Beer made from nettles is an alcopop, says taxman
A micro-brewery has been left with a hefty bill after the taxman decided an artisan beer made using hand-picked stinging nettles was an alcopop.
Foodswild, which produces a range of products at Seworgan, near Helston, got a visit from a representative of HM Revenue and Customs in December, after an inspector saw Cornish Stingers, a 4.5 per cent alcohol drink made from nettles, being bottled at a nearby brewery.
Because the wheat and gluten-free drink does not contain malted barley, they this week ruled that it is not a beer but a “made-wine”, a group of drinks which includes alcopops like WKD and Smirnoff Ice.
The company was handed a bill for £9,000 in extra back taxes and it now faces having to increase the cost of every bottle by 10p to cover the extra tax imposed on this type of drink.
Foodswild’s owner, Miles Lavers, said the company was planning to appeal the decision, as it told HMRC what was in the beverage when they started making it and were registered as a beer producer.
“It is just made using natural ingredients, they knew what we were doing here already,” he said.
“If you look on the internet for a nettle beer recipe it tells you what is in it. It is like an alcoholic ginger beer – with a different main ingredient – and brewed in the same way.”
The company has already suffered as 190 cases of the drink were impounded over the busy Christmas period while HMRC decided what it was.
Now, Mr Lavers says, he faces increasing prices or changing the recipe to include malt, which he does not want to do as it would make it unsafe for people with wheat and gluten allergies.
Mr Lavers, 44, his wife Alice, 33, and their three children have been at Green Bank Farm for the last four years.
He said: “We originally started as a foraging business, taking people out on trips finding wild flowers and edible plants.
“I’ve always brewed. I used to go to restaurants taking wild flowers and seaweed to the chefs so I’d ask them to try out whatever I’d brewed.”
His nettle beer is now a staple of the food and drink festival scene in Cornwall and also sells in pubs and restaurants.
HMRC’s website classifies “made-wine” as: “A wide variety of drinks that do not fall under the heading of spirits, wine, beer or cider but are made from the alcoholic fermentation of any substance or the mixing of wine with another substance.
“The category of made-wine also includes those products known as alcoholic carbonates or, more popularly, ‘alcopops’.”
HMRC said it would not comment on the tax affairs of specific companies but spokesman Bob Gaiger said: “The rules concerning the taxation of alcoholic drinks are set out in European legislation (EU Directive 92/83). To qualify as a beer, and therefore be taxed as a beer, a product must be made from malt.
“If a brewer is unhappy with our decision then he can lodge an appeal.”
This story first appeared in the Western Morning News