Three Simple Reasons why the British Beer Industry needs the UK to Remain in the EU

Words - Matthew Curtis

Here at Total Ales we usually try and leave the politics to the politicians. However next week, on Thursday the 23rd of June, the UK public gets to decide whether or not it wants to withdraw its membership from the European Union. This is an issue we have chosen not to remain silent on. Personally, for many reasons, I feel leaving the EU would be disastrous for the UK. I’m not going to get too deep into the why's here, because this is a beer website, not a political one. Instead, I’m going to highlight what I think are three pretty simple reasons why the British beer industry would be worse off without the support and benefits that being an EU member provides.

1. Raw Materials //

Craft brewing is growing at an exponential rate here in the UK, showing approximately 50% growth in the last year alone – a radical opposite to the 3% decline seen in the global beer economy. Every brewer I’ve visited over the last 12 months has been either expanding, or planning to expand. Beavertown’s Logan Plant admitted to me in an interview earlier this year that his brewery has expanded capacity by 2000% in the last twelve months. 

These are ridiculous numbers. What’s even more ridiculous is the amount of high quality raw materials that brewers will need as they continue to expand. The demand for quality malting barley alone is already being stretched and that’s without looking at the need for hops, water treatment and research into yeast development. To put it simply: we need more crops in the ground. 

The EU has heavily subsidised UK farmers since the 1980’s – My fear is that any money saved from withdrawing our membership will not be seen by these farmers. In addition to this, our EU membership allows us easy trade with hop and malt producing farmers in Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic and more. In turn, this allows those nations access to our high quality raw materials, boosting our economy in the process. The advantages of EU membership for farmers alone are unprecedented. 

2. Free Trade //

BrewDog are arguably the best example of a successful British business to emerge within the last decade. They now employ over 500 people globally and reported that its turnover in 2015 was £45 million, a 52% increase on the previous year.

In 2009 more than a quarter of BrewDog’s total production was exported to Sweden. At one point, Punk IPA was the biggest imported beer brand in Sweden. Think about that for a moment. It’s fair to say that without the revenue generated by European exports, BrewDog might not be the behemoth that it is today. 

Put aside your personal feelings for the Scottish brewer, and think about how many other UK breweries are benefitting from the advantages of the free market within the EU. Mainland Europe is developing a seemingly insatiable appetite for British craft beer. Pallets and pallets of stock are being shipped over to bars and for festivals, and this is essential in helping our industry to grow and flourish. If this is taken away, yes the demand will still be there but physically getting the beer exported could become immeasurably more expensive and full of legislative hurdles. If you work in the beer industry and you vote to leave the EU, you could be making it a lot more difficult for over a 1000 small breweries to turn a profit – and to make a living.

Plus there’s our own appetite for European beer. I don’t want the price on my Augustiner or Orval to creep up any more than it’s already going to. I want easy access to these beers and I want to pay a fair price for them. For beer, voting leave just doesn’t make sense. 

3. People //

Perhaps the biggest reason to remain in the EU is for its people. We’ve already talked about expansion and how this will impact the need for raw materials. But what we haven’t talked about, is that as breweries expand and try to improve the quality of their product, they will need to hire skilled industry professionals. 

There is only so far a self-taught, former homebrewer turned pro can go before they will need help. When you’re suddenly faced with designing a 100,000HL brewery with a state of the art 80HL mash tun and a hermetically sealed, hard piped system, you’ll need dedicated engineer to make sure the design is flawless. Then you need someone that knows not just how to use it, but how to get the best out of it, three times a day, seven days a week. That’s before you hire a bottling line engineer, or a lab technician, or a market analyst or the taproom manager that’s going to take your team to the next level.

There are plenty of skilled individuals in the UK, but access to an exponentially larger employment market thanks to our EU membership gives growing breweries significantly greater advantages. It also gives skilled British workers the chance to work, and importantly, learn, in a market greater in size than our own. Shared knowledge is essential for growth, and the ability to freely work in Europe without complicated and expensive work visas benefits this. If this is taken away, then we will lose that shared knowledge. We lose those skillsets and the progress that follows. 

Then there’s us. We think almost nothing of boarding the Eurostar and heading for breaks in Belgium. Or flying to Munich for Oktoberfest. A quick flash of the passport and we’re in. In fact in the Czech Republic last week, I merely scanned my passport at an electronic gate and walked over the border within minutes of leaving my plane. 

If we leave the EU, this might not be as easy, and certainly not as cheap. Then there’s our own economy and the benefits it sees from tourism. Beer tourism is a real thing, and it’s growing fast. If we leave the EU then we’re making access to our own tourism market more difficult for people who want to visit us and spend money. Then there’s the fact that some of the best breweries in Belgium are closer to London than Manchester. Think about that for a second. 

And when you’re done thinking about it, I hope that like me, you vote to remain in the EU on June 23rd.