30 Years (2002) – Small Brewers Relief

Despite focussing on Yorkshire breweries in this project, I feel it would be remiss of me to at least touch on the divisive matter that is Small Brewers Relief (SBR) that was introduced in 2002. Whilst trying to grasp an understanding of it itself can be a minefield, SBR does cause somewhat of a stir within the beer community as bigger breweries out there aired their grievances over the scheme. But how does SBR work?

Simply put, SBR offers small breweries beer duty relief on their production of 50% up to 5000 hectolitres (hl) per year, with 5000hl equating to 500,000 litres of beer. In real money, that’s around 879,877 imperial pints. This is a very simplistic take on the scheme, however, as we can see that will benefit a select few small brewers more than others given their scale, allowing them (theoretically) to produce their beer cheaper than some of their counterparts.

Of course, this relief doesn’t accommodate those producing on a much larger scale, with no duty relief offered at all given their size. However, economies of scale do play a part here as their size of production allows them to dilute their costs further somewhat. Moreover, some would argue that their scale doesn’t make them a craft brewery if they exceed this threshold, but that’s an entirely different debate for another day…

The reason I decided to include a piece about SBR is that, without it, it’s very unlikely that we would have the volume of breweries we have today. It is thought that in 2001 there were roughly 450 breweries in the UK, with over 2,000 being registered by 2020, of those almost 200 were situated in Yorkshire. That’s not taking into consideration those that have come and gone over that time either. With that in mind, I think it’s fair to say without SBR, it’s very unlikely that I would be writing this piece or have started this project in the first place.

That being said, there is a sense of foreboding as the scheme is set to be reviewed by the government with a consultation over it currently being discussed. The future is unclear as to how this will benefit or harm breweries of any scale, with some calling for a level playing field, less relief or even no relief at all regardless of production scale. Time will tell, but I think it has served a purpose up to this point if nothing else, in making the UK’s craft beer scene what it is today, especially in Yorkshire.

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