Good Beer Hunting

U.K.’s Society of Independent Brewers Eyes Modernization Under New Chief Exec



The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) has appointed James Calder, its head of public affairs and communications, as its new chief executive.

Calder, who has served in his communications role since August 2017, has a background in public affairs and campaigning. He joined SIBA from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) where he lobbied the government across tax and legislative issues. He will take up the post on July 1.

Outgoing chief executive Mike Benner, who was interviewed on the Good Beer Hunting podcast last year, is leaving to become chief executive of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.

The U.K. trade body for brewers was founded in 1980 to represent members in the small brewing scene. Its biggest victory came after 22 years of campaigning, when it successfully lobbied for tax reform with a progressive beer duty (PBD), sometimes referred to as small brewers duty relief. Since then, though, it has been marred by difficulties in representing an increasingly polarized membership. SIBA’s controversial BeerFlex distribution arm, for instance, sells to large pubcos on behalf of breweries, and therefore puts itself in competition with member breweries who are not part of the scheme.

“We all know it’s an increasingly challenging environment out there for the U.K.’s independent brewers. But there are opportunities, too,” Calder said in a press release. “Because of that it’s more important than ever that SIBA is working well, fighting for brewers on the issues that matter and delivering genuine benefits. I’m excited to take SIBA on the next step of its journey.”

When announcing Calder’s new position, Ian Fozard, SIBA’s chairman, highlighted Calder’s youth, energy, and ideas as key to helping the organization move forward.

“He’s raised the political profile of SIBA immeasurably and will bring a new perspective,” Fozard said.


The hiring of the young, outspoken Calder is a big change for SIBA, and an attempt to appeal to the members who have previously been critical of the organization. Fozard isn’t mincing words about the need for a new direction.

During his time at SIBA, Calder has been vocal in many important campaigns, and the announcement of his new position was largely welcomed by breweries and the beer press. Most recently, he has been highly critical of new rules passed down by industry watchdog The Portman Group, which wants to restrict the production of “single-serve” packaged beer with more than four units of alcohol. The change could mean large cans of Double IPAs and Imperial Stouts would be in breach of the code, and would likely adversely affect hundreds of small brewers. Through constant dialogue with an organization that is often stonewalled by the beer community, Calder has already helped move the threshold up to six units, and has also been allowed to brief The Portman Group’s independent complaints panel on the impact of the new code—an unprecedented step in the dialogue between the two groups.

Calder’s open and passionate approach is counter to SIBA’s reputation. Since helping introduce the Small Brewers Relief in 2002, it has come under scrutiny from members for failing to represent the needs of the generation of breweries that followed. Only last year it tried to pass a motion to increase the maximum size of a SIBA member from 200,000hl (~170,000 BBLs) to 1% of annual U.K. beer production as measured by the British Beer and Pub Association, which was 437,340hl (~373,000 BBLs) at the time. The motion was blocked by just three votes, but only about 15% of members actually showed up, implying many members already feel unrepresented.

The number of breweries has nearly doubled since Benner joined SIBA in 2014, and the challenges faced by these breweries have shifted. Clearly SIBA feels it needs a change to remain effective in an increasingly tough and crowded market, and Calder’s connections among these new breweries will not just improve their standing but also make the most of his campaigning and legislative experience.

Steve Dunkley, founder of Manchester microbrewery Beer Nouveau and frequent critic of SIBA, is pleased by the prospect of having more open discussions.

“[Calder has] been very active in reaching out to engage with SIBA’s critics to try and find common ground, and work together where possible for common causes,” he says. “Now, I hope to see him take the same diplomacy and energy to redirect the organization to focus on the interests of the small brewers it was set up by and for.”

Calder’s appointment will also please larger breweries, too. Benner had joined SIBA after 16 years at the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), 10 of which saw him serve as chief executive. Calder, comparatively, has less industry experience, but does have significant expertise in other areas. Before joining SIBA he campaigned on taxation and legislative issues for the ICAEW. Small brewers hope his experience of lobbying upper echelons of government should give SIBA more teeth, and his passion for Britain’s varied beer scene a direction that its 830 members are more likely to follow and support.

Words by Jonny Garrett