Is time being called on the Guinness Series?

The Guinness Series 2016 kicks off today. Just how long will Irish rugby’s home autumn internationals will be associated with the brewery or any other drinks company remains to be seen.

An outright ban on alcohol sponsorship is on the cards thanks to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, 2015. Rugby has had a long and lucrative relationship with drinks companies. For marginal sports, the ability to tap serious sponsorship money is an important lifeline.

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) will fight this part of the bill. However, it has yet to mobilise the ground game that successfully fended off proposals for rugby to be shown on free-to-air TV only. They couldn’t live without money coming from Sky Sports and others.

Alcohol sponsorship is important for the IRFU. But it is not the only source of sponsorship revenue. Like the GAA, it has diversified its relationships. Liberalisation of telecoms and other utilities has generated a number of companies all vying for the attention of consumers. The IRFU have Vodafone now, following a similar deal with Three/O2. They’ve also accessed sponsorship from financial institutions in the past too. Their stadium is named for an insurance company.

A proposed ban is likely be more of a headache for the likes of national associations. So who would be hurt most from it coming in? The Pro12 springs to mind. Of the three title sponsors, only one was a non-drinks company and that was all too brief. Of course Guinness could still sponsor the league, it just couldn’t be referred to the Guinness Pro12 in Ireland. Why would they bother? They won’t be happy to have the league known as G-Pro12. Besides sounding too much like a digital camera, the pulling power of the Scottish, Welsh and Italian teams isn’t there. It’s not the same as the Heineken Cup being billed as the H-Cup in France. The other markets still justified the financial outlay.


Worringly, the big losers will be clubs of various codes across the island; those that rely on small sponsorship arrangements to keep afloat. This could come in the form of advertising hoardings to jersey sponsorships to kit bags. It’s not just by the big drinks companies either. Some craft brewers sponsor their local teams in some form or other. A ban could also be extended to include a prohibition on pubs supporting their local teams. The money may be small but it helps cut the grass, mark out the pitch and even put jerseys on the players’ backs.

There’s little doubt that more than a few politicians supporting a ban on alcohol sports sponsorship will be in attendance at one or more matches in the Aviva Stadium this November. Some may pay for their tickets and others may get them for free. It’ also possible that more supporters of the sponsorship ban in Leinster House have no interest in sport. I don’t know what’s worse, potential hypocrisy or out and out ignorance.


Political expediency will no doubt play its part. We can already see this in one of the proposed amendments to the bill. They want it to be introduced on a phased basis until 31 December 2023. In other words, they’re fearful of any negative backlash it may have on Ireland’s bid to host the Rugby World Cup that year. In effect, they’re looking for the ban not to enter into full force until after the William Web Ellis trophy has been raised in Croke Park. Of course, a full ban may come in sooner if we are unsuccessful in our tournament bid.

Whilst restricting alcohol sponsorship seems to be the order of the day, it needs to be seen alongside the prohibition on TV advertising outside of the watershed. Companies sponsor events and then spend even more telling people they sponsor it. Take this away and you limit the attractiveness of the sponsorship. Never mind that there’s little talk of improving grants to clubs to plug the loss of revenue. Sure why would anyone care about the grassroots? It’s not like they help bring players through and support communities.

Calling time on alcohol sponsorship may not be all that it’s cracked up to be.

The Aldi Irish Craft beer Festival: Winning Over New Craft Beer Consumers

The Aldi Irish Craft beer Festival kicks off on Sunday, 2nd October featuring 30 beers from across the island. This is the first time that beer has featured exclusively in promotional campaign run by the German discount supermarket chain in Ireland. Newspapers will be carrying the usual Aldi brochure but today’s features a two-page spread on beer.

The Aldi Irish Craft beer Festival line-up. Prices range from €2.49 to €2.99
The Aldi Irish Craft beer Festival line-up. Prices range from €2.49 to €2.99

The beers offer a good introduction to the quality and range of Irish beers being produced today. Prices start at €2.49 per bottle and for this low price you can enjoy the likes of Carrig’s always quaffable Pilsner or its chocolate-laden Coalface IPA. The majority of the beers are on sale for €2.69 per bottle including Mescan’s Westport Blond and Westporter Stout. A few also come in at €2.99 per bottle, including Dungarvan’s Mine Head, the award-winning Francis’ Big Bangin’ IPA and Brehon’s Stony Grey IPA. It’s not all glass by the way. Luminous cans of Rascal’s Wunderbar IPA will be standing out, alongside the brewery’s Big Hop Red.

Supermarkets have tended to include beer as a bolt-on to their wine offers but this is slowly changing. SuperValu, for example, have featured craft beer in both print and broadcast ads. Craft beer sales are up with Aldi alone experiencing double-digit growth in sales over the past year. Indeed, its Irish beer has grown over the years with an accompanying drop in imports stocked, with the exception of the likes of Hobgoblin and the odd German, Belgian or French offering. However, a Marston’s exclusive range for Aldi may start appearing on shelves from November. This will be similar to the tie-up that the brewery-chain does for Tesco.

A snapshot of the beers on offer during the promotion, including Golden Harvest Pale Ale produced by 12 Acres for Aldi
A snapshot of the beers on offer during the promotion, including Golden Harvest Pale Ale produced by 12 Acres for Aldi

It tends to be overlooked that Aldi has long-been a supporter of Irish craft beer. Its O’Shea’s range produced by Carlow Brewing has won a loyal following with customers. These beers happily sit alongside the O’Hara’s range on the shelves and given people a solid introduction into the world of craft beer. Aldi has followed this up with commissioning Laois’ 12 Acres to produce the fruity-finishing Golden Harvest Pale Ale. It remains to be seen if this will be a once off or will it be an ongoing collaboration.

Some orthodox craft beer snobs might turn their noses up at the thought of the large multiples, believing instead that independent beer should only be sold in independent retailers. This ignores the choice and freedom for the brewers to decide where their beer should be sold, whether on-trade or off-, independent or chain etc. Of course, it’s important that prices remain sustainable and they don’t seriously undercut other retailers.

Supermarkets remain an important sales channel for brewers wanting to reach new customers
Supermarkets remain an important sales channel for brewers wanting to reach new customers

Yes, these beers (with the exception of those brewed exclusively for Aldi) can be bought elsewhere. Thinking like that misses the point. The opportunity to access the widest customer-base for their products is nothing to be sneered at. The Aldi promotion will run across all its 126 in Ireland until stocks last. The beers will also feature in its media-buy. For the craft beer sector, a large client such as supermarket chain can buy a certain-degree of confidence with the banks or others in attracting finance, capital and investment. Brewing is hugely capital intensive, with pressures on working capital and the need to expand to satisfy a growing customer base.

Regardless, it’s great to see more attention on the sector.

Going the extra Yards in Philadelphia

Sadly, I’m not in Philadelphia this week for the Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America®. Fortunately, I was able to visit the city last autumn. Ten years has passed since my one and only visit to the city. Regeneration has played a key role in its revival and it has become a good stop on one’s beer travels. I had less than 24 hours to take in a couple of beer destinations and see some of the sites.

Yards Brewing, now in its 22nd year, is in easy reach of downtown. It is one of those breweries that suffer unfairly from being one of the early movers on the craft beer scene. Familiarity can count against you in the craft beer movement, even one that holds “traditional” as key tenet.


It’s a short walk from the Spring Garden metro stop. The first hundred yards or so is a tiny bit sketchy but the entire area is up and coming. You’ll see just how far it’s come on when you get to North Delaware Avenue, with the condo developments. This used to be the nightclub area of the city but with close proximity to the river front, land prices are going through the roof.  The vacant lots won’t be there for much longer. This part of the city has one added benefit. It comes complete with the smell of wort emanating from the brewery.

Yards Brewery focuses on traditional beer styles but they can have a twist. The branding, like its beers, reflect traditional British ales, a likely a nod to the revolutionary routes of the city. It also doesn’t hurt to compete with the British imports like Sam Smiths. The brewery operates Monday to Friday before opening up for tours on the weekends (12-4). Apparently people line up before it opens but they run every 20-25 minutes. Oh and it’s free!


It’s worth visiting due to a good tap room and getting to meet the regulars, many of whom drop in on their way home from work. The tap room offers a window into the brewery so you don’t have to be there on a Saturday to get a view of the operations. Of course, visiting brewers and beer tickers stop by.  A group from nearby Conshohocken Brewing were in visiting. The tap room’s a great place to chat to the brewery staff. They can be found enjoying a post work pint at the bar but at times ducking back into the brewery to check up on things. Work never stops.


First, up was Brawler a 4.2% abv English Mild. It was rich mahogany in colour with excellent clarity. As you’d expect the aroma was malty with slight coffee and nutty aroma. As a session beer, it was smooth and almost milky in mouthfeel. Toasty with a hint of caramel roasted nuts in the finish. Next was the Extra Special Ale (6% abv). Its appearance captured the colours of Philly and Pennsylvania perfectly – copper and chestnut. Think Liberty Bell & rusting factories. I’m partial to an ESB and this beer is interesting. There’s a lot going on. Spicy, nutty, dark chocolate flavours complete with a slight, citrus bitter bite. It has a big finish building intensity of the bitter malt. I would love to try this on cask but sadly they didn’t have it on when I was visiting.

L-R: IPA (7% abv); Philadelphia Pale Ale (4.6% abv); Extra Special Ale (6% abv) & Brawler (4.2% abv)
L-R: IPA (7% abv); Philadelphia Pale Ale (4.6% abv); Extra Special Ale (6% abv) & Brawler (4.2% abv)

Of course, the brewery’s pale ale and IPA offering is part of the signature flight. Philadelphia Pale Ale (4.6% abv) pours an incredibly clear golden colour. The aroma is of freshly squeezed oranges, thanks to being dry-hopped with simcoe. It’s certainly easy drinking with notes of fresh tangerines in the flavour. It’s reminiscent of orange squash with a pleasant dry, bitter finish. The IPA is called IPA because let’s face it, why bother coming up with a name for it because it’s a beer style that people just ask by style rather than name. At 7% abv it falls outside the session beer category. The colour is polished brass with orange on the nose. The fruit flavours continue with a sherbet-like mouthfeel at first before being hit by a big, bitter punch. There’s a sticky sweetness and pine notes in the finish. It’s hopped with chinook and amarillo.

Of course, you’re bound to take in some of the historical sites when in the city. If you’re not in the mood to actually venture into Independence Hall, you can smooth you conscience somewhat by trying beers inspired by three founding fathers as part of the brewery’s Revolutionary Flight. These beers are inspired by historic recipes of Washington, Jefferson and Franklin.

L-R: Love Stout (5.5% abv); Poor Richards Tavern Spruce (5% abv); Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale (8% abv) &  General Washington's Tavern Porter (7% abv)
L-R: Love Stout (5.5% abv); Poor Richards Tavern Spruce (5% abv); Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale (8% abv) & General Washington’s Tavern Porter (7% abv)

General Washington’s Tavern Porter (7% abv) has an aroma of roast coffee and beef. It’s smooth with a smoky body before a big dark chocolate and caramel finish. There’s also a bourbon barrel-aged version, which I have yet to try. Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale on the other hand is a strong golden ale (8% abv). It pours a clear, copper colour. The aroma is of lightly toasted wheat, red fruit and spice on the nose. The flavour and finish is of spice and honey.

Poor Richards Tavern Spruce (5% abv) is apparently based on a recipe of Benjamin Franklin. Billed as a historical style, it’s brewed with molasses and local blue spruce tips. Amber in colour, there’s ginger and vinous notes on the nose. The flavour and finish is of ginger and pine; a really interesting beer. The final beer of the flight is Love Stout (5.5%) named for the City of Brotherly Love. A nitro pour, it’s almost jet black topped by a creamy head. The aroma is of powdered milk chocolate. It’s creamy, with a coffee hit in the finish.  I understand there’s a variant of this beer containing 100% cacao Belgian dark chocolate.

L-R: PYNK (5.5% abv); Hefeweizen (5.4% abv); Saison (6.5% abv) & Cicada (8.5% abv)
L-R: PYNK (5.5% abv); Hefeweizen (5.4% abv); Saison (6.5% abv) & Cicada (8.5% abv)

The final flight consisted of four refreshing seasonal and small batch brews. Beginning with Hefeweizen (5.4% abv). It was 24ct gold in colour, if it was any clearer the guys on TV’s Gold Rush may finally retire. There was plenty of banana and clove on the nose. At first it comes across as a tad over-carbonated, leaving it too dry. It finishes in the opposite direction, however, with sweet banana flavours lingering long after. Saison (6.5% abv) also pours a lovely, polished gold. There’s banana, clove along with other saison yeast notes. It’s sweet, cereal with lemon and honey blending into a pleasant finish. There’s a dash of pepper and bitterness too.

Yards, like other breweries, are keen on giving back. They are passionate about supporting charities and what better way than through brewing beer. You should check out their Brew Unto Others initiative. Part of the proceeds from PYNK (5.5% abv), a tart berry ale, goes to support breast cancer research and awareness. This is a pink beer, no doubt about it. What’s better is that the colour is natural thanks to the cherries and raspberries. It’s none of that artificial colouring for green beer. It’s amber with a big splash of pink. For the aroma, think raspberry yoghurt. Upfront, there’s pleasant fresh sour cherry in the flavour before a brut, dry finish. The palate isn’t overpowered by the tartness.

The last beer of the flight was Cicada, a Belgian-style IPA brewed with local honey (8.5% abv). This bronze ale had a big Juicy Fruit aroma. It was hard to pick up the Belgian yeast aromatics; only the slightest banana esters could be detected. Drinks bitter at first, then floral and honey notes take over. There’s a warming bitter tropical fruit and herbal bitterness in the finish.


I couldn’t leave the brewery without trying Olde Bartholomew Barleywine (10.3% abv) on cask. It pours lovely, clear amber. The aroma is a wonderful medley of marzipan and grapes. It’s not overly sweet, one might say medium-dry. The flavour is penetrated by pleasant hints of fruit. It finishes dry and spicy.

I had only planned to stay an hour or so in the taproom but I was there far longer than that. As I mentioned before, the taproom has a real “local bar” vibe to it. It’s a friendly place, whether you’re from the city or just passing through. And of course, the beer is good.


A beer that needs serious revision

I was in Tesco yesterday picking up yet another forgotten ingredient for dinner. Why is it that no matter how long you spend shopping, you nearly always forget something. Or you since changed your mind on what you feel like eating. Anyway, whenever I’m in the store I like to peruse the beer fridges. Who wouldn’t? The alcohol section is often the quietest part of the store… thankfully. It’s become a sort of an oasis of calm even if the stock on the shelves are largely barren of charm and appeal.

Since it was a Sunday evening, I thought why not have a beer to round off the weekend. Tesco isn’t the usual place of choice for my berry acquisitions. I wanted something different and opted to try the Saison from the Revisionist range, “craft brewed by Marston’s exclusively for Tesco”.

The label's not bad as far as own-brands go but the beer doesn't match up. Which is more important?
The label’s not bad as far as own-brands go but the beer doesn’t match up. Which is more important?

So what’s it like? Well aficionados of Belgian farmhouse ales should look away. It pours a clear yellow gold with a head that quickly dissipated. The nose is dominated by a trifecta of lemon, plasters and toffee (too harsh to say butterscotch?). The citrus notes carries into the flavour but it’s not clean tasting. The carbonation level contributes to the disjointed nature of the beer. There is indeed citrus bitterness with only a slight hint of cracked black pepper in the finish. Overall the mouthfeel is somewhat soapy but it’s perhaps a tad mean to say this beer doesn’t pair so well with a meal but would go well with the washing up.

I’ve now had the opportunity to try the full Revisionist range. The Rye Pale Ale and Dark IPA are passable but the rest are mediocre. The branding is good and screams premium own brand. However, this is beer we’re talking about. Price matters and this is certainly true in the congested retail environment that is Tesco. At a relatively high price point, none of the Revisionist range represent value.

All is not lost, however, Bo Bristle has joined the likes of O’Hara’s, McGargles, Solas range and Finn Lager on the shelves of Tesco. The Irish craft offerings either match the Revisionist prices or beat them. Now that’s value. Every little helps.