Comment: craft beers and pubs need support

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Maybe it wasn’t the biggest event in Glasgow’s year, but 2014 saw the first Glasgow Real Ale Festival in over a decade.

It’s about time too, as there’s been a dramatic growth in the number of small independent brewers in Scotland.

When I turned up to the festival I went straight for a beer I’d never heard of, and found it was yet another new Glasgow-based outfit and the guy behind the bar was the same guy who brewed the beer.

Next month the Barras plays host to another new beer festival, the Great Scottish Beer Celebration, which will highlight some of the really exciting new breweries from these parts as well as others from around the world.

Beer festivals are a great place to celebrate the high quality beer that the independent brewers make.

It’s a far cry from most of the alcohol industry, which just seeks volume sales instead of quality and which siphons the profits off to giant multinational businesses. But what of the pubs most of us drink in more regularly?

You might not realise when you’re in one, but over one thousand pubs in Scotland are tied pubs: owned by big pub chains and operated by a tenant publican, who gets lower rent but is forced to buy beer at much higher costs, forcing up prices.

This unfair setup now means that most tenant publicans earn less than £15,000 a year, in a pubs industry worth almost £2 billion a year to Scotland’s economy. The tied pubs model also means a restricted choice of beers, at exactly the time when the craft beer scene is booming.

Brewers, trade unions and pretty much everyone apart from the big pub companies, agrees that reform is needed and thousands of ordinary pub-goers have been campaigning f or a fairer deal.

Last year, they were rewarded when MPs passed a new law to give tenants of pub companies in England and Wales the option to just pay a normal rent but choose where to buy their beer. This was a big win but, at the moment, this welcome change won’t apply in Scotland.

There’s even a risk that if Scotland doesn’t catch up, the big pub companies will choose to increase their presence here to claw back lost profits down south. The Scottish Government needs to take action quickly to secure the future of our community pubs.

When I last asked the Minister in charge, he replied that he’d not seen “sufficient evidence” to form a view so there’s clearly still a job to do for pub lovers in Scotland.

If we care about decent local pubs instead of big chains, and if we want more places to enjoy the best of what Scotland’s craft brewers are producing, let’s see action from the Scottish Government to deal with the problem of tied pubs.