Microbrewery laws: What licenses and duty do you need to know about?

Startups takes a look at micro brewing laws in the UK

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  • Henry Williams

Microbrewery rules and regulations

Of course, brewing alcohol is subject to quite extensive unavoidable legislation. “There’s a lot of red tape to go through”, says Paddy Johnson from a Berkshire-based microbrewery.

If you produce beer commercially, and its strength exceeds 1.2% ABV you are required to pay Beer Duty, and must register as a brewer with HMRC to receive a certificate to brew. However, as a small brewer – producing no more than 60,000 hectolitres of beer a year – you will most likely be entitled to a reduced duty rate, as part of the Small Breweries’ Relief scheme. The rates are on a sliding scale, starting at 50% for production of 5,000 hectolitres or less, and decreasing for larger production volumes.

When you apply for registration you are required to give a reasonable estimate of how much beer you expect to produce in a calendar year, which should be recorded in a Beer Production Account.

Additionally, if you are planning to sell direct to the public on premises you’ll need a premises licence, as well as a personal licence. “You’ll also need planning permission for the site. You can’t just put a brewery where you want, it has planning restrictions”, comments Johnson.

There are a number of associations and bodies you could join which represent the political and public interests of the industry, and can offer networking opportunities and training.

An excellent organisation to join when first starting out is the London Amateur Brewers, which hosts monthly meetings where you can meet with likeminded beginners and experts. Attendees are encouraged to critique each other’s beers openly and honestly to help each other improve.

The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) – as its name suggests – represents the interests of the UK’s independent breweries. It was SIBA that campaigned alone for 21 years for a progressive beer duty system, which was finally adopted under Gordon Brown. The organisation aims to ensure that its members brew a high quality product, with membership on the condition that you adhere to its code of practice and by-laws.

SIBA also runs the Direct Delivery Scheme (DDS), which involves the organisation buying draught and bottled beer from its 520 participating brewers, and selling them to 18 national pub companies. This helps microbreweries access potentially lucrative trade opportunities that would otherwise be difficult to arrange.

There are a number of other associations and groups, more details of which can be found in useful contacts.

Read more about how to start a microbrewery.

Henry Williams
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