Drinking for a good cause: the role of charity beer events

Craft beer is getting in on the scene of charity events. Joining the ranks of pub quizzes and races nights are charity beer tastings. I’ve hosted a number of these over the past few years but it’s great seeing them increase in popularity. They’re definitely a break in the monotony of the usual charity events, although a good pub quiz is good fun as well (earlier this year we even had one in Probus Wines so it coincided with good beer too). Tasting nights are no longer the sole preserve of the wine drinker. In fact, to broaden the appeal a combination of both works fantastically well.


So what’s the inspiration of the post you might ask? Well, recently I attended a Pop-Up Craft Beer night in the Inchicore Sports and Social Club. It was the latest fundraising event they organised for the renovation of the club’s roof. I really like the CIE Works and the surrounds so it was a great excuse the head down there. I had no idea of what to expect. Entrance was €5 and included a plate for the buffet (lots of artisan Irish cheese, bread and meat available). Of course, it wouldn’t be a craft beer event without Keogh’s crisps putting in an appearance too.


Beers had to be purchased and it was less of a tasting and more of a bar, although there were tasting notes provided. O’Hara’s Pale Ale was the only beer on draught and the others from the Porterhouse, Carrig and 12th Abbey were available in bottle. All the proceeds went to the roof so one was drinking for a good cause. For those not willing to try them, there were two Irish ciders (Dan Kelly’s & Ballyhook Flyer), as well as 2 types of red wine but only one white wine could also be purchased. A lot of fun was to be had and the club’s atmosphere made it easy to get chatting to those attending and to get their thoughts on the beers being sold.


While a given charity benefits an event like this, the ability of such evenings to introduce craft beer to a new audience shouldn’t be ignored. Take for instance people who show up to support the charity regardless of the event who go away with a new appreciation of a craft brewer or discovering a particular beer style. Charity beer tastings hit a wider audience than typically achieved through the usual craft beer channels and can be a good tool to win over new customers.

About Inchicore Sports and Social Club: It’s a community based organisation providing services and facilities for the people of Inchicore and surrounding areas. The Club provides a resource in a variety of ways to old and young in the Community. There is a bar, a lounge, a games room and a hall with a stage. Every week there are sing-along nights in the lounge. There is Snooker, Pool and Darts and we provide facilities for Community Festivals, Sports Days and local fundraising concerts, meetings, functions and a range of activities. The Club is open every week on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 7.30pm and on Tuesdays from 8.pm. We also open on other days and nights to facilitate bookings, functions, meetings and other activities. Annual membership subscription is €20 and €15 for senior citizens. For Up to date news about activities in the Club, check out its Facebook page: www.facebook.com/inchicoresportsandsocialclub

Pipeline politics of the good kind

I know a few people who used to slag me off about “pipeline politics” and the like but what has just been announced in Brugge (or Bruges if you’re that way inclined) is an interesting development. Those familiar with the city or a certain movie for that matter know that its medieval majesty does not lend it easier to get around by vehicle. This makes transportation of good into, around and out of the city difficult. So De Halve Maan, the only brewery operating within the city walls, has come up with a novel solution: a beer pipeline.


Funded by De Halve Maan itself, a 1.8-mile polyethylene underground pipeline will transport 6,000 litres of beer every hour between the brewery and its bottling facility located on the outskirts of the city. The journey is expected to take 15 to 20 minutes. The local council has backed this initiative as it will remove trucks from the city streets, easing congestion and carbon emissions, whilst ensuring production will still occur at the brewery site that attracts over 100,000 visitors per annum. Also, not having to contribute financially to the project is a significant bonus.

Could this happen in Dublin for instance? Think about the issues Guinness have transporting its products from St. James Gate right across the centre of city to Dublin Port. The famous barges are gone and trucks are the order of the day. A lot of movement takes place at night but it’s an expensive process and obviously not the most environmentally-efficient one (Guinness does have an ambitious green strategy).


The brewery’s solution is to use the Luas track (which runs to the entrance of the port) track during the night. This would require a small piece of track running from the brewery to join the line at Seán Heuston Bridge and a new track running from the entrance of the port to the dock. Guinness would provide the investment. However, the plan needs the backing of Dublin City Council and no doubt others such as the National Transport Authority. Sadly, due to the nature of our local government system it’s difficult to get ambitious and creative plans off the ground.

It’s amazing to think that it’s easier to get things to happen in a UNESCO World Heritage Site like Brugge.

The 9% VAT rate doesn’t apply to alcohol but should still be supported

In 2011, the Irish Government introduced the special 9% VAT rate on a range of goods and services within the tourism and hospitality sector. It was a temporary measure that was extended for a year in Budget 2014. To date, it is estimated that this has contributed to one in four new jobs being created in the economy. It benefits not only tourists but also Irish consumers. However, today SIPTU called for the removal of the 9% VAT rate. What particularly annoyed me about the coverage of this pre-budget news item was the pre-occupation of media sources with using alcohol to illustrate this news item. The 9% VAT rate does not apply to alcohol. It continues to be subject to the standard VAT rate of 23% and let’s not forget that it is added after the application of excise duties. I took to twitter on this and to their credit within a few short minutes RTÉ had changed their photo (this wasn’t just confined to the website as it was on the RTÉ News Now channel). A growing sign of organisations monitoring social media channels and responding when required.

Regardless, hopefully the Minister for Finance will announce the retention of the 9% VAT rate for another year in his Budget 2015 speech next week.


Hey porter, hey porter

October sees the two new Guinness products being sold in Ireland. Officially launched at the beginning of September, the Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter have been available to purchase in the UK for an entire month. I was invited along with a handful of other bloggers to take a peek inside Guinness’ Pilot Brewery and be one of the first people to try the two new offerings but have waited until now to post about them. The reason being not only did bottles hit the shelves this week but so too did the draught version of the Dublin Porter in selected pubs.

The preview evening was hosted by Nick Curtis-Davis the Head of Innovation for Guinness, along with ‎Pilot Plant Manager Luis Ortega and Master Brewer Gearóid Cahill. Marketed under the Brewers Project, the beers mark a new departure for the company because they’ve adopted the “freedom to fail” approach to innovation. They took a conscious decision that no market research be taken prior to releasing these beers. There’s apparently no plan or future roadmap for the series.


Critics were early to accuse them of copying the likes Shepherd’s Neame in releasing historic recreations. However, the Brewers Project is not a case of “beer archaeology” because of the extremely limited appeal this would have. The beers are “influenced” by historic recipes, not historic recreations. Take for instance West Indies Porter, it is inspired by brewery logs of 1801 for the first purpose-brewed export porter, using twice the amount of hops, by Guinness. The original recipe itself has evolved over time into Foreign Extra Stout. The 1796 reference on the Dublin Porter relates to the fact that year was the earliest record of porter being written down in the company diaries.

When Guinness lends its brand to new products people are quick to remember high profile failures. Breó anyone? Guinness drinkers have proven to be remarkably brand resilient over the years even treating the likes of Foreign Extra Stout with suspicion. So why re-attempt this now? The explanation lies in the explosion of craft beer and the role it has played in educating the consumer and reviving the interest in beer. It doesn’t pretend to be craft. These products aren’t aimed at the beer enthusiasts (they’ll try it once and tick it off the list) but rather an acknowledgement to the fact that some drinkers are now more likely to stray into the unknown and try something new. This benefits the overall beer market as it helps grow potential consumers for craft products. Part of the battle is always trying to get people to try new things.

So what are they like? First, up was the Dublin Porter (3.8% abv) that pours a dark mahogany colour. There’s roast coffee notes on the nose. It drinks dry with a little chewiness. For me it felt as if it was a tad over-carbonated. There’s a wee kick of bitterness in the finish.


This week I got to try the draught version of the Dublin Porter. It was interesting that they opted to serve this via CO2 and not with the assistance of nitrogen. This clearly differentiates it from draught Guinness and lacks the smoothness people have come to expect. This is no bad thing and helps to pick up on the various flavours and textures within the beer. I got more chocolate than coffee on the nose and on tasting but giving way to a dry nuttiness on the finish. The head dissipates fairly quickly and the beer itself comes across a fairly light in body. I would love to think that drinkers after becoming familiar with this on draught would reach for the excellent Dark Arts Porter by Trouble Brewing as time goes on.


Finally, the West Indies Porter at 6% abv is available in bottles only. It’s a beer that people will draw immediate comparisons with Foreign Extra Stout. Perhaps this is a little unfair. The beer pours dark brown and its aroma is reminiscent of a milky coffee that subdues notes of roasted coffee. There’s a slight chocolate hit on first taste. It’s initially creamy with vanilla sweetness but succumbs to a chewy bitterness on the finish.


For me, these beers aren’t remarkable in the way Guinness Special Export is. They’re grand and were interesting to try in a been-there, done-that sort of way but that’s not the point. These beers are not aimed at drinkers like me and nor should they be. Their importance can be in helping convince people loyal to a brand to try one or two variants. Hopefully, some of them will go on to discover the exciting beers available out there in a way that O’Shea’s Traditional Irish Stout (aka Carlow Brewing Company) in Aldi has done. Only time will tell.

A day for “duty free” pints

Today is the first Tax Free day in Ireland (well, Dublin really). It’s an initiative by a group of pubs who have come together to raise the awareness amongst pub goers the effects that excise duties and VAT has on the price of alcohol. The tactic is modelled on a similar one in the UK, now in its fourth year and coincidentally took place yesterday.

This is the latest initiative in the campaign to get the Irish Government reduce the excise duties. Irish consumers pay the second highest tax rates on alcohol in the EU and we’re the most expensive country in the Eurozone for buying booze, we’re approximately 70% above the Eurozone average. The Support Your Local campaign has bought many different parts of the industry together to put a more unified voice to Government but this step by the publicans alone has the ability to put the issue front and centre of the consumers themselves.


Tax is certainly a complex issue and one that many admit to neither understanding nor having any real interest in. But when it comes to what we buy, we should really pay attention. Excise and VAT hit us where it hurts. We often hear about the regressive nature of them and they are, hitting lower income earners disproportionately. They’re a direct tax on the consumer because more likely than not they’re passed on in full to consumers in the form of higher prices. In fact our inflation level has remained largely constant but the proportion of alcohol’s contribution to the overall inflation level has steadily increased.

With less than three weeks to Budget Day, the campaign is gaining momentum. Will it have the same result as the campaign to retain the 9% VAT rate for the tourism sector? It’s strange for tourists to see the likes of Jameson whisky more expensive in Ireland than at home. However, I would hope that Government pays close attention the effects that excise coupled with VAT is having on the domestic economy. Halting the increase in excise duties would help, just that little bit.

We simply have to get away from the Economics 101 practice of budgeting. It should not be a case of when in doubt, look to the “usual suspects” to raise cash. We’ve a burgeoning indigenous alcohol industry and taxing their product out of the market will help no one in the long term.