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To beer or not to beer?


22 February 2011

Cornish brewer Foodswild is embroiled in an extraordinary controversy, in which it's being forced to defend its product - a nettles brew - against claims it isn't actually a beer

Foodswild, which is based in Helston, began as a foraging company, specialising in the supply of edible seaweeds, wild vegetables, flowers, berries, nuts and mushrooms. It says on its website it uses freshly gathered wild Cornish nettles to brew its unique alcoholic drink derived from a traditional nettle beer recipe.

The company says by bottling locally, initially with Keltek Brewery in Redruth, now with Truro-based Woodenhand Brewery, it's able to keep the carbon miles to a minimum.

But now the company has been slammed with a tax bill of £10,000 from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). The reason, according to HMRC, is under EU rules beer must contain malt and the Cornish Stingers drink is a "made wine", on which duty is about twice that of beer.

Further muddying the waters, a Conservative Cornish MEP Ashley Fox, has called on European officials to clear up the dispute and the results of a review are expected in the next two weeks.

Fox told the BBC: "Cornish Stingers is a beer pure and simple. It's been made for centuries to the same recipe. The fact some Eurocrat in Brussels decides beer is only beer if malt is added shouldn't be an issue.

"We must try to make it easier for small businesses to operate, not tie them up with excessive rules."

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