The Vultures Are Circling

The end of March. It’s chilly. It’s Easter weekend.

I was on “a mission”.  To New Mills. And Torrside. One of the undoubted success stories of the breweries launched in the last 3 or 4 years.

My Beer Buddies never miss a Torrside Brewtap and with the launch of #ISBF5 fresh, I needed to chat over a few beers.

The place was heaving. Not a bench seat to be had with lengthy queues at the bar and the trio of brewing owners racing to keep up.

With smiles on their faces. As is right. The beer was flying out.

That Centennial Porter may be just about the best Porter I’ve had in a long time.

The place was busy with happy drinkers. Wearing coats. It was distinctly chilly. It’s on a canal basin. In the Peak District. It was cold. Yet it was still rammed.

Why? Because Torrside are bloody good at what they do.

Many attendees would have been local. But I came from Bolton, Steve from Sheffield, Chris from Wolverhampton, Jock from Middleton.

A thriving Brewtap can be the difference between going under and surviving. Or surviving and thriving in a very competitive market. The making of exceptionally good beer sometimes isn’t enough.

Being a Micro Brewery isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s a Sisyphean effort just to keep heads above water. And some people seem to want to keep the boot on those heads.

Warning : Rant incoming

For me, this was the start. A motion to the CAMRA 2018 Conference. From a man with – let’s say – a poor opinion of Micro Breweries and an avowed affinity with the Family and regional brewers of the UK.

I was told by trusted friends and comrades that this motion has ZERO chance of becoming CAMRA policy. People who know the internal workings of the organisation far better than I.

But that kind of missed a rather important point in my opinion. Even if this was a freestanding assault on SBDR (Small Brewers Duty Relief), it would still be a seed sewn – I’ve seen this all too many times in Trade Unionism. And in other political arenas.

Sew the seed of an unpalatable idea. Let roots grow. And some time later, with enough propaganda as fertiliser, that seed can bloom.

(Let’s not talk about the deliberate juxtaposition of these two poisonous written pills. Simply appallingly biased editing.)

But this isn’t a freestanding assault. And the more I think about this, Mr Sheridan increasingly looks like a cipher. For the Regional and family brewers he so adores.

Say “Hello” to The Small Brewers Duty Relief Coalition

Or – to give them another name – The Big Guys.

Read some of their weasel words here….

And then look at the list of members

Small Brewers? MARSTONS (Ringwood, Jennings etc)??? Fullers (now with a belly full of Dark Star)? Charles Wells (prior to bailing from brewing)?

And as for Beavertown…..

Taking the piss…..

OK. These Horsemen Of The Micros Apocalypse coalesced over a year ago. I’d heard nothing recently, until some of my small brewing friends started to panic.

The reduction (and – as advocated – possible removal) of SBDR would sound the death knell for many Micros. And that is precisely the aim of these Reapers.

To close down competition.

The big guys are panicking. Shareholders getting twitchy, they strike out. The formation of this “coalition” (I prefer “cartel”) was one of those seeds. And that Motion 8 – unsuccessful though it may eventually be – have no doubt, is merely the start of the roots taking hold.

I like the diversity of beer that we have right now. Especially in Manchester. I’ve said it before, this is a golden age for drinkers. We have more choice than ever before.

These big brewers want to kill that. Stone dead.

And that’s precisely what the reduction or removal of Small Brewers Duty Relief would do.

Some breweries have started to close. Yes, the market is “competitive”. It’s also not helped by some shocking “discounts” being offered. In the import / export arena, that would be almost be called “dumping”.

And let’s not talk about Wetherspoons.

I’m not worried about the likes of Torrside. They have built a fine reputation for flavour and have a growing and increasingly loyal following. The Brewtap last Friday being testament to that.

But these beer bullies want to increase their own profits by removing the competition. Not by the tried and tested method of takeover, acquisition and closure. But by encouraging the Government to do their dirty work.

If you value choice and diversity of offer in beer, we can’t let that happen.

5 comments on “The Vultures Are Circling

  1. #SBRC is a group of of brewers who have economies of some scale, it’s not surprising they are looking to change a system that prohibits their further growth
    That’s there right to look after the issues their facing now as the rules are now inhibiting their current businesses growth
    There is an irony though that they propose to burn the step ladder that
    many of them benefited up till now to the detriment of the the new guys who are going through the growth / struggle they themselves went thru in the not too distant past

    • I get the business argument completely. And – as you say – pulling up the step ladder / drawbridge is a bit rich, considering it was only 4 or so years ago I was at a Beavertown MTB at Port Street.

  2. I think the business logic of a some of the “new money” as it were, has been fuzzy and naively exploited.
    The BBPA commissioned the report into this by European Economcs. They’re members are all IFBB and Pubco’s. The IFBB voted against MRO law that could open up 11,000 pubs for Micro routes to market, even though they were exempt from it.
    Dave Roberts (Early Chair of SIBA, before it went crook) hard earned SBDR was only accepted by the BBPA on condition that Gordon Brown dropped the Beer Orders of 89 that pertained to Tied pub ownership. They cited dilution of the Orders were necessary to prevent foreign ownership of pubs, and yet that’s exactly what happened via private equity.
    No irony then that HUK have bought Punch Taverns putting them 1000 pubs over the 89 limit, and not a murmur from the BBPA/IFBB. SIBA thought they had a gentlemans handshake for members (so they claim) yet that’s already been broken.
    It’s no wonder SIBA haven’t grown above 6.8% market share for 5 years now. Welcome to the #GreatBritishPubcoScam it’s coming to a micro near you. It’s a very British scam because it seems that in Britain it’s only illegal to behave like a Cartel, not actually be one.
    Get organised and good luck, ignore the BBPA at micro beers peril.

  3. I’m coming to this a little late due to other stuff happening.

    This is really complicated. SBDR has been instrumental in growing the total number of brewers and to ‘some’ extent increasing the size of ‘some’ smaller brewers, but it can be argued that it has come at the price of too many breweries competing for trade and bar space in a declining market.

    I think Vincent is mostly right in what he says and there is an irony that for some that stepladder burning is making them look a tad hypocritical. Nonetheless while a drastic shift in SBDR may not be the answer, there is clearly an issue with the squeezed middle. Are we really saying that every small brewer uses the duty relief to grow the business and that none use it as a way of undercutting? It may not be widespread but when the duty relief is factored into the business model, it must have some impact on pricing, buying and much more.

    Small brewers existed before SBDR so the argument that none would survive is kind of moot, but is the argument that you are advancing Jim that the already saturated market should continue to get even soggier? How would that help anyone? We actually do need fewer breweries, though making it entirely uneconomic to be a small brewer isn’t my choice either, though something clearly has to give.

    As for Lees, I’m guessing that for them, business is business. They haven’t been around for 190 years by accident. They fight for their business and its interests, as do all others. They have been pretty successful in doing so and I don’t see them as the bad guys here any more that I see smaller brewers in the same light. Each sees it through their own position.

    Can the current situation just go on and on? I doubt it, but this isn’t a simple David v Goliath situation, or big guys bullying small guys. It is much more “bigger fleas have littler fleas upon their back to bite them and littler fleas have littler fleas, so on ad infinitum.”

    I’m not a fan of the BBPA by any means, but after 16 years Is a review an indisputably bad thing?

    • Oh wow. I sure I won’t cover all your points P, but here goes.
      1. What I have read so far (and over an extended period) from the SBDRC “lobby” seems to conflate the words “competition” and “undercutting”.
      In my experience (and I don’t go to Spoons or similar discounted beer outlets) , I don’t see evidence of “undercutting”. I don’t see Micros being sold on the bar at cheaper prices. I see them attempting to compete. Is this down to the vendors? Maybe, but I remain sceptical (I’m planning another – more detailed – post on pricing and margins)

      I completely understand the business side from the perspective of – let’s say – JWL. I would be naive to think otherwise.

      Yes. It is clear that there is overcapacity. I have – on occasion – been brutally honest and pointed when asking a fresh faced brewer “WHY are you doing this?”, especially in Mcr, but that’s the dream. What the Coagulation (I do prefer that word) propose is taking that dream and stamping on any chance of realising it.

      There will be a cull. That much is certain. I’d just rather not see bigger fish use the aquarium owner to remove the water from the tank to kill off the tiddlers.

      While they watch, flapping their fins, from the adjacent lake.

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