Julian Grocock: Microbrewers are not parasites

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Related tags: Progressive beer duty, Brewery

At least in this country such sentiments tend to get no further than ill-considered calls for the forced repatriation of those who are "over here,...

At least in this country such sentiments tend to get no further than ill-considered calls for the forced repatriation of those who are "over here, living off the state, taking our jobs" etc.

So where are microbrewers supposed to go back to? This is not a flippant question - not after the orchestrated haranguing I received during the Great British Beer Festival trade session.

One after another, leading figures from old family breweries took me to task about SIBA's commitment to the continuance of Progressive Beer Duty (PBD). "Too many small brewers, unfair competition, undercut pricing", I got the lot.

Let me put some perspective on this pessimistic (and inaccurate) vision of oceans of cheap beer flooding the market on the back of a so-called "subsidy".

In 2009 the total volume brewed by the 350 members of SIBA who are entitled to the full rate of duty relief on all their production was 287,000 barrels.

That's about as much as came out of one revered brewery in Chiswick. It's little more than half the total produced in Bedford. And British Beer & Pub Association statistics indicate it's about one per cent of all beer sales in 2009.

Add to this the undeniable evidence that microbrewing has worked wonders on our cask and craft brewing heritage - and therefore on consumer choice too. Nowhere was this more apparent than at Earls Court last month. Even die-hard traditionalists have been inspired to innovate and brew something other than bitter and mild and the occasional old ale. Enthusiastic drinkers and publicans have never had it so good.

When I ask PBD critics how many small brewers they want to put out of business, I get answers that echo the old weaselly mantra, "I'm not racist, but..." .

I'm not saying there's no case for a review of PBD. We know the new government has this in its sights. And rather than seek confrontation, we're working towards a structure that we can present to the Treasury as a pragmatic solution - that will not threaten the livelihoods of the vast majority of SIBA members.

Some brewers would do well to remember too that we've been constructive about the beer tie. PBD has helped microbrewers survive in significantly foreclosed markets. As long as tied estates are retained, duty relief remains essential.

One of my ambushers told me the managing director of one large brewing company says microbrewers are "parasites". I won't tell you his name - you could call him Alf Garnett, but that might be too generous.

Related topics: Beer

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