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A BBPA visit to Wychwood brewery

On 02/12/15 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

Every year, BBPA takes our team on a visit to a member company. This year we decided to go to Wychwood, famous perhaps in our most recent history for the important part it played in raising 100,000 signatories to encourage the Government to allow a debate on the beer duty escalator back in 2012. Hobgoblin was the brand which started the petition, led very much by Chris Keating who heads up their marketing and who went onto win the first Chairman’s Award at the BBPA Annual Dinner back in 2012.

Wychwood is of course owned by Marston’s, but the original brewery dates back to 1843 when it was owned by Clinch & Co. It has been through a variety of owners since then, but the modern brewery which exists today dates back to 1983. Not only is Wychwood the home of Hobgoblin, but it also brews Brakspear, which moved to Wychwood when the brewery in Henley closed in 2002. The closure of the Brakspear brewery led to the transfer of the original Brakspear Copper, dating from 1779, to the site in Whitney which was followed by the transfer of the famous Brakspear ‘Double Drop’ fermentation vessels which are still used to brew Brakspear Bitter and Brakspear Triple.

The site itself is constrained by residential housing. As a result the team at Wychwood rely on the facilities at Marston’s brewery in Burton upon Trent to help ensure that beer brewed at Wychwood reaches their loyal fans and consumers.

A fascinating and interesting visit for our team, followed by lunch at the Blue Boar owned by Oakman Inns. A great example of a modern pub, great food, good service and whilst we did not stay there, rooms available too!

Thank you to Chris, Jeff Drew and Luke for looking after us all so well.

Brigid Simmonds
Chief Executive


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The end of Boozy Britain?

On 20/11/15 by Daisy Blench (Policy Manager - Responsibility)

I recently had the opportunity to speak at a debate as part of the Institute of Ideas, ‘Battle of Ideas’ festival held at the Barbican, a two day series of lively debates and conversations aiming to ‘encourage free thinking and open-ended public discussion’.

The debate’s title was ‘The end of Boozy Britain?’ and amongst other things the ‘teasers’ for the session asked us; ‘is the decline of drinking really something to be celebrated?’

I would say not, if we are talking about overall alcohol consumption – more people drinking overall does not necessarily equate to higher levels of harm if people are drinking sensibly.

Although per capita alcohol consumption has declined by around 19% since 2004, it is perfectly possible for this to go up, alongside declining levels of alcohol related harm.

This got me thinking – so often is overall alcohol consumption used a proxy for alcohol related harm in the media (and sometimes even by industry) that we sometimes lose sight of the moderate majority to whom drinking is a normal and pleasurable part of their lives.

Take the sector that myself and many others work in. Beer and pubs are a hugely important aspect of people’s lives, of local communities and of the economy and they provide something unique which we should be hugely proud of here in the UK which many from abroad want to experience.

It seems like a cliché but many life events happen in pubs - people meet partners, celebrate birthdays, wedding and christenings, share a drink or dinner and chat with friends. Working here in the City of London, and seeing people working long hours, often with little chance for a break and often in demanding jobs, my favourite bit of the day is always relaxing in one of the great pubs around here after work and seeing some of those same people unwinding, chatting and bonding with friends and colleagues over a drink.

And of course, people can choose whether or not to drink alcohol in the pub. There are now more lower-alcohol and non-alcohol drinks choices than ever before. However, alcohol for many of us is a part of socialising and relaxing. Certain recent attempts to ‘denormalise’ alcohol seem to be part of a move to get rid of anything which can potentially be misused from our lives and I believe that ultimately we will be worse off for it.

If this is my ‘ode to one of the simple pleasures in life, then alongside appreciating the social benefits of moderate consumption for the vast majority we should be equally clear on the need to focus on the harms that alcohol can cause.

As mentioned, it's hugely important to draw a clear distinction between alcohol consumption and misuse which allows a much sharper focus on the problems that remain. And of course alcohol harm is in no one’s interests, least of all those that brew beer and run pubs, and therefore the decline in recent years of a number of alcohol 'harms' is good news for all of us.

With an annual tax bill of £13 billion, the beer and pub sector more than pays the costs associated with managing the minority that go beyond pleasurable enjoyment of alcohol as well as contributing economically and socially in many ways.

Brewers and pubs also have a strong track record of involvement in alcohol responsibility initiatives from launching the Challenge 21 age verification campaign, which has contributed to a huge culture change in the acceptability of underage drinking, to ensuring that the vast majority of beer products on the market have health messaging on the label, to increasing the range of lower-strength beers available to encourage a responsible drinking culture.

However, I would stress the word encourage. Sadly there will always be those that seriously misuse alcohol to the detriment of their own health and others. However, ultimately treating people like adults is crucial. Let's not treat those who do like to have a pint or two after work as though they are doing something wrong. Whilst providing people with enough information is important, ultimately they should be free to make their own choices about whether or not to drink.

The recent coverage and debate over the Chief Medical Officer's review of the lower-risk drinking guidelines and the potential that these will be lowered has raised the question of how consumers would respond to any changes in the advice. Ultimately it will be important that any change in the advice is evidence based and clearly communicated to consumers to ensure that the advice remains useful and relevant.

The debate gets so polarised sometimes that things can get out of perspective. Refreshingly, this event, although involving a lively discussion about the importance and relevance of pubs and problems relating to excessive drinking, was more nuanced. There seemed to be some agreement that now the ‘moral panic’ around alcohol has dissipated somewhat, we can begin to have more grown-up discussion about how to target harm and the reasons why people misuse alcohol.

It would be great to see this consensus translated into sensible policy making both nationally and locally and allowing us to retain the enjoyment of alcohol and of our great British pubs for the majority but take a clear and targeted approach to tackling alcohol harm where it occurs.

Daisy Blench
Policy Manager - Responsibility


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Helsinki and the Northern Region of Brewers of Europe

On 17/11/15 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

The UK and Ireland are part of the Northern Region of Brewers of Europe and we meet on a regular basis to exchange views and learn from each other – collectively we then have one place on the Executive Committee of BoE and we make sure that we put forward positive and collaborative views.

Helsinki, 1,800 miles to the East of the UK with a population of around one million people. I last visited some 25 years ago for a conference and some of its architecture was and is stunning. It is very much ‘east meets west’ with Lutheran and Orthodox cathedrals. Given its proximity to St Petersburg, you might expect Russian Orthodox, but apparently the congregation is the responsibility of the Greek Orthodox Archbishop! Next year Finland will celebrate 100 years of independence from Russia in 1916. They are one of the few cities where you can find a monument to a Russian Tsar.

On the Gulf of Finland which leads to the Baltic Sea, Helsinki is at this time of year rather cold and dark. The sun does not rise until nearly 8.30 and car lights are on soon after 2pm. Christmas in a sense comes early as fairy lights are seen everywhere, but an impressive number of people were out running with me at 7am on Friday, although I suspect few were as aware as I was that it was still 5am in the UK!

Border trading is clearly an issues for Scandinavia; particularly with the German border where beer duty is so much lower and with Estonia where cruise ships cross backwards and forwards to Helsinki all the time. I gave an interview to a Finnish marketing magazine and newspaper, talking about the prohibitive attitude of the Finnish Government which prevents advertising of alcohol even through social media and our work in the UK on the responsibility deal and what can be achieved when Government and industry work together.

Northern countries are striving to help migrants; Sweden in particular has taken 86,000 refugees this year alone. Swedish breweries have decided to offer four months of unpaid work at their breweries to offer training and skills to help these people find new jobs.

Little did any of us know of the unfathomable cruelty and acts of terrorism which were to take place in Paris that evening. Everyone was united in wanting to help those in trouble. Their thoughts and ours are with the people of France.

Brigid Simmonds
Chief Executive


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Hospitality Ulster Annual Awards

On 16/11/15 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

Hospitality Ulster held its annual awards in Belfast this week and I was not only a judge of two of the categories, but very grateful to be asked to attend too. I have long admired the work of Colin Neill and his team, and this year his very able chairman Mark Stewart has been replaced by the equally passionate Olga Walls who spoke about recognising every sector of the industry they now represent, from pubs to bars and from hotels to restaurants. In 2016, Northern Ireland will be celebrating a Year of Food and Drink, and Tourism Northern Ireland has produced a toolkit to help businesses make the most of it through identifying themselves with the campaign and using its logo in their communications. April is the month for brewing and distilling, so we can expect some new and innovative brews!

I was fortunate to sit next to Jonathan Bell MLA, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, whose responsibilities include tourism. It offered an opportunity to talk about the Northern Ireland licensing laws which are under review (to modernise), and the National Living Wage; how businesses can be helped to cope with it and the importance of our sector to tourism. Business Rates were very much part of that discussion, as was red tape. Since on my other side was Terrance Brannigan, the Chairman of Tourism NI, it was not difficult to make the point! Supporting growth is clearly a priority for the Minister and the health and wealth of the hospitality industry is clearly vital to the NI economy. We also of course talked about beer duty.

It is always good to see the excellence in the winners. The Urban Pub of the Year had a huge entry and Mary’s Bar, Magherafelt in Country Derry put in a great submission demonstrating the importance of training and excellent financial results too. In the City category, again demonstrating good training and good result, the Sunflower in Belfast was a deserving winner. I rated both very highly.

The whole event was held at La Mon Hotel and Country Club which provided great hospitality. Francis Brady, who I subsequently discovered co-owns the hotel, was honoured during the evening before he retires. He could not have made more feel more welcome – insisting on helping me with the luggage and later on arranging for me to have the right cash for my morning in Dublin the following morning. I will always have a very warm feeling about this hotel as a result, which is exactly as it should be of course, with excellence in hospitality.

Brigid Simmonds
Chief Executive


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Freight - a vital part of London’s future

On 10/11/15 by Steve Livens (Policy Manager - Product Assurance & Supply Chain)

The 11th Transport for London Freight forum, held last week in Southwark, presented an ideal opportunity for stakeholders within the freight industries to hear some of the ideas and possible future plans that TfL envisages for freight in London as part of its ongoing task of dragging the city kicking and screaming into a safer, greener and more efficient future.

Something the assembled throng spent considerable time discussing during the forum was the potential policy directions of the two most likely front runners for Mayor, identified by Luke Blair of the London Communications Agency as Conservative and Labour candidates Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan.

Luke told us there was very little to tell apart from the two, with both claiming similar policy goals which seemed to feature strongly, the banning of lorries in London!

As it is early in the campaign, both Luke and Leon Daniels, Head of Surface Transportation at TfL, highlighted that now is the time for the freight industry to engage with policy development in both mayoral camps. This is wise, as it seems clear that, at least in terms of transportation improvements and with London’s rapid commercial and residential expansion, freight requirements remain largely misunderstood.

Freight continues to be one of the most underdeveloped and misunderstood policy areas associated with London’s future growth and development. There is a real need for the freight industry to engage quickly and clearly to highlight just how important the freight infrastructure is to London's future.

BBPA has worked successfully with TfL over the last year to address the broader lack of misunderstanding of freight requirements as TfL has tried to realise the current Mayor’s cycling vision within London.

Such partnership has been both educational for TfL and beneficial for the brewery logistics and delivery industry in securing the safety and efficiency of beer deliveries to London’s pubs. Something that London’s growing numbers of residents and workers are sure to appreciate after a hard day at work or a little peddle-based exercise!

Whoever the new Mayor for London might be, collaboration is the way forward. London’s growth is not hindered by, but is reliant upon a strong, freight infrastructure and the industry itself holds the same core themes of efficiency, environment and safety at its heart.

Steve Livens
Policy Manager - Product Assurance & Supply Chain


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Boxing clever with the Licensed Trade Charity

On 06/11/15 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

An evening with the Licensed Trade Charity is always an evening well spent. I was fortunate enough to be invited to their Charity Boxing Tournament (to watch you will be relieved to hear, rather than participate)! Sponsored by Shepherd Neame, previous events have raised over £55,000 and I am sure this year will be no different. Each course had beer as an ingredient: from Whitstable Bay Blonde Broth to Fine Apple Tart and Brilliant Ale ice cream! We bought raffle tickets, guessed who would win the first six boxing rounds and entered a competition to win all the beer left over from the evening’s drinks reception. It was great fun, but all in a very good cause too.

The boxers all came from the Fitzroy Lodge Amateur Boxing Club (ABC), which is a not-for-profit community club. Part of the club is Carney’s Community; a charity which aims to reduce offending and re-offending, and anti-social behaviour, by engaging a range of young people in positive and constructive activities. It is all of course amateur boxing, but very fast and furious and extremely engaging to watch. Like going to the races, I chose who might win each bout based on whether I liked their names and inevitably lost each one, but that did not spoil my appreciation of how hard they had worked to be so physically fit.

As those of you who attended our Annual Dinner will know, the Licensed Trade charity works to help those who are facing personal or family problems and work or have worked in the trade. This covers both pubs and brewing. They provide a helping hand during tough times and very much deserve all our support. The LTC also runs three schools; one is main-stream in Ascot, but two are for autistic children which are just quite wonderful to visit to see some very special work. One hundred per cent of those who they help go onto further education or find a job. It is very humbling, but so important for the families whose children need this sort of care. I think all in the trade should support the LTC in whatever way we can. They are doing a great job and helping so many.

Brigid Simmonds
Chief Executive


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The Party Conference Season

On 20/10/15 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

In four weeks, I attended four party conferences. Although tiring, the party conference season provides an invaluable opportunity to meet old friends and new, from both industry and Parliament, and this year they offered very interesting political insight.

The Liberal Democrat Party Conference in Bournemouth was significantly smaller than in previous years though still jam-packed with fringe events. With both current and ex-MPs in attendance, the more intimate affair provided a valuable networking opportunity.

The Labour Conference in Brighton had a very different atmosphere to previous years. I was disappointed that there was little mention of additional support for businesses at the events that I attended, however it was clear that the Opposition is still in the process of shaping its political agenda. I had the opportunity to meet a number of MPs who I will follow up with in due course and hopefully we can help shape some of their policies for the future.

The Conservative Conference was inevitably the most useful, not least because MPs and Ministers can follow up your requests with direct action. Despite the intimidating behaviour by some protesters surrounding the conference, the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group held a very well-attended fringe event. With the national living wage on the horizon, our call to action was for Government to see how they can help us in other ways, particularly with business rates, red tape and of course more help in reducing beer tax. We also promoted the parliamentary Pub Chef Awards at every opportunity and I have arranged follow-up meetings in London as a result.

So finally to Aberdeen and the Scottish National Party conference. The SNP is very keen to support the Scottish economy and therefore business too. They are keen to help community pubs, but there is more work to do, particularly through their study on the pub market which is about to begin. Our film at the reception (which we jointly sponsored with others), promoting the on-trade, was very well received and the party clearly enjoys the growth and diversity of beer produced in Scotland.

I enjoy party conferences because they offer an opportunity to meet and talk informally, but as they are fairly exhausting a few days back in the office to catch up will not go amiss!

Brigid Simmonds
Chief Executive


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BBPA exhibits British beer at the World Expo

On 19/10/15

A selection of the finest British beers made the trip to Milan at the end of September to be showcased at the British Beer Festival in the UK pavilion at the World Expo. The World Expo is a six-month exhibition where over 140 countries and corporations showcase the best they have to offer to the World. This year’s Expo focused on food and how to feed the world and expects to see over 20 million visitors.

The British Beer Festival consisted of two elements - a sampling session for the thousands of visitors to the UK stand, and tutored tastings by beer sommelier Steve Livens for a selection of beer buyers and publicans. Brewers Charles Wells and Meantime also attended the event to talk to buyers and consumers about their beers which were on show.

The consumer sampling attracted a wide range of visitors, from the estimated 20,000 visitors to the UK presence that day. The audience was predominantly Italian but also included a broad range of other nationalities keen to try British beers. There seemed to be a strong preference from the natives for stronger, darker beers, as well as the IPAs and bitters that were also on show. In total around 20 beers from six breweries were handed out (see below for the full list). I am pleased to report that there was no indication of immoderate consumption.

Steve Livens then held the first of two formal tastings on the day. The first being a 90-minute tutored tasting for 15 buyers invited by UKTI. These were predominantly Italian, and many already had a strong knowledge of British beer. However the 10-beer sampling ensured that a diverse range of styles and flavours were incorporated and everyone went away having learnt more about British beer. Links were developed that will hopefully see more British beer exported to Italy and beyond.

Not content with educating potential buyers the BBPA’s beer sommelier then entertained twenty international bloggers who were being escorted around the Expo and treated to the very best food events on offer. Not surprisingly, the quality and diversity of the British beers on offer in the UK pavilion was not to be missed. This gave added attention to the showcase on various digital platforms, and may well have added to the surge in visitors received at around 6pm. UKTI summarised this on Storify and a keen blogger posted a virtual tour on Twitter.

After an epic stint helping to run the British beer bar, purely in the name of research the BBPA team visited a number of other national pavilions to inspect their beer offering. Pilsner Urquell had a strong representation on the Czech stand, with the Belgians having a permanent beer festival as the showpiece of their pavilion. The U.S. was reliant on a domestic brand as its only draught product though there was an imported gluten-free bottled beer available.

Overall it was a successful event with great enthusiasm for British beer from consumers and retailers alike.


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Great food calls for great chefs – let’s get our MPs involved

On 19/10/15 by Rebekah Kendrick (Communications & Campaigns Officer)

This weekend, the Sunday Telegraph reported the success of the Great British roast dinner in pubs across the UK. The article recognised that a top-notch Sunday lunch is the ‘nation’s favourite meal’, and noted that now, people are having to book a table at their local days in advance.

The article pays homage to the incredible range of food in pubs today. Recently the British Roast Dinner Week winner was announced and, unsurprisingly, a pub snapped up the award which celebrates the best of British.

Yet, we are facing a skills shortage. ‘Pub chef’ arguably isn’t the most glamourous title and we as an industry need to help change perceptions. After all, there are pubs up and down the country which have Michelin Stars and we have seen some exceptional chefs who have made their mark in a pub compete in the BBC’s Great British Menu, year after year. And it’s not just a man’s world. This year we also saw the fantastic Eve Townson from Thwaite’s pub, the Eagle and Child, compete.

We should celebrate their excellence and show that the role offers challenges, the opportunity for creative freedom and the chance to serve food that customers can truly be excited about. And this is why the BBPA has launched the Pub Chef Awards (supported by the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group and sponsored by Nestlé Professional) as a way of celebrating Great British pub food and as a passionate cry for young, creative individuals to become part of a thriving and innovative industry.

The pub industry knows that, although it is still performing well in the dining-out market, it still needs to keep ahead of the game by maintaining high standards and remaining competitive with its food offering. To do that, pubs need to offer quality training – something BBPA member Robinson’s has embraced with its ‘Professional Chefs’ apprenticeship. BBPA has also supported Pub Chef Passion, which aims to break the misconception that you have to work in a top restaurant to excel as a chef. We jointly created a film, which can be watched here.

So, what can you do to get involved? We have created a guide on our website which shows you how you can help get your local nominated for a pub chef award by your local MP. But most importantly, you can head down to your local, food-led pub and enjoy a meal in what is most definitely the best place to enjoy a Sunday roast.

Rebekah Kendrick
Communications & Campaigns Officer


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