Uncertainty on reopening 'biggest challenge' for brewers

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Unsure customers: one brewery has said its pubs are waiting for more information before they can decide whether to reopen this summer
Unsure customers: one brewery has said its pubs are waiting for more information before they can decide whether to reopen this summer

Related tags: Beer, Coronavirus

Breweries have called for more certainty on the reopening of pubs, saying they have been left in the dark and are unsure of when to start brewing.

Will Evans, co-founder of Manchester Union Brewery, said as a lager brewery the uncertainty about the reopening date has presented a prominent challenge, given the time it takes to brew his products.

Many of his customers are reluctant to make any big decisions about how they will reopen before the Government confirms a date for reopening and if 2m social distancing will have to be enforced. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will review the 2m social distancing rule.

Evans said: “The lager we brewed today won’t be [finished] for six weeks.”

Brewers at Manchester Union Brewery said their customers are unsure if they will be able to reopen.
Brewers at Manchester Union Brewery said their customers are unsure if they will be able to reopen.

In the dark

Although he understands why pubs are waiting for more information from the Government about social distancing before deciding whether or not to reopen as soon as allowed, Evans said this has left him in a tricky position.

He said: “By rights we should be brewing now, so that by the end of July we are starting to have extra beer coming through the pipeline. But then if we brew now it is more costs and staff to pay and then if pubs and bars aren't opening, the beer is going to be sat there and we will be lengthening the problems we are having.”

“If people don't know [the guidelines for reopening], how can they plan? [Pubs] can’t even plan because it may or may not be possible for them to open. [It] just means as a brewery we have no idea what to do, to brew or not.”

"Probably biggest challenge we have got right now is the uncertainty, we have been speaking to other breweries to understand where they think the on-trade is going to be."

He added: "We are less than three weeks away from opening and I don't know any bar that is 100% certain about what they are going to do and what measures they're going to put in place."

Logan Plant, founder of London brewery Beavertown, agreed that the release of guidelines on how pubs can reopen would aid brewing.

He said: “Ultimately, clearer guidelines will enable breweries to prepare to make the best quality beer possible, avoid wastage and make sure they’re producing enough product to keep up with demand."

Similarly, Camden Town Brewery's managing director Adam Keary said the brewery had had to decide several weeks ago to launch its brewing operation for a 4 July reopening date, despite the lack of certainty.​ He said it was frustrating that the Government had not released any guidelines yet.

It comes as the Government has been criticised for a lack of clarity on when guidelines about how to reopen safely can be expected.

The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has today (15 June) reiterated its calls for the Government to announce a clear date for when pubs can reopen. Business secretary Alok Sharma did confirm that pubs will not be allowed to reopen any sooner than 4 July​, after speculation beer gardens may be allowed to reopen next week.

Survey of brewers

The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) has called on the Government to issue further financial support for breweries as well as to provide them with certainty on when and how pubs can reopen.

In a survey of smaller breweries, the organisation found that 97% of brewers can be ready to supply pubs by the earmarked date of 4 July but only if Prime Minister Boris Johnson offers a roadmap and guidance on social distancing imminently.

Half of brewers said they believe most pubs aren’t economically viable with social distancing at all but a further 47% said they would be only viable if the social distancing requirement was reduced from 2m to 1m.

James Calder, SIBA chief executive said: “Getting pubs reopened quickly and safely is simply the first step on the road to recovery for small brewers – for others irreparable damage has already been done.

"Breweries have not received the same levels of financial support from Government as the rest of the sector, the global brewers are looking to eat our lunch and we face a hugely different, unpredictable and chaotic marketplace when things do re-open.”

Those surveyed by SIBA (90%) said they feared small independent businesses would lose out as larger multinational breweries saw an increase in their market share.

Despite the uncertainty, brewer Evans said he is excited about the future and added: “We’d rather be stuck with a little bit of beer rather than caught short.”

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