Thursday 13 July 2017

Reduce beer duty or defend PBD?

Hundreds of small breweries in the UK benefit from Progressive Beer Duty (PBD). The discount we enjoy has helped to see a huge increase in the number of small breweries in the UK. It is aimed at helping, to some extent, offset the economies of scale that larger breweries achieve.

The smaller a brewery the more manpower is needed to brew each pint of beer. For example, it takes around 6 hours minimum to brew a batch of beer1. There isn't much can be done to make this a lot faster, and in some cases it might take a lot longer with inefficient brew kit. To a large extent, irrespective of brew-length2, it takes perhaps one person to do a brew with little other help3.

For this reason production costs are generally higher per unit of volume the smaller the brewery. In fact one study I am looking at4 indicates an exponential fall of costs as the brewery gets bigger. PBD is there to help small breweries with the diseconomies of scale suffered by small craft brewers.

As beer duty has risen over the years, and so many more new breweries have sprung up, bigger breweries have started to complain about the increasing perceived cash "discount". It is certainly true that as beer duty becomes a bigger part of the overall costs of brewing beer so we see PBD working better for us smaller breweries. Perhaps we shouldn't object quite so much when beer duty increases? It hurts, but it hurts the bigger breweries more.

It is also seen as unfair that the maximum amount of PBD in cash terms is limited to about £200,000Once a brewery hits production of 5,000 there is no benefit to produce more in terms of beer duty savings. Arguably every drop of beer produced above 5,000hl is charged at full duty rate. However, economies of scale do really make a difference.

There are moves to change the structure of PBD. The thing that scares me is that SIBA is looking to engage with various organisation in a bid to create unity in the beer industry. It is likely that there will be increasing moves to change the shape of PBD so much larger breweries gain some significant benefits. The reasons for wanting to engage with the wider beer industry, it is argued, is that we should have a common lobbying voice to put to Government to reduce beer duty.

Number of breweries by size in the UK

Personally I would much rather SIBA fight to keep PBD as it is. There might be a little bit of a painful step at the 5,000hl level, but frankly there are a small number of breweries that will get close to this.

Looking at the chart above, there are a huge number of breweries below the 1,000hl level. Many of them cannot, or do not want to grow towards 5,000hl, and if they do, their barriers are generally the stiff competition that exists.

Although SIBA are saying that the 5,000hl limit is sacrosanct and the 50% discount below that cannot be touched, and frankly there are scary noises around to fiddle even with that, there will be unintended consequences of giving breweries in the 5,000 - 200,000hl range added benefits. Any duty benefit given to breweries larger than 5,000hl will inevitably give them a competitive edge that will directly impact on those breweries less than 5000hl, who will receive no added help.

Looking at the spread of brewery size it is quite clear that there are very few breweries above 5000hl. Indeed, more than 50% of the breweries in the UK are in fact under 1,000hl and stand no chance of ever achieving 5,000hl.

Total share of volume by brewery size
The reasons for considering a dialogue that might change PBD is to help have a unified voice to lobby for an overall reduction in beer duty. I fail to see how that might help me, and hundreds of other breweries like ours. Indeed, I am of the view that lobbying for major changes to the now fairly established policy of increasing all alcohol duties in line with RPI is a somewhat futile activity.

The vast majority of beer brewed in the UK is made by huge companies. Over 90% is brewed by only 25 massive breweries. An increase in beer duty hurts them much more than it hurts me. A decrease benefits them much, much more than it benefits me. The vast majority of the electorate is now convinced that these big companies are evil and deserve to be punished.

A change in PBD will give me no benefits, and likely make a very small number of larger breweries more competitive, so hurting my sales. Indeed, this is the reason there is a driver for change anyway.

It is this, more than anything else, that has made me fairly convinced that we need to look more carefully at how SIBA view it's members. If you are a SIBA member and have yet to vote in the membership ballot, I would urge you to do so as soon as possible.

I do hope the reader is impressed with my pie charts. This is a beer blog after all, and we all know that beer and pies are an ideal combination.


1The brewing process from point of mash in to having the fermentable liquid, called wort, in a tank ready to pitch the yeast.

2The brew-length is the volume of wort produced in a single brew-day.

3I am of course generalising here. However, the bigger a brewery installation the more likely labour saving features have been introduced. For us we still have small mash tuns which necessitate digging out the grain from the top. A brewery with a brew length of say 25hl will almost certainly have side access door enabling spent gains to be raked out with comparative ease. A 100hl brewery might well have a self-digging mash tun and be operating a whirlpool type copper which generally only uses pellets. Cleaning such brew-houses

There are variations on this with smaller brew-houses where automation allows more brewing per shift by use of parallel vessels and mash-in possible for a second brew while the first is still in the copper.

4Unfortunately, because of the nature of the data it is unlikely that I'll be able to publish the exact details of this study.

5This assumes an average beer strength of 4.2%. The current full duty rate is £19.08 per hectolitre percent (HL%). Full PBD discount gives a reduction of £9.54/HL%. So for a brewery producing 5,000hl of 4.2% beer their total savings on beer duty is 4.2 x 5,000 x £9.54 = £200,340.

Before the duty rate increase in March it was £192,990. So a brewery between 5,000hl and 30,000hl annual production saw an increase in this benefit over the very biggest breweries of £7,350.

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