The Alltech Craft Brews & Food Fair is coming back for a fifth year. How time flies! This festival has undergone a remarkable evolution since the first event held in the summer of 2012. Forget Paris in the springtime. February in Dublin has become synonymous with rugby and this beer festival. The folks at Alltech even try to combine the two. Visitors will once more have the opportunity to sample more than 300 of the latest craft brews while watching Six Nations Rugby on three if the biggest screens in Dublin.
The festival takes place once more in the Convention Centre Dublin from Thursday 23rd – Saturday 25th February 2017 and tickets are on sale now from Eventbrite. The event runs over three days, and opening hours as follows:
Thursday, 23rd February: 5pm – 11pm
Friday, 24th February: 5pm – 11pm
Saturday, 25th February: 12.30pm – 11pm
The Dublin Beer Cup will also be awarded during the weekend. Will anyone be able to take the mantle away from McGargle’s Francis’ Big Bangin’ IPA? Can the Kildare brewery follow Coisbo completing a two-in-a-row? We will just have to wait and see.
The full line-up of music and exhibitors will be announced in the New Year. If anyone doesn’t believe the organisers have big, big plans – think again. Last year, they only went and beat the previous Guinness Book of Records’ mark for the world’s largest beer tasting.
For further information visit alltechbrews.ie or join the conversation on Twitter by following @alltechbrews.
The Aldi Irish Craft beer Festival kicks off on Sunday, 2nd October featuring 30 beers from across the island. This is the first time that beer has featured exclusively in promotional campaign run by the German discount supermarket chain in Ireland. Newspapers will be carrying the usual Aldi brochure but today’s features a two-page spread on beer.
The beers offer a good introduction to the quality and range of Irish beers being produced today. Prices start at €2.49 per bottle and for this low price you can enjoy the likes of Carrig’s always quaffable Pilsner or its chocolate-laden Coalface IPA. The majority of the beers are on sale for €2.69 per bottle including Mescan’s Westport Blond and Westporter Stout. A few also come in at €2.99 per bottle, including Dungarvan’s Mine Head, the award-winning Francis’ Big Bangin’ IPA and Brehon’s Stony Grey IPA. It’s not all glass by the way. Luminous cans of Rascal’s Wunderbar IPA will be standing out, alongside the brewery’s Big Hop Red.
Supermarkets have tended to include beer as a bolt-on to their wine offers but this is slowly changing. SuperValu, for example, have featured craft beer in both print and broadcast ads. Craft beer sales are up with Aldi alone experiencing double-digit growth in sales over the past year. Indeed, its Irish beer has grown over the years with an accompanying drop in imports stocked, with the exception of the likes of Hobgoblin and the odd German, Belgian or French offering. However, a Marston’s exclusive range for Aldi may start appearing on shelves from November. This will be similar to the tie-up that the brewery-chain does for Tesco.
It tends to be overlooked that Aldi has long-been a supporter of Irish craft beer. Its O’Shea’s range produced by Carlow Brewing has won a loyal following with customers. These beers happily sit alongside the O’Hara’s range on the shelves and given people a solid introduction into the world of craft beer. Aldi has followed this up with commissioning Laois’ 12 Acres to produce the fruity-finishing Golden Harvest Pale Ale. It remains to be seen if this will be a once off or will it be an ongoing collaboration.
Some orthodox craft beer snobs might turn their noses up at the thought of the large multiples, believing instead that independent beer should only be sold in independent retailers. This ignores the choice and freedom for the brewers to decide where their beer should be sold, whether on-trade or off-, independent or chain etc. Of course, it’s important that prices remain sustainable and they don’t seriously undercut other retailers.
Yes, these beers (with the exception of those brewed exclusively for Aldi) can be bought elsewhere. Thinking like that misses the point. The opportunity to access the widest customer-base for their products is nothing to be sneered at. The Aldi promotion will run across all its 126 in Ireland until stocks last. The beers will also feature in its media-buy. For the craft beer sector, a large client such as supermarket chain can buy a certain-degree of confidence with the banks or others in attracting finance, capital and investment. Brewing is hugely capital intensive, with pressures on working capital and the need to expand to satisfy a growing customer base.
Regardless, it’s great to see more attention on the sector.
The Government is stepping up its support for craft beer these days. On the back of the 50% increase in the excise rebate ceiling for brewers in Budget 2015, state agencies are looking to craft beer and cider to join the “usuals” food and whiskey to help sell Ireland. Earlier this year we had six breweries participating in Bord Bia’s Marketplace International 2015. Then in July, Tourism Ireland supported the participation of nine breweries and one cider maker in Toronto’s Festival of Beer. This week saw another high profile event where craft beer was showcased.
Sixteen Irish food producers were given the opportunity by Bord Bia to exhibit at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair in London. The event takes place in Olympia, well known in beer circles as the home of the Great British Beer Festival. In the weeks leading up to the fair, Ireland’s food marketing agency put in plenty of legwork drumming up interest amongst leading food and drink buyers from the speciality food industry.
Galway Hooker was the sole brewery representing Ireland and was given prominent space amongst the Irish exhibitors. From the looks of it there doesn’t seem to have been a lot beer at the fair – Crazy Mountain Brewery from Colorado; Delicias de Burgos and Pasion de Duero, S.L. from Spain; and a Scottish honey beer from Plan Bee. The lack of beer could be a sign that the work of winning over space on dining tables from wine is painstakingly slow. Regardless, the fair was a real opportunity for the Galway lads. Their beers are great for pairing with food. They’re not overpowering and are well-balanced. You only have to look at their eponymous pale ale and how versatile it can be thanks to its distinctive malt base. I can only hope that for Aidan and Ronan, the brewery’s first appearance at the fair proves to be a success in the long-term.
Can more be expected? We can only hope so. Food Wise 2025, the new national food strategy, has identified the need to develop a specific strategy to help craft breweries to go and views exports as key. Marketing support and attendance at international food events is a start but more can be done. We need to examine new ways of helping breweries to get products to foreign markets. Could brewers pool together to share space in containers? Are KeyKegs the best way of exporting draught or are there other ways that could be considered? Should canning be the choice for exporting packaged beers because they save on weight, more reliable for shipping and can more compact (i.e. more beer per pallet)? Given the desire of our enterprise agencies to prioritise exporting companies, they should examine areas like these and more in order to help Irish craft breweries grow.
The sale of alcohol in supermarkets attracts a lot of attention facing accusations of promoting binge drinking through cut price booze, lowering prices to squeeze out independent retailers and generally not being open to small, local producers due to quantities needed. Also, the impact on publicans has been quite vocal over recent years. The focus could be on spirits but much of the reference in the media focuses on beer. They seem to ignore wine for some reason.
A lot of this is to do is rooted in the fundamental economic models of multiple-retailers, such as their need to satisfy and achieve certainty in their supply-chains etc. For example, it was reported that Walmart was selling macro beers at about cost price so they can be the largest single beer retailer in America (and possibly the world). The US market is perhaps unusual due to individual State restrictions on alcohol such as not being allowed to sell wine and beer together or others where selling high abv beer is banned. Supermarkets’ greatest strength is their convenience and this is where they can make a significant contribution to boosting the popularity of beer.
Some supermarket chains are doing some interesting things in the beer space. Sainsbury’s operate the Great British Beer Hunt, which runs on a regional basis in the preliminary round where successful beers are stocked for 3 weeks (Barney’s Brew from Hilden was a regional winner in 2013) before two overall winners are selected for a six-month listing across the UK. US specialty chain Whole Foods Market only sells products that meet its self-created quality standards for being “natural” and thankfully beer can be right at home here. I came across one in Nashville that besides a well-stocked beer aisle, it has a growler station pushing local brews, but they also do meet-the-brewer events and pizza and beer evenings in-store while shopping. Whole Foods has also brought growler-fills to some of its UK stores and thankfully for people looking for off-sales in down-town London (distinct lack of off-licences), their Piccadilly store has some good bottle beers in stock.
In Ireland, we have seen offerings from English breweries becoming more commonly available on Irish supermarket shelves. Is this simply reflecting the sourcing operations being located in the UK? Perhaps this is similar to other food producers trying to get a listing. However, we’ve also seen a number of Irish producers (aside of course from the usual suspects) being available in the supermarkets here. O’Hara’s can be frequently spotted either under itsr own name or that of O’Shea’s in Aldi. Some of the Porterhouse beers came be spotted here and there as well. Of the newer breweries, Bo Bristle made a big push on the drink-at-home market through Marks & Spencers and SuperValu is pushing Brú Brewery and others as part of their Irish Craft Beer Sale.
What inspired this piece is that Tesco is currently having an in-store beer and cider festival. Supermarkets used to push wine festivals and events but now they appear to trying to get into the beer scene in a big way. Of course they will be looking for session or gateway beers that some might call them, beers. The key to them is being accessible and honest so they attract the widest possible audience. Shelf space is at a premium and volume is of course key. Perhaps we’ll see a time where some Irish beers become more “mainstream” they’ll be sold principally in supermarkets and the more specialty items will continue to be found in specialty stores and pubs.
Some of the Irish beers might fall outside the “craft” definition due to not being independent, such as the Franciscan Well Red Ale & Friar Weisse that appeared in my local Tesco (situated beside their new half-cousin Blue Moon). Distribution channels are the hidden hand of the beer industry and tie-ups can mean better access. However, we cannot forget what increased choice could do for the industry: consumers trying new beers, liking them and searching out new and different types, a similar tale that most of us could relate to.
The McGargles range has also popped up in Tesco. Taking inspiration from the presentation of beers in US retailers, the McGargles beers are pre-packaged in four packs (it’s quite hard to buy individual bottles of beer in the States because they’re keen on the six-pack). Their branding is extremely visible and rather impressively occupies prime real-estate on the shelf too.
The other things that supermarkets can help push the positioning of beer alongside food. I’m not talking about the occasional pizza and six-pack deal they might offer. Tesco currently have a menu card (I only saw one, hopefully there’s more) for a traditional beef strew with O’Hara’s Leann Folláin. They’re clearly trying to up their game in terms of presenting beer to their customers, in that it not only pairs does well with food, it could also be a fantastic ingredient.
Of course the super market chains will continue to push the macros and this will continue to fuel negative press coverage. If minimum pricing is ever introduced, the focus will still be on the higher volume items. Nonetheless, newer breweries will continue to pop up because of their potential to grow their share of the beer market.
As bloggers out there have recently published their Golden Pints for 2013 (big shout out to Beermack for recognition of this blog), I sadly missed the boat on this. However, last Saturday allowed me to gain a march on this year’s awards as I had a pint that hopefully is the worst that I’d experience all year, which was barely 4 days old at the time.
McGargles Irish Family Brewers has attracted a lot of criticism on the web because of its Alan Partridge-esque “oirish” feel, compounded by suspicions over its “product of the EU” badge of honour and not much else. Cynicism centres on who or what is it?
Money has been put behind building this brand, the website, glasses and bar taps are case in point. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to establish a brand nor do I have a problem with contract brewing, I understand those that dare to aspire to following in the footsteps of Jim Koch’s Boston Beer Co. However, it misses one of the strong attributes of the craft beer scene, a certain localism or sense of place. Apparently the US is a target market for the company but it forms a market of 3000+ breweries all trying to carve out a identity for themselves that cheap paddy whackery will find it hard to overcome:
“The McGargles are a legendary brewing family on the island of Leannclann…It’s too small to spot on the map, but Leannclann still has room for the cantankerous auld ones, swearing dwarves, ambiguous Lotharios, flirty daughters, and out-of-control hippies that call it home….They’ve come a long way from brewing in the family bathtub. Their beers are thought to have fuelled the famous works of many great Irish writers, as well as a few battles and revolutions in between” (source: www.mcgargles.com)
So not to be unfair, I opted to sample a pint (as I would with any new Irish beer) and give them the benefit of the doubt while on a mini-pub crawl of Dalkey. The brewery currently has 3 beers on offer, each complete with names that any grown-up would voluntarily use to order a pint: Granny Mary’s Red Ale, Gravy Maevey’s Pilsner and Knock Knock Ned IPA. My cynicism was aroused however when after ordering a pint of the IPA, I was informed by the girl behind the bar in McDonagh’s that it was her favourite as it was quite sweet.
The pint itself was produced in its own mason jar crossed with a tankard. It was dark amber in colour with a good head. But once I smelled the beer, there was no hop aroma. It smelled sweet, sickly sweet, butterscotch sweet. Was the beer afflicted by diacetyl? Surely an IPA couldn’t have been produced to this standard if it wasn’t. It’s perhaps unfair to judge this beer on the basis of the off-flavours in my opinion it contains (I checked the other reviews on ratebeer.com, all two of them and they both state how sweet this IPA is). Although, I do hope this is the low-point of my beer tasting in 2014.