As it stands, small brewers in Northern Ireland must sell their beer via a third party or pay to obtain a public house licence – a cost many small businesses can’t afford.
Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) Northern Ireland chair Ruth Sloan explained: “The current licensing laws are a barrier to the growth of small breweries and tourism.
“It means that beer drinkers, including many CAMRA members, can’t enjoy a local real ale at the brewery or order them online.”
Liquor licensing laws
At a meeting in Belfast on 27 January, 11 brewers discussed forming a new campaign group to make the case for independent beer in Northern Ireland with the backing of the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) and CAMRA.
Unlike brewers in England and Wales, they feel they cannot readily open tap rooms or brewery shops nor sell beer at events or online directly to the public.
While small independent brewers on the other side of the Irish Sea have benefited from the craft beer revolution, those in Northern Ireland have been disadvantaged.
Remove the barriers
Recently, however, the Department for Communities launched a consultation to seek views on the current liquor licensing laws.
Mourne Mountain Brewery head brewer Tom Ray said: “The current licensing laws do not make any provision to allow small producers to sell their products directly.
“Until 2010 there were only two small independent breweries in Northern Ireland, now we have over 30 brewers with a common goal – to offer the choice and variety consumers want.
“We would like to see the law updated to reflect this change, to allow us the same opportunities as other small brewers in the UK, to grow our businesses and create jobs and to remove the barriers that put us at a disadvantage in our own market.”
SIBA head of public affairs and policy Barry Watts added: “Tap rooms and brewery shops allow brewers to showcase their beer and directly interact with customers.
“Craft beer drinkers want new experiences and currently brewers in Northern Ireland are being hindered from providing them.
“We’re fully behind the brewers who are making the case for independent beer in Northern Ireland and urge the newly formed executive to bring forward legislation to change these outdated laws.”