Blurred Lines – The illusion of choice.

Blurred Lines – The illusion of choice.

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.


A Template for Taprooms – Sentinel Brewery, Sheffield, UK.

A Template for Taprooms – Sentinel Brewery, Sheffield, UK.

Seems like this is as good a time as any, but given the Crafts Drinks Bill is heading to the 2nd stage in the Dáil this week, for me to take a look at, what makes a great tap room. I think I may have found it in the shape of Sentinel Brewing in Sheffield. I’ve written about this previously here

Wayne chatting with Alex, at the Yellowbelly Tap Takeover

This is the brainchild of Alex Barlow, who many will know as one of the assessors from the Beer Academy sommelier program. Here we have what used to be a wine warehouse thats been transformed into a functioning brewery, tap room, event space, and casual eatery.

Lets take the beers & brewery first, you can see the brewery from pretty much any angle in the taproom. Let’s face it, stainless steel has a hypnotising effect and draws your attention immediately. Sentinel brew a wide range of beer styles, from tradition British styles, to other world styles. Served both in keg, and traditional cask. Also offering growlers for people to take home some of the beer for later on.

Located in central Sheffield it’s in a great location, however it’s clearly brought activity to an area of town that wouldn’t otherwise have many people around it. Taprooms like this bring people in from all over and could help with the regeneration of areas. Can you imagine locations in your town that could do with something like this? Given that a lot of Irish brewers are located in industrial estates on the edge of town, maybe having the options to open a tap room in town for easier tourist access like Cloudwater?

Behind door 13, lies Cloudwater’s Barrel store, at weekends, it’s also a taproom to buy beers, and merchandise direct from the brewery.

Now onto the food, obviously this might not be an option for a lot of Brewers, however they may choose to team up with local food trucks or producers for food options. But to those that do have the space and budget then it makes sense to match food with the beer options available (check out the menus here) Why not make it a destination people can call for lunch, or an early evening bite to eat. The talented chef at Sentinel made a specially created St Patricks Day menu to be matched with the Yellowbelly beers that were being poured that weekend.

Our collaboration with Yellow Belly – Juice Wayne

Taprooms aren’t places to come and get trollied, so the option of getting everything in measurements in a third of a pint or above, help you to try more beers, and when there is as wide a range as Sentinel is a way to keep customers coming back regularly to see what’s new.

Beer tourism, is a growing trend worldwide, areas like Belgium have long successfully traded on their reputation as a beer destination, and with the advent of the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East we need to embrace the quality and variety of our indigenous food producers. Highlighting these to visitors, and spread the message of the food revolution here. In the US, 7% of all craft beer sales, take place at the source, meaning the brewery or taproom. Wouldn’t it be great for our brewers, cider makers, and distillers to get to keep the extra margin for themselves?


With the bill being debated at the second stage, you need to contact your local TDs to tell them to co sponsor this bill, and support it. Most TDs have a twitter account, so tag them in when retweeting this one from Beoir. This is a vital step in the modernisation of our archaic alcohol legislation – we need to be more like our neighbours and deal with alcohol like adults.

Mystic Snob – 2017

Mystic Snob – 2017

As the dust settles on 2016, i’m going to have a look back at some of the things that kinda irked me last year, I know this isn’t the usual for this blog, but some things just need to be said.

In the second half, i’ll be looking at some things that I feel will come to the fore in the Irish Beer Scene, there have been a couple of good posts already up by Hopaddiktion and over on

Ok, to get the bad off my chest now.


Tap-lists that bear no resemblance to reality
It’s a bit of a bug bear of mine, you go to all that effort to have a fancy blackboard or list somewhere of whats on tap. If it doesn’t reflect whats on tap, why bother? It’s pretty disappointing to choose from the wall when its not on. Also, make sure prices are clearly put there too for good measure.

Serving Sizes
The above brings me nicely onto my next one. After getting around Europe a fair bit last year, there were several craft beer bars we visited. One simple thing that made it particularly pleasant was the option of a 1/3rd pour or 150ml when in Holland. It’s nice to be able to have a small taste of a big beer and still have your wits about you. I’m not talking about your normal bars, but for our craft beer bars, this should definitely be an option.

Quality Control
With an increased number of breweries, the issue of quality control becomes a more important aspect of their daily business. Many average consumers would not give someone more than perhaps 2 chances if they got a bad beer. Checking the product before it leaves the brewery is crucial. Many of the “Big” guys employ a sensory check before sanctioning the release of a beer. Hopefully this takes place here.

Disinterested Staff
This one, i’ve thankfully not come across a lot, but it’s a particular bug bear of mine that i’ve been served by bartenders who have no interest in what they’re doing, and carry on talking to their colleagues when you’re standing at the bar waiting to be served. There are some places now on my list that i’ll pick elsewhere over due to the poor showing.

Lack of good glassware at Beer Festivals
It’s a real pity that at the few festivals I attended in Ireland this year the glassware was those eco plastic cups, I felt like I was on the terraces in Old Trafford (yes, not a prawn sandwich in sight). After a brewer has slogged their guts out to make a beer these glasses take away so much of the experience. Why can’t we have something like a craft master glass, or even a half pint tulip. Surely the point is to enjoy different beers, and not get absolutely blathered. Also, water and glass rinsing stations. Absolutely crucial.

Now i’m going to attempt (and likely fail) to predict what i can see coming on stream in Ireland in 2017 from our native breweries.


MORE collaborations
As brewers get more comfortable in their set ups I feel we’ll see more collabs popping up throughout the year, both domestic and cross border. This won’t be just limited to brewers, but perhaps more coffee, and fruit producers.

Barrel Ageing
And no, I don’t just mean the type where someone lobs an imp stout into a whiskey cask and sees what happens. I think 2017 will be the year of some more mixed fermentation, yeast experiments, and with different styles coming from various brewers throughout the land.

Following International Trends
Whether or not this means murk bombs left right and centre, I don’t know. I doubt it. But I do think there  will be more experimentation along the lines of fruit additions, lactose, and whatever you can imagine. It’s already happening elsewhere, it’s only a matter of time it starts here.

The rise of the Taproom (Hopefully)
With the legislation hopefully landing this year, Ireland will finally join the enlightened. In fairness, Alan Kelly introduced the members bill that got the ball rolling, and it’s important we support this as it is legitimate local employment opportunity and tourism. Metal Man brewery have put a good link up. It probably won’t get through in it’s current guise, but it’s an important first step.

Cans to continue their growth
Thanks to the mobile canners doing the rounds there are more and more beers making their way into Cans. Will we see an increase in the size to 440ml or 500ml? I hope so, a 500ml can of Punk IPA is a pleasure.

What do you think we’re going to see? And what do you hope we see?


Taprooms – The elephant in the room.

Taprooms – The elephant in the room.

Or do they?

On Weds 23rd November, out of nowhere, a little members bill from TD Alan Kelly winged it’s way into the Dáil (to the UK folks, think Houses of Commons, and US, The House of Representatives)

Now, to give a bit of context, Ireland, as you may know has been going through a craft beer revolution the last 5 years or so. However, a lot of our alcohol related laws are not really fit for a modern society. Indeed many are still derived from the 1800s.

One of the oddest quirks, was that if you visit a Taproom, or a Brewery you can’t buy the beers at the end of your visit. You’re given samples included with your Tour. But this is a very grey area. It doesn’t end there, it also means that if you wanted to buy beers direct, you have to buy at least 19 litres worth. Otherwise, in order for a brewery to sell you this they’d have to have a publicans licence. Which given the archaic market in Ireland, will set you back anywhere between €50,000 and €100,000.

Madness, there are umpteen sources, and examples of beer tourism, the world over, and even closer to home, Fáilte Ireland have been promoting the brewers on the Wild Atlantic Way (link here) but the nub of it is, technically you can’t buy the beers or a couple to bring home at the end of your tour.

So in steps Alan Kelly, an elected representative from Tipperary, and so the story goes, that he was taking part in a tour of White Gypsy in Templemore, and thought just how ridiculous it was that the tour group couldn’t buy a few bottles to get home. Though i’d like to think that Cuilán might have had a few choice words for him. As a result you can see the press release from the labour website, and the actual bill is here

Firstly, I applaud this bill, and the inevitable discussion this will bring. I’m going to go through the proposed bill now, and highlight the pro’s and cons as to how I see them. It’s also pleasing to see that cideries, and distilleries are being included also.

  1. It appears the bill only deals with people on “Guided Tours” so does this mean, as a member of the public, and you wanted to buy some locally made beer etc you couldn’t unless you had the tour? – This needs clarity in my view.
  2. Can only buy beer, cider, or spirits made on site – This makes sense, but also limits the potential for beer festivals, or encouraged co operation with other brewers etc
  3. Hours of Licence, 10am to 6pm – now, this is a 7 day licence. It’s not consistent with general alcohol licences, or off licence sales. Truly it limits the potential custom during the week, as if people are working they might not be able to make it in time etc. It might make more sense to align these with Off Licence trading hours, or say 9pm, for a happy medium.
  4. Potentially large fines for breaching these terms – selling products outside the above time, or manner they are approved may lead to large fines, and loss of licence.
  5. If the brewery has a previously purchased Off Licence or Publicans Licence this new licence would extinguish the other one so it may not be worth their while to pursue, unless they wish to sell the licence. Although there has been no indicative cost given.
  6. Extended Licence operations – holders of these licence, are precluded from applying for extensions etc for events or exemptions of any kind – which limits the type of events, if any they can run at the site.

So, this could be a great opportunity for local brewers, cider makers and distillers. It gives them a platform, to show off their facility, and benefit from the upturn in alcohol tourism that has been growing around the world. It allows them to make profit from small tours, and potential up-selling of products.

I don’t want to be a negative nelly, but realistically this is a private members bill, from a politician who is a member of one of the smaller parties in parliament. It’s clear this will need cross party support to get across the line.

Clearly compromises like operating times have been selected to keep the publicans happy. Though if they played their cards right they could also benefit from that. It’s a start. Which is more than welcome.

I’m encouraging you to contact your local TD, no matter what party they are and encourage them to support this bill. It means support for local jobs, and the local economy. If and when this goes to vote, it’ll be interesting to see who votes against – given the large number of publicans holding seats – i’d like to think it would lead to a similar rejection of their cartel and business.

You can find your local representatives with their email addresses here



There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark.

Here’s an angry Dane! Picture courtesy of

Another week, another controversy. This weeks flare up is all about Heineken Ireland’s statement that some of their products have been sold as “Craft” beers by some unscrupulous publicans. The statement is here and confirmation that the Irish Consumer Watchdog is following events. I’m sure Heineken are quaking in their boots.

First things first, in all these things, the blame game is played. So who is to blame? Is it the big evil corporation? The publican? Our toothless regulators? Who?

Let’s take the issue at hand, Heineken Ireland products, which could be white label rubbish, or more likely Fosters, Beamish were sold as rebadged products. Under the guise of craft beer. Sneaky buggers! It’s clearly our beery overlords at fault here right? I don’t think it’s that simple.

This is my take on the whole bloody thing.

1: The Publican / Licence Holder

Gif courtesy of GIPHY

Ok, we all know the pub game is a hard game and it has been for years. I think most pubs struggle with their unique value proposition, in fact the pub scene is Ireland in my opinion is quite homogenous. Loads of screens? Check. Loud music? Check Same beer offering? Check. You might as well go to McDonalds. There are of course, notable exceptions to this. But in the main thats my opinion on the pub scene.

We’ve seen that pubs are closing at a high enough rate, for any number of reasons, but the pubs that are in prime tourist areas make enough dough during the busy times to keep em going through the lean times. This of course does not give them an excuse to con customers. In fact it makes this all the worse from that point of view, given that nearly every county in the country has a brewery whether they be a physical brewery or contract operation leaves know excuse. These venues have displayed absolute laziness and cynicism in vast quantities. In an often paraphrased statement, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of crazy.

So publicans, what is your value proposition? In an evolving market how are you changing to keep with the times. Current customer habits? Just don’t try and fool a consumer with a more sophisticated palette by doing this sh*te, thanks.

2: The big bad corporation

Gif courtesy of Giphy

Ok, so we know corporations act like psychopaths, this is clearly the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Heineken are clearly not beyond blame here, and no doubt the publicans behaviour was facilitated by sales reps eager to stamp out the competition by offering up white label/low volume heineken brands for these venues to con customers. The fact that Heineken Ireland was thrown under the bus by it’s parent is an indication of something. It’ll be interesting to see the results of this investigation. But at the end of the day it is Heineken’s business, to sell beer! Even if they have resorted to allegedly underhanded means of doing so. This is why they are under investigation separately by the above named consumer watchdog. Though the whole industry needs to be looked at in my opinion.

3: The Consumer.

gif courtesy of Giphy

Oh no, the consumer, they’re the victim in all this. Right? Partially. The victim of being conned by the cynical practices of certain publicans, yes. But ignorance is no defence either. If it quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, guess what, it’s a duck. So i’m gonna give you a quick checklist if you want to have tell tale signs that all is not what it seems.

Does the pump clip have a brewery name on it? No, then it’s probably something bad
Does it say the ABV & Style? No, then it’s problem something bad
Can the pub tell you where it’s from? No, then it’s probably something bad
Does the pump clip say where it’s brewed? No, then it’s probably something bad

When I say something bad, I mean some Machiavellian under handed craft beer wannabe. At least Guinness have the balls to put their name loud and proud on their Brewer’s project and Hop House 13. Heineken do not. They make Cute Hoor, and Orchard Thieves. Did you know that?  Well now you do.

4: The Local Brewers

Gif courtesy of GIPHY

For all the complaining that people have done regarding the venues that were selling that rubbish. How aggressively were the local breweries chasing the account? I mean, you could brew a beer made with unicorn tears and everything, but if you can’t sell it then whats the bloody point? Brewers made good beer, but sometimes the selling skillset isn’t there. Take it from someone who’s worked in sales, you’ll hear a lot of no’s and you have to be persistent and learn how to overcome objections.

Sadly we don’t yet have a local beer culture anywhere near the prevalence of the UK where you generally will see on cask, or tap a beer from within a 20 mile radius. But this won’t change unless brewers get smarter and better at selling their products. Relying on the specialist beer bars around the country is all well and good, but surely the focus should be the local area, and getting as many accounts as possible.

So in summary, Publicans, stop being sneaky, Big Beer, stay classy, Consumers, ask bloody questions of what you’re spending your hard earned cash on, and Brewers, brew and sell more beer.