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Microbrewery proposal churns up a debate

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KERALA: A government bid to study the prospects for allowing independently owned craft breweries to open shop in Kerala has enraged those opposed to the legal manufacture and sale of alcohol.

At the instance of the government, Excise Commissioner Rishiraj Singh had on October 15 visited Bengaluru and inspected pubs, bars and hotels that operated microbreweries. Mr. Singh told The Hindu that he was yet to give any recommendation to the government.

However, former KPCC president V.M. Sudheeran portrayed the move as one that unabashedly kowtowed to the liquor industry. He raised the spectre of increased alcohol abuse and resultant familial and social ills. The Congress leader said Mr. Singh’s visit to Bengaluru had “revealed the officer’s true colours”. More prohibition activists and clerics were expected to join Mr Sudheeran’s protest in the coming days.

Kerala has the highest per capita consumption liquor in the country. The State’s public health burden, including its steep suicide rate, has been linked to alcoholism.

However, Kerala’s economy was primarily tourism-based. Consequently, the vitality of its hospitality industry was an economic concern. In this context, any attempt to tweak Kerala’s liquor policy inadvertently became a focal point of public debate and the State’s electoral politics.

Former Excise Minister and Congress leader Vakkom Purushothaman had first proposed the opening of a microbrewery in Mascot Hotel in 2005. Then Tourism Secretary T. Balakrishnan had mooted the proposal. However, it never passed muster.

Craft beer units operate at a much lesser scale than largescale cooperate breweries. However, they cost an estimated ₹8 crores to set up, and the brew is pricey compared to draught, tinned and bottled beer. Officials said Kerala’s ailing hotel and tourism industry was yet to evaluate the financial viability of craft beer.

Excise officials said there are 28 microbreweries in Bengaluru. Most operate out of pubs. The Karnataka government’s liquor laws allow investors owning a buildup of space of minimum 10,000 square feet and a dining facility to make craft beer.

The Kerala government was yet to take a call on the matter. So far, it has not accepted any application to open microbreweries.

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