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Comment - Scotland's flourishing microbrewers struggle to loosen EU bonds

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Angus MacRuary is the managing director of the Isle of Skye Brewing Company, which some time next year will reach out across the water in a merger with a fellow Scottish island microbrewery on the Isle of Arran

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Other than the chance to take the achingly beautiful boat trip from mainland Scotland out to Arran more often, what excites MacRuary about the partnership is the opportunity to take his products into overseas markets.

He used to sell in Europe as well as Japan and the US, but pulled out about six years ago despite supply outstripping demand.

Why? Because of European regulations that require alcohol exporters to pay a bond to customs, ostensibly to guard against smuggling.

Apparently, the UK interprets this law more strictly than its EU counterparts, leaving small brewers such as MacRuary unable to stump up the not-insignificant amount of GBP20,000 (US$31,937) and sinking any hopes of overseas sales.

Luckily for MacRuary, the increase in financial clout he'll get with the merger means he will soon be able to afford the bond, but the rest of the country's microbreweries may not be as fortunate.

“It's a scandal,” MacRuary says, and it's difficult not to agree.

Scotland has not been left behind in the brewing boom witnessed in the UK in recent times. Innis & Gunn, WEST and BrewDog have led the charge north of the border, among others. “There's been a large number of breweries come on to the scene, and they're producing a fantastic range of different beers,” says Fergus Clark from the Scottish arm of the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA).

“There's so many diverse styles, and that's drawing younger people into the niche end of the market. It's generating sales for the breweries and creating something new.”

Clark is founder and MD of the Inveralmond Brewery in Perth and has seen exports increase from a very low level to 12% of his turnover in the past few years. “We're actively looking to increase that,” Clark says.

Despite being around since 1996, Inveralmond has its own problems with the customs bond. Clark's bank used to play the role of guarantor in return for an annual fee, but recently pulled out of the arrangement.

Negotiations for a new guarantor are on-going and, as banks tighten regulations, more complex. But while Clark says the bond has not stopped him from exploring overseas opportunities he admits “it does seem rather a large sledgehammer to crack a nut”.

What Clark is certain of is that there is “a market out there for interesting Scottish beers to be bought in European countries”.

It would be a shame if some arbitrary bond was to stop all that energy and fervour from making the most of a burgeoning industry.


Sectors: Beer & cider

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