Something has been troubling me for a while, and it’s only recently that it has begun to come to a head, which from the outset requires a contextual setting. A straw has been laid upon the dromedary’s back, which is at tipping point.
Ireland has come through one of the worst recessions ever. From the ashes of a ruined economy we have seen the green shoots of genuine recovery in many areas, in particular our food and beverage industries. Recession has a tendency to change people’s buying habits. Especially challenging our perception of value and in a lot of cases has changed our perceptions. There was a swell in people putting quality of a product over the price of a product. Nothing evidenced this greater than the Horsemeat scandal. People began to question what exactly was in their food. This curiosity naturally progressed to beer.
Without doubt, there has been an explosion in the number of independent microbreweries in this country since 2009. Where once we had a handful of breweries, more recently according to Beoir, we now have 62 physical breweries in Ireland, and several more ‘contract brands‘ (a brewery that exists in name only, contracting the brewing of their beers to another brewery with facilities). There is currently at least one brewery in every county. This is not to say that all craft beer is good beer. But with the number of new breweries comes increased choice for consumers.
The rate of growth in awareness and sales of ‘craft beers‘ is something the Industrial beer producers such as AB InBev and Diageo could only dream of; year-on-year double digit growth. The Industrial Beer producers have steadily seen sales of their beers fall. Against a background of decreasing Alcohol Consumption Figures, sales of craft beers are increasing. The big boys are worried. How do we know they are worried? A quick look at some of the beers that Diageo are releasing as part of their ‘Brewer’s Project‘ tells us this. There are also the anecdotes within the craft beer scene of interference with Craft Beer lines in pubs, and implications of inducements to publicans to keep craft beer out. I expect big beer to fight back, it is business after all. In the U.S. the fightback has been the acquisition of breweries, which is risky.
What was the straw that broke the camel’s back? There was a recent article by Aideen Sheehan in the Irish Independent, with the headline of “Craft Beers: Why you might just be drinking a lot more than you think…”
Within the article were over-reachingly broad statements such as “If you are a regular drinker of craft beers, you may be over-indulging without realising it.” As a regular consumer of craft beer, I know the ABV and serving size of the beers I am drinking, as it is clearly stated in most cases on the tap, or failing that, on the Tap Board. In the case of high ABV beers, the staff will often tell me. The insinuation that Craft Beer drinkers are blindly necking beer without knowing the strength of the beer is frankly insulting. Craft Beer drinkers are in general more educated about what they are consuming than Industrial Beer drinkers. Craft Beer Brewers unlike Industrial Beer Inc like to educate their consumers about their beers and what exactly goes into their beers.
The author also fails to realise that for cash flow and excise reasons, a lot of brewers brew beer to approximately 4.5%, In fact, there are several that are under that ABV point such as Bru Brewery “Rua”, Blacks Brewery “The Session”, Bo Bristle “Amber” and other ‘session beers’. It’s extremely disingenuous to imply that all Craft Beer is ‘high ABV loony juice’. For context, a pint of Peroni Nastro Azzuro is 5.1%, Stella Artois is 5.2%, Coors Light 4.3%, Heineken is 4.3% Also. Brewers release special beers all the time with varying styles and strengths, but they are always open about what’s in their beers.
Sheehan focuses in on one of the best Irish Beers ever made; Galway Bay’s ‘Of Foam and Fury’, a hugely flavourful Double IPA weighing in at 8.2%. They state correctly that a full 500ml bottle is 4.25 Units of Alcohol versus approximately 2.2 Units for a Heineken. What the author also fails to mention is that if you are drinking Heineken the flavour profile is deliberately lowered to enable you to drink more of it. Galway Bay themselves only serve Of Foam and Fury in their bars in 2/3 of a Pint Servings on account of its strength. People who drink this kind of beer are drinking for the flavour not to drink 10 pints of it. And therein lays the point. Your average craft beer drinker, drinks for the enjoyment of the flavour, not to consume vast quantities of higher ABV beers.
You’d have to wonder if there is editorial or advertorial influence at play here with regard to the large advertising income from the likes of Diageo and Heineken with the National Media. This isn’t the first time that Craft Beer has been demonised. You only need to see an article from the Irish Times this year which showed a small producers’ product picture in the article that was discussing life expectancy and longevity. Needless to say the brewery involved wasn’t happy and posed the question, why didn’t you use a stock photo of a pint from a large multinational rather than a small craft beer brewery. You can read more here http://www.eightdegrees.ie/eight-degrees-brewing-in-the-irish-times/
It also raises a lot of questions about our country’s relationship with alcohol, and the consumption of same. Despite the fact consumption is generally decreasing year-by-year basis. Drink is still demonised, but it just seems the little guys are getting the brunt of it in the commentary surrounding alcohol. And you have to ask why when on any given night of the weekend in Dublin, people falling about drunk in Temple Bar is more often than not people who have consumed either spirits, wine or Industrial Beer?
Or would publishing more factually representative images of these brands be seen as too inflammatory towards paymasters of the advertising revenues in a space that itself is facing a ‘evolve-or-die’ reality of its own?
Ultimately the Craft Beer movement in this country has spun out of our increased awareness of the high quality local artisanal food available around the country. Our tastes are changing. We expect value for money. As a result we are seeing more and more people try craft beer. It’s like upgrading from an own brand Cheddar to Hegarty’s Cheddar from Cork. They are both cheeses, but are vastly different, not just in terms of flavour, but the amount of heart and love that goes into making each one, often in a lesser or non-industrialised process.
That is the fundamental difference. Craft Brewers care about what’s in your glass and brew to maximise the flavours they wish to present to represent their vision for a beer, Industrial Beer Inc brew to sell the highest volume, with the faintest flavour, in the most industrial way possible for maximum efficiency in their facilities (which often resemble chemical plants) in a bid make their product on the lowest possible cost per litre basis to the maximum margin line.
From IPAs, to Stouts, to everything in between. Wayne is a passionate advocate for Craft Beer and Cider in Ireland. He regularly features in online publications and podcasts, as well as writing with his wife on www.irishbeersnob.com. Wayne’s aim is to kick down the doors of convention surrounding Craft Beer and Cider by writing in a no nonsense style. Drawing on his experiences of many different beers he is going to bring you on a journey that you’ll be asking yourself, why didn’t I join this revolution sooner?