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The Devolution of Brewing (or the Evolution of Can?)

The pandemic has undoubtedly dealt a blow to the brewing industry - the forced closure of pubs, bars and restaurants had a significant impact on beer volumes throughout 2020 and early 2021 as the lock downs continued to contain the spread of the virus. But it's also fair to say that coronavirus simply exacerbated trends that were already there - here's a graph showing the total beer production over the last 40 years, taken from the Alcohol Duty Review call for evidence in April 2021: Beer production has fallen by a third in the last 40 years - changing tastes play a part in the decline; wine has risen in popularity over the same period, as have spirits. Three other significant events will also have contributed: The Supply of Beer (Tied Estate) Order 1989 and The Supply of Beer (Loan Ties, Licensed Premises and Wholesale Prices) Order 1989, commonly known as the Beer Orders, gave rise to the ‘Pubcos’ with the unintended consequences of restricted access to market for small producers and high tied pricing structures for tenants. The 2007 smoking ban, made it illegal to smoke in all enclosed places, which appears to have contributed to pub closures in the UK with some 9,300 permanently calling last orders in the 10 years since the ban. The continuing rise in the tax applied to drinks - and beer in particular. The beer duty escalator meant that between 2008 and 2013 the duty increased by 42% - it seems no coincidence that this significant rise appears to have led to the most significant decline in the decade between 2000 and 2010. Each of these events had an effect on the on-trade - prices on the bar steadily rose and, whilst the smoking ban was absolutely the right thing to do in the interests of public health, it drove some customers away from pubs. The graph below shows the impact of this - the black line with beer mugs represents the number of pubs steadily declining. The blue line shows the reducing levels of beer being sold in the on-trade. The red line shows the rising volume of beer being sold in the off-trade, or supermarkets: So more beer has been sold in supermarkets than in pubs since 2015. This steady rise isn't just about pubs closing, it's also about price - this graph shows the average price of a pint sold in the on-trade compared to the off-trade since 2008: Pretty startling isn't it? As you'd expect, prices have risen in both pubs and supermarkets as inflation rises - but supermarkets are holding prices lower than pubs can. Supermarkets have two key strengths when it comes to pricing: 1. Buying power - Four supermarket chains dominate UK food retailing, accounting for 70 percent of the market. Tesco is the market leader, with 27.3 percent market share, followed by Sainsbury’s and Asda with 15.2 percent each and Morrison’s with 10.4 percent. In total, there are in excess of 87,000 groceries outlets in the UK. The dominance of a small number of retailers in a huge market leads to buying power of such significance that prices can remain low to attract shoppers. 2. VAT benefit on zero-rated groceries - The zero rate of VAT applies to the supply of most foodstuffs, such as bread, butter, cheese, cereals, condiments, flour, fruit, herbs, meat, milk, pasta, pastes, sauces, soup, spices, sugar, and fresh or frozen vegetables (This list is by no means exhaustive.) Most consumers are unaware of which items in their basket will attract VAT and which do not, making it possible for supermarkets to artificially increase the selling price of zero-rated products (thereby making more margin) and offer discounts on standard-rated items; often, these discounts are applied to luxury items (such as alcohol) to attract shoppers. Lower prices are good news for consumers, but margins are slim and access to the largest of supermarkets is restrictive to all but the largest of brewers. So volumes of beer are reducing - what used to be sold in big containers is increasingly being sold in bottles and cans: It's not all bad news - bottles and cans offer choice to consumers; we now see a significantly wider range of beer styles more readily available than 40 years ago. Independent Craft beer has really led the way on that front. But let's think about the Great British pub. The place where life happens. People meet, socialise, celebrate and commemorate in them. They're socially responsible places to enjoy an alcoholic drink. And we're at risk of losing them. So what do we need to do? There's a proposal being considered by Government to offer a differential rate of beer duty on beer sold to the on-trade - so less tax on beer sold into pubs and bars. This would definitely help the recovery post-Covid. Business rates for pubs are currently based on an illogical method based on 'fair maintainable trade'; how this can ever be fairly assessed, I've never understood - the success of a pub is based on so many factors making each circumstance very different. Far fairer to apply a similar method to that used in retail, where business rates are set based on square footage. Last, but by no means least, we need to lift restrictions on hospitality. Whilst pubs are trading, they currently can't trade to capacity which hurts most in smaller venues at peak weekend periods. Oh, and one more thing - let's all drink more beer! Because that will definitely help!

Covid's Hidden Costs for Hospitality...

As we approach the end of May 2021, we've seen the gradual reopening of our pubs and brewery and I find myself in a reflective mood. On the one hand, it's a joy to be trading once again. To be planning new brews and promotions that will delight our customers is a genuine thrill and a reminder of the passion I have for this industry. On the other, I can't help wondering what lies around the corner for us. Some costs of the pandemic have been obvious; lost turnover, the continued payment of rent and utility bills, the high cost of out of date stock and many pints poured down the drain, the thousands of pounds spent making our premises 'Covid-secure' with barriers, PPE, hand sanitiser and signage. It's fair to say that financial support has helped - the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, grant support and business rate relief, together with rent concessions from our landlords have all contributed to our survival, but the hidden costs of the pandemic are only now beginning to emerge. Trading with reduced capacity is a very real issue; from 12 April 21, when we could trade outdoors only, we watched as customers braved the elements to support us while many others understandably stayed away. Since 17 May 21 we're indoor trading, but with limited numbers allowed inside to the 'Rule of 6' and bearing the high staffing costs of 'table service only'. Having been off for 9 months in the last 12, our teams have found themselves back at work going from zero to one hundred miles an hour. Imagine the stress of having to remember skills that once came easily while under the pressure of customer's waiting? Some have found new careers and new opportunities - it's a long time to sit at home and consider your future options against an uncertain future of the industry you work in. This leaves us with an uphill struggle to recruit; with many pubs and bars looking for good people, there'll no doubt be a fight to attract the very best who remain. And it's not just our staff who feel this pressure; machines aren't meant to stand idle for long periods. Pumps, heating elements and chillers at the brewery have failed, while in our pubs, dishwashers, glasswashers and ice machines that are used to working continuously have given up the ghost, leaving us to bear the costs of repairs and replacements following these early break-downs. Then there's the changing habits of our customers. So many tales have been told of bars built in back gardens and increased drinking at home. Is that really what we want in our future? Limited social interaction in an unsupervised environment? We have evidence of others who remain afraid to return; regular faces we're yet to see, as they remain afraid to come back to pubs and restaurants that have been portrayed as places of high risk. Back in our pubs we're managing the growing frustration of some customers who are tired of restrictions and rules. Politely dealing with those who don't want to sit at a table or wear a face covering when standing and nipping to the loo. This enforcement of rules (many of which seem to defy logic) certainly takes its toll on our motivation and mental health - it simply isn't the reason we took a job that we thought existed to make people happy. And now there's the threat and speculation over further lock downs and the need to control the spread of the new 'Indian-variant'. Lock Down 4? Can the hospitality and brewing industry survive yet another period of closure? We've been like the plucky fighter who's been knocked down, but gets back up again round after round. We need our ministers to consider these softer, qualitative implications of continued restrictions. We need the continued support of our customers - not only in their valued custom, but in their patience whilst adhering to the 'rules'. And we'll need people to keep taking the vaccines to help control the spread and risk of the virus. Only then will we know if we can make it to the final bell.

Lock Down 3: Lock Down with a Vengeance

Boris Johnson yesterday announced the 'Winter Plan' for when national restrictions in England end on 2 December. The country will be moving into a new and stronger three-tier system, which actually places additional restrictions on hospitality businesses as well as on households mixing - so in effect, we enter a third lock down period for pubs, restaurants and the brewing industry. Publicans and Brewers now require the grit and determination of John McClane to survive, because let's face it, the Government has only provided the industry with the equivalent of a vest and a pair of shoes not big enough to fit my sister. We'll find out more about which Tiers apply to each area throughout the country on Thursday - Tier 1 allows some restricted trade, Tier 2 is almost impossible for a wet-led pub to survive and Tier 3 means closure. Strangely, at Tier 2 it will be possible for 2,000 people to attend an event outdoors (or 1,000 people to attend an event indoors) but if you go to a pub you must only do so with people from your own household or support bubble and you may only consume alcohol with a 'substantial meal'. Even more strange is that restrictions are at their tightest in a sector which is less frequently visited in the days leading up to a positive Coronavirus test result: We could be forgiven for thinking that our Government really doesn't like pubs - but let's not forget the primary supporting industries that rely on pubs and bars; breweries, butchers, bakers, grocers, dry-foods, trade gas suppliers, drinks wholesalers, hygiene and pest control services...the list goes on. I'm sure we'll make it through this - John McClane always comes through at the end albeit battered and bruised - the news of an imminent vaccine roll out will surely see the end of restrictions in 2021 and we'll hopefully see a surge in trade when people can finally get back to normal socialising. But we need support. Financial support that's properly protects the supply chain as well as pubs and bars. Come on Rishi Sunak, don't be like Hans Gruber and try to keep all those bearer bonds for yourself or we'll have to throw you out of the 30th floor of Nakatomi Plaza. "Yippee-ki-yay Mother-hugger." (Damn you censors!)

Lockdown 2 (the sequel)

So here we go again - Lock down 2 begins today with all five of our pubs having closed their doors last night, for what we hope will be just 28 days. Has anyone else noticed the unnerving reference to the 2002 Danny Boyle film '28 Days Later'? Let's sincerely hope we don't experience this: I'd like to thank every single one of our pub teams who have created a 'Covid-19 Secure' business, remaining adaptable and flexible throughout. I know it's been exhausting and has stripped the soul out of the industry, but I also know that a great many of our customers have appreciated the efforts we've made to ensure a relatively 'normal' pub experience. I know that our teams have lived up to our company mission: "We want to make people happy". We'll be back in December (whenever permitted) and I'm certain that one day we'll truly be back to socialising in pubs like the 'good old days'. In the meantime, our brewery team is taking the view that the next 28 days are a gift of time. We're stripping back our brewery and redecorating the walls and laying a new resin floor - a job we've needed to do for a while now and one that will allow us to set out on a new path to SALSA plus Beer accreditation: This is a step up in standards from our existing FSQ accreditation and will hopefully help us to open a few more doors to outlet supply. In the meantime, our Brewery Shop is still open - we're selling bottled beers, bag in box beers in 5, 10 and 20 litre sizes and we've even got Bier Nuts (believe me, they're a taste sensation!) to help the Lock Down pass more painlessly... If you're not close enough to visit our Hucknall shop, why not order online from our website: May I wish you and your families the very best of health and happiness and we look forward to serving you again soon!

Hospitality sets the standard others must aspire to

With great trepidation, my wife and I took a break in Cornwall last week. I admit trepidation isn't the word one usually uses when thinking about holidays and relaxation, but I should make you aware that our last trip to Cornwall was in March 2020, when we watched in disbelief as Mr Johnson announced that, "people should avoid going to pubs, but pubs can remain open". Fast forward to October 2020 and we had a definite sense of foreboding; Coronavirus cases were rising and areas of the UK were facing increased levels of restrictions. "Is it us?", we thought, "Do we cause this stuff by planning holidays in Cornwall?!" Thankfully we didn't have to make an early return home this time and Padstow was wonderful, giving us our first opportunity to relax having spent the last seven months battling to save our company. I did however have two experiences that provided me with a stark contrast in how different sectors have been affected by Coronavirus restrictions. On the first evening of arrival, I went shopping for supplies in a well-known national supermarket located on the outskirts of the town. You'll know it if you know the area as it's the only supermarket nearby. I entered the store with face covering in place and was a little surprised to find no attempt to manage the flow of customers entering. No one checking that customers were using sanitiser before entry. No visible sanitisation of basket or trolley handles. No requirement to scan the track and trace QR code. Once inside the smallish shop I was immediately struck by the number of people inside. Little evidence of social distancing here in the narrow aisles. Feeling distinctly uncomfortable, I grabbed only the essential items for our evening meal and hastened to the checkouts. Two adjacent tills were in operation which forced customers to queue alongside one another, less than a metre apart. Perspex screens were in place, but one of the till operators wasn't wearing a face covering. All in all, a very dissatisfactory experience of a national business keeping 'Covid-19 Secure'. The following day, we went for lunch at The Old Custom House, a St Austell brewery-owned pub at the corner of the famous Padstow harbour. My experience couldn't have been more different from the previous day. We were greeted at the door by a member of the team, face covering in place, who asked if we would scan the QR code and use the hand sanitiser station before entering. Inside, I was struck by how few tables there were, all laid out at appropriate distances from one another; we've visited this pub many times and are used to seeing it packed full of people. For a lunchtime session on a blue-skied Sunday in mid-October, this was definitely quiet. Once seated at the table, we removed our own face coverings and were told by the member of staff that there was an App that could be used to order food and drinks directly to the table, or that he'd happily take our order. A disposable menu was offered and I set about placing the order for our drinks using the App. The drinks arrived very quickly, as did the food when we ordered that too. We witnessed exceptional service and strict hygiene measures throughout our visit with every single customer being patiently told what the rules were and tables being wiped clean after departure. The entire St Austell experience was the polar opposite of my supermarket visit. At The Old Custom House, we not only felt 'Covid-19 Secure', but also impressed with the attentive service. I accept that the two experiences are one-off. Every retail and hospitality outlet has good days and bad days. But the biggest thing that struck me was how well the pub had implemented the new restrictions. It's hardly surprising; local licensing officers throughout the land have ensured that fines have been imposed against those hospitality venues not following the rules. The media and Government ministers have repeatedly blamed pubs and restaurants for spreading the virus. Talk about ensuring that an entire industry is highly sensitised towards following the guidelines! I'm not suggesting the restrictions should be relaxed for pubs and restaurants. Far from it; I believe that all other sectors should be aspiring to deliver the same standards expected of hospitality. And the same pressure should be felt by others too. "Police in England to enforce Covid pub rules with fines and arrests - Forces given powers to punish bars and restaurants if tables too close or larger groups mingling", reads a recent headline in The Guardian. "Pubs and restaurants take blame for UK’s Covid spike", states another from the Financial Times. We've all read many more like these and it's understandable that the industry feels pilloried. If every sector, from supermarkets to schools, universities, factories, retail and public transport, faced the same level of focus and expectation to deliver high standards of Covid security, wouldn't we all be in a better place? Wouldn't cases be lower? This country doesn't need a second lock-down. It just needs to learn to follow the rules.

Collective Responsibility - Managing Covid-19 and Protecting UK's Hospitality Industry

With cases of Covid-19 rising once again, it was inevitable that the Government would add further restrictions to the increasingly complex rules surrounding social distancing. I have no issue with this, but I do object to the way in which pubs are being 'demonised' by the Government and some reports in the press, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock even going as far as stating this weekend that pubs and restaurants are one of the key places of Coronavirus transmission. This is clearly untrue and there is no data available to support his claim. In fact, I'd go further - you're probably safer in a pub environment than you are at your local supermarket. Pub teams have had to endure Covid-19 risk assessment measures that are more strict than in any other industry. And they've done a sterling job. Public Health England’s most recent data is very clear on where transmissions are happening. 43% are catching it in care homes, 26% from schools/universities and only 4.6% in restaurants/food outlets. So let's be honest. Pubs aren't the issue here, people are. We ALL have a collective responsibility to socially distance in order to reduce the rates of transmission. If we ALL follow the common sense measures of regular hand washing, wearing of face coverings when required to do so and keeping 2 metres apart whenever possible, we will see the transmission rates fall. Follow the rules and we can learn to live with Coronavirus - because it isn't going away anytime soon. I'm sure we'll come up with a vaccine someday and I'm also sure we'll see other medical advances that will eventually help us return to a more normal lifestyle, but in the meantime let's get used to living with Covid-19 and adopt the social distancing measures. If we don't we could lose our pubs and restaurants, putting a huge dent into the economy of the UK. According to UKHospitality, the hospitality industry: - employs more than 3.2m people – an increase of 24% since 2009 - generates £130bn in turnover per year - invests £10bn per year - contributes £39bn in tax receipts The map at the top of this blog page shows the number of jobs by constituency created by hospitality - it's a fascinating read and can be found here. In Lincoln Green's constituency of Sherwood, 7585 jobs exist in the sector - 53% more than the national average and I'm proud that our pub company contributes to those numbers by providing local employment opportunities. If you're like me and you love pubs, then please think carefully about social distancing. With collective responsibility we can manage the virus, reduce the number of cases and save our pubs.

A Small Brewer Responds to the Government view on SBR

Some 24,000 people this morning received an email from the Government responding to the petition to Reverse the change to Small Brewers Relief. This is my response to theirs: "The Government is reforming SBR to address issues raised by brewers. Over 80% of brewers are unaffected by these changes and many will benefit. We will consult further this Autumn." Let’s start off by being completely clear; the benefit that will be received by some is being paid for by the 20% of brewers who will be adversely affected. The Government meanwhile stands to lose nothing in the short-term and reserves the right to continue to increase beer duty each year, whilst converting Small Brewers Relief from a percentage to a cash figure; I’m pretty sure that’s likely to mean that as duty increases, the level of SBR will not keep pace and all brewers will pay more tax as a result. "The Government has been reviewing Small Brewers Relief (SBR) for the last two years in response to feedback from brewers that it was not working as intended. The changes recently announced will ensure that the scheme remains fit for purpose in the long run. The scheme will remain one of the most financially generous in Europe, and over 80% of brewers will be unaffected as they produce less than 370,000 pints a year (2,100 hectolitres)." “in response to feedback from brewers that it was not working as intended” It is well known that the feedback that the Government has listened to came from an undisclosed number of brewers who came together as the Small Brewers Duty Reform Coalition (SBRDRC). It’s frustrating that the Government failed to listen to the far greater majority-voice of the industry represented by the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA). I’m quite sure that the Small Brewers Relief will remain one of the most financially generous in Europe – but then it has to be, as the UK currently pays the second highest level of Beer Duty in Europe. And that’s after SBR has been taken into account. Oh, and the 80% of brewers 'unaffected' as they produce less than 2,100hl? Well, they certainly are affected, in that they’re increasingly unlikely to increase in scale under these new rules. How can they? The ‘cliff edge’ hasn’t been removed – it’s been moved. Moved to a point where a brewery still hasn’t got to a size where it benefits from the economies of scale enjoyed by larger brewers. So, pretty difficult to see how this will help future growth. "Small Brewers Relief (SBR) was introduced in 2002 and provides small independent breweries with a discount off their beer duty bills. Currently, brewers receive 50% off until they reach 880,000 pints (5,000 hectolitres) annual production, when a formula tapers the relief down to 0% at 10.5 million pints (60,000 hectolitres). This taper reduces rapidly, meaning a brewer at 1.3 million pints (7,500 hectolitres) receives only 33% off. For many years, brewers have highlighted that flaws in the scheme’s design cause unintended consequences such as making it hard to grow beyond the 880,000 pints level. The Treasury therefore announced at the 2018 Budget it would review the relief." I completely agree that the scheme was flawed; but the curve simply needed to be smoothed (as was proposed by SIBA) to make sure that there were no barriers to future growth for larger brewers. As part of this review, we have received and considered responses from over 300 breweries who get SBR. There were a range of views about the right way forward for SBR, and no industry consensus." That’s not true; there were two views – that of the Small Brewers Duty Reform Coalition (an unknown number of unnamed brewers) and that of SIBA, who represent 750 brewing members of many different sizes. SIBA’s proposal was a consensus from the largest brewer specific trade organisation for the industry and would have left no brewer adversely affected by the change and would have benefited larger scale brewers. Now wouldn’t that have been a fair approach? "In July, we announced that in response to this evidence, we would reform the scheme by abolishing the current scheme taper and replacing it with a more generous one that would start at 370,000 pints (2,100 hectolitres). We also announced we would convert the scheme to a cash basis, to be reviewed annually, and will consult on the potential for a grace period for breweries that merge." So, generous for some but not for all. And that conversion to a cash basis means that SBR won’t keep pace with increases to beer duty, meaning we’ll all end up paying more tax over the coming years. "As with any such relief, there has to be a point at which the full relief ends and brewers start to transition to the main duty rate. This was a source of great interest during the first stage of the review and we wanted to give clarity on this before moving on to consult on other details. Having reviewed all the evidence, particularly on industry production costs, we consider that starting the taper at 370,000 pints strikes the right balance between guaranteeing the great majority of the smallest breweries the full value of the relief, while providing those who want to expand and grow a gentler transition to the main duty rate. The Treasury considers that a brewery producing more than 1,000 pints a day is starting to transition from being a microbrewery. The industry has also changed significantly since the relief was introduced in 2002. However, we would like to emphasise that the taper beyond the 370,000 pints point will not be the same as at present and will be more gradual." That’s an interesting statement; production over 1,000 pints a day is starting to transition from being a microbrewery. The real issue here is not where the transition from small to large begins, but moreover the size at which economies of scale are enjoyed. Evidence gathered by SIBA from a cost bench-marking survey clearly demonstrated the inefficiency of small brewers. Common sense tells you that it will cost less to produce 60 brewers barrels of beer than it will to produce 10 brewers barrels. Utility costs are lower, labour as a percentage of beer produced is lower and grain costs are definitely lower, to name but a few areas of efficiency enjoyed by larger brewers. Show me the evidence that the benefits begin at 1,000 pints a day – I’d love to know where I’m missing out! "While we empathise with brewers facing difficult trading conditions in the wake of COVID-19, the Government has acted to support the brewing sector through its unprecedented coronavirus response. Final changes will not take place until 1 January 2022 at the earliest, to ensure those small brewers who are affected have time to adapt." The Government says it empathises with brewers facing difficult trading conditions. But empathy and action are very different things. I feel strongly that the brewing industry as a whole (both small and large) has been left largely unsupported, in spite of the devastating impact of its largest and most direct route to market being closed for 4 months. I’m sure we all applaud the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, but few brewers have benefited from rates relief or grants to help them through. I should also point out that the brewing industry has also stepped in to support hospitality get back on its feet by replacing millions of pints of out of date beer! "We will be consulting in the Autumn on further technical aspects of reforming the relief including the shape of the new taper. We would encourage all brewers who receive SBR and other interested groups to respond to that consultation." Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll respond to the consultation. I’m also sure I’m not the only brewer who feels this decision has been misjudged and poorly informed. Most brewers agree that reform was needed. Very few believe that the reform should be to the cost of small breweries. #Here4IndieBeer #StopTheTaxHike #CraftBeer #SBR

Robbing from the poor to give to the rich?

On 21st July 2020, the Government announced the long awaited outcome of their review into Small Brewers Relief and it didn't go well for us here at Lincoln Green. In a strange reverse-Robin Hood move, we saw the threshold at which Small Brewers Relief is reduced come down from 5,000 hectolitres to 2,100 hectolitres, giving more benefit to larger brewers whilst seeing smaller brewers pay more beer duty. I don't disagree that change was needed; brewers of all sizes simply pay too much tax, with the UK paying the second highest levels of beer tax in Europe. Reducing the duty level for larger brewers simply shouldn't have seen smaller brewers paying the price. You can help. Please click on the link below and sign the petition to reverse the change to Small Brewers Relief: Together we can make a difference to small breweries like Lincoln Green and Stop The Tax Hike. #StopTheTaxHike #Here4IndieBeer

Our first post...

It's with great delight that I write our first blog post. This area of our website is intended to be a place to share (with anyone who is interested) our thoughts about what's going on at Lincoln Green. It'll be a roller coaster ride of emotions - a place where you see inside the life of a small independent brewer trading in the UK. So, buckle up, because there are certainly going to be some thrills!