Worries over future of cask ale reach Westminster

But some relief at last for brewers denied financial assistance

While the plight of pubs has received wide media coverage both locally and nationally, the grim outlook for independent brewers has received much less coverage. They have not benefited so far from measures including business rates relief and a cut in VAT, and although many are operating successful delivery services, this usually does not make up for the huge loss of sales while pubs have been closed.

Now Parliament has started an inquiry into the future of cask ale, that so many brewers depend on. And finally the Government has taken action, with a new £1.5 billion pot of business rates support for sectors that have not previously benefited, such as breweries.

James Calder, Chief Executive of independent brewers group SIBA, said: “We warmly welcome this new round of business rates funding and will now press local authorities and Government to urgently prioritise and distribute these funds to breweries. The brewing sector has suffered enormously as pubs, which represent over 80% of our trade, have been closed off to us. This week’s #BrewersDownTheDrain protest highlighted the bleak future many in the brewing industry were facing without urgent support. It is realistically at least three months until pubs will be able to trade profitably and without restriction. Brewers urgently need this injection and we look forward to seeing the detail of how it is rolled out.”

Even when pubs do re-open, it looks unlikely that we will have anything like the choice of cask ale that we enjoyed before. Parliament has taken note of the crisis as the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group (APPBG) has launched an inquiry into the future of cask beer and invites businesses, organisations and individuals with an interest to submit evidence before publishing a report with recommendations for Government action.

Hook Norton’s brewery as well as its pubs might now get some cash aid.

The group’s chair, Mike Wood MP (Con, Dudley South), said: “Real ale is unique to the UK, central to our brewing heritage and extraordinarily dependent on pubs for its sales.  The lockdown caused an unprecedented fall in volumes, which were down over 60% in 2020.  This has had a widespread impact, as for many brewers, cask ale makes up a large proportion of their output. The revival of sales is vital to their commercial future and we want to understand how best this can be ensured.

“The fortunes of cask beer are dependent on two things: pubs reopening successfully and consumers being confident that it safe to go out. We look forward to hearing from operators on the pressures they face, and to considering what actions will best enable cask beer to recover from this national crisis.”

Anyone wishing to submit written evidence to the inquiry should email Paul Hegarty, Honorary Secretary of the APPBG: paul@beergroup.co.uk  by  March 31.