Monday 9 March 2020

Announcing SIBA1000

It's been a while since I've posted here and logging into blogger for the first time in forever, I was amazed to see that the So you wanna open a brewery? series of posts has accumulated almost 30K views. I still get emails from folk asking follow up questions and, no, I never did get a chance to write Part IV!

The brewery landscape has changed a lot since we started Elusive Brewing in 2016, even within the small county of Berkshire. There doesn't seem to be a single, authoritative source telling us how many breweries are now active in the UK (i.e. the number of non-null Beer Duty Returns HMRC receive each month) but the number is commonly believed to be over 2,000. This report by by Edith Hancock, citing UHY Hacker Young’s data in early 2019, had it over 2,200 - an increase of over 400 since 2016.

More significant than that number, however, is the acquisitions we've seen since we opened - also discussed in Edith's article and more recently, Matt Curtis, writing about Sam McMeekin’s (Gypsy Hill Brewing Co.) talk at Brewers Congress, noted that "since 2015 the production volume of what you would ostensibly define as “craft beer” within London has gone from 100% independent to being just 27%. This is due to the sale, in full or in part, of Meantime, Camden Town, London Fields, Brixton, Beavertown, Fourpure, Fuller’s and Hop Stuff to Asahi, AB-InBev, Carlsberg, Heineken, Lion and Molson Coors, respectively.".

That's worth repeating. McMeekin's data showed that London's beer production was 100% independently owned in 2015, but only 27% in 2019. It's a damning statistic and once we should all take notice of. 

Small breweries need SIBA, The Society of Independent Brewers (our trade body), now more than ever to help fight our corner - in lobbying government on policy issues, especially. And we need it to be representing an undisputed majority of independent breweries to give it the gravitas and weight to be even more effective in doing so. SIBA's membership is, at time of writing, around 770 breweries. This number simply has not climbed inline with the growth described above. 

Elusive Brewing joined SIBA in late 2019. Although we'd inquired about joining a couple of times before that, an undercurrent of member dissatisfaction with SIBA's direction put us off biting the bullet. I believe that SIBA ideally needs to operate entirely in the interests of its members, with no commercial interests, and some decisions it took (for example the acquisition of beer wholesaler Flying Firkin) seemed take it further away from that. 

SIBA recognises the need for change and under its new Chief Executive James Calder, has started to re-engage and rebuild relations with its members. SIBA is listening and 2020 is the year we as independent breweries need to get behind them. It can only operate outwith any commercial interests if it has more members, as those interests are needed to cover its operating costs at current levels of membership.

SIBA1000 is an unaffiliated initiative aimed at increasing membership to 1000 members in 2020. In the coming weeks, Elusive and other SIBA members will be reaching out to our peers to encourage them to join and get involved in their regional meetings. SIBA isn't perfect but it's ours. We need to be shaping it from within rather than bemoaning its shortcomings. The current SIBA leadership is energised and demonstrably ready to engage. We've been helped directly twice since we joined, including a short notice visit from Barry Watts (SIBA's Head of Public Affairs & Policy) to support a meeting with our MP to discuss the importance of protecting Small Brewers Duty Relief. Our feedback has been listened to and acted upon. Phone calls have been answered and support has been offered without hesitation. 

Let's work together to give more power to our trade body's elbow this year!