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, 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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