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Craft brewers left behind by licensing legislation, industry claims

Almost 30 independent craft breweries are now producing beers and ciders in the north
Paul Ainsworth

THE north's burgeoning craft brewing industry is being “stifled” by ”out of date” licensing laws, it has been claimed.

With a bill being debated this week at Stormont to make changes to alcohol legislation, a call was made to consider the ‘microbreweries', with warnings that proposed changes fail to allow businesses a chance to grow in the way that breweries have in Britain.

The popularity of craft brewing in recent years has led to the opening of more than 30 microbreweries.

However, unlike the UK, they cannot sell their beverages on site – preventing any chance of attracting visitors to their premises.

Laws also block them selling products at events such as farmers' markets, or showcases including next month's BBC Good Food Show at Belfast's Waterfront Hall - held to mark the NI Year of Food and Drink.

Describing the licensing bill as “not fit for purpose”, Ulster Unionist MLA Andy Allen said of artisan breweries: “These local companies are being massively restricted by our current licensing laws.”

“They cannot sell their wares on their premises, nor can they avail of the opportunities to sell their produce at farmers' markets or shows.

“Surely now is the time to introduce a new category of licence to permit small brewers to apply for permission to sell at source, as well as an option to apply for occasional extensions to sell at local events.”

Clive Talbot, chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale NI, said: “A licensing category must be created to allow breweries to sell their wares. We are in the middle of an explosion in microbrewing, but the industry is stifled by out-of-date legislation.”

Craft brewer Niall McMullan founded Hercules Brewing Company, named after Belfast's now-demolished Hercules Street - once home to 13 beer producers.

“It would make sense for us to be able to sell our products at certain events, seeing as it has been the Year of Food and Drink,” Mr McMullan said.

“Sadly we can't. Also, if we were to move to a bigger premises as the company grows, any plans to attract visitors would be prevented by the inability to sell our beer.”

However, a spokeswoman for the Department of Communities said: “Microbreweries are a relatively new phenomenon in Northern Ireland.

"At the time of the consultation there was no strong lobby for this category of licence, due to the small number of microbreweries in existence.

“The bill is at Committee Stage, which affords an opportunity for all stakeholders to present their case to change the law.”

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