To paraphrase my good mate Myles, and his blog name, Drinking got me thinking. I’ve been pondering the state of affairs in the Irish Beer Market.
It seems like the butterfly effect, the ripples from the recent announcement by Beavertown that they have partnered with Heineken, has caused a wide range of reactions from boycott, to it’ll be ok if the beer doesn’t change etc. But will it force people to search for transparency?
They have sold a “minority stake” in their business in exchange for £40,000,000. To be clear, a minority is anything less than 50%, it stands to reason the share holding will be between 20 – 49% in my opinion. We’ve seen instant reaction from brewers who were due to attend the Extravaganza in September, with a number of high profile international and UK brewers pulling out. Much has been written about this, and i’m not going to dwell on it. I’m looking at the Irish Context here.
Firstly, the question most face is the beer any good, but do consumers value independence over taste? Or taste over independence? Is it “just beer”? A phrase I hear often, but to those small independent brewers, it’s not just beer, it’s their livelihoods, the wages of the staff they have, and the payment of suppliers. It’s all a big circle. Ultimately money spent on local companies goes back into the local economy much more than the multinationals.
Has the term Craft been totally hijacked by marketeers at this stage? When you hear of crafted industrial scale beer, you know that we are through the looking glass.
For the elimination of doubt the following breweries that operate here are not independent, using the Brewers Association Definition.
- Carlow Brewing Company – 32% sold to Estrella Galicia, an industrial brewery from Spain which produces 279 Million Litres (2016) Source
- 5 Lamps Brewing Company – Majority owned by C&C – which produces Bulmers, and Tennants, they are also responsible for Dowds Lane brand.
- 8 Degrees Brewing – recently purchased by Pernod Ricard / Irish Distillers
- Franciscan Well – owned by Molson Coors
8 Degrees & Carlow Brewing and Franciscan Well have done a heck of a lot for the Irish Beer Scene, it would be mad to throw the baby out with the water, however, the facts are, that the above breweries don’t meet that independence criteria, and if your modus operandi for purchasing craft is to purchase independent, those no longer fit the bill.
Let’s make no mistake, Heineken, have been making waves in Ireland, where they enjoy a number 2 position in the market behind Diageo, and usually you see the big lads including Molson Coors, and C&C sniping each other out. We’ve seen exclusivity contracts signed in pub groups which would block out other taps entirely. As a consumer, we’re getting shafted. Yet the competition authority doesn’t deem it worthy of investigation!! But one theme is common, they all view the rise of the independents as a threat this is why you see the amalgamation of craft brewers into their portfolio, Heineken has purchased stakes in 2 London breweries, Brixton, and Beavertown, as well as Lagunitas (in full). It’s also why you see reps from these places throwing free kegs, POS, merch, other stuff to block out true independent beer producers.
Some of the quassi “craft” brands we see are
- Cute Hoor, Orchard Thieves, Applemans – all Heineken Products. You could also include their world beers, Paulaner, Moretti, Tiger etc.
- Open Gate Brewery – clearly stated they are Guinness products made in St James Gate, which is more than can be said for Cute Hoor
- Rockshore – a coors light drinker targeted beer by Diageo
With the acquisitions not seeming like they’ll slow down, I think we’ll become a bit numb to it, and shrug our shoulders and go, there goes another one. But it raises issues for consumers of beer, as our importers bring in more beers to widen the palette available, it must raise issues for some.
Four Corners have long held the Beavertown account for Ireland, and they also import Ballast Point (owned by Constellation Brands eg Corona / Modelo), Grand Cru bring in Lagunitas, and Founders (1/3rd owned by Mahou of Spain). These once fiercely independent brewers, are now backed by multimillion euro turnover and profit businesses which gives them huge financial fire power.
Ultimately – it’s your choice to buy a Macro product, and in Ireland with market share hovering about 4% it’s likely you’ll be at some event or something somewhere in a pub where they’ll not stock any independently made beers. What do you do?
It is the MO of large corporations to blur the lines and confuse consumers into thinking they’ve made a choice. Look at the way cheese is packaged in the supermarket? Nice farm imagery, yet the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. If any of you have seen the TV series Continuum, you’ll know the future is run by large corporations, let’s hope that isn’t a future that comes to pass.
So, ask the question, if the person you’re asking doesn’t know, it’s likely non independent, and make your choice accordingly. If the name of the brewery isn’t on the tap, it’s likely not independent. So what do you do? That is up to you.