Independent Sussex breweries are adapting quickly amid ‘worrying’ time for industry

Independent breweries are being pushed to breaking point according to new research from an industry body.

The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) said they are struggling to cope with a fall in beer sales, just as Government threatens them with increased taxes. This previously small but booming sector is now under threat – as the global lockdown saw a considerable drop in craft beer sales.

Even after pubs and restaurants started to reopen this summer, craft beer sales remained at just 51 per cent of what they would have expected for a ‘normal’ July, said SIBA.

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Andy Hepworth, managing director and head brewer at Hepworth Brewery in Adversane, said: “Three quarters of our business shut down over night. We had half million litres of beer sat in the tank. It looked like 20 years worth of work was about to be destroyed.”

Andy Hepworth, managing director and head brewer at Hepworth Brewery

But he added that a combination of government aid and adapting the brewery has led to the firm returning to around 75 per cent capacity.

Andy said during lockdown the brewery increased its sales direct to customers, an approach Battle Brewery also took. Partner at the firm Joanna Dudman said: “We were very, very worried. [But] we managed to get the beer out to customers without too much wastage. It was a very tricky time we had to adapt very quickly.”

As pubs reopened Joanna said the brewery is trying to balance the needs of its trade and retail customers amid a fast changing situation. She added: “There’s an awful lot of uncertainty. It’s very difficult to predict demand. We have got Christmas coming up so hopefully that will be good.”

SIBA said the government is also about to make changes to the Small Breweries’ Relief which was introduced to take account of small brewers’ relatively high cost of production and allow them to compete with global brewers. The proposed changes will reduce the 50 per cent duty threshold from 5,000hl to 2,100hl.

Joanna at Battle Brewery

Andy said the changes don’t affect ‘a lot of people’ but said they will impact Hepworth. He added: “We will suffer but not very much.”

The changes are set to hit brewers producing above 5,000hl and he said Hepworth needs to produce at least 10,000 to make the jump in production worthwhile.

He said: “There are some good points about it but there are some bad points. In the long run I think it will be far better for us. On the whole we welcome the news.”