What Could UCB Ever Do For Us?

I don’t normally comment on things outside the immediate sphere of the brewery. The whole wider world of brewing, especially when other breweries are involved is something that I like to see get on by itself. It’s very unlikely that my own personal opinions will ever influence others, and to be honest I’m not sure they ever should. I run my brewery the way I want it run, and I believe others should be left in peace to run theirs how they want. I do however go out of my way to help others, not because I expect help in return, but because it’s something I believe decent human beings should do.

So it’s with some reluctance that I’m writing this particular piece, but I feel that for me personally it needs to be said.

I was reading this article from the ever excellent, unbiased and well-informed Boak & Bailey (who’re also lovely people) this morning on the way into the brewery. Richard Burhouse from Magic Rock tells his views on why he believes that the United Craft Brewers failed to get anywhere. It’s honest and open, and gives a good insight into what was happening with UCB, not just why he believes that it failed.

However, I can’t actually agree with him. I’ve never met him (I don’t think, but if I have alcohol was almost certainly involved so please forgive my bad memory), but I do really like Magic Rock beers and respect them as a brewery and a company.

The problem as I see it is that UCB went about it the wrong way. The people who were setting it up were, in my own view, the very people who didn’t need it. BrewDog, Camden, Magic Rock, Beavertown, all well established, large breweries with good brands, reputations and purchasing power. When it comes down to it, what was actually in UCB for them?

They had a lot to give, but I can’t see what they would have got out of it. And the mention about being approached by and possibly working with SIBA is what drove this home for me. SIBA started out as the Small Independent Brewers Association, but as its members grew it became the Society of Independent Brewers. Its aims changed too, and as layer upon layer of bureaucracy was added it seems to have got to the point where the only purpose of it is to promote the larger breweries, and keep the single, small entrance into the tied estates of PubCos like Enterprise out of the reach of the smaller breweries who’re competing for a smaller and smaller space on the bar of the freehouses.

With the bigger craft breweries driving UCB, and defining things like who could be a member, how much shares could be held by outside interests, then the decisions will almost always go the way of the bigger craft breweries, and UCB would eventually fall foul to the same changes that SIBA did, putting it out of the reach of those breweries that really need it.

It’s the smaller craft breweries that need the promotion, the instruction, training and knowledge, the collective purchasing power, the joint negotiating power with PubCos to get to market and the ability to lobby politicians to aid us form and grow our small businesses. I saw UCB as a bright light on the horizon, a wonderful opportunity to learn from those who’ve already “made it”.

And that takes us back to wondering what was actually in it for those founding it? For us smaller breweries we had a lot to gain, that would have us driving it forward to make sure that it happened. But we don’t have the time, staff, finance, media influence or any of the other myriad of things needed to form a group like this. All we have is each other on a local scale, and until such time as UCB or something similar comes along that gives the smaller breweries as much as a say as the larger ones, we’ll continue to work with each other and help each other to grow. It’s the informal arrangements that Richard mentions in the piece, and it keeps us ticking over. But I do keep wondering if it’s also keeping us back.

The smaller breweries need a UCB, but I’m still not convinced the larger ones do.

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