WARRINGTON'S breweries have added their voices in opposition to a change in beer duty which could be devastating for small, independent producers.

Small Brewers' Relief was introduced in 2002 to help microbreweries get set up, enter the market and compete against bigger businesses. It is widely regarded as being the key to the UK's diverse modern beer scene.

It basically offers a 50 per cent reduction in duty for breweries that produce up to 5,000 hectolitres of beer a year – about 879,877 pints.

By way of comparison, big regional beer producers like Stockport's Robinsons Brewery has a capacity of 57,000 hectolitres a year.

But the Treasury is now considering a proposal put forward by a group of breweries called the Small Brewers' Duty Reform Coalition to reduce the threshold from 5,000 hectolitres to 2,100 hectolitres by 2022.

Opponents say it could cost at least 150 breweries tens of thousands and inhibit future start-ups in an already hazardous economic climate.

Coach House Brewing Company in Howley was founded in 1991, following the closure of Greenalls Brewery, and is Cheshire's oldest cask beer producer.

The company produced just under 5,000 hectolitres of beer last year and is right in the firing line of the potential changes.

Martin Bailey, managing director, said: "It’s a slap in the face when breweries have already really suffered over the past five months. It makes things very difficult.

Warrington Guardian:

Martin Bailey

"Small Brewers' Relief is there to encourage small breweries to employ people and train them. We’ve got 10 people here, the furlough is ending and trade has totally dropped off.

"If conditions don’t improve, the increase in duty could make things impractical for us. We're on the cusp of the current threshold, which is 5,000 hectolitres, so this change will be very significant."

Martin, who grew up in Lymm, points out that the proposals not only come after the uncertainty of the Covid-19 era but after the government has supported restaurants with a VAT reduction and the Eat Out to Help Out scheme with no equivalent aid for breweries.

And with a reduction in demand, pubs are taking less beer from small independent producers – even those on their doorstep

Martin added: "A lot of the bigger breweries complain about the fact that we get a 50 per cent discount on beer duty but what they forget is they have their own pubs.

"A lot of the smaller breweries do not have that guaranteed supply. It seems totally ridiculous to put this through when breweries are suffering."

Warrington Guardian:

Martin Bailey, from Coach House, with Jordan Millington and John Wilkinson, of 4Ts

John Wilkinson, the owner of 4Ts Brewery, originally started home brewing in his garage in Rydal Avenue a decade ago and now his beers are a Warrington institution.

Small Brewers' Relief has helped the two-man Latchford business grow and a new brew kit was installed at their Manor Industrial Estate base in January.

Production obviously took a knock during the lockdown although they did introduce a popular bottle delivery service.

But if they were brewing at full capacity on the new kit, John and head brewer Jordan Millington can produce almost 4,000 hectolitres of beer a year.

So like Coach House, 4Ts currently qualify for a 50 per cent discount on duty that could be stripped away by 2022.

John said: "I estimate we're going to be paying £15,000 to £20,000 more in duty with what they've proposed.

"We've recently grown and we were looking to do other things but everything is on hold now as we don't know what are costs are going to be in the near future and if it'll be practical to invest in other things.

Warrington Guardian:

Jordan Millington at 4Ts

"We were looking at taking on a couple of apprentices – one to learn the brewing side and one learning sales – and it will probably stop us from doing that.

"We were looking at getting a canning machine too, going into supermarkets and pushing our beers further afield but we can't with so much uncertainty.

"It makes a bad situation even worse. Who knows how much longer the coronavirus will affect businesses and then the duty change rise is planned for 2022. Almost all the Cheshire brewers are in this minefield."

Supporters of the reform say the duty discount discourages growth above a certain level and has created market distortion which threatens the long term future of the British brewing industry.

They have also said the changes will create a level playing field.

But a petition has been launched saying the changes threaten closures, innovation, competition, jobs, investment and consumer choice.

If you want to sign the petition visit petition.parliament.uk/petitions/334066