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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It seems that the supermarket chains are getting in on this craft beer game. We’re familiar with Aldi stocking O’Shea’s stout, pale ale and red ale produced by Carlow Brewing Company. A more recent entrant to the scene is Rye River, somewhat double jobbing with its Crafty Beer (Lidl) and Solas (Tesco) ranges.
Of course this is nothing new. The tactic of ‘own’ or indeed ‘exclusive’ brands has been used for decades. Think of cans or stubby bottles of cheap own-brand cheap lager that have littered many a student party or bbq over the years. In fact it would appear that there are even more own-brand lagers appearing on supermarket shelves. And it is a pattern replicated for cider as well. So should we be worried when more and more ‘own-brand’ craft beers start appearing?
Well naturally it all comes down to quality. And given how price conscious supermarkets are, we have to ask, can the two be combined? The Carlow Brewing Company has demonstrated that it can with its O’Shea’s range. The beers are great value and have introduced more people to the world of craft beer. I know of one person, a die-hard Guinness drinker, often the hardest to convert, who when at home, drinks nothing but the O’Shea’s Irish Stout. And he tells me that he’s tempted to explore different stouts as a result. So if the supermarkets adopt a similar approach to the one they use when considering wines for beer, well it could be a win-win. For example, how many times are we told that the ‘own-brand champagne is the one to seek out for value and quality?
Supermarket chains are more than likely to partner with larger craft brewers that have the necessary production capacity. They are more likely to focus on session-type beers rather than extreme ones; although, BrewDog produces a “variant” of its 9.2% abv Hardcore IPA for Tesco. For the brewers, it can be a valuable source of revenue; also regular and sizeable orders from large multiples can impress the banks when looking for loans to expand the business. It is no surprise that lenders prefer big, dependable orders over smaller, though numerous accounts.
So why am I writing about this now? Well recently I had the chance to try a number of supermarket-brand beers. It will come as no surprise that some were better than others, but what struck me was that some of those were considerably better than the rest. I then recalled one of the first ‘own brand’ beers I had ever tried. Perhaps it was time to refresh my memory.
The ‘Revisionist’ range is produced by real ale behemoth, Marston’s and Tesco has an exclusive on the bottles. It’s worth noting however, that beers like Craft Lager can be had on draft in the likes of Wetherspoons. My local Tesco stocks the Red Ale, Rye Ale, Dark IPA and the Wheat Beer. The range also includes Steam Beer and Saison in bottles. These beers are produced at the different breweries within the Marston’s stable (Bank’s, Jennings, Wychwood, Brakspear, Ringwood and Marston’s itself).
The Revisionist American Hop Rye Pale Ale – to give it its full name – was as I say, the first beer from the range which I tasted. And if I’m honest, it is also the only one on which I have notes as I tried some of the others while judging a beer competition.
Firstly the branding is certainly interesting and certainly catches the eye, while scanning the shelves. The beer pours an unsurprisingly amber colour with good clarity. There are sweet tropical fruits and a hint of spice on the nose. The beer was dry hopped with citra® and amarillo so that explains the fruitiness and the rye gives the spicy notes. Initially, there is fresh citrus on tasting but a dry, almost Bombay mix-inspired spiciness takes over. It is however, let down a little by the fluctuating carbonation levels. The dryness of the rye also leaves it tasting a little flat at times. It finishes quite dry.
It’s safe to say that the ‘Revisionist’ range encapsulates a problem for both the real ale brewers and for the retailers across the water. Are they edgy enough in today’s fickle craft beer world? Five years ago Tesco used to be the go-to place in this country if you were looking for English ales. But now that range is dwindling, and not only in Tesco. Yes, it’s a good thing that some of the space is being occupied by local Irish offerings, but part of me is sad to see that English brewers are being sought merely to imitate rather than innovate in terms of the beers to be stocked. And yes these beers are fine, they do the job. But I would argue that unfortunately they come in at too high a price point in Ireland to be deemed as good value.
Back in January, I wrote about the effects the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing (QE) programme will have on beer. The Euro exchange rate has, for want of a better word, tanked. We’re on course for parity against the US dollar and sterling is strong and only getting stronger. This could bad news for imports of US and UK craft beer into the Eurozone but great news for Irish breweries exporting or looking to export.
Exports of Irish beers could be boosted further by positive indicators within the Eurozone. Consumer sentiment for March 2015 is at its highest levels since 2007. Confidence has been boosted by the QE programme combined with falling unemployment and low oil prices. What does this mean? Quite simply private consumption is expected to rise by 2% this year and 1.5% in 2016 (source: Capital Economics). People will socialise with confidence and in economic terms this could involve boosts to nondurable goods (e.g. off licences) and services (e.g. bars, restaurants etc). This would underpin economic recovery within the Eurozone but sadly it’s one that will not be felt equally across all countries/regions.
So Irish breweries can benefit from the weak Euro currency to export to the US, UK and further afield and they can take advantage of the recovering consumer demand in the Eurozone. Irish exports would not only match quality but they could also be competitive alongside US and UK products exported to these markets. The costs associated with small batch exports may be offset by the strong dollar and sterling.
It is timely then that two significant events took place last week that hopefully will result in Irish breweries delivering on their export potential. Bord Bia’s Marketplace International 2015 saw 150+ Irish food and drink companies having access to 400+ buyers from over 25 countries. They could showcase their offerings in a sort of speed-dating format (i.e. a series of 20 minute one-on-one meetings). It was great to see Brú Brewery, Jack Cody’s, Metalman, Rye River and Trouble Brewing involved. Franciscan Well was also there as Bord Bia promotes all food and beverage products produced in Ireland. By and large each of the breweries have limited exports to date (e.g. average 5% of total sales) with the exception of Rye River reporting 40% export sales.
The other event was IFE 2015, a biannual food and drink event held in London. It brings together approximately 27,000 buyers and suppliers of food & drink products and takes over the entire Excel Arena in London. I worked at this event in 2005 and the scale is simply staggering. Whilst there was no Irish brewery exhibiting this year, the event is extremely useful for networking in the trade and meeting potential buyers and distributors. It was great to see the likes of Cotton Ball in Cork making it over to the expo.
Hopefully events such as these can help these breweries and the others in Ireland take advantage of the extremely favourable export conditions. Irish breweries should be confident that they can follow in the footsteps of Carlow, the Porterhouse, Eight Degrees, Rye River and White Hag in having a significant export strategy. They should also aim to build on one-off or limited exports if it’s in keeping with their own business strategies. Isn’t it great to see the likes of Kelly’s Mountain on sale in Russia?
Scale’s obviously going to be an issue but improved market access can help attract additional finance. They may need ongoing help from Government agencies and the sector could benefit from more hands-on support from Enterprise Ireland. If negotiations on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are concluded, Irish SMEs are expected to benefit most from the new EU-US trade deal. This is some time off however and while it would make it easier to do general business in the US, the peculiar post-prohibition regulatory regime will remain in place.
This is not to forget that the market is still growing at home and the weak Euro may have a positive knock-on effect on consumer demand for Irish produced beers over UK and US imports. So far their prices have been steady but for how long can Irish distributors keep them steady? It will be interesting to watch effect, if any, does the exchange rates have on Wetherspoons’ prices as well.