Comet is all ready to go, get some while you can.
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Here at Great Heck we love our big IPAs. In recent years there have been much publicised shortages of the US hops which until recently were indispensable for a punchy, “West Coast” American style big IPA. This has made these beers increasingly difficult to make, plus everyone else was doing it, so what next.
Thanks to the wonderful people at Charles Faram and the fruits of their breeding programme in Slovenia we now have the hops that excited me so much on my recent visit there and the resulting big hitting “Styrian IPA” is now safely in the fermenter and will be available for delivery next week (WC 20/03/2017).
I have a sample of it on my desk as we speak and, although it’s still in the final stages of fermentation and not quite ready, I can report that it tastes absolutely stunning and would not be out of place on the taps in a brewpub in Portland, Oregon, except that it’s cask only and only available in the UK!
It has a solid malty backbone, a darkly golden colour and a perfectly bold balance of alcohol (6.5%) and fruity, zesty hoppiness from the blend of 100% Slovenian hops.
Get your orders in quickly because the first 13 barrel brew isn’t going to hang around long and it’ll be a few weeks before we brew it again… But the good news is that Slovenia has come up trumps and is producing varieties which are ideal for brewing exciting, modern beers. More please!
In today’s budget speech The Chancellor announced, “No change to planned changes in alcohol duties.” You may well have understood this to mean no change in beer duty. In fact, at first I did because the escalator on beer duty has been scrapped, but apparently at some point the government announced that all alcohol duty was to rise in line with inflation. Today HMRC have published this which clarifies the deliberately obtuse language in the announcement.
The sad fact is that the press have been, as they always are, thrown off the scent by this ploy but the upshot is that we need to pass on a rise of about £2 per cask to our customers who will in turn have to increase their prices to their customers. That’s you.
The duty rise affects all deliveries from Monday 13th March 2017 but we will hold the increase in our prices back until 1st April for our free trade customers.
Two talking points come out of this (Apart from the obvious):
So there it is. My decoding of one sentence in the budget speech. “No extra costs?” Sheesh!
The AGM of SIBA (formerly the Small Independent Brewer’s Association – now the Society of Independent Brewers but still retaining the original Acronym or, to use marketing speak, “Brand.”) is to be held on Thursday 16th March at Ice Sheffield at 10.30am. I hope every member manages to turn up and vote.
SIBA has always been associated with Progressive Beer Duty (PBD), the system introduced in 2002. Indeed it campaigned for it for 21 years before its introduction. It is, in simple terms a system whereby smaller breweries pay lower rates of beer duty. Here’s the wikipedia entry on it if you’re interested.
Over the years following its introduction, many new breweries started up, kickstarting what is now called the craft beer movement in the UK. Some of these have come and gone, most have stayed small, because that’s what they want to be, and some have done very well, grown and are now eligible for less or even no relief under the PBD system.
There was a huge controversy several years ago which peripherally involved the abandonment of the word, “Small” from the name. There were several good reasons for this, notably that many of the original members rightly felt ownership of SIBA yet were no longer small. Fair enough. Following on from that, a new type of membership was introduced, Associate Brewing Membership. This was aimed at opening up membership to bigger players. Not just ones who had already been members when they were small, but anyone. Numerous large organisations have jumped aboard and it seems that the fears of the smaller members at the time are coming to fruition, that the entryists are changing SIBA because they couldn’t beat it. A couple of years ago I did some MP interaction on a SIBA initiative and my point of contact ended up being someone at the BBPA (British Beer and Pub Association – the natural enemy of SIBA against whom, and its ilk, SIBA was invented to fight.)
The argument against, “Reactionary sentiments,” such as mine is that we all have to work together, and that if the grass roots dig their heels in and force a split with the property conglomerate cartels like BBPA and its members, which predominated pre-SIBA, SIBA will cease to be as effective a voice as it could otherwise be. My answer to that is that having an effective voice is counterproductive if it arguing against one’s own interests. The most important thing about having a voice is that it says what you want it to say.
We are up against formidable forces here but we have one last backstop. It is still one member, one vote, and the vast majority of members are small brewers who stand to be greatly disadvantaged by a review of PBD. If the 21 year fight for its introduction, a fight which was against powerful interests such as the BBPA and its members is not to have been in vain, we must rid ourselves of these entryists. After all, if the founding members of SIBA had followed the doctrine of big is beautiful in the early days, and towed the BBPA line, we never would have got PBD in the first place. Thus history has shown us that SIBA, on its own, small and underfunded can create a seismic shift for the better in the brewing industry – and yet now they want us to go along with the very interests which have always opposed us. Those who at their core believe that consumer choice should be decided at the stroke of a pen in a boardroom in Burton on Trent, not by the manager of a bar, and still less the consumer. On that basis I implore all SIBA members to attend the AGM (16th March 2017, Ice Sheffield, 10.30am) and vote in favour of Motions 1 and 2, which address the problematic issue of Associate brewing members.
(UPDATE: If you can’t make it to the AGM, you may appoint a proxy. I’m happy to do that for anyone but you must notify SIBA of your decision using the protocol described here so that it is delivered to them no later than 13th March 2017. The full list of motions is here. If you nominate me please let me know how you want to vote on each one.
Members can register to attend the AGM free of charge – and must do so by 12th March 2017 – here)
Starting in April 2016, HMRC has been registering all alcohol wholesalers in a scheme called the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS). From April 2016 any business selling alcohol to another business had to apply for a registration, and by April 2017 HMRC are supposed to have issued or refused AWRS numbers (URNs) to all those businesses and made them searchable on the internet. – HMRCs guidance is here.
So far this has taken up a lot of time in every brewery in the country – we’ve all been inspected by HMRC to make sure we’re on the level and quite a few have closed down, some coincidentally, some perhaps not so much. So far so good.
What comes next will affect every pub, off licence and supermarket. From April 1 2017 it will be an offence for any retailer to buy or otherwise receive alcohol from any source which is not registered on the AWRS scheme. There will be a duty to check firstly that the supplier’s invoice carries an AWRS URN, and secondly to verify that the registration is genuine on the HMRC web site.
The idea behind this is to tackle duty evasion, which will be a bonus to suppliers and producers who don’t evade duty, perhaps even enough of a bonus to offset the burden of yet another ton of regulation.
According to this article HMRC are warning retailers about this, but the fact is that they don’t know who most of the retailers are and from conversations with my customers I know that my bringing it up has been the first most of them have heard of it. Indeed I’ve searched for advice for retailers on the HMRC web site and drawn a blank.
Unless HMRC can find a way of identifying and effectively communicating with retailers, and then enforcing the rules it will all have been an expensive waste of time. I hope they get on with it pretty quick but on balance I have decided not to hold my breath.