Perfect timing for crafting an export strategy for beer

Back in January, I wrote about the effects the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing (QE) programme will have on beer. The Euro exchange rate has, for want of a better word, tanked. We’re on course for parity against the US dollar and sterling is strong and only getting stronger. This could bad news for imports of US and UK craft beer into the Eurozone but great news for Irish breweries exporting or looking to export.

Exports of Irish beers could be boosted further by positive indicators within the Eurozone. Consumer sentiment for March 2015 is at its highest levels since 2007. Confidence has been boosted by the QE programme combined with falling unemployment and low oil prices. What does this mean? Quite simply private consumption is expected to rise by 2% this year and 1.5% in 2016 (source: Capital Economics). People will socialise with confidence and in economic terms this could involve boosts to nondurable goods (e.g. off licences) and services (e.g. bars, restaurants etc). This would underpin economic recovery within the Eurozone but sadly it’s one that will not be felt equally across all countries/regions.

Global finance and trade

So Irish breweries can benefit from the weak Euro currency to export to the US, UK and further afield and they can take advantage of the recovering consumer demand in the Eurozone. Irish exports would not only match quality but they could also be competitive alongside US and UK products exported to these markets. The costs associated with small batch exports may be offset by the strong dollar and sterling.

It is timely then that two significant events took place last week that hopefully will result in Irish breweries delivering on their export potential. Bord Bia’s Marketplace International 2015 saw 150+ Irish food and drink companies having access to 400+ buyers from over 25 countries. They could showcase their offerings in a sort of speed-dating format (i.e. a series of 20 minute one-on-one meetings). It was great to see Brú Brewery, Jack Cody’s, Metalman, Rye River and Trouble Brewing involved. Franciscan Well was also there as Bord Bia promotes all food and beverage products produced in Ireland. By and large each of the breweries have limited exports to date (e.g. average 5% of total sales) with the exception of Rye River reporting 40% export sales.

The other event was IFE 2015, a biannual food and drink event held in London. It brings together approximately 27,000 buyers and suppliers of food & drink products and takes over the entire Excel Arena in London. I worked at this event in 2005 and the scale is simply staggering. Whilst there was no Irish brewery exhibiting this year, the event is extremely useful for networking in the trade and meeting potential buyers and distributors. It was great to see the likes of Cotton Ball in Cork making it over to the expo.

Breweries at Bord Bia's Marketplace 2015
Breweries at Bord Bia’s Marketplace 2015

Hopefully events such as these can help these breweries and the others in Ireland take advantage of the extremely favourable export conditions. Irish breweries should be confident that they can follow in the footsteps of Carlow, the Porterhouse, Eight Degrees, Rye River and White Hag in having a significant export strategy. They should also aim to build on one-off or limited exports if it’s in keeping with their own business strategies. Isn’t it great to see the likes of Kelly’s Mountain on sale in Russia?

Scale’s obviously going to be an issue but improved market access can help attract additional finance. They may need ongoing help from Government agencies and the sector could benefit from more hands-on support from Enterprise Ireland. If negotiations on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are concluded, Irish SMEs are expected to benefit most from the new EU-US trade deal. This is some time off however and while it would make it easier to do general business in the US, the peculiar post-prohibition regulatory regime will remain in place.

This is not to forget that the market is still growing at home and the weak Euro may have a positive knock-on effect on consumer demand for Irish produced beers over UK and US imports. So far their prices have been steady but for how long can Irish distributors keep them steady? It will be interesting to watch effect, if any, does the exchange rates have on Wetherspoons’ prices as well.

“Sophisticated” establishments should not ignore beer

What does it take to strike a right balance between beer and other alcoholic products? Specialist beer bars are on the up and so too are places like vintage cocktail bars. The beer bar often has recognised the need to have a good whiskey selection for example. However, a recent visit to Dawson Street’s Peruke & Periwig shows that so-called “destination” bars have a long way to go.

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Perusing the spirit selection and extensive cocktail menu, one is struck by the attention to detail and the creative side to the business. The prices charged reflect this. Such places clearly want to be a top class drinking establishments. So why does this bar and others ignore their beer selection? Tell me it’s not based on the saying “beer and liquor makes you sicker“?

Want the place to ooze class and sophistication? Don’t ignore the beer offering. Meticulous attention is given to the spirits and other ingredients for cocktails. This is let down by a somewhat lazy approach to beer. A beer menu doesn’t have to run to a hundred different varieties.

The limited and largely unimpressive beer menu alongside the wine list. Dungarvan's beers used to feature but no more.
The limited and largely unimpressive beer menu. Dungarvan’s beers used to feature.

Why don’t they adopt a similar approach to wine? Bars such as these often have a limited but somewhat better thought-out wine selection. If you want class why not have a Trappist beer or two? An IPA is popular amongst the fashionistas. How about a locally produced lager? A couple of well-thought out beers is all you need and continues that attention to detail that is afforded to other alcoholic offerings.

It’s the little things that can let a place down and not maximise the enjoyment for more patrons. Yes, they’re popular and generate substantial income from their core offerings. It wouldn’t take a significant effort to improve the beers. Advertising the likes of Murphy’s Red alongside the likes of Yellow Spot doesn’t exude sophistication. Top class hotels are also guilty of this approach.

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It’s time for these places to step up their beer game. They can even make a big thing over stocking craft beers. As I was leaving Peruke & Periwig I heard two people in there for an after-work beer and they were looking for a “cleansing ale” or a “small pint” of some variety. Bars like this can go to places that we resent by cashing in on the “in thing”. So why ignore good beer? Until then, I’ll stick with ordering a coffee.

A project to catch drinkers on the hop

Guinness is at it again. Following up on last September’s kickoff, hitting Irish outlets in October, a new beer has been released as part of the Brewers Project. The new beer’s a departure from the porter and stout category. They’ve even leaped outside completely.

Hop House 13 is a lager. I have heard plenty of chatter on how the brewer doesn’t like such beers but persevered for the sake of making a decent but different take on the style. At 4.1%, the folk in St. James’ Gate are attempting to compete in the lager category against old and new offerings by other macro breweries and even those they brew under licence. It’s certainly priced that way. If it eats into craft beer sales (if being sold in the same pub), I’m sure they’ll take that too.

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To cover all bases, not only is this aimed at the lager drinker it also is trying to cash in on the “cool” drinker. The one who may want to appear fashionable because he or she has heard of something called “hop”. To make it even easier and perhaps a more attractive proposition Guinness has gone and put it smack bang into the name of the beer. This is the “Fr Trendy” of beers.

Hop House 13 pours a clear golden colour. So a big tick for that. Little perceptible hop aroma. There’s citrus and apricot in tasting so I’m told. I got the subtle citrus flavours but it had more of a red berry than apricot taste for me. However, I tried this after judging a beer competition and my palate was fairly shot.

I have tried this beer on two separate occasions. It could prove popular as the weather gets better. Already countless “sure there’s a grand stretch in the evening” comments can be heard. It could pass muster for fans of summer ale as there’s a teaspoon of bitterness in the beer. It’s a little thin and watery but overall not a bad attempt.

The “crafty” Brewers Project appears to be picking up momentum. Hop House 13 will be featuring in bars across the island but not in all of them. It’ll be a similar rollout to Dublin Porter. The Brewers Project is clearly becoming a brand, label (or call it what you will) in its own right.

I’m just waiting for the day when I might overhear a drinker remark that “13” refers to the types of hops in the beer. For the record, there’s only three: mosaic, topaz and galaxy.

You could have worse beers than this but you could certainly have better. This is where it fits in. Could be better, could be worse.

Bud attacking the craft beer drinker not the beer

Budweiser ran an ad during the Super Bowl that has attracted a significant controversy. The ad isn’t an attack on craft beer, it’s far more sinister than that. It’s an attack on the craft beer drinker. It uses tactics straight out of the American conservative playbook to target democrats by branding them as elitist, smug and self-righteous. They made liberal and well-educated negative in the political discourse. Now Budweiser is branding “craft beer” drinkers as north eastern liberals and west coast hippies. They’re simply the counter-culture to real beer drinking America.

To examine this, you have to look at the three different ads Budweiser aired during the Super Bowl. We have the whimsical ad that keeps people talking about long after the game ends and this one certainly did. Gone are the days of Wazzup or the Budweiser frogs. In their place is an ad called “Brewed the Hard Way” that’s trying to put across the message that Budweiser is a beer for the many, not just the few. To put it bluntly, it’s are putting out the message their beer is for ordinary Americans and not elitist beer drinkers. “Let them sip their… pumpkin peach ale” because the Budweiser is “brewed the hard way” for hardworking people.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siHU_9ec94c

Yes, craft beer enthusiasts can at times take things too far. There are those that see beer as the new in thing, those that have moved beer appreciation to a level that of a superior wine club and of course those that talk people’s ears off about beer. Not all drinkers are enthusiastic about beer as we are. Our passion for beer can come across a little too much at times. It affects the one true thing that beer has above all other alcoholic products, its accessibility. It is this very point that the company’s attacking.

The first ad has attracted a lot of the attention of the beer community out there but another ad run during the game also has craft drinkers in its crosshairs. The “Clydesdale Beer Run” is set in a supermarket where a customer first picks up case of beer that’s clearly not Budweiser (or any other macro brand for that matter). As soon as he does this a Clydesdale horse appears and plainly isn’t happy. Needless to say the customer then opts for a case of Budweiser and slowly backs away. The tagline is “Don’t forget your Buds”. This ad’s quite sinister in that it practically invokes the infamous 100 percent share of mind campaign that began almost 20 years ago. Whilst that campaign focused on strong-arming distributors, this ad targets the actual customer. It’s interesting to note that these ads and the share of mind campaign were both borne out of surges in popularity for craft beer, not its macro-rivals.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAsjRRMMg_Q

Finally, “Lost Dog” is a continuation of Budweiser ads of recent years designed to pull on the heartstrings of viewers. In the past, they even promoted pet adoption in one ad. This ad shows a pick-up truck driving country-boy looking for his missing dog who in turn is looking for his owner. This is an out-and-out American family-values ad (although the song’s a cover of 500 Miles by local band the Proclaimers). It continues the theme of Budweiser being the beer of traditional small-town America that’s resilient against change. It’s trying to convey certainty in an uncertain world. Craft beer is just one more uncertainty. Bud’s just plain folksy and uncomplicated.

What Budweiser fails to mention is that it itself is no longer American, as its global HQ’s in Belgium. It’s more than likely of course that failure to mention this was simply an oversight. So too did they omit to acquiring a portfolio of craft breweries, the most recent of which took place 10 days before the Super Bowl kicked off. But what are #BestBuds for if we can’t remind them of this?

Jack Cody’s Puck Pilsner, my choice of a beer for 2015

Back in November Breandán Kearney asked me to suggest an Irish beer that I think “people should try in 2015 (something new or old)”. He was putting together a post for his excellent website www.belgiansmaak.com on 30 Fantastic Irish Beers You Have To Try in 2015 (As Suggested by Ireland’s Beer Geeks and Experts), which he published earlier this week.

Check out Breandán and Elisa's excellent site on adventures in beer & chocolate (www.belgiansmaak.com)
Check out Breandán and Elisa’s excellent site on adventures in beer & chocolate (www.belgiansmaak.com)

The only stipulation was “that the beer be Irish”. This was no easy task as it’s a bit like choosing your favourite film etc. It got me thinking about whether to suggest a completely new beer to look out for in 2015 without having tried it. Also, I was up against 29 others in the race to get dibs on the beer choice as Breandán was operating on a first-come, first-served basis.

The beer I chose was Puck Pilsner from Jack Cody’s in Drogheda for reasons outlined below. There have been a few really good lagers produced in Ireland in recent years. Bo Bristle has an excellent pilsner and Eight Degrees Barefoot Bohemian goes down well in tastings. Of course there’ve been bad examples as well, sometimes from the same brewery. Does the Porterhouse really need to persist with Chiller? Surely it could free up a tap and confidently push one year-round lager in the form of Hersbrucker (okay I know Temple Braü is a big seller for them).

No doubt 2015 will see a range of new beers to try. No doubt many won’t just have a name but also many will not have even been dreamt up by the brewers themselves. I’ll be looking out for some of the new ones around festival time (and there’ll be a fair few of them over the year). Hopefully some of the beers from the Irish Craft Beer and Cider festival will be released during the year, particularly for me anyway some of the saisons.

Can't wait to try the beers coming from their new Dublin brewery
Can’t wait to try the beers coming from their new Dublin brewery

It won’t be just a case of new beer but also new breweries, with Killarney’s Torc Brewing becoming the first born of 2015. Look out for the brewery’s Wheat (Belgian Wit) and Amber ales. Other beers I’m looking to try in 2015 will be coming from Niall and Kev in Stone Barrel. They’ll be brewing their beers on their own kit (well a communal one) in Dublin that was the old Galway Hooker kit and Emerald before them. They’d been contract brewing before that and split production between Ireland and England. I can’t wait to see what the lads will come up with when using their own kit.

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So my rationale for Jack Cody’s Puck Pilsner (4.5% ABV) as a beer to look out for in 2015 is a follows and is as appears on Breandán’s site:

With the growth in craft beer set to continue, a lot of attention is placed on the more unusual, stronger or hop-forward beers (or even a combination of all three). We can all too easily lose sight or even under-appreciate the beers that win over new fans to craft beer, perhaps even more so when it comes to lagers.

Jack Cody’s Puck Pilsner can please ardent macro-lager drinkers but is complex enough for real beer fans. It pours a clean straw-like in colour, with earthy and subtle honey notes on the nose. The earthy notes continue on tasting before yielding to a cracker-dry, bitter finish. It’s not overly carbonated (enough to clean the palate) and at 4.5% ABV it comfortably fits into the session beer realm. Puck Pilsner along with Bo Bristle’s Pilsner are two excellent versions to look out for in 2015 but are also perfect to introduce craft beer newbies to.