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Inverness pubs in beer fear as owners battle a draught beer “drought” as dire shortages hit the hospitality industry

By Alasdair Fraser

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New owners of The Phoenix,Academy Street. Jad and Funda Hussain with Abdul Fotik. Picture: Gary Anthony.
New owners of The Phoenix,Academy Street. Jad and Funda Hussain with Abdul Fotik. Picture: Gary Anthony.

Pubs in Inverness are battling a draught beer “drought” as dire shortages hit the hospitality industry.

A number of popular watering holes in the city have reported extremely low stocks of lager and other alcoholic beverages on tap, with reduced and cancelled deliveries depleting reserves.

It comes after last week’s reports of firms facing a recruitment crisis due to the “perfect storm” of Brexit and the pandemic.

Most are blaming a staffing crisis within the Scottish and wider UK logistics network for delivery issues, exacerbated by Brexit and the recent threat of industrial action.

Other factors may include the ‘pingdemic’, with workers forced to self-isolate, and an international scarcity of carbon dioxide gas used to put the fizz in beers.

In Scotland, three main brewing companies – Tennent’s, Heineken and Belhaven – double as distributors for a broad variety of beer brands.

Two of the three use the same delivery firm, GXO Logistics Drinks, of which around 1000 draymen recently voted unanimously in favour of Unite union strike action and work-to-rule over pay.

The strike action has now been called off, but driver shortages remain.

Brexit has seen an estimated one million Europeans depart the UK with resultant labour shortages in sectors such as hospitality, agriculture, food production.

The logistics industry is facing a shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers.

Isobel Shepherd, co-owner of the Market Bar with husband Ian, saw some draught brands run out last week, but was able to source emergency supplies.

She said: “We’ve been running very low. As far as I know, it is down to the lack of delivery drivers. There also seems to be a shortage in bottled gas for production of beer.

“We haven’t run out completely as we managed to borrow some from another pub, but we need deliveries to come or we certainly will run out.

“For this to happen, after being shut so long during the pandemic, is very concerning.”

Gavin Stevenson, owner of Gellions Bar, revealed that only 12 of 50 kegs of beer were delivered to him last week.

The week before, none of an order of 60 kegs arrived, forcing him to source beer from elsewhere.

Mr Stevenson, director of Mor Rioghain Group which trades at venues in Aberdeen and Inverness, said: “It’s completely unacceptable that beleaguered pubs have been facing these issues in the first couple of weeks of viable trading after 18 months of Covid losses.

“The disruption and stress caused by the breweries’ lack of effective contingency-planning is putting small Scottish businesses at risk, and, given the vast resources of the big multi-national companies involved, such total failure to ensure adequate supply is inexcusable.

“It is positive news that the strike action has now been called off, however, we’ve been told to expect continued disruption for the next few weeks and this is simply not good enough given the perilous state our sector is in.”

Don Lawson, owner of Johnny Foxes bar and restaurant – which temporarily closed this week until tomorrow due to the pandemic, had taken precautionary measures by stocking up in advance.

He said: “It is not only the deliveries we don’t get. We’re not getting our full orders. It is quite concerning, but I do think it will be short-term.”

Bruce MacGregor, owner of MacGregor’s bar, was aware of problems for the local trade but has avoided shortages through a focus on using smaller brewers.

Jad Hussain, co-owner of The Phoenix bar and Turkish restaurant, had also kept the taps flowing, but added: “We’ve experienced a real shortage in food-related supplies. The wholesalers’ shelves have been empty at times.

“It is difficult times for the trade generally, given the situation with delivery drivers and the effects of Brexit.”

Meanwhile,it has been reported that fast-food giants, including MacDonald’s, are experiencing supply chain issues and have taken some items off their menus.

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