Promoting independent craft brewers is vital for the future of the industry by Mike Benner
by Mike Benner, SIBA Managing Director
For a good few years, some in the British beer industry have been somewhat distracted by a desire to define craft beer – whether it should be from a new brewery that did keg beer, whether it should be associated with certain styles or flavour attributes, whether more traditional brewers and cask beer should be included, or not. This comes as no surprise as “craft” is undoubtedly the most exciting thing to have happened in beer for many years.
This did a lot to muddy the waters and keep the independent beer industry busy talking amongst themselves, but did little to promote further the amazing beer being brewed in Britain to a wider audience. It’s too late to define it now. The cat is well and truly out of the bag. Whilst we were “debating” amongst ourselves the big brewers saw the potential in the market and started launching new products aimed at casual mainstream drinkers looking to find out what this “craft” beer was all about – or simply bought up previously independent breweries that had already made a good name for themselves, such as Camden Town Brewery, Meantime and Sharps.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with the big brewers striving to make more interesting beer, or making quality beer more widely available. Where the issue arises is when consumers cannot tell the difference between a beer brewed by a global company and the genuinely independent craft-brewed beers from smaller breweries – the kind of brewers most consumers associate with the term “craft”. Independent craft-brewed beer is inherently local, in fact 70% of Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) members sell the majority of their beer within a 40-mile radius, and it is this authenticity and importantly freshness that gives beer drinkers the best experience possible. It’s all about provenance, honesty and transparency – consumers deserve to know whether the beer they are buying was made by an independent craft brewer, or not, and make up their own mind.
At the Great British Beer Festival last week SIBA launched the “Assured Independent British Craft Brewer” initiative in an effort to make it easier for beer drinkers to identify products from genuinely independent craft brewers. Along with the assured “stamp” logo, which we hope in time will become a symbol of quality independent craft-brewed beer, we have launched a website highlighting independent brewers across the UK and explaining what makes them special. This initiative is only open to SIBA member brewers who are brewing less than 200,000HL per year, are independent of any larger brewing interest or ownership, and have pledged to abide by SIBA’s Manual of Good Brewing Practice.
Importantly it’s not about beer style or dispense method. Independent craft brewers in the UK are brewing a huge range of amazing beers in cask, keg, bottle and can, something we should be hugely proud of and celebrate. I believe this initiative could be a huge step forward for the industry and the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive, with more than 200 breweries now actively involved in the initiative and pledging their support.
As well as this, SIBA is looking to work proactively with beer retailers of all types – whether that is pubs, bars, restaurants, coffee shops, or the off-trade – to ensure this stamp of quality becomes recognisable to consumers in the same way that has been so successful for other food industries and manufacturers. We recently announced that SIBA’s award-winning beer delivery service BeerFlex has now sold more than 100 million pints of independent local beer into the UK’s biggest pub companies – an amazing achievement for the UK’s indie brewers.
However, it has become clear in recent years the way in which people are drinking is changing. Beer is about far more than the pub and in order to deliver the future of British beer SIBA is actively looking to get quality craft-brewed beer into restaurants, coffee shops, and bars and as well as promoting our members, has adapted our BeerFlex service to suit. The fact is in 2016 every business with an alcohol licence should be looking to see if the quality of their beer offering is up to scratch.
You only have to look at SIBA’s current Independent Craft Beer Restaurant of the Year, Bundobust in Leeds, an Indian street food restaurant that also serves a huge range of amazing independent beers, with a focus on local, quality breweries. This isn’t a place you would describe as “a pub”, but it has found its niche, grown rapidly (it is opening a new site in Manchester shortly) and got beer from independent breweries into the hands of people who might not otherwise have tried it.
As craft beer continues to grow in popularity and finds new audiences across the UK, it is vital that independent craft-brewed beer is given its rightful place and brewers have the tools to shout about what makes their beers special. If you are a retailer who can see the benefits of British craft-brewed beer for your business, I hope you will support our new “Assured” initiative and get in touch to see how you can get involved.
This article first appeared as a ‘Friday Opinion’ piece on Propel.