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.
- Matt Curtis’s report of the SIBA AGM for Good Beer Hunting which reaches a different conclusion to us. (Note: GBH has connections with AB-InBev/ZX Ventures; provides marketing/consultancy services to smaller breweries; and is also one of our $2-a-month Patreon sponsors.)
- Roger Protz’s piece from before the vote on why family brewers are important and worth preserving.
- Jeff Alworth’s informed outsider perspective.
- A post from Dave ‘Hardknott’ Bailey who announced the closure of his brewery during the debate around the vote.