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Pandemic fails to halt UK distillery boom

Published:  09 February, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has failed to halt the UK’s distillery boom with new figures showing a record number of distilleries were registered in 2020.

The HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) data shows the number of UK distilleries grew by 124, up 28% on 2019, doubling the number of UK distillers in four years. It was the first time that more than 100 had been registered in a 12-month period.

England’s distillery numbers topped 300 for the first time, with 311 registered distilleries in 2020, while Scotland increased its number to 214. Wales and Northern Ireland also saw distillery numbers growing.

The total number of distilleries registered in the UK in 2020 grew to over 560, up from over 440 in 2019.

“It’s heart warming to find a positive story from the gloom of 2020. The record number of new distilleries opening across the UK is great news and helps provide jobs and a real boost to local economies,” said Miles Beale, CEO of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA).

However, despite the record growth, 2020 has been the hardest year for so many of the UK’s distillers, the majority of which are small, independently owned businesses.

“With such a difficult 2020 behind us and a daunting challenge to recover in 2021, our distillers need the support of the Chancellor at the upcoming Budget,” said Beale.

“A freeze at the last Budget certainly helped distillers to invest and grow, but we need the Chancellor to go further this time, with both a duty cut and an extension of the VAT reduction in hospitality venues, until at least March 2022 - and including alcoholic drinks,” he said.

Distillers across the UK would “play a vital role in 2021 and beyond” as hospitality begins to open up again, he added. 

“By showing his support for distillers at the Budget the Chancellor can also promote the hospitality industry as it rebounds from Covid-19 restrictions.”

The number of distilleries in England has almost tripled since 2016, which was the same year that the gin boom helped the number of English distilleries overtake Scotland for the first time.

Last week, the industry voiced concern as to whether its calls for a cut, or another freeze on duty, would resonate with the government, as reported by Harpers.