A new report to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Small Brewery Aid reveals the huge impact the policy has had on UK brewing, including a boom in microbreweries and a huge increase in the number of different styles of beer being brewed.
The SBR @ 20 report was published by the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), the trade association which represents independent brewing in the UK and which lobbied for the policy some two decades ago.
According to the report, there are currently 1,895 independent breweries in the UK, creating around 10,988 direct jobs.
“The sector has come a long way in the last few decades. In just a few years since its introduction, the SBR has created over 100 new businesses and at least several hundred jobs that would not have existed,” wrote Roy Alkin, chairman of SIBA, in the foreword to the report.
“Twenty years later and it has grown to almost nineteen hundred breweries, with a small independent brewery in almost every constituency, supporting thousands of jobs at the heart of our community,” Roy added.
Analyzing which beer styles are produced by small independent breweries, the report also shows the surprising rise of craft lager, which has seen explosive growth over the past twenty years. On the other hand, it’s the Mild and Brown Bitters that have fallen out of favor with brewers, seeing a sharp decline in production in recent years as more breweries began producing keg beer as opposed to traditional keg beer.
“The increase in the number of breweries in the UK market has led to more experimentation and a drive to create new and more interesting beers. For the first time in this year’s survey of SIBA members, the most produced style of beer was not that old favorite golden bitter, but rather a stout/porter. And while in the past 90% of brewers produced bitters, our latest survey shows a much more even spread across a range of different styles, including some new ones such as non-alcohol and low-alcohol and gluten-free styles,” said Caroline Noder, editor of SIBA Craft Beer Report 2022 and contributor to SBR @ 20 Report.
Small Brewery Relief was introduced by then Chancellor Gordon Brown to allow small brewers to pay a lower rate of tax on the beer they produce so they could compete with national and global brewers. The sliding scale policy meant that the smallest brewers received 50% relief, with the relief gradually decreasing depending on the size of the brewery.
Under the changes announced last year, the small brewer relief will be replaced by a new ‘small producer relief’ which, alongside beer, will include other small producer drinks such as cider. The changes are due to come in from August 2023, but SIBA has raised concerns about various elements of the new system, including the unfair advantage given to cider.
“Immense amounts of thought have gone into restructuring the entire alcohol taxation regime, simplifying it and ‘making the alcohol taxation base more economically rational, with fewer distortions and arbitrary distinctions’, yet mass producers of cider will continue to pay half the alcohol duty that’s what the brewers are doing and now the distortion is clearly visible, glaringly obvious,” said Eddie Gadd, director of Ramsgate Brewery and a long-time campaigner for small brewers.