New Portman Group Code guidance will damage the market for specialty beers like Imperial Stouts, Porters and IPAs

Today, the Portman Group have published the sixth version of the Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks.

SIBA say that whilst much of the updated code is sensible and includes new measures to prevent alcohol packaging causing serious or widespread offence, protection for the vulnerable in society and preventing associating alcohol with illegal behavior, the new guidance on ‘immoderate consumption’ could be very damaging for independent craft brewers:

Mike Benner, Chief Executive said, “Today’s new guidance on the ‘immoderate consumption’ rule threatens new, innovative specialty beer styles like Imperial Stouts, Porters, IPA’s and British interpretations of traditional strong Belgian styles – many of which are now being packaged in large cans designed for sharing and sold at a premium price point. SIBA is disappointed that the Portman Group are pressing ahead to introduce new guidance which says that ‘single-serve’, non-resealable containers shouldn’t contain more than 4 units of alcohol.

“SIBA, as the responsible trade association for British Independent Craft Brewers understands that some products like super strong, super cheap lagers and ciders are abused by some members of society. We recognise this is a problem that causes massive harm to families, individuals and communities and costs the NHS millions of pounds every year. More needs to be done. But SIBA does not believe this new guidance from the Portman Group will address the problem it seeks to change – preventing ‘immoderate consumption’.”

Mike added, “When you consider an average bottle of wine at 14% ABV contains 10 units of alcohol and a small bottle of spirits contains 14 units at 40% ABV then why target craft beers of only 4 units? As we know, beers like Imperial Stouts and IPAs may have stronger ABVs than a ‘regular’ beer, but the strength is an integral component of their flavour and the style. Our research shows that the intention from the brewer – that they are savoured, enjoyed slowly and shared is matched by what consumers actually do. Their price point is radically different.’”

“We welcome the fact that during the consultation process the Portman Group have partly listened to SIBA’s concerns and have included ‘mitigating factors’ such as price, premium nature of the product, decanting and sharing messages in any future rulings. But we still have significant concerns about the impact the unit-based definition will have on craft brewers.

“SIBA will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Portman Group to discuss the impact of this new guidance. The Portman Group will also be at SIBA BeerX UK in Liverpool to present on the code and answer brewers questions and feedback”

Notes to editors:

The new code would treat these products differently:

  1. An 8% ABV ‘white’ cider in a 440ml can sold as low as £1.00 containing 3.7 units of alcohol
  2. A UK craft brewer working in collaboration with a Belgian brewery creates a Hazelnut Imperial Stout at 9% ABV. This is also sold in 440ml cans but at around £8 and upwards and contains 4 units of alcohol.

SIBA strongly argue that the first example encourages immoderate consumption, and therefore harm by virtue of its strength, price and intention. Some consumers see this kind of product as a way to regularly consume a lot of alcohol for very little money. But this example wouldn’t be captured by the new guidance and could remain on sale.

SIBA argue the second example doesn’t promote ‘immoderate consumption’ but could be caught by the new code and would potentially have to be unfairly withdrawn from sale.

This kind of beer is enjoyed much like a fine wine, is often shared with others, enjoyed infrequently and decanted into a glass.

  • YouGov polling conducted for SIBA in 2018 showed that of a representative sample of 4371 UK consumers, 1151 drink craft beer of 7% ABV or over on a regular basis.
  • 12% of respondents would always share a strong craft beer with someone else and the majority would regularly share with others.
  • 61% of respondents would always tend to pour their beer out into a glass, rather than consume straight from the container


  1. SIBA’s consultation response to the Portman Group code containing more details on the proposed measure can be found here:
  2. SIBA’s comment at the announcement of the measures in May 2018 can be found here:


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