NI craft brewers appeal for adequate licensing laws

New licensing laws coming into force will “replicate the poor legislation” in the Republic of Ireland rather than help small local producers in Northern Ireland, a number of beer and cider makers have said.

Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 2:19 pm
Craft beer
Craft beer

In an open letter to Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey the producers have called for alcohol laws that will allow them to make their products more freely available in a taproom setting on site.

They say that while a new ‘producer’s licence,’ within the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill, is welcome, the permitted selling periods are too limited to make the venture profitable.

The producers calculate that with selling limited to the hours of 4pm to 10pm on 104 nights per year, they are effectively only trading for 12 hours per week – while incurring additional costs to fulfil their obligations under the legislation.

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The open letter has been signed by local producers such as Bullhouse Brew Co Ltd, Inishmacsaint and Yardsman, as well as the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and the Northern Ireland Breweries and Independent Pub Association.

It states: “The Independent Craft Brewers of Ireland have stated that the costly and complicated process of applying for a licence under [the Republic’s] legislation, plus the associated legal costs and planning fees, have led to an ‘extremely poor uptake’ in the Republic of Ireland, with as few as three breweries making use of the legislation, only one of which was in respect of on-sales.

“We are deeply concerned that a similar situation could arise in Northern Ireland which cannot easily be rectified given the primary legislation and responsibilities of separate government departments.”

William Mayne of Bullhouse Brew Co Ltd said: “We have spent the last five years campaigning as a group to update our licensing legislation to allow taprooms and now the minister has only a few days left to ensure that it can work for NI’s small producers.

“Despite overwhelming public support, the Department has conducted no research into how it would work or met with us to discuss the details. We do not want to replicate the poor legislation in the Republic of Ireland which only optically provided support for local producers.”

CAMRA NI chair Ruth Sloan said: “Northern Irish-made beers and ciders simply aren’t available in the majority of pubs here, so it is important that producers can open taprooms on their manufacturing premises – just like happens in the rest of the world – to stimulate demand and grow the brands.

“If done properly, taprooms will improve competition and choice for customers and make sure that our great local beer and cider is more readily available, which in turn should help see demand increase amongst pub-goers.”

Ms Sloan added: “The communities minister needs to make sure these new laws are fair and workable in practice and that brewery taprooms can be viable, so that our local breweries and cider producers can build back better from the pandemic and thrive in the years ahead.

“This has to be addressed before the legislation is passed and the opportunity is lost.”