Thought for the Day: SIBA & the Family Brewers

St Austell Brewery.

Last week SIBA members voted not to permit larger independent brewers to join as full members, against the urging of SIBA’s leadership. And we reckon, well, fair enough.

Yes, fam­i­ly brew­ers are an endan­gered species and worth pre­serv­ing. Fuller’s and St Austell are fine brew­eries whose beer we gen­er­al­ly love, and a dif­fer­ent breed from Greene King and Marston’s. They’re cer­tain­ly a mil­lion miles from AB-InBev and are ‘good­ies’ in the grand scheme of things. (Dis­clo­sure: we’ve had occa­sion­al hos­pi­tal­i­ty from St Austell over the years.)

At the same time, Fuller’s and St Austell already have sig­nif­i­cant advan­tages over gen­uine­ly small brew­eries, not least estates of pubs which those small brew­ers are effec­tive­ly locked out of. They also have nation­al brands, and appar­ent­ly sub­stan­tial mar­ket­ing bud­gets.

If we ran a real­ly small brew­ery and were strug­gling every day to keep our heads above water, com­pet­ing for free trade accounts and scram­bling for every last sale, we’d be pret­ty pissed off at the idea of those two brew­eries muscling in on what lit­tle ben­e­fit SIBA mem­ber­ship seems to bring.

And much as we admire Fuller’s and St Austell we don’t think either is per­fect­ly cud­dly. If they were keen to join SIBA as full mem­bers it was prob­a­bly out of a (entire­ly rea­son­able) desire to secure some fur­ther com­mer­cial advan­tage. If we’re wrong, if we’re being too cyn­i­cal and it was sim­ply a mat­ter of long­ing to belong, then they clear­ly have more work to do get­ting that mes­sage across.

Help­ing those small brew­ers to sell a bit more beer, with­out strings attached, would prob­a­bly be the most direct­ly con­vinc­ing way to go about it.

Further Reading

One thought on “Thought for the Day: SIBA & the Family Brewers”

  1. I thor­ough­ly con­cur with the gist of your piece.

    Thanks also for the read­ing list. Inter­est­ing that the SIBA chair­man point­ed out that the organ­i­sa­tion’s aims changed when it changed its name (from Small Inde­pen­dent Brew­ers Asso­ci­a­tion to The Soci­ety of Inde­pen­dent Brew­ers) – was this the result of a vote of all the mem­bers on a spe­cial res­o­lu­tion at a gen­er­al meet­ing? (Also that he appears to think that “cri­te­ria” is a sin­gu­lar, rather than a plur­al, but let it pass.) And how many of the “small” brew­ers were able to take time off from, err, brew­ing to attend the meet­ing on that occa­sion?

    I’ve only skimmed through the Protz piece on how cud­dly fam­i­ly brew­ers can be. Am I right in think­ing he did­n’t men­tion the forth­com­ing SIBA vote at all?

    And he referred to Jen­nings as a cud­dly brew­ery – haven’t they been part of the Marstons empire (and there­fore not cud­dly at all) for some years now? I’m not sug­gest­ing that he’s being dis­hon­est, or being paid to say how cud­dly these guys are, but sure­ly he’s being a lit­tle loose with the facts? (Full dis­clo­sure: I real­ly like Bate­mans XXXB but have only ever paid full price for it when­ev­er I’ve drunk it.)

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