New Portman Group code guidance will damage the market for specialty beers like imperial stouts, porters and IPAs, according to the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA).

The statement comes in the wake of the Portman Group publishing the sixth version of its Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks.

SIBA says that while much of the updated code is sensible and includes new measures to prevent alcohol packaging causing serious or widespread offence, protection for the vulnerable in society and preventing associating alcohol with illegal behavior, the new guidance on ‘immoderate consumption’ could be very damaging for independent craft brewers.

SIBA chief executive, Mike Benner, said: “Today’s new guidance on the ‘immoderate consumption’ rule threatens new, innovative speciality beer styles, like imperial stouts, porters, IPAs, and British interpretations of traditional strong Belgian styles, many of which are now being packaged in large cans, designed for sharing, and sold at a premium price point. 

“SIBA is disappointed that the Portman Group are pressing ahead to introduce new guidance which says that ‘single-serve’, non-resealable containers shouldn’t contain more than four units of alcohol.

Preventing ‘immoderate consumption’

“SIBA, as the responsible trade association for British independent craft brewers, understands that some products, like super strong, super cheap lagers and ciders, are abused by some members of society. We recognise this is a problem that causes massive harm to families, individuals and communities, and costs the NHS millions of pounds every year. More needs to be done. But SIBA does not believe this new guidance from the Portman Group will address the problem it seeks to change — preventing ‘immoderate consumption’.”

Benner added: “When you consider an average bottle of wine, at 14% ABV, contains ten units of alcohol, and a small bottle of spirits contains 14 units at 40% ABV, then why target craft beers of only four units? As we know, beers like imperial stouts and IPAs may have stronger ABVs than a ‘regular’ beer, but the strength is an integral component of their flavour and the style. Our research shows that the intention from the brewer — that they are savoured, enjoyed slowly and shared, is matched by what consumers actually do. Their price point is radically different.

“We welcome the fact that, during the consultation process, the Portman Group have partly listened to SIBA’s concerns and have included ‘mitigating factors’, such as price, premium nature of the product, decanting, and sharing messages, in any future rulings. But we still have significant concerns about the impact the unit-based definition will have on craft brewers. 

“SIBA will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Portman Group to discuss the impact of this new guidance. The Portman Group will also be at SIBA BeerX UK in Liverpool to present on the code and answer brewers questions and feedback.”

Arran Brewery managing director, Gerald Michaluk, was more outspoken, though, saying: “This is ridiculous and anti-competitive. Our Sleeping Warrior 8.3% ABV barley wine, sold in a 330ml bottle, is OK, while our 6% ABV Arran Milestone Special Reserve, meant for sharing, and sold in a 750ml bottle, is to be banned as it contains over four units of alcohol.  This is crazy.

“Wine and spirits all contain more alcohol and are not being banned. Why single out a bottle of very expensive, £12 a bottle beer. If we are looking to consume less alcohol as a society, a switch to beer works. Instead of a bottle of wine at 10 units, or more, a bottle of our Milestone Special Reserve is only 4.36 units. However, as it falls just over the four units mark, it will not be able to be sold, while a bottle of wine in the same configuration will be.  This is just not sensible. Why do these people not get out more into the real world. Independently produced craft beer is not the problem.”

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