The passion for invention

By Roger Protz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Brewery, Brewing, Adnams

Protz: micro brewers are healthy for everyone
Protz: micro brewers are healthy for everyone
The rise of the micros has inspired creativity across the industry, says Beer expert Roger Protz.

There's rebellion in the air. If you read between the lines of the profile of Miles Jenner, director of brewing at Harveys of Lewes, last week you may pick up the slightest whiff of annoyance at the presence of so many smaller craft breweries on his patch.

Miles is the most courteous and generous of men and says all the right things about welcoming competition. Others are more forthright. At the Great British Beer Festival earlier this month I had my ear well and truly bent by the managing director of an equally famous and revered family brewery.

The conversation was off the record, so no names, no pack drill. As he'd just won a prestigious award in the Champion Beer of Britain competition I thought he'd be full of the joys of late summer.

But, no, he was fuming at the number of microbrewers muscling in on his northern patch and getting their beers on the bar if he turned his back for a split second.

And he had a further moan — progressive beer duty (PBD). It was outrageous, he thundered, that the microbrewers should benefit from PBD, while family and regional brewers derive no benefit to the changes in duty brought in by Gordon Brown in 2002.

Adnams is also incensed by what the company sees as the unfairness of the present system.

The Suffolk brewery invested massively in a new brewery and warehouse just as the credit crunch hit. As a result, Adnams had a couple of tough, lean years and could do with a little help from the excise officers.

But even if permitted beer volumes were doubled, as the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) argues, Adnams would still not benefit.

The company feels so strongly on the issue that one of its management team, Stephen Pugh, has argued the case for fundamental reform of the system in the newsletter of the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA).

This is entering the lion's den clad only in Y-fronts and wielding a broken tennis racket. It was SIBA's long campaign that led to PBD and the umbrella organisation for Britain's craft brewers may not feel too sympathetic to the perceived plight of much bigger producers.

Revolutionised

I'm a great supporter of Britain's family brewers. I want them to survive and flourish. But I also believe that small craft brewers have revolutionised the brewing industry and deserve special help and support.

I remember being present at a brewing conference just a few weeks before Gordon Brown announced PBD. The announcement wasn't expected and the small craft brewers I spoke to at the conference were full of gloom.

Many said they were seriously thinking of selling up. They found it almost impossible to get their beers into pubs as a result of the discounts demanded, while the overheads of running a brewery and paying top dollar in excise duty were crippling.

To put their position into context, one craft brewer said his delivery truck was knackered, he couldn't afford to replace it and so he couldn't deliver beer. That's not the kind of problem that faces many regional or family brewers.

There are some 770 breweries operating in Britain today. That's four times as many as when CAMRA was founded in 1971. Beer volumes may have declined since then, but choice and diversity for drinkers has never been greater.

Before the "micro revolution" of the past 20 years most brewers had limited beer portfolios. I feel a particular affection for Adnams as it was the first brewery I ever wrote about back in the 1980s, but its beer range was fairly typical of the rest of the industry at the time: mild, bitter, best bitter and strong ale for Christmas.

Now, with the benefit of a state-of-the-art new brew house, Adnams supplements Bitter, Broadside and Explorer with a constantly churning range of seasonal and one-off brews, including Belgian, German and Irish-style beers. The company may disagree, but the inspiration for that beer range has come from the micros.

The first golden ales — which have won younger drinkers from industrial lager to flavoursome ale — came from Exmoor and Hop Back.

The fact that drinkers can now revel in true IPAs, porters and stouts, to name just three, is due to the passion and research of the smaller fry of the industry.

There's a clear case for a review of PBD. My own view is that we should follow the European model and have a sliding scale of duty that has benefits for brewers of all sizes.

But we mustn't squeeze the micros out of the market. They are the flag bearers of the beer revolution and they must not be put to the sword.

Related topics: Other operators, Beer

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