Craft brewers make plea for Assembly to back proposals to amend current licensing laws

Leading craft brewers have urged Northern Ireland Assembly members to back proposals to amend current licensing laws to assist the industry’s growth here and in export markets.

Tuesday, 8th June 2021, 6:00 am

Assembly members are to debate proposals today (Tuesday) which will enable local breweries and distilleries, for instance, to sell beers and spirits to the public on their premises and at outdoor events including markets.

The changes will also lift current restrictions on selling on-line.

Northern Ireland is currently home to over 40 craft breweries and 12 distilleries producing a wide range of beers as well as Irish whiskey, gin, rum, vodka, poitin and fruit-infused liqueurs for home and for export.

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Ryan McCracken, the owner of McCracken’s Real Ales in Portadown

Pleading for support for the proposed changes “to set the industry free”, which are backed by Hospitality Ulster and Food NI, are Ryan McCracken, the owner of McCracken’s Real Ales in Portadown and Willy Mayne, owner of Belfast-based Bullhouse Brewery.

Both have invested heavily in their breweries and are currently developing successfully export business.

Mr McCracken says the proposed changes will “help to level the playing field for Northern Ireland’s breweries with the rest of the UK and Republic of Ireland”. 

He continued: “We have been on the back foot for far too long with regards to being able to sell our products directly to the consumer either through an online shop or at our premises. When the hospitality sector shut down at the start of the first lockdown, we effectively lost 80% of our trade overnight. “Our counterparts in Ireland and Great Britain were able to transition more smoothly to online and direct sales. 

“Currently we are unable to attend the many artisan markets (including the Balmoral Show) across Northern Ireland as we are unable to sell our products directly. In other parts of the UK and Ireland, these markets are an essential way to increase brand awareness and gain new customers.”

He continues that the current legislation also prohibits brewers and distillers from benefiting from visits to their premises by tourists from Britain, Ireland and from further afield. Many of the companies had invested in visitor centres and organised tours to show how their products are made.

“The craft drink industry is continuing to grow in Northern Ireland. And if these proposed changes are passed they will enable us to flourish, grow exports and offer additional employment,” he explained.

Bullhouse’s Willy Mayne has also recently successfully revived a taproom for craft beer lovers to sample and buy his beers. He created special facilities for taproom events at the new brewery. This is currently the only way to sell in-house but involves having to obtain a temporary and expensive licence to sell alcohol.

“We need the proposed amendments to be approved as soon as practicable to lift restrictions which are inhibiting our business by preventing us from selling our beers from the brewery to the public,” he added. “The growth in what has been a dynamic industry here, especially post pandemic, is being jeopardised by outdated restrictions on selling alcohol.”

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