smaller brewers:
1. Payment of duty “at the gate”. This meant duty payments became due when the beer was sold and not when it was produced. This encouraged the production of better quality beers as there was not disadvantage in holding beer for maturation
2. Duty measured by alcohol by volume. This is a more honest system of charging and prevented dubious brewing practices which had developed and made duty equal on all forms of beer. Previously lager production enjoyed an artificial advantage over ale. The use of ABV meant that brewers could not indulge in shady practices such as the use of enzymes which allowed the alcohol content to be increased after duty measurements had taken place. It also put ale on a level playing field with lager which the previous system had favoured.
3. Volume/wastage measurements based on a per brewery basis and not a universal system.
4. An improved and simplified production recording system
5. Duty paid on sales and not production. The previous system gave advantage to large scale producers and encouraged dubious practices to the detriment of product quality.
We managed to introduce these benefits because the larger brewers sent accountants to the meetings and we were brewers so understood the implications of each measure. We had also discussed these with HM C&Ex beforehand to ensure the vote on each proposal went our way!
Overall these measures gave ale producers a much more even production environment so they could compete fairly with bigger companies. They also meant that underhand practices, which cheapened the production process but produced inferior ale, used by larger ale producers could not be used
SIBA grows and SIB “Europe” is created
During this period I took the Chair of the Small and Independent Brewers Association. This enabled me to push SIBA towards being a truly national body. I felt I could not represent UK small brewers without a national mandate so the importance of a single “cause” to unite all was needed. This was the battle for a “Sliding Scale of Duty” renamed “Progressive Beer Duty” became the common cause which united brewers across the UK.
The one idea which I had and which I am most proud was the thought that there should be an independent body representing all small and medium sized brewers on the European stage. I hosted the inaugural meeting of that in the House of Commons and am pleased to see that has gone from strength to strength. (http://www.sib-association.com) and their most visible activity is the European Beer Star competition (http://european-beer-star.com/) which came about as a result of the support given to the idea by Roland Demleitner the Secretary of the German Association of small and middle sized brewers. Without his support and knowledge SIB-Association would have not been created.
There were many other ideas which bubbled up during that period, small brewers' beers in the House of Commons, name stamped into cask chines for example, which improved the market in general for the new brewers and started the waves of new entrants to the industry but the foundations for success were laid by the coming of the single market in the early 90’s. The implementation of a progressive duty system to be know by HMRC as “Small Brewers’ Relief” was the touch paper which when lit lead to the explosion of interest and the revitalisation of the industry which continues apace. This was a revolution waiting to happen and whose time came as a result of the vision of the brewers who joined together to form SIBA in the early 80’s.