Up for the match: Craft beer on and off the pitch

Guinness announced a few weeks ago that it was extending its current sponsorship of rugby’s Pro12 tournament for a further four years. The company clearly hopes that this new commitment will give it added exposure and convince people to stop referring to the tournament as the Magners League. This is a similar problem to rugby’s European Cup as people long associate it as the Heineken (or simply ‘H in France) Cup. The new Guinness tie-in follows an unsuccessful attempt to become title sponsors of the English Premier League. Carling has made a return as the official beer of type-flight football.

Of course these sponsorship arrangements are important sources of funding of sports. Breweries will try to snap up as many competitions as possible to keep them out of the hands of competitors but also to respond to a more imminent concern – a blanket ban on alcohol sponsorship of sports. It already happens in France for example. Now the Irish Government and others are expected to follow suit. This undoubtedly will cause problems for the likes of the IRFU and GAA.

One of many Dublin GAA themed ads from Five Lamps
One of many Dublin GAA themed ads from Five Lamps

In addition to the sponsorship money forked over, sponsors can be typically expected to pay anywhere up to 50% of the amount paid telling consumers that the sponsor said team, league or event. This can range from exclusive bars inside stadia, branding pubs, competitions, TV ads, instore promotions etc. However, they are particularly exposed on their flank to one particular threat – ambush marketing; other companies getting in on the game with little to no money down.

In the run-up to the All Ireland Football Championship, Five Lamps Brewery hosted a couple of GAA-themed events. Other breweries have released sports-themed beer names such as Western Herd’s Danger Here. Rascals Brewing Co.have had a few like Holy Schmidt Pale Ale and 13 Seconds. Such approaches fit in with a sector that sees itself in the midst of a revolution, trying to usurp control from the larger, macro breweries. Attention-seeking from the likes of BrewDog and others is key to a sector that has minimal money to spend on advertising.

Beer names have long been a popular tool to pay tribute to sports but even more importantly, they attract attention in and around major events
Beer names have long been a popular tool to pay tribute to sports but even more importantly, they attract attention in and around major events

Ambush marketing is perhaps a little too harsh a prism to view such actions. It’s not like infamous battles of Coke versus Pepsi or Addidas versus Nike to claim hearts and minds of consumers. Craft breweries are using other tactics to reach out to consumers through sport. Trouble Brewing has hosted craft beer nights in Dalymount Park. Kelly’s Mountain have been involved with their local GAA club.

Craft breweries are approaching sponsorship opportunities strategically. Sweetwater Brewery was launched by Rye River in Ireland the week of Boston College-Georgia Tech American Football game. As if that wasn’t enough, SweetWater was available draught at The Trinity Welcome Village at Trinity College Dublin, the official tailgating venue for the Aer Lingus Classic. Over in the west, Wild Bat brewery has collaborated with Oughterard RFC on a limited edition rugby jersey.

Wild Bat taking it one step further with this limited edition Oughterard RFC jersey
Wild Bat taking it one step further with this limited edition Oughterard RFC jersey

It seems that craft beer is prepared to take on the larger breweries head on in their traditional domain – sponsorship in marketing. However, they’re doing it in their own special way. Sure, what else would we expect from them.

Five Lamps and a lantern

Do you know the Five Lamps? This is the earliest slogan of the Five Lamps Brewery and the correct answer at the time was Amiens Street. However, as friends were to discover the brewery has moved from its base on the North Strand to a fully-fledged brewing facility in the Liberties. The famous street light of the same name remains in Dublin 1. Confused? So were they!

William & Brian proudly showing off the new brewery I’m Dublin 8, not Dublin 1

The Probus beer club had the opportunity to visit Five Lamps recently and as luck would have it, the tour was to take place on Halloween night. Paul had chosen “Tarts and Vicars” as the theme so Brian Fagan (Chief of the Five Lamps) and William Harvey (Brewer) were slightly bemused by a handful of visitors turning up in costume (I went as a son-in-law of a preacher man). Most people reserved the right not to dress up and as someone said left a handful of us looking slightly awkward á la Bridget Jones.

William and his brews (& a lantern for good measure)

The Five Lamp brewery first came to prominence a little over a year ago through well designed branding appearing at several prominent pubs in the City Centre, namely McDaids and The Duke before spreading out to other well known pubs. It was interesting to see a craft beer focussing on what could be dubbed “non-specialist” beer pubs (I hope I’m not offending anyone and I know Carrig Lager had been available in The Duke since the early days). The lager itself was a departure for fans of highly carbonated and slightly bitter variations. It was definitely malt forward and has been refined over the past year. It is reminiscent for me of some of the Bavarian lagers, with a rich biscuity flavour. As a distinctly Dublin-branded beer, it was amusing to think that it was only until recently contract-brewed by Eight Degrees down in Co. Cork.

Got to love their branding

Brewing is now taking place in Dublin but in Dublin 8, which has caused problems for their identity because their next brew was named in honour of their new home – Liberties Ale. This was debuted at this year’s Irish Craft Beer & Cider Festival and is a pleasant pint indeed. It has a certain dryness to it with the slightest hop bite. Both the lager and ale were able to be sampled on the night.

Where better to enjoy a pint of Liberties Ale than at its source

Unfortunately, we were too early to try their latest release Honor Bright Red Ale, which was conditioning away in the bright tank. It was bottled this week and should be in shops over the coming days (as I was writing this, the first batch was delivered to Probus). Bottling is done manually and takes approximately seven and a half hours to complete (when I heard that I wonder why they would even bother and opt solely for kegs).

Manual bottle filler – 2 bottles at a time

The key to their beers according to William is accessibility both in terms of alcohol and bitterness levels. They’re in the business of session beers and have a capacity to brew approximately 650 litres per week. So alond with desires to do some special brews, they’re sticking with the tried and trusted “usuals” – a lager, a red, a golden ale and a porter. Following on from their red ale, the next release will be Blackpitts Porter, which was currently fermenting away. It’s great to see brewing up close in the centre of the city and their new brewery is further proof of the craft breweries re-establishing local brewing traditions . For example, the Blackpitts Porter Company existed over on Fumbally Lane in the Liberties in the late eighteenth century.

A brand spanking new brewery

Rounding off the visit was a selection of meat and cheese, along with homemade salsa and sauces prepared by Paul Fogarty of Probus fame. This has probably to be a first. A gourmet buffet selection and pints in a brewery, with costumes!

Most of us had gotten a little bit embarrassed by our costumes by this stage

It’s great to have seen the progress that the lads have made and I’m looking forward to trying their red ale and porter upon their release. No doubt they will be ones to have during a future beer tasting. Hopefully they will be coming to a pub near me soon.