Progressive beer duty (PBD) has proved to be a lifeline to many small brewers, according to the Small Brewing Industry Report 2004.
Two-thirds of the Society of Independent Brewers' (SIBA) members have recorded growth in excess of 10 per cent in the past year, with one in six pints of cask ale now being brewed by an independent.
SIBA said that thanks to the introduction of Progressive Beer Duty (PBD) in 2002, half of SIBA members have expanded their brewing capacity, 60 per cent have taken on more staff and 70 per cent have replaced or improved their equipment.
But although last year saw SIBA strike groundbreaking agreements with three major pub operators, it warned that market access in general remains a major issue, with two out of three independents losing trade during 2003 due to pub acquisitions by the larger multiple pub groups.
Customs & Excise launched a consultation into the effects of PBD and is expected to make a statement in this year's budget on March 17. The result could be that 27 regional brewers, which are currently excluded from the scheme, could benefit from a duty cut.
While smaller brewers have recouped the benefits from a sliding duty scale, medium-sized brewers missed out because they exceeded the cut-off limit of 18,330 barrels a year. They say the low level means they are being squeezed out of the market.