CAMRA welcomes plan for NI breweries & cider makers to run taprooms

Northern Ireland's Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) have supported plans to allow local alcoholic drinks producers to obtain a liquor licence for the first time after years of campaigning by the Campaign for Real Ale.

The move, as part of the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill which was debated on 8 June, means local breweries and cider producers look set to be able to sell their products directly to the public online, at some local markets and events, and from a brewery shop.

A proposal for taprooms put forward by the Assembly’s Communities Committee was also approved meaning local producers can sell their own produce for consumption on their own premises.

Taprooms are commonplace throughout the rest of the UK and across Europe, NI producers will now be able to organise their own and sell their produce, for consumption on the premises. The legislation will allow taprooms to open between the hours of 4pm and 10pm on 104 occasions a year.

Local brewers and cider producers currently have no category of alcohol licence they can apply for, with the cost of a pub licence making it impossible for small businesses to acquire one. This has meant local producers can’t sell their products directly to the public either in person or online – something that CAMRA NI has been working to change for years.

The Bill will be debated again by MLAs later this month before passing into law - but there are concerns that further changes will be needed to make sure brewery taprooms are viable for small producers and don’t come with too many restrictions and conditions.

Similar legislation in the Republic of Ireland has seen only a handful of breweries and distilleries open taprooms due to expensive conditions and very restrictive opening hours.

Chairperson of CAMRA NI, Ruth Sloan said, “After years of campaigning to modernise licensing laws for pubs-goers and beer and cider drinkers, we are delighted to see MLAs vote in favour of this legislation which will benefit local consumers, tourists, pubs and our local drinks producers.

“As well as the welcome moves to extend pub opening hours, allowing our fantastic independent breweries and cider producers to sell online, being able to open a brewery shop and serve their produce on their own premises in a taproom will improve choice for customers, create jobs and make sure great local beer and cider from small businesses is more readily available.

“This will go a long way to improving competition and choice, growing local, independent brands and making tasty, distinctive brews more readily available - changing the current situation where 99% of beer sold in Northern Ireland is brewed outside Northern Ireland.

“However, the Communities Minister and MLAs need to make sure these new laws are fair and workable in practice and that brewery taprooms can be viable, so that our local breweries and cider producers can build back better from the pandemic and thrive in the years ahead.”