British beer waits to see what's brewing with Brexit

London (AFP) – Britain’s beer industry is in limbo, waiting to see what is in the pipeline for brewers, pubs and drinkers after Brexit — but the glass is by no means half-empty.

The country is now set to leave the European Union on October 31, with the manner of its departure still up in the air.

As the five-day Great British Beer Festival kicked off in London on Tuesday, organisers said Brexit could harbour new opportunities.

But they also urged the government to do all it could to mitigate against the chronic disruption predicted in a messy no-deal departure from the bloc.

“Everyone in the industry is concerned about the potential impacts of leaving the EU — and it’s unclear what they are,” Tom Stainer, chief executive of festival organisers the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), told AFP.

The 190,000-member consumer organisation works to preserve traditional British beer and pub culture, lobbying politicians to support the sector.

“The brewing industry relies on imported hops and malts, and on exports. CAMRA is urging the government to mitigate any potential impacts as much as possible,” Stainer said.

“They can remove potential shocks by giving stability: reducing beer tax and sorting out business rates.”

– More beers, fewer pubs –

The Society of Independent Brewers, which represents around 830 independent craft breweries, has published an eight-point guide for members to follow in preparing for a no-deal Brexit.

Around a fifth of their members export and are particularly exposed to the possible fallout from Britain’s departure.

The advice includes registering in the EU, finding export agents, changing bottle labels, working out what support EU staff may need, and keeping an eye on the latest government information.

CAMRA’s Stainer said there could be potential post-Brexit opportunities.

Reducing the rate of duty for beer served in bars “would be a really good way to support British pubs,” he said.

“We’ve always been told by the government that we can’t do this because of the rules that govern all EU member states.”

Stainer added lower rates could also have a positive impact on society by seeing more people drinking out with others in community hubs rather than at home.

He noted the general picture for consumers was one of an increasing choice of beers — fuelled by a new younger generation interested in craft beer — but a declining number of pubs, with 14 closing per week.

– Magic Potion –

At the beer festival, Surrey Hills brewery’s Shere Drop was crowned the Champion Beer of Britain.

“It has a citrus edge, with a bit of grapefruit and lemon and a good, firm malt base,” said director Ross Hunter, who invented the recipe — and filled the trophy with his English pale ale in celebration.

Like many breweries, Surrey Hills, based in Dorking, southwest of London, is finding that the Brexit-fueled uncertainty is making the future hard to plan for.

“We’re not really sure what to do yet,” he told AFP.

“Nothing’s really happened yet but things may change afterwards.

“Because we don’t export, we’ll be less impacted than other brewers. Most of our beer is consumed within a 15-mile (24-kilometre) radius.”

The festival is held at the Olympia exhibition hall in west London, where more than 1,000 beers, ciders and perries are served up.

On tap are brews with some fanciful names such as Geekhunter IPA, Plastered Pheasant, Gothick Dark, Naked Ladies, Mild Concussion, Good Old Boy, Ctrl-Alt-Delete, Black Screen of Death, Magic Potion, and Hung, Drawn and Portered.