Small brewers in Northern Ireland are demanding a change to ‘outdated and unfair alcohol laws’ here which prevent them from selling beer directly to the public.
During a meeting in Belfast on Monday (January 27), 11 local brewers discussed the formation of a new campaign group capable of making their case.
The campaign currently has the support of manufacturers such as Boundary Brewery, Farmageddon Brewery, Hilden Brewery, Hillstown Brewery, Mourne Mountains Brewery ad Whitewater Brewery.
The group has the backing of the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), which represents around 750 small, independent brewers in the UK, and the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) which represents nearly 200,000 members across the country.
Unlike brewers in England and Wales, NI brewers are prevented from opening their own tap rooms or brewery shops and they are not allowed to sell beer at events or online directly to the public. A similar situation existed in the Republic of Ireland until last year, when the Dail repealed colonial era laws, giving independent brewers in the Republic those freedoms their northern counterparts are now demanding.
Tom Ray, head brewer at the Mourne Mountain Brewery, points out that until 2010, there were only two small independent breweries in Northern Ireland, now there are more than 30:
‘We would like to see the law updated to reflect the change, to allow us the same opportunities as other small brewers in the UK, to grow our businesses and create jobs and to remove the barriers that put us at a disadvantage in our own market,’ he added.
CAMRA’s NI chair, Ruth Sloan believes that the current legislation is a barrier to the growth of small breweries and tourism in Northern Ireland:
‘It means that beer drinkers, including many CAMRA members, can’t enjoy a local real ale at the brewery or order them online,’ she added. ‘We support brewers in Northern Ireland and would like to see changes to the law.’