Going down the drain . . . 20 millions pints of beer

Around 250,000 beer kegs in the north must now be responsibly emptied after the brew has passed its sell-by date
Gary McDonald Business Editor

A PROCESS will begin this week to safely dispose of more than 20 million pints of draught beer which has become undrinkable at 1,200 pubs across Northern Ireland.

Some 250,000 kegs (each one holds around 86 pints) are currently out on the ground in hospitality sector, and in most instances not a pint has been pulled from before St Patrick's Day.

And with pubs and restaurants unlikely now to re-open before August, the product will have long passed its sell-by date, with the general shelf life for a keg of beer being about 90-120 days (3-4 months).

Large drinks suppliers like Diageo and Tennent's have already brought in a series of measures to assist the licensed trade during the current period of uncertainty, including extending credit support and assisting with line cleaning.

But a number of tests have been carried out on kegs at premises across the north, and it has emerged that all the beer will have to be disposed of before hostelries reopen their doors.

Guinness owner Diageo has already said that if publicans are left with draught product they cannot sell because has passed its sell-by date, it will ensure they receive full credit for part- and full kegs

HMRC has also relaxed rules around beer disposal so that breweries can claim back excise duty on the defunct brew (known as ullage) without having a representative of the brewery present while it is dumped - one obstacle to emptying out the beer during lockdown.

But there are other barriers to safely discarding the drinks so that kegs can be used for fresh beer when pubs reopen.

Full kegs are often simply dropped down or rolled off a deliver truck. But these vehicles are not equipped to lift full kegs, so at least two people will be needed to work in close contact to retrieve the kegs, which is difficult to do with social distancing rules.

There are also practical problems to emptying kegs, which must be drained using a safe dispense system to remove gas.

Meanwhile as the north's £1 billion tourism/hospitality industry struggles in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, a number of pubs are currently being offered for sale or to let.

They include the 200-year-old Imperial Bar in the centre of Banbridge (it was founded in 1814), which its owner Ivor Wilson has put on the market for £300,000.

Gavin Weir, director of pubs and hotels at hospitality specialists GVA NI, which is handling the sale, said, “It's rare that a property of this quality comes to the open market.

“The premises offer a new owner the opportunity to develop the existing business and perhaps provide a more contemporary offering with the provision of food and entertainment” he added.

“The size of the property and its town centre location make it well suited to redevelopment, and despite the current challenges in the market we have been encouraged by the level of interest to date” he added.

Last week Economy Minister Diane Dodds, addressing the first meeting of the north's new tourism recovery working group, said “When the industry emerges from this crisis, it will look very different to that which existed only a few weeks ago.”

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