Grilling the property rights of the Irish red ale

With the weather showing signs of summer and then not again, BBQ season is upon us. When I say BBQ, I mean grilling in the truest context and not slow roasting for 24 hours or longer. Lighting a BBQ can make it seem that way though. Think of all the hours of enjoyment standing over it trying to get the coals to catch fire. It’s made all worse by people sitting around watching and remarking on your every move. Comments such “did you use lighter fluid?” or the “quick fire bag of coal is brilliant” hitting you like accusatory daggers. Then eventually it lights, there may be an uneven heat across the grill requiring the frantic shuffling of burgers or whatnot around so they don’t burn too quickly. At least having beer on hand can take some of the edge off of the hassle of cooking al fresco.


Yesterday, I had an excuse to work through a whole range of red ales (sadly Bay Ale from Galway Ale had disappeared from the fridge by the time I got there). It’s interesting putting different reds, like other beer styles, together to compare variations. Red ale is much maligned by the craft drinker, all too easily dismissed as one-dimensional or worse. For someone who was a fan of Writer’s Red (aka Rebel Red) by Franciscan Well and who drank it by the pitcher full in The Gingerman, I will always have a fondness for the style. At times I have acted in a manner that can only be described as quite frankly a bizarre sense of patriotism in standing up for the style to some CAMRA members all too quick to tell you what they think of it – it’s too gassy, too sweet etc.


The style as we know it mightn’t be that old nor originating here but there’s no doubt that it has become associated with us. Classic reds may have similar flavour profiles to dry roasted peanuts, some may be too heavy on the caramel and others draw on bitterness for their identity. Who knows what the future holds for this style? It would perhaps be a stretch to see an attempt to adopt a Geographical Indicator status for the Irish red. The road is  certainly open under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) for more products to adopt such status. Imagine, the likes of George Killian’s Irish Red having to alter its name. This is notwithstanding its very own identity crisis being marketed one time as an Irish red ale and now as a premium lager.


It’s unlikely the Irish beer industry would look to adopt a GI for the Irish Red Ale. The industry doesn’t act like that, well not yet anyway. Of course, property rights have been a feature of the beer industry. Marketing rights have been a key driver so too has been use of proprietary productin techniques along with informal IP protection techniques. Look at the Trappist breweries distinguishing them from other abbey beers. However, as the market becomes more competitive, more friction can be expected. Thankfully a lot of this can be resolved through dialogue and in cases where it looks like such an approach will fail, public outcry has so far convinced brewers to keep things out of court. It won’t always be like that however. We’re already seeing whiskey producers refining the definition of what is Irish whiskey. Will Irish cream liquor be next?


Brewers are already making moves to protect what can be called “Irish”, a measure to stop “crafty” imports from the UK and elsewhere. They clearly want to prevent the somewhat duplicitous nature of labelling á la Irish smoked salmon v smoked Irish salmon happening here. A logo is but one small step. A GI for red ale may achieve little too. Beer styles are often products of many places. You may have to be fairly brazen to claim ownership of a beer style either collectively or individually. Look what Anchor Brewing did with “steam beer”, although it was important for lambic producers.  I’d settle for a redoubling of the efforts to market craft beer and the people behind them by Government. This would match the enthusiasm of the brewers and consumers. Additionally, we have to give brewers the support to protect their IP, which dare I say it may include their brand, beer name and logos etc.

All of this may seem a fairly long train of thought but that’s what you get when you BBQ. Plenty of time to muse about all and sundry. At least I had a few red ales to keep me company.

On the radio talking about the business of beer

Last Saturday I was invited on to RTE’s The Business Show along with Miriam Atkins, editor of Food and Wine Magazine to discuss craft beer. Conor Brophy was sitting in for regular host Richard Curran.

It was a lot of fun discussing a broad range of issues impacting the beer business. Yes, it meant an early start for a Saturday morning but anyone who knows me would know (for better or worse) that I’m always happy to talk about beer. It was a quick 11 minutes or so and I just hope that it goes to show that beer is a topic deserving of more airtime.


Beer Wars – Craft vs. “Crafty”

“The world’s population of beer connoisseurs has been steadily expanding over the last few years, and in the States this week a disgruntled beer drinker from California, Evan Peters, is suing Miller-owned Blue Moon for falsely advertising itself as a “craft” product. Are there some big beer wars brewing? Aidan Sweeney, Beer Sommelier, and Miriam Atkins from Food and Wine Magazine gave Conor an overview”.

Listen here

British general election 2015: political pint scoring

Britain goes to the polls tomorrow. The outcome of General Election 2015 will likely have an effect on the British beer industry, well, the entire alcohol industry. As a bit of a political anorak, I couldn’t help but scan each party’s manifesto to see what alcohol measures were being put forward. The following doesn’t include other business-friendly policies, such as commitments to reduce business rates, which would benefit the brewing industry.

Over the duration of this past parliament, an interesting shift has taken place in attitudes to the alcohol industry. This has been on the back of heavy lobbying by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), publicans, the industry directly and a few umbrella campaigns. Tax breaks for small breweries were improved. The infamous duty escalator was abolished and Budget 2015 marked the third year in a row of cuts to the beer tax. These cuts were small but symbolic. The lasting impact, however, of the duty escalator remains. Between 2008 and 2012, excise duty on beer increased by 42%, thanks to the British economy witnessing high inflation during those years. This is the big reason that pints have been topping £4 and above.

Of course, alcohol is again being singled out as a key contributor to crime and violence. A number of measures are being put forward to tackle the anti-social behaviour. More support is being promised by the majority of parties to tackle the issue of alcohol dependency. These are the ‘old dependables’ in policy terms.

The introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) seems to be the flavour of the day. The rationale put forward is that it will help to curb alcohol-fuelled violence and reduce binge drinking etc.  Interestingly, the Conservative party remains silent on the issue. Back in 2013, the party ditched plans to introduce such a measure at the eleventh hour. Only UKIP remain vehemently opposed to MUP. While some are awaiting the outcome of the legal challenge to the Scottish case (Liberal Democrats), others go so far as to suggest prices to be charged per unit. This can range from 50p per unit on all alcohol (Plaid Cymru) to “40p per unit of beer and cider to 50p per unit of spirits” (Ulster Unionist Party).

Alcohol sponsorship of sport is also proving to be a hot topic. Yes, this may be more of an issue for macro-breweries but there are potential local issues involving regional and small breweries. While we may not see it in football, there are a number of county cricket teams that receive some sponsorship from their local breweries. This is not to say it doesn’t happen with rugby. The Green King IPA Championship aside, local clubs often look to their local breweries for support. The Tories, Labour and UKIP are campaigning to retain such sponsorship. The Lib Dems are silent on the issue but the Greens are against such sponsorship and are advocating a complete ban on “advertising (direct or indirect) and product placement on remuneration or reward”.


Two parties are actively promoting ‘personal freedom’ policies but come at it from completely different angles. The Green Party wants to decriminalise cannabis because “people should not be criminalised for the recreational use of a drug which is no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco”. In fact, they want to regulate it in a similar manner to alcohol and they are pushing for tougher regulations on alcohol. On the other hand, UKIP wants to reverse the plain packaging legislation and to “amend the smoking ban to give pubs and clubs the choice to open smoking rooms provided they are properly ventilated and physically separated from non-smoking areas”.

This is not to say that policies won’t pop up in the next Parliament. Some may be harder to enact. Examples of such policies may be along the lines of UKIP’s one-time policy to ban long-term welfare recipients from buying alcohol and the Scottish National Party’s attempts to prohibit purchasing of alcohol online from English retailers. Other examples might include banning happy hours in Northern Ireland and the DUP proposal to explore the introduction of a rates levy on off licences and supermarkets that sell alcohol. The revenue generated by this “could be used for dealing with adverse impacts of alcohol abuse in society”. The Green Party wants to go so far as to increase the tax on the “net profits of tobacco companies and companies producing alcohol for consumption”. These proposed taxes would be in propoprtion to the amount of alcohol in the finished products.


CAMRA have been running a visible campaign ( in the run-up to the general election, including stands at the main party conferences. They have received pledges from over 1,000 prospective MPs to “support well-run community pubs”, “promote Britain’s 1,300 breweries” and “represent pub goers and beer drinkers”. This includes letters from Ed Miliband and David Cameron.  “The Labour Party are leading the pack as most pub and beer friendly,” according to the real ale body, with pledges from 292 election candidates, “followed closely by the Green Party (264), with Liberal Democrats in third place (225), Conservatives in fourth (160), and UKIP bringing up the rear in fifth (118), although famously pro-pub UKIP leader Nigel Farage is among those pledging support”.

Food and drink have played a visible part in the general election campaign, from Ed Miliband bungling the eating of a bacon sandwich to the constant photos of Nigel Farage with a pint in hand. They’re easy props for photo ops, but they’re very presence may be significant. It’s reasonable to assume that the recent policy developments and new promises could indeed herald better times for Britain’s beer industry.

Of course, if a voter casts their ballot purely on the basis of what their MP might do for alcohol, their beer goggles might be on a little tight… But as a beer lover, I have to say, I’ve heard worse reasons for going out and voting.

World Press Freedom Day in Brooklyn and elsewhere

Today is World Press Freedom Day, a United Nations backed initiative to mark freedom of press and calls on all governments to respect free speech and expressionism. Sadly in 2015, attacks are still taking place on members of the fourth, and increasingly on the fifth, estate. These rights must be continued to be protected today as much as people fought for them in years past.


We should fully appreciate the risk journalists take in covering stories. Veronica Guerin will long live in the Irish consciousness and there’s a wonderful tribute to her in the Newseum in Washington, DC. Journalists are daily taking risks to draw our attention to issues that are occurring long from our doorsteps.

Brooklyn Brewery, a member of the Class of ’88 craft beer start-ups, is a company that actively recognises this. It’s hardly surprising given that co-founder Steve Hindy was one-time Middle East correspondent for Associated Press in the early 1980s. It was during this time that he picked up the home-brewing bug. It was a popular pastime amongst diplomats based in dry countries. I’ve come across Irish engineers based in Saudi Arabia who are keen Brewers because what else would they drink. Apparently they’ve become quite adept at in their words “converting” non-alcoholic beers into sometime supposedly passable.

Back in the US, home-brewing eventually led to Hindy to giving up the journalism game and start the brewery with Brooklyn neighbour Tom Potter. The brewery’s growth is an interesting story, including being criticised for contract brewing, Milton Glaser, launching Sierra Nevada in New York and giving Garrett Oliver a vehicle to unleash his talent on a global scale. These are covered in two books by Hindy, Beer School (with Tom Potter) and The Craft Beer Revolution. The latter is also Hindy’s take on the craft beer revolution and includes a number of interesting insights into the personalities, events and controversies that marked the last 40 years of the US craft brewing era.

He may no longer be a journalist but Hindy still tries to do his bit. He’s been known to give talks on the role of foreign correspondents and participate in charity and other fund-raising initiatives. For example, he hosts War Correspondents at the Brooklyn Brewery. It’s an annual series of talks to raise money for RISC (Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues), which provides free advanced first aid training to independent conflict reporters, photographers and filmmakers.


So for this World Press Freedom Day, I’ll raise a glass to journalists everywhere (even if I don’t always agree with what some of you write) with an appropriate beer for the occasion. What else could it be but Brooklyn Lager, a beer that people may overlook today but it helped win over a lot of people to craft beer. I even remember trying it a good few years back in a dingy bar inside New York’s Penn Station.

The beer pours polished copper. It has light floral and lemon notes on the nose. The flavour is earthy and herbal. Grassy notes are kept to a minimum. There’s healthy dose of bitterness both on tasting and in the finish. The malt backbone keeps the bitterness from getting away from itself. It’s a beer that’s crying out to have with a good club sandwich and chips.