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Cask Ale: Small guys sticking it to the man

Who knows how it’s happened, but it has. While pubs are closing at a rate of 50 per week and the overall beer market endured a decline of 4.2% in 2009, the British microbrewing sector is going from strength to strength.

According to the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), beer production by small brewers surpassed a million hectolitres for the first time ever, while three quarters of local brewers recorded growth in 2009 – with the average increase in turnover being 17%.

SIBA’s annual Local Brewing Industry Report also revealed that, in 2009, the entire sector witnessed sales growth of 4% and a 3.75% hike in volume. Much of the growth has been attributed to the on-going benefits of progressive beer duty (PBD) which has allowed brewers the financial freedom to expand their businesses, add capacity and invest in new equipment and marketing.

SIBA’s direct delivery scheme, whereby local brewers supply beer to a pub’s door, is also gathering pace with a 12% rise in the number of pubs and bars taking part, while an increasing number of brewers are looking to buy a pub during 2010.

SIBA’s chief executive Julian Grocock said: “That the vast majority managed a sales uplift last year and are anticipating the same in 2010 speaks volumes about the resilience and resourcefulness of the UK’s quality independent brewers.”

SIBA’s report also outlined the organisation’s pre-Election manifesto, which leads with a commitment to retaining (PBD) and calls for the cancelling of the beer duty escalator, the freezing of beer duty and a consideration of lower duty rates for lower strength beers.  

Grocock explained: “We urge whoever is elected in May to take a fresh look at the local brewing industry. Cask ale – which accounts for over 80% of our output – is a relatively low-alcohol drink, served in the controlled environment of a pub where drinking is part of a social occasion, rather than an end in itself.

“As such, we deserve to be treated as part of the solution to alcohol-related harm, rather than part of the problem.”

Grocock added: “The UK’s local brewing industry, though rooted in tradition, is a relatively young one.  Most of our members are younger than SIBA itself, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

“Our success through the past few, exceptionally tough years, however, surely demonstrates that local ales are no passing fad, but a permanent asset that can offer a much-needed boost to the nation’s troubled pub trade.”

Ben McFarland, 09.03.2010 

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