The Aldi Irish Craft beer Festival: Winning Over New Craft Beer Consumers

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 Aldi Irish Craft beer Festival line-up. Prices range from €2.49 to €2.99
The Aldi Irish Craft beer Festival line-up. Prices range from €2.49 to €2.99

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.

A snapshot of the beers on offer during the promotion, including Golden Harvest Pale Ale produced by 12 Acres for Aldi
A snapshot of the beers on offer during the promotion, including Golden Harvest Pale Ale produced by 12 Acres for Aldi

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.

Supermarkets remain an important sales channel for brewers wanting to reach new customers
Supermarkets remain an important sales channel for brewers wanting to reach new customers

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.

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.

Celebrating the independence of US craft brewing

This year saw the passing of a true revolutionary, Jack Joyce, co-founder of Rogue Ales and patriarch of Rogue Nation. He was a firm believer in “freedom of expression, absence of bullshit, variety, and the pursuit of beer with taste” even challenges the conventional craft beer mantra of small, independent and traditional. A former lawyer for Nike and who had negotiated Michael Jordan’s early shoe deals, Joyce was committed to “doing things differently, a desire and a willingness to change the status quo” and be believed that being a “leader doesn’t mean you have to be the biggest”. He like Fritz Maytag, Ken Grossman and even Jim Koch and Steve Hindy (although he reportedly didn’t agree with contract brewing) left an indelible mark on the US craft brewing scene. So when he checked out on 27 May 2014 what shape was the US craft beer industry in?

Jack was toasted at a beer tasting I hosted at the beginning of June
Jack was toasted at a beer tasting I hosted at the beginning of June

There are now 2,768 craft breweries in the US out of 2,822 total breweries. This represents the continued upward trajectory of craft brewing. There was an increase of 15.3% in number of craft breweries n 2013 than the previous year. In keeping with year-on-year growth in market share and production output, there was a significant increase in the number of regional craft breweries in 2013.

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US Craft Brewing Facts:

  • There are 2,768 craft breweries in the US (overall 2,822)
  • Craft breweries increased by 15.3% in 2013; regional craft breweries (+22.6%), microbreweries (+22.8%) & brewpubs (+7.1%)
  • Slight decrease in total number of microbreweries opening in 2013 (304) to 2012 (340)
  • Sales up 17.2% in 2013 (overall beer sales down 1.8%)
  • Market share stands at 7.8%
  • 49% increase in US craft beer exports
  • 18% increase in craft beer volume production (overall beer down 2%)

This time last year, I posted a piece on Fritz Maytag in Revolution in Red, White & Brew because I wanted a US feature for July 4th. He was a pioneer not only in terms of what he did in saving and transforming Anchor Steam but more generally what he did for inspiring independence in US brewing. A group of us were only discussing his contributions to the revolution during the European Beer Bloggers Conference (EBBC 2014). This year, I’ve decided to focus on an Irish-American connection in Dundalk-native and now resident of Lexington, Kentucky Dr. Pearse Lyons.

Dr. Pearse Lyons addressing attendees at the International Craft Brews & Food Fair (source: Alltech)
Dr. Pearse Lyons addressing attendees at the International Craft Brews & Food Fair (source: Alltech)

At EBBC 2014 I had the opportunity to have a beer with Brian Yaeger and it was in his 2008 book Red, White and Brew that I first came across Pearse Lyons and what he was setting out to do in terms of brewing in Kentucky. The Southern US states, with a couple of exceptions (e.g. Texas, Florida etc), were fairly late to the craft beer revolution. Today the State of Kentucky is only 39th in number of breweries and 45th in terms of breweries per capita. On this side of the Atlantic, few had heard of the Lexington Brewing Company up until recently.

A familiar sight at Irish beer festivals
A familiar sight at Irish beer festivals

Over the past two years, the awareness of the Alltech, Dr. Lyons and the Kentucky brands both in terms of beer and whiskies has grown. He may have left for the US in the 1970s but he has always kept one foot on the island, just look at the Alltech investment in Dunboyne. He’s even building a distillery in Dublin. There’s a great team at Alltech and I’ve gotten to know a few of them over the past couple of years. However, one can see Dr. Lyons as the driving force behind all that they do and he describes himself as an “entrepreneur, salesman, marketer and scientist all rolled into one”.

The Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. produces a number of beers, all ales. Their flagship is Kentuck Bourbon Barrel Ale, which is the result of aging their 6% Kentucky Ale in bourbon barrels for six weeks. I’m not that much of a whiskey drinker and always found bourbon a unique prospect but I must say this beer has grown on me, especially when it’s served in a snifter. It tastes of good ol’ Kentucky bourbon. They have followed suit with a stout also aged in a bourbon barrel with the added addition of Haitian coffee (also owned by Alltech), which maries well with the bourbon smoke. They produce a good value IPA (although would love to see them bring the cans to Ireland) and a Kölsch-style beer, which when I first saw the beers on sale a couple of years ago in Nashville, was branded Kentucky Light. As a sign of encouraging new craft beer consumers, this name was thankfully dropped. They have produced three seasonals but only one of which has arrived in limited quantities in Ireland, the Kentucky Peach Barrel Wheat. The others being two collaboration brews, a bourbon barrel maibock (with Blue Stallion Brewing Co.) and the other being a blend of barrel aged stout that has been specifically aged for two years and Country Boy Brewing’s Black Gold Porter, oh and of course the blend is then barrel aged for good measure.

Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. was asked to supply beers & whiskey for ths US Embassy's Fourth of July celebrations
Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. was asked to supply beers & whiskey for ths US Embassy’s Fourth of July celebrations

A year ago this July, Alltech held the first International Craft Beer and Brewing Convention in Dublin and a second edition was held earlier this year. The good news is that the event (rebranded as the International Craft Brews and Food Fair) will return in February 2015. The first focused on entrepreneurship (see Brewing up new businesses) and the second had growing the market for craft beers (targeting customers and publicans) as a theme. There’s even the Dublin Beer Cup and opportunities for brewers to introduce their wares directly to consumers. N17, Rascals, Stone Barrel Brewing and Independent Brewing made their beer festival debuts in Febuary 2014.

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The two Dublin editions afforded valuable opportunities for people in the trade to network and form new connections, some of which have resulted in new business for Irish breweriers. For example, Galway Bay Brewing has just done a collaboration brew with Chicago’s Begyle Brewing, a conference alumnus. Hardknott from Cumbria got added opportunities to visit Ireland and ahead of this year’s conference, brewed Yerba with Metalman. Alltech has rolled out this conference in Kentucky and I’m sure a number of Irish brewers are itching to be invited.

For what he has done in terms of brewing and for what he’s doing in terms of promoting the industry more widely through conferences and numerous events, this is the reason I chose to feature his contribution to the craft beer revolution.

Craft Beer and Spirits festival by the Porterhouse

On 10 April, the Porterhouse Brewing Company kicked off its Craft Beer and Spirits festival. Over the course of a seventeen day period, people paying custom to any of the Porterhouse bars will be able to enjoy a fresh look at Ireland’s craft brewers and distillers. It’s increasingly common to see beer and spirits events being twinned. Of course the Porterhouse has a significant foothold in both the beer and spirits markets. One also couldn’t fail to notice that the launch event coincided with the publication of research by the newly established Irish Whiskey Association showing that its sector alone will invest over €1 billion in Ireland in the next decade.

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On the beer front, the festival incorporates both draught and bottled beers from across Ireland’s craft scene. One can expect to see breweries such as Rascals, N17 Brewery, Kinnegar, Metalman, Hilden, Galway Hooker, O’Hara’s, Trouble Brewing, Mountain Man and Kinsale making an appearance at different times during the festival. Punters can take it old-school and check the blackboards on the walls of the bars or the individual ones under the row of guest taps for what’s pouring. There will be limited edition offerings too (not necessarily festival exclusives, however). I got to try Unite Pale Ale, the Irish version of the collaboration brew for International Women’s Day. Brewed down in Metalman, this 4% session ale had a good citrus bite to it.

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Naturally, the Porterhouse had its own offerings for the festival. Making a welcome return is Peter Mosley’s excellent Chocolate Truffle Stout and timely too, given that the festival straddles Easter. This drinks like one of those very expensive and luxurious hot chocolate drinks. There’s a rich powdery taste, reminiscent of the dusting around Belgium chocolate truffle (suppose it’s not just a clever name). It has a smooth finish, with dark chocolate notes being restrained by the richness. Also on draught will be their Celebration Stout, a 7% stout matured in whiskey casks, and matching the overall theme of the festival, available on draught. I must admit that I still have a few bottles of this in my beer cellar, put away for a special occasion.

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The festival will be occurring right across the by seven pubs in the Porterhouse family:  Parliament Street, Temple Bar, Nassau Street, Glasnevin, Bray, Cork, Covent Garden, London and Financial District New York. There will also be beer and spirits tastings held throughout the festival and to find out more, it’s best to check out their social media channels.

Into the West, beer could be safer than the water

What’s in the water in Galway? Jokingly one could link the emergence of Galway brewing to the fact that beer could be safer to drink than the water. This would of course be doing a disservice to the breweries themselves. First, with Cork and now with Galway, Ireland has its second significant cluster of breweries. Buoyed by the success of Galway Bay and Galway Hooker (yes it’s brewed in Roscommon but it’s very much Galway in all it’s maroon and white). Now there’s Independent Brewing and N17 on the scene, both joining the ranks in 2014.

Galway City is renowned for good times and they’ve a thriving craft beer scene to boot. Of course you can pay one’s respects by having a pint of Guinness in Freeney’s but you can move along High Street and have a pint of Bonaparte’s Stout in Tigh Neachtain’s by Galway Hooker. Then of course you can do the trail of the four, I repeat FOUR, Cottage Group (aka Galway Bay) pubs, two of which are out in Salthill along with Chris’ brewing laboratory (I deem it a lab because of the brilliant concoctions that have betwixed Ireland’s beer drinking fraternity). Just wait until he gets an even bigger facility!

Before I set off down the M6, I spent the previous evening in the newest member of the Cottage Group family, Alfie Byrne’s under the Conrad Hotel. This allowed me to try two new beers, along with the 2014 Beoir Beer of the Year “Of Foam and Fury” in all its tropical fruit glory and pith. Their new American Amber had a glorious auburn body topped with a good head. There was plenty of fruit and pine on the nose, with slight sweetness detectable as well. Full-on bitter citrus was flavour profile for this brew, which pushed on into the aftertaste.

American Amber by Galway Bay
American Amber by Galway Bay

The second beer was also product of their pilot facility and was a Cascadian Dark ale at 6.8% and it was available on cask, happy days! The Cascadian Dark Ale versus the Black IPA dispute aroused so much animosity that it was the beer equivalent of the east coast/west coast rap wars of the early 1990s, both in querying it’s very origins and the name itself. While I agree the BIPA moniker doesn’t really fit, I will declare my hand now by saying that I believe its roots are back in Burlington, Vermont. Galway Bay’s version of a black IPA had an aroma of tropical fruits and a hint of pine, which poured rich chocolate brown in colour topped by a creamy head. When tasted your were immediately punched by ripe pithy fruit. It was slightly cloying but gave way to a creamy finish. What was remarkable was almost the complete absence of dark malt flavours, which is a skill of only good brewers of this style.

Cascadian Dark Ale on cask
Cascadian Dark Ale on cask

Cousins Aidan Murphy and Ronan Brennan started a Galway Hooker back in 2006 and the name came from a competition. Rumour has it that their glasses rank amongst the most stolen and smuggled back to the US with a titter. The iconic pale ale at 4.3% is settling in nicely as one of the best session beers out there. Their draught pumps are becoming an increasingly familiar sight in non-traditional craft beer pubs. I must admit that I’m quite partial to this and have used it in several beer & food tastings. The use of cascade backed up by Irish malts give it a pleasant tanginess on a biscuit base. It’s a beer that’s fantastic in batter as well. Hard to come by their other offering (i.e. the Stout; they did have a dark wheat at one stage too) outside select locations and festivals.

A perfect session ale (glass the author's own and acquired responsibly)
A perfect session ale (glass the author’s own and acquired responsibly)

Carraroe in the Gaeltacht is home to Independent Brewing Company, under the stewardship of Kevin O’Hara. Given the all clear by the revenue commissioners around the third week of January the beers starting appearing in off-licences and bars the following week. Indeed I hosted a tasting of their Gold Ale and Pale Ale that week, the Red Ale was released a couple of weeks later. I tried it during the week and it has a wonderful aroma of caramel and dry-roasted peanuts, with the classic red appearance and a head of thick foam. It was dry and bitter on the initial taste that gradually became more refreshing, although it finished a little thin. The Pale Ale and Gold Ale proved very popular during January’s tasting, both under the influence of C-hops (although a fair bit more in the Pale Ale).

The initial offerings of a Gold Ale & Pale Ale from Independent Brewing Co
The initial offerings of a Gold Ale & Pale Ale from Independent Brewing Co
The Red Ale followed a few weeks later
The Red Ale followed a few weeks later

Back across the county where there’s “stonewalls and the grass is green”, we come across N17, the brainchild of Tuam-native Sarah Roarty. Launched at the Alltech Brews & Food Fair, N17 has two beers currently lined up for distribution (brewed at the moment down in Kinsale), a rye ale and an oatmeal stout. Both are fantastic according to the brewery’s self-proclaimed biggest champion in the shape of Tim O’Rourke. They were both It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how this brewery develops over the years and the inevitable tweets that will no doubt take place to the recipes, along with new additions of course. The brewery’s also attracting a lot of attenton due to Sarah’s determination to sustainably re-use a lot of the waste from brewing process. So far she has found potential in developing a mushroom business, in fish farming and production of dog biscuits. This is not only a way of promoting sustainable production but also a mechanism for realising additional revenue streams (I know of one brewery in the US who is also in the soap business). So look out of N17 winning awards for its sustainable consciousness in addition to brewing (won a bronze medal for the Oatmeal Stout in the Dublin Cup). Forgive me for a second reference to some other well-known natives of Tuam, the Saw Doctors but these beers could have someone no longer wishing they were on that N17 but rather can they have a pint of something from N17.

One of the coolest logos out there
One of the coolest logos out there
N17's Sarah Roarty with Leo Moran of the Saw Doctors
N17’s Sarah Roarty with Leo Moran of the Saw Doctors (image courtesy of N17)

There are a number of other breweries surrounding Galway (e.g. couple in Mayo and one in Clare) which clearly shows that the West is clearly fast becoming a major brewing cluster in its own right. It will be interesting to see how the region develops along with Cork and of course a nod to Waterford (with Dungarvan and Metalman) over the years. Such information can provide useful lessons for how Ireland can inculcate not only small producers but also start-up businesses general. Each of the regions have the added benefit of having vibrant local food producers, presence of specialist pubs and restaurants. Hopefully Dublin will be next with the opening of new brewing facilities byRascals and Stone Barrel alongside those already brewing.

But for now it’s into the west with you!