Small brewers unite in demand for change to the north's licensing laws

Representatives from 11 small breweries pictured outside the Sunflower pub in Belfast on Monday
Ryan McAleer

SMALL brewers from around the north have combined their voices in calling for an end to the legal barriers to selling beer directly to the public, labelling the current law as “outdated” and “unfair”.

A series of recently established breweries have popped up all over Ireland in response to the growing popularity of craft beers. The industry has grown from two small intendent breweries in 2010, to more than 30 in the north in 2020.

But despite being promoted by tourism bodies, visitors who tour breweries or distilleries here cannot easily buy alcohol on the premises.

Other stumbling blocks for brewers include challenges to opening brewery shops, selling beer at events or online.

The Department for Communities recently carried out a consultation seeking views on amending the law.

On Monday, representatives from 11 breweries met in Belfast to discuss the case for launching a new campaign to make the case for independent beer in Northern Ireland.

They say that small brewers in the north have to involve a costly third party to sell their beer or obtain a public house licence at a potentially significant sum – something they say, small businesses simply cannot afford.

“The current licensing laws do not make any provision to allow small producers to sell their products directly,” said Tom Ray of Mourne Mountain Brewery.

The head brewer said local indie brewers have a common goal - to offer the choice and variety consumers want.

“We would like to see the law updated to reflect this change, to allow us the same opportunities as other small brewers in the UK, to grow our businesses and create jobs and to remove the barriers that put us at a disadvantage in our own market.”

Barry Watts of the Society of Independent Brewers, said: “We're fully behind these brewers who are making the case for independent beer in Northern Ireland and urge the newly formed Executive to bring forward legislation to change these outdated laws.”

The chair of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in the north, Ruth Sloan, said: “The current licensing laws are a barrier to the growth of small breweries and tourism. It means that beer drinkers, including many CAMRA members, can't enjoy a local real ale at the brewery or order them online. We support small brewers in Northern Ireland and would like to see changes to the law.”

Brewers behind the campaign include: Boundary Brewery, Bullhouse Brew Co, Farmageddon Brewery, Hercules Brewery, Hilden Brewery, Hillstown Brewery, Knockout Brewery, Lecale Brewery, Mashdown Brewery, Mourne Mountains Brewery, and Whitewater Brewery.

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