The craft beer scene has in many ways been a lifesaver for the Irish pubs sector.

5 or 6 years ago, the global recession was biting the hospitality industry hard and many Irish pubs were on their knees. Footfall and customer-spend was falling and the craft beer sector was in its infancy. Craft beer was seen by many as just a quirky idea. It was viewed pessimistically by many. “How could a few small quirky beers succeed in a market dominated by huge scale brands with trusted reputations?” It couldn’t, right?

Those early-adopter pubs and restaurants found a new selling point and a new conversation that lended itself perfectly to social media and attracted new customers to them. A cultural movement was beginning and the pubs who embraced craft beer, benefitted hugely from this change. Many of those pubs invested more in their food offering to complement the flavoursome beers they were now offering and they quickly realised a new (saving) path in their businesses.

Dial-forward to today and there isn’t a pub or restaurant around now who don’t offer craft beers. Even the most vehement opponents, now offer “crafty” beers at the very least and the craft beer market shows no signs of slowing down. It is quite the opposite. It is maturing and so is the customer. The craft beer industry in the USA is now at an astonishing 22% by revenue of the $108 Billion US beer market. If consumer trends in Ireland continue on a similar trajectory frm the current 3% by volume, then the future of Irish craft beer looks bouyant, although obviously, there’s only so much beer we can drink on our little island (no matter how hard some of us try!) so export is going to be crucial to the long term growth of the industry. 

I have just spent two days at Alltech’s European Headquarters on lockdown with some of Ireland’s top brewers judging over 300 craft beers and ciders for the annual Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fair. The standard and variety of beers available now to the hospitality industry is astounding. The innovation and diversity in the market is trully amazing and has significantly improved year on year. Available to the Irish hospitality sector now is a wealth of beers with something for every customer including: flavoursome low-mid strength Session IPA’s at 3.5%+ alcohol which defy traditional logic that lower alcohol = low flavour. There are some extremely impressive Irish Lagers and Pilsners to rival their German counterparts, there are astounding full-bodied heavy Porters and Stouts more akin to full-blooded mature Bordeaux wines than mere beer. Even my own previous personal bug-bares of “fruity” and “special” beers, I have to admit, have matured to become balanced, refreshing and drinkable beer. There are some whacky and poor-standard beers out there, but just ask solid beer distributors like Grand Cru and Premier International for advice and they will steer you to the good stuff. One of the most refreshing aspects of the scene is that although the tried-and-tested reliables are always available, there is always something new or limited edition which pubs and brewers together, use to coax customers up off their couch and into the pub. That’s a significant difference between the scale brewer and the Irish craft brewer, the craft brewers are always happy to work WITH pubs and restaurants to personally promote a new tap or bottle into the venues and engage the beer-drinking audience. They have that personal relationship with beer drinkers that the end-seller can benefit from.

Complementing this trend for lower alcohol consumption, but higher spend on high quality drinks are high quality spirits. Irish whiskey is performing well with more new products coming on-stream every week and of course premium gins are really flying high at the moment with many Irish pubs excelling at producing high quality cocktails using Irish and international premium spirits for an increasingly discerning public. The Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fair is the perfect embodiment of these three elements, good Irish food, great Irish beers and the finest Irish spirits all available together under the one roof. This annual 3 day event (8th-10th March) is now a firm fixture in the trade and consumer calendar and one which just gets better and better each year. With 16,000 expected attendees, live music and the Ireland game on the huge screens, it could possibly qualify as the largest Irish pub in the world this weekend!

Article by Kevin McParland, Business Development Director, Irish Pubs Global Federation.