Upper Beeding brewery faces challenging winter: “The threat of another lockdown is really worrying”

An independent brewery in Upper Beeding says it will be left with ‘a big financial mountain to climb’ unless more Government support is forthcoming.

Monday, 19th October 2020, 12:17 pm

The warning from Riverside Brewery comes as an industry body warns that independent breweries were being pushed to breaking point.

The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) said they were struggling to cope with a fall in beer sales, just as the Government threatens them with increased taxes.

Even after pubs and restaurants started to reopen this summer, craft beer sales remained at just 51 per cent of what they would have expected for a ‘normal’ July, according to SIBA.

Ian Bolt from Camra with Co-directors Keith Kempton and Mike Rice of Riverside Brewery

And the new 10pm curfew and rules around table-service have given pubs and brewery taprooms ‘another hurdle to jump’, the group said.

Mike Rice and Keith Kempton, co-directors of Riverside Brewery, based in Beeding Court Business Park off Shoreham Road, said the pandemic had forced them to adapt the business to survive.

With pubs closed, along with the local markets where they usually sell their wares, the brewery decided to open an online shop so that it could sell to customers directly.

It involved getting to grips with new skills and had been ‘a big learning curve’, Mr Rice said.

Co-directors Keith Kempton and Mike Rice of Riverside Brewery

Funds from the Government’s small business grants helped them pay their rent over the summer, but that support is now coming to an end.

“If they don’t roll it out to next year, that’s going to leave us with a big financial mountain to climb,” Mr Kempton said.

While they are once again able to attend local markets, including Shoreham’s popular farmers’ market, Mr Rice said these events were ‘at the mercy of the weather’.

And while usually business in the lead up to Christmas is enough to get them through the months of January and February – during which alcohol sales are ‘virtually zero’ – there remains uncertainty around what events will go ahead this year.

Co-directors Mike Rice and Keith Kempton of Riverside Brewery

“Already two events have been cancelled at Christmas,” Mr Rice said, adding: “The threat of another lockdown is really worrying.”

All this comes as the Government is set to slash the Small Breweries’ Relief, which was introduced to take account of small brewers’ relatively high cost of production and allow them to compete with global brewers.

The plans would reduce the threshold where brewers pay a 50 per cent reduction in beer duty from 5,000 hectolitres (hl) a year, or 900,000 pints, to 2,100hl.

Mr Kempton said the proposal would not affect the brewery directly ‘as it stands’ as they were such a small brewery.

However, he said it could well ‘affect us hugely’ in the future.

“We have been running for five years and our long-term aim is to continue to grow,” he said. “There will be a point where there is a disincentive for us to grow any bigger.

“So it will affect us if our expansion plans come to fruition.”

Find out more about the brewery by visiting their website here.