Craft beer’s part of new Government 10 year growth strategy

Food Wise 2025, the new national strategic report for the agri-food sector was published this week. Craft beer and whiskey are designated key areas of focus over the next decade. This is the latest acknowledgement by Government that efforts must be made to allow these producers to continue to grow and expand.

The overall objective for beer and whiskey is to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit of the producers. A dedicated sectoral strategy is needed setting out “supports, targets and best practice for the entry, development and progression of these companies to 2025”. An increase in R&D and innovation across the sector is needed but for that to happen there needs to be a 10% increase in funding per annum. The need to develop skills in brewing and distilling is recognised, particularly in the areas of mentoring and training. I would like to see this progressed further into the development of a formal apprenticeship scheme for aspiring brewers. This would result in a blend of formal qualifications and on-the-job experience in a structured format.

Develop a sectoral strategy for food and drink SMEs, which sets out supports, targets and best practice for the entry, development and progression of these companies to 2025      Food Wise 2025

It is little surprise that a key focus is in boosting export sales. We’re a small island with a small but growing population. Yes, there’s plenty of room for breweries to expand at home but for those that want to, we need to help them gain access to international markets. One just needs to look at the approach that Carlow Brewing Co took all those years ago, a big effort in exporting because the market wasn’t really available in the country. That was when there were only a handful of craft breweries. We’ve over 70 now and the domestic market still has a long way to go in order to open fully to them. That is not to say that craft isn’t growing, it is and will continue to do so. I’m just saying a craft beer export strategy could really boost those already able to ship internationally. However, we also need to support those not yet ready but have aspirations to do so. Food Wise 2025 recognises the need to “continue to work directly with indigenous companies to identify new export market opportunities and develop services and supports for companies to facilitate export growth”. It also sees that specific market knowledge of the US market needs to be provided. This maybe more targeted at whiskey but there’s room for Irish craft beer too. The time has never been better for crafting an export strategy for beer.

Continue to work directly with indigenous companies to identify new export market opportunities and develop services and supports for companies to facilitate export growth   Food Wise 2025

The focus on beer in whiskey and beer in the report is hardly surprising. Minister for Agriculture and the Marine, Simon Coveney TD has been a more than a fair share of beer events during this time in the department. It’s a good news story, entrepreneurs starting up, producing products in the country and looking to export – what more could you need! However, there’s a growing trend that whiskey is getting more attention than craft beer. Yes, a distillery requires far more investment in capital than a brewery, not least with the three years needed for maturation alone. Also, whiskey has the snob factor and beer suffers unfairly for not been seen as civilised as other mainstream alcoholic drinks, with the possible exception of cider. The need to “develop an Irish Whiskey and food pairing trail as a major tourist attraction and to differentiate Irish food and drink produce” is singled out but we should also be pushing for a brewery tap licence to be introduced.

Beer, cider and whiskey makers must be equally respected, supported and championed. They all tell the same story. We can produce excellent, diverse and quality products on this small island of ours.

Musings on the best Irish beer fest yet

The All-Ireland Craft Beer and Cider Festival has attracted a lot of attention online and save from repeating a previous post, I have opted to provide a series of short observations on the festival. Oh and did I mention that I attended all four days because where else would I be!

Packed house on Festival Saturday

In no particular order:

  1. Biggest festival yet! Huge crowds over the four days (over 10,000 according to Ruben @TaleofAle). It was packed on the Friday and many had made their way up from the Aviva after the Ireland-Sweden march but Saturday was something else. The crowds simply kept on coming with a queue to get in and an even bigger one at the token stand.  if keeps growing like this, it’ll probably have to move into the main hall next door.
  2. Two collaboration brews can be best described as sweet. The O’Hara’s/JW Sweetman’s version containing honey. There’s a story to be told about it but can be best summed up as there’s a group of people out there nerdier than beer enthusiasts – honey people! Troubled Hooker from guess which two breweries (see my previous post if you can’t for the life of you work out who it is) was a mistake gone well. It was supposed to be a Double IPA but became almost a sweet Belgian Tripel, even sweeter than Kwak.
  3. Dry-hopped Irish reds, what’s the point? The malt sweetness is there for a reason. Leave the hops for the “Irish” pale ales & co.
  4. The Hop Randall festival goes to try the Kinsale Pale Ale with added Simcoe, Citra and Nelson Sauvin. The Hop Randall  has now been introduced by the Bull and Castle and the Bierhaus in Cork . Has it already been condemned to the realm of gimmick?
  5. Franciscan Well wasn’t picketed by members of the craft purist front and the casks ran dry fairly early on. Punters weren’t put off by this big beer-owned concern.
  6. In previous years Dungarvan trialled their seasonal beers for the following year (Comeragh Challenger and Mahon Falls). Cormac brought six variants with him, including a Saison, Amber Ale, Mild, session DIPA, Wit IPA and an IPA. I  still don’t know which or if any are scheduled for release  in 2014.
  7. Every time the show the All-Ireland Hurling Final On festival Sunday, it ends in a draw.
  8. In past years people flocked to the White Gypsy stand to imbibe on the stronger beers available. However, I don’t know what is happening down in Templemore as a string of very fine session beers turned up at this year’s festival.
  9. Did every band at the festival do a cover of The Lumineers’ Ho Hey? Don’t get me started about the Johnny Cash covers!
  10. Two barley wines at the festival and two were duly sampled. I know barley wines are known for their port/sherry like comparisons but I’m not going to go into how one was sweet (Porterhouse) and one was dry (O’Hara’s). That’s just going too far!
  11. Putting the newer breweries in one corner (although Brú was across the way) grouped in one corner was a great way of concentrating interest in them. One thing noticed is that the newer breweries have fantastic branding and T-shorts for sale (in the past this sort of behaviour was confined to Metalman and the Porterhouse).
  12. Beers to look out for include Eight Degrees’ Amber Ella (might give Howling Gale Ale a run for its money in the popularity stakes), Kinsale Pale Ale (a great beer to show to festival novices that Ireland can match Sierra Nevada et al), Mountain Man’s Hairy Goat (nice copper ale for the autumn) and hopefully Five Lamps will release the darker version of their Liberties Ale (they have a lager so why put out a golden ale?).
The fantastic branding from some of the newer breweries at the festival

 

Music to my beers

There are few things in life that are impervious to fashion trends and beer isn’t one of them. We’re seeing more and more trends emerge beyond merely hopping beers to the nth degree and seasonal brews. This year for instance we were promised more single hop beers and wet/green hop beers on the market, as well as more Belgian-inspired beers from the US. Let us not forget the increasing range of beers that have been aged in whiskey, wine, cognac and virgin-oak barrels. However, one trend has been emanating from England and that has to be collaboration brews with musicians. Not content with brewing beers conceived by a myriad of writers and reviewers ranging from Roger Protz to Pete Brown and many more in between, breweries have latched on to this idea to reach out to new audiences as well as trying to achieve some sort of “coolness” factor.

Robinsons in Stockport has really kicked off this new trend (while there were a few music-inspired brews before hand) by rolling out across the UK a beer produced alongside Elbow, which was released in bottles and cask. The followed this up with the May release of Trooper, a beer produced by Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson (I don’t think Fuller’s will be too pleased as Bruce lives around the corner from their Chiswick brewery!). I wish I could tell you more about the bands themselves but I am terrible when it comes to music. All I can tell you about either is that growing up I thought Iron Maiden had the coolest stage show due to the presence of Eddie and their plane is cool. My musical knowledge thankfully is still being passed on by my older brother.

sprite

One of my all time favourite bands, Madness have also brought out Gladness, a beer produced by Essex’s Growler Brewery. In May 2013, Hanson released their excellently titled Mmmhops. Enter Shikari have also brought out one. Although I have to take it on good advice that they are actually a band because I have never heard of them and apparently they’ve little in common with Shakira. Madness’ brew is a golden ale produced to resemble a lager and perhaps there is no more fitting beer to sum up a London band that made it big in the 1980s. However, if you ask northerners like my Mancunian cousins, they would think it just sums up the softer inhabitants of southern England.

label-glad

A recent musically inspired brew available in Dublin is Reverend and the Makers from Thornbridge. This is a fantastic summer ale that carries a fantastic aroma from a combination of potpourri strength aromatic hops of Amarillo, Galaxy and Cascade with Fuggles performing as the support act. The beer has a crisp and slight bitter finish. The recent warm spell of weather (long may it continue) of course helped as did the fact that I had this on draft in Probus Wines & Spirits. At 4.8% it is a pleasant session tipple and rumour has it that Reverened and the Makers are a band that I might like. I do like things from Sheffield such as Pulp and Sheffield Wednesday and I think the innovative brews from Thornbridge as some of the finest out there, especially in d’Engerland.

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The number of music-inspired collaborative brews seems to be increasing by the day. Indeed as I was putting this piece together it was announced that Mumford and Sons have teamed up with Sussex brewery Harvey’s to produce Lewes Stopover Brew, a 4% “soft” golden ale made with Fuggle and Golding hops. While it is being brewed specially for the Lewes music festival (Idea for the Electric Picnic?), I wouldn’t imagine it will be too long until it is put into more regular production.

These beers can a bit of fun and do attract a lot of attention. Trooper has become Robinsons’ fastest selling beer of all time and reached a million pints within 6 weeks of its launch and six months ahead of target. Perhaps this will inspire some of Irish brewers to follow suit.  I can say is that I can’t wait for is a beer developed by the Saw Doctors (with Galway Hooker per chance?), the breweries down in Cork can look to the Frank and Walters or Sultans of Ping FC (or even Crystal Swing) and Trouble Brewing could link up with Bell X1, Damien Rice or even Christy Moore and Five Lamps and the Porterhouse have a number to choose from. I don’t think we will be seeing either Kinnegar or Donegal Brewing Company bringing out one with Daniel O’Donnell (maybe of it is brewed with a nice cup of tea or horlicks?), although maybe one of the Brennan’s might be keen.