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The Rise of the Irish Craft Beer – Where Next?

Ireland's booming Craft beer trade

The Rise of the Irish Craft Beer – Where Next? – Seamus Raftery discusses the rise of the Irish Craft Beer out of the Recession

In their book “Slainte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider”, Caroline Hennessy and Kristen Jensen called the ongoing craft beer revolution on these shores “a success story in the middle of a recession”. Even if one is cynical about the new beer scene or dismissive of it as a fad embraced mainly by young people desperate to jump on any band wagon that happens to pass, any success story these days is worth celebrating.

In September of 2014, the Irish Times reported that the Irish craft beer industry was set to see a 50 percent increase in sales from the previous twelve month period. This is a statistic that Dubliners are probably unlikely to find surprising. In the last number of years, the ongoing growth of this market has been well illustrated on the streets of the capital with one specialist bar after another popping up.

The Porterhouse, the original Dublin craft beer pub, opened in Temple Bar in 1996. Once a lone bastion, it has now been joined by a whole host of new venues where people can sample all the latest artisanal beers from home and abroad. The brewery “Galway Bay” have been instrumental in the changing bar scene having opened up a number of bars in the city centre and more recently in Rathgar and Blackrock. Closer to home, Dublin 8 has recently seen the opening of “57 The Headline” on Clanbrassil Street. Specializing almost exclusively in Irish made beers “The Headline” joins the already well established “Bull and Castle” as the main providers of fine ales in the locality.

A major reason to get excited about the change in the market is the focus on local produce. Seamus O’Hara of “Carlow Brewing Company” stated recently that the recession “disrupted the beer business and the bar business. People started thinking local, with an emphasis on local jobs and local produce” (credit Irish Times). A number of the new breweries that have opened in recent years have their facilities in and around the Dublin area. In fact in 2013, The Liberties saw the opening of its first craft brewery when “Five Lamps” opened its doors. This drive toward supporting small local businesses has the potential to create jobs and rejuvenate areas hit particularly hard by the recent downturn as employment in the industry has doubled since 2011(credit Irish Independent). It is also important not to underestimate the effect a booming industry such as this can have on its ancillary or supporting businesses. Breweries require large industrial and technological equipment that can be sourced in Ireland. A source at Rye River Brewing stated that “our brewhouse and tanks were all made by a company based in Dundalk”. Companies that have also traditionally supplied barley to bigger brew sites have also seen increases in sales.

It’s also interesting to view this new trend in terms of tourism. A greater variety of available Irish produce means tourist money is more likely to find its way into the pockets of smaller local businesses. The Breweries themselves also become tourist attractions as many of the new facilities offer informative tours in the same way the bigger breweries and distilleries do.

A large percentage of tourists visiting Ireland come from the US and the UK where the craft beer and real ale, as its termed in Britain, markets are particularly strong. The craft beer drinker tends to have a curious palate and a desire to try new beers many of which will be as of yet unavailable at home. In the long run, if Irish craft beer were to gain a reputation for its quality, this in itself may even bring tourists to the country the same way that it does to parts of Belgium, Germany and the United States, and the same way in which Guinness already brings people to Ireland.

In the context of Dublin 8, another important consideration when addressing the rise in craft beer sales is the potential impact on the areas long term resident. The bigger breweries like Guinness have definitely seen an impact on their sales due to the emerging popularity of micro brewed beers. Diageo attributed a recent 1% drop in global sales partly to an increase in popularity in craft beers in North America. With predictions that the Irish craft beer industry could achieve a similar market share to that of its U.S counterpart, which as of last year was 7.8%, in the coming years Guinness sales could also be hit at its very source (credit Irish Times). However in the last few months the James’ Street giant released two new porters which were inspired by 18th and 19th century recipes in an attempt to appeal to the speciality beer drinkers. The fact that Guinness are identifying the potential in the new market and trying to change with the times suggests that it is unlikely that Guinness will be damaged in any major way by this new trend.

This prevalence of craft beers is unlikely to dissipate any time soon either as late last year the Minister for Finance lent a helping hand to the growth industry as the budget increased excise relief by 50% for microbrewery production. Mr. Noonan stated that “Microbreweries have been a success story in recent years” and that the government did not want to “stand in the way of growth”(credit Irish Independent). With this extra financial help growth is very likely to continue. So far the success of Irish craft beer has been a domestic story but there is plenty of room for the industry to expand abroad. An increase in exports and a successful international trade can only be a good thing for a recovering Irish economy. There is no doubting that this is a success story and it is one that continues to be written.

One Response

  1. Ross Chapman says:

    Delighted to see the craft beer market doing well in Ireland. Great to have a decent choice of beer, and some great new pubs being established, for those of us who like taste in our drinks!

    Great article!

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