Plans to limit the number of off-licences in Dublin City

The new Dublin City Council Development Plan (2016-2022) will be finalised in September this year. Drafting the plan offers local councillors the opportunity to make significant decisions on the future direction of the city. Unfortunately, for some it is simply an opportunity to pander to nimbyism as well as trying to force through illogical measures.

Forget the fact that many existing buildings wouldn’t get planning permission under the proposed amendments to the plan. One particular area of concern is the following proposal to be a stated objective of Dublin City:

“To prohibit the further expansion of off-licences or part off-licences unless a compelling case can be made that there is not an over-concentration of such uses in any one area. In this respect, any application for an off-licence/part off-licence should include a map of all such establishments located within a 1km radius of the proposed development. In relation to stand alone off-licences an audit of the existing off-licence floorspace provision within 1km and an analysis of the need for the proposal in the locality shall be provided”.

This is a serious additional layer of restrictions on what is an already heavily regulated retail activity. This move is separate to the restrictions proposed in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. It could prevent new outlets opening or existing retail locations branching into off-premise alcohol sales. It is a one-size-fits-all approach that ignores local employment, the specialist nature of products sold and changing consumer patterns. It shouldn’t be seen as the panacea for tackling public drunkenness and anti-social behaviour.

It is contrary to the stated ambition in the draft development plan to “actively promote and protect the range of specialist shops within the inner city, which contribute to the character and attractiveness of the city as a destination for shopping”. Imagine specialist whiskey, wine or beer shops being prevented from opening because there’s a generic off-licence somewhere within a kilometre of their proposed location. At the very least if the proposal remains, it would add significantly to the high costs of applying to open a shop.

Craft beer has been gaining a significant foothold in the likes of Spar, Centra and smaller Tesco stores. This proposal could limit stores such as these moving into off-sales, if they aren’t already selling alcohol. It also could limit new stores opening and offering alcohol sales. They already have to cease sales by 10pm and can be prevented from sales at the discretion of the Guards.

This proposal is not based on empirical evidence or regulatory logic. Why not let the market decide on this one? Off-licences are a source of employment, collect considerable duties and VAT for the State and would pay commercial rates to the council. Many are supporters of independent craft producers, providing them with a sales channel for their products and an important alternative to pubs.

Lovin’ Loverbeer in Dublin

Back in the middle of November, a unique beer festival took place in the Italian Quarter. Organised by Wallace Wine Bars, Quartiere In Fermento was a small festival celebrating the artisanal beer scene in Italy.

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Unfortunately I had to be on my best behaviour and limit myself to only four glasses of beer as I had a charity event to go to that evening. So given this constraint, what else could I try but Loverbeer.

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The piedmont brewery specialises in sour beers, with about a dozen in its range. The Piedmont brewery’s located about 40 minutes outside of Turin and unlike the neighbouring vineyards, it welcomes spontaneous fermentation with open arms. The brewery was set up by Valter Loverier (hence the “Loverbeer” name) in 2010. Valter was on hand at the festival to introduce his exceptional beers.

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The suggested order for tasting the four beers he brought was to commence with Dama Brun-a, which is extremely tart and tannin-laden barrel-aged brew. An Oud Bruin in style, it had pleasant similarities with Rodenbach. Next up was plummy Beer Brugna that while sour, it had a dark fruit subtle sweetness. Then it was on to BeerBera, a wild brew that is fermented with Barbera, the iconic grape of the region. This grape is used to create big, powerful Piedmont reds and it doesn’t disappoint in this beer. Finally, with taste buds already beginning to wane due to indulging on glasses of the sours, it was time to up the ante for my last beer from the brewery and indeed my last one at the festival. The time had come to taste Papessa, a 7% abv sour Russian Imperial Stout. This was the perfect beer to finish on as the dark chocolate-laden beer complimented the fruits in the previous three that had taken up residence on my palate.

It was great to try these beers in the company of Valter and here his take on each one. These beers and all those at the festival will be making appearances in the Italian Quarter restaurants (either in bottles or on draught). Look out for them!