Price of Craft Beer – Are craft beer drinkers being taken advantage of?

Something has been troubling me for a while now. It is undoubtedly a great time in the Irish Craft Beer scene, many new entrants, and more to come. Obviously there are a lot of passionate people out there making great beers, but there is something that has been gnawing at me for a while. The price of the actual beer in the pubs we frequent. 

In these austere times people are looking for value, and craft beer has benefited from this change in consumer trends, where people will happily buy an artisan product for a little bit more for an undoubted step up in flavour from a macro beer. There is also an element of the green flag in supporting the Irish producers. However there seem to be more and more examples of pricing that can only be described as eye watering.

While it is a positive to see on the one hand publicans traditionally in neck deep with the Heineageo duopoly taking on Irish Craft Beer, and international craft beer. It is going to be more damaging in the long term in my opinion if a large premium above a macro beer on a craft beer. It seems to be a token effort.

Galway Hooker is a fine beer – but, €6.70 for a bottle? Granted a 500ml bottle but even so. 

Now in an ideal world we’d all be holding hands singing kumbaya, drinking loads of craft beer, but that is a bit much considering a pint of heineken in the same establishment is a good euro less. 

But let’s face it brewers don’t start brewing just for the hell of it. They are setting up a business where their aim is to make money. They sell their beer at a set price to the publican direct or through a distributor. They hold no control over the price it is sold at in the off license or pub. Who also need a margin to make their profit and cover their costs. That is how capitalism works.

However, in this fledgling industry, the common joe soap is not going to be swayed by a story of two people who gave up careers in x and y to brew beer. Oh btw its an extra €1.50 a go. The story alone is not enough to justify to these consumers to take the plunge and buy a proper Irish beer. The problem itself isn’t unique to Ireland, or even consumers here’s a tweet I came across the other day.

The facts remain, less than 3% of the Irish beverage market is craft beer, it is growing at a great rate, but the long term viability on the industry is contingent on more craft beer being sold, and it would be naive of any new entrants to solely aim at this 3% there is 97% of the market to aim at. Higher prices will not grow this industry. It could however potentially harm it.

Yes I know American craft brewers have a much lower cost per unit than the cost per unit than in an Irish set up. The Excise rebate helps with that – and I doubt there are a huge amount of brewers charging publicans a large amount more on a keg than macro producers. 

There is one example i’ve been made aware of recently that highlights this. The brewer in question distributes through a distributor, they have a nationwide set price per unit. Every pub gets the same cost per case. The variance on the price of a bottle was from €4.70 to €8.50. I can imagine the feelings of this brewer when they heard that top end price – who is going to pay that? I also understand publicans in major urban centres have large over heads but when this particular beer was also available on draft for between €5.40 – €5.70 a pint within 10 minutes of the €8.50 price in the same large urban area – as a consumer you have to ask, is that value for money? I would argue that price for a pint versus 8 quid for a bottle is supremely better value for money. Maybe Mary Harney had a point when she said “to shop around”

To quote Sarah Roarty 

“It’s really important to keep beer in the hands of the people, not to gentrify it and make it so expensive that only high earners can afford the exclusive beverage” 

I think that sums it all up for me. 

I’d be interested to hear / read your thoughts, you can contact me on the twitter, or by email or comment below.

Franciscan Well – Cask & Winter Ale Festival 2014

It may just have been St Valentines day, but Janice and I didn’t celebrate this infamous holiday in the traditional manner, oh no, you know at this stage that’s not my style.

The day itself we went on a little pub crawl of the Galway Bay Pubs in Dublin, taking in the new bar Alfie Byrnes which is situated in the basement of the Conrad Hotel. Against the Grain on Wexford St. We then had a fantastic dinner in Bison, a 51oz Cowboy Steak (A Ribeye with the bone in) along with 5 sumptuous sides and a cocktail each for €50.

Cowboy Steak from Bison

  Of course we ended the night with Alan and the crew in Brewdock.

Alas, I digress, on the Saturday we went down to Cork, to visit the 3rd Annual Franciscan Well Cask & Winter Ale Festival 

For those who don’t know Franciscan Well is a Cork based brew pub and brewery who are massive supporters of Irish Craft Beer. Cask is really a niche within a niche of craft beer consumption in Ireland but it offers such a different way to enjoy some of your favourite breweries. There was also some of the newer brewers present on Keg, such as Otterbank with their amazing Farami, Rascals with their award winning Ginger Porter, and N17 with their Rye Ale.

Bru Brewery had 3 of their products on that day, I didn’t see the Dubh, maybe it ran out on the first night, as i’d had a sneak of it previously and its such a great stout on cask. I was really impressed with the which is their west coast IPA. Very bright in colour, a nice malt base that allowed the hops to do their thing with the piney citrus aroma followed by a smooth bitterness. Daire mate you can be truly happy with that as the feedback from everyone I spoke to was great. 

Bru Rí on the Cask Bar

2013 Dublin Cup winner Twisted Hop by Hilden was also here on cask, a lovely straw colour with a white head and great smooth flavour. Trent and Amber both by White Gypsy were both also really good.

Another real standout for me was Hop Magnet by Blacks of Kinsale, fresh off the back of their success at Alltech, they’d brought a fantastic Double IPA to the party. Not long ago Ireland was a wasteland in this style now we have 3 of these. At 8% this is not to be treated lightly, but it like Of Foam and Fury is eminently drinkable despite its ABV. The aroma was nice and you got a great citrus, clementine taste on the tongue as well. Sam already has two great permanent fixtures, be great to see this become the third.

As an aside to the beer, and the proper stone oven cooked pizza provided by Pompeii pizza. There was also a meet the brewer series. I only attented the talks by the utterly inspirational Sarah Roarty who outlined her journey from Industrial Chemist to Brewer, and what her motivations and aims are. Thankfully I didn’t make Sarah cry this time! A truly great story and keep an eye out for N17 Brewing coming to a pub / off license near you. 

I also attended Phil from the Mountain Man who held a great informative Q&A session. One thing is for sure I can’t wait to see your set up at the RDS this year and my offer to man the bar is still there (Better start growing the beard now, or at least get a decent fake one) We also got a sneak peak of the next Mountain Man beer, Crazy Horse, the 100 IBU is delish.

All in all a great day was had, we got the train back to Dublin that evening. I’m already looking forward to this next year where i’m sure it will as great as it was this weekend. Coming up shortly is the Irish Craft Beer Fest in CHQ in March and potentially a return to Franciscan Well for their Easter Fest.

The 2nd Alltech Craft Beers & Brews Festival #alltechbrews Dublin February 2014

2014, it promises to be a great year for Craft Beer in Ireland, and the 1st major event in Ireland was the Alltech Brews and Food Festival at the magnificent Convention Centre Dublin. It is also confirmed that this even will return in 2015 bigger and better.

This was my first time, I missed the 2013 event, meaning I had no point of reference, but this wasn’t going to stop the enjoyment of it. Part festival, part conference there was a great blend with the conference sessions, The Pub Series which I attended and the Sensory Courses. 

This was truly an international event, I bumped into pub owners from around the world, and perhaps more surprisingly there were a lot of Irish Publicans here. Maybe the penny is dropping. There were some great speakers, Dr Pearse Lyons, President of Alltech gave a rousing and very inspiring talk before my friend Reuben Gray gave a talk to 300 eager to learn pub owners and managers. As you know Reuben is an avid blogger also, but he is currently the Chair of Beoir. 

The themes of the talks were of a broad but practical nature, simple things like if you have bottles and they can’t be easily seen, have a menu. I expect a lot of people took something from each of the speakers. One of the more interesting topics was when Dean McGuinness from Newstalk & Premier Beers gave his definition of Craft Beer. But for me one of the best was the panel that features some standout publicans from the Irish Craft Beer scene, Seaneen from L Mulligan Grocer, Jason from Galway Bay Brewery and Geoff from 57 The Headline. An open forum Q&A session where they told a very attentive audiences about their businesses and what works for them. 

Once the talks finished I went down to the main expo area which was really well laid out, and this time afforded me to the opportunity to speak to some great brewers from all corners. I particularly am thankful to Paddy from Windsor & Eton who talked alot about their beers, of which 2 feature in the 1001 Beers to Try Before you Die. I sampled the Republika Pilsener, and Conqueror 1075 Black IPA, both extraordinary beers, but I also enjoyed their Kohinoor, an east Indian Pale Ale with Cardamom, Coriander and Jasmine. I really hope someone picked them up for distribution to the ROI. 

In an Irish context there were some Irish Debutants here, we’d Rascals, N17, Independent Brewing, Stone Barrel. N17’s Oatmeal stout was sensational, as well as the Gold Winning Rascals Chocolate Ginger Porter. Both medallists in the Dublin Cup. The full list of winners is here, but the Irish Winners are here; A special well done to all the medal winners, but Ireland is once again punching above its weight in the international scene. Long may it continue.

The overall winner from Denmark, was the Coisbo No 4: A Small Batch Russian Imperial Stout, thankfully i’d sampled before the announcement and the resultant scrum. Not only that they’d a very interesting Pale Ale with Elderflower too. Really hope they’ll be in Ireland soon. Also I was very very impressed with Spain’s, Molta Birra Revolution IPA from Catalonia. 

But perhaps for me the story of the festival was the launch of N17, which has been launched by Sarah Roarty whose whole philosophy of total production means that even bye products such as the spent grain is repurposed into Granola, and Dog Biscuits. There are some oriental mushrooms to follow too. But not only did Sarah come to the show with a lovely Rye Ale, but also a fantastic Oatmeal stout, thankfully this was noticed by the judges and Sarah was awarded Bronze. For a Debut Beer, this was sensational! I also have the infamy of being the person who told her she’d won, while she was pulling a drink, it was a fantastic moment, and extremely well done. It must also be noted that Independent from Carroroe also won a medal on their festival debut.

We’re blessed with some fantastic food producers here in Ireland and they were well represented here, Ballymaloe, Ed Hick, Sheridans Cheeses, Carrigaline, Bretzel Bakery and many more. It was maybe a slight pity that there was only little morsels of these fabulous products available to us rather than say a Ed Hick Sausages on freshly baked Bretzel Bread? 

The atmosphere at the three evening sessions was fantastic, and kudos to the organisers for putting on a fantastic event. Can’t wait for next year already. Maeve, Tara, Ashling, Holly and Tracey were all fantastic and a credit to Alltech, the hospitality was fantasic. Thank you so much. 

Next Up for me, next weekend is The Winter Ale & Cask Festival @Franciscan Well Cork, then next month we have the Irish Craft Beer Fest in the CHQ Building in the IFSC.