The Craft Beer Scene in Northern Ireland – Support your local brewery!!


In a word, the craft beer movement seeing huge growth in other parts of the world is being suppressed in the North of Ireland by the Macro beer brands, the craft beer market is being prohibited from growing because of anti competitive tactics which leads to lack of support from the on trade market.

Combine the anti competitive tactics with the current out of date licensing laws our craft breweries really need support from the public to grow and survive and our politicians need to start lobbying for change of the licensing laws to help the small craft producers sell direct.

The main problem is anti competitive practices from the big drinks distribution guys, our own brewery was hit with such tactics recently. We brewed a beer specifically for a large hotel and they stopped buying from us so we sought clarification on what was happening, they advised us that they had been given 350k over a ten year period not to allow other breweries in that they didn’t represent. This is the first time we experienced this with a bottle contract, we had never seen that type of activity before, usually you can expect it to be just in relation to draft beer lines.

In simple terms Macro beer brands can buy the rights (not lawfully btw) to have just their beer pouring in bars, restaurants and hotels, some craft brewers simply wouldn’t have the ability to compete with such deals so their growth is suppressed.

Another major problem is licensing laws, now NI is isolated with out of date legislation, the South of Ireland recently changed their laws with a successful Craft Drinks Bill and the UK breweries can sell direct, they can open tap rooms they can generate a revenue from direct drinks sales but NI can’t without approaching a bar to get the use of their occasion licence and making an application to the court.

The lack of a sitting assembly at Stormont means any work that had previously been achieved with craft producers and MLA’s working on a change in law will have to start again IF they ever get back to actually legislating. What is shocking is that political parties in NI don’t currently even acknowledge correspondence in relation to this.

Another issue is that NI craft brewers need volume sales to survive, the margins in Craft Beer are small and with the suppressed local craft beer market the consumption rate is low so they need to look at supermarkets or exports, now we have the impeding circus show that is Brexit looming without any guidance to how the local craft brewing business community is being affected plus the catch with supermarket sales means most independent off sales will abandon them as they say they won’t stock breweries that are in supermarkets yet they still stock macro beer that is in the supermarket, that itself doesn’t seem fair really, again a different rule for macro beer.

Export is what is helping NI breweries grow , the consumption rate of craft beer in Northern Ireland isn’t large enough to support the amount of brewers. There is few breweries in NI that work fulltime brewing without some form of supplementary income for eg our main business is selling ingredients to brewers but we do co own a local brewery. Those that are working full time are really making the effort to push their brand as its the most difficult place to open and operate a brewery. We have some incredibly talented brewers in Ireland and Irish craft beer is respected on the world stage. Export markets are competitive , the margins are low but if you can achieve some decent volume then it can create revenue to allow the brewery to grow that growth leads to larger scale which in turn brings efficiencies and savings.

Direct sales from the brewery is what is really needed, taprooms across England for eg are selling their beer on draft direct for say £4 per pint, 95% of what they are brewing is being sold onsite, this is allowing them a consistent and sustainable revenue stream. I have visited some of these tap rooms and they have become the hub of the community in some small country villages.

So why don’t more NI brewers open tap rooms?

Some do and make use of occasion licences in their breweries and I love what they are doing here…. Checkout Boundary, Lacada and now Knockout doing this. Location is key too, if your brewery is based in the countryside for eg that might not be practical. So if we look at premises in major towns and cities they have prohibitive rent and rates and if you want to buy a licensed premises they are crazy expensive. We looked recently at a licence that became available in Randalstown and the asking price was 200k, with the current licensing laws no new licences can be issued so if you own a licence its worth money.

Some of our NI brewers are making incredible craft beer yet local support isn’t on their side. I recently went to a well known Belfast Bar with several other brewers, we were offered samples and asked if we would like to try something on their board (this part i thought was a good thing btw) but….. When we looked at the board I said I would like to try something local. This then kicked off a talk from the bartender about how he couldn’t get any kegs from local breweries. This really got my attention so i started asking some probing questions turns out he was talking out his arse. I started asking basic simple questions like which local breweries did you approach? I was shocked and equally pissed off at the response, the bartender ran down several respected local breweries one by one. Largely inaccurate info I may add, yes our brewery was mentioned and apparently I don’t need beer sales as my income comes from meat sales from our beer fed beef project – really wtf!! our business partner in the brewery Nigel was there with us and runs the farmshop with his brother and he will confirm that isn’t a main revenue stream, it takes it all to get a little return. Good brewers who I rate were slagged off one by one, I challenged this with some effort and said we were all brewers and what your saying is wrong and if thats the message you are portraying to customers then you are damaging the local beer scene. Guess what we chipped away at all the bullshit and it boiled down to distribution companies, who they can and can’t buy from, frustrating to be honest………

This is written to help create awareness of what challenges local brewers have here, yes we co-own a brewery ourselves but our main business is supplying brewing ingredients, we want all local breweries to be supported, we are passionate about this industry and as a small family business we have built relationships with the brewers we supply we know how hard they work, we know they can make awesome beer we just want you to see how much they need a little help. If we could get the licence laws changed and more taprooms opened these are the places i’d like to spend my sparetime, please challenge your local bars and off sales to make an effort to support your local brewery, or as many local breweries as possible, this will greatly help the craft beer movement.

Does your local MLA know we need these laws changed, the more constituents asking the more chance for change, just saying, we genuinely appreciate your help with supporting local brewers.





NI Craft Beer Scene

At Geterbrewed we like to think that we have our ‘finger on the pulse’ so to speak within the industry

We have not only supplied the equipment for a number of breweries throughout Ireland but we now service the large majority of them with their brewing ingredients and we own our own small brewery Hillstown.

So why is the craft beer scene in NI so far behind the rest of Ireland and even further behind the rest of the UK?

There is a number of reasons, the main reason I believe is the strong hold that large macro brands like diageo and tennents have on the draft taps.

Many bars are given financial incentives to stock macro brands and have exclusivity deals that stops them from offering a draft tap from their local brewery

This is anti competitive but the local breweries can’t seem to do anything to fix it, it’s not for the want of trying i might add…

Another issue in NI is our out of date licensing laws that stops craft breweries from selling direct to the public, recently in the South of Ireland the legislation was changed to allow them to sell direct but with NI not even having a sitting assembly it’s difficult to see this changing anytime soon.

There is a few exceptions that are free houses and offer draft options away from the grip of the macro brands but there is even difficulty there, depending on what distributor they use usually affects who gets on tap too. Our local breweries need to see this sort of support to allow them to grow

Let’s be honest craftbeer hasn’t really taken off yet locally, we need alot more knowledge of what a great beer is. Less volume and more quality!! Some of the macro beers are awful tasting bland fizzy rubbish, why not try a beer with actual real flavour brewed by your local brewery

Owning a brewery always takes investment to grow and brewers either have the capital or they need to use their sales revenue to grow this. Without volume keg sales this affects revenue and in turn growth

Another issue is we don’t have a cask beer scene worth talking about here either. Pop over the Irish Sea and you will walk into bars with 10 cask beers on offer, this leaves breweries fighting it out for bottle sales and now cans.

Now cans are on trend in the Craft Beer scene but if a brewery wants to can locally they have to use a mobile canning service. At the stage of writing this no local brewery has their own canning line. We know that is soon to change but what you don’t realise is the expense is huge for this type of contract packaging.

So again the local breweries are struggling to achieve a solid profit margin to allow them to grow their brewery. Economies come with scale and while lots of local brewers are willing to work hard their efforts may not be visible If they can’t grow their output. You have no idea just how hard our local brewers work to earn a living, I don’t want to sound like a broken record but they do need your support to survive.

Some people say the local beers aren’t good enough. I can assure you that some of our local brewers are consistently producing impressive beers but yes we have some that are producing beer that simply isn’t good enough. If someone was to try an infected craft beer for the first time are they likely to try another craft beer ? Personally I don’t think they will, so we need education on what great beer tastes like

It’s also super competitive on price as the larger breweries are able to produce product for a much lower production price and when tenders come available for export channels or supermarkets, some brewers aren’t able to compete on price.

The demand from the specialist off sales and bars that do stock a range of Craft are also looking for something new, experimental pilot brews and small scale batches of specials are expensive and time consuming so again brewers aren’t generating a high revenue to allow them to grow.

Some of the local independents stock an offering of local craft but why isn’t there more local?

Some specialist off sales refuse to stock local beers if they feature in the supermarkets, I do get that if there was promotions in a supermarket they wouldn’t want to compete but that has to be balanced with why do they stock the macro brands that are also in the supermarket, it’s double standards and our local brewers need all the support they can get. Some need the supermarket sales to survive.

Our local breweries don’t have large marketing budgets and can’t compete with the bill boards, marketing material and adverts for macro beer.

We have local breweries so disheartened with the local craft beer scene that they only focus on export.We have a few new additions to the market in recent times and have a few breweries in planning but it’s inevitable we are going to have a few casualties. One local brewer recently converted his brewery into a distillery as he felt he couldn’t make a living from his brewery and needed to diversify.

With so many breweries competing for such a small market share of Craft Beer consumption we need to see change to see the local beer scene grow.

There is some local breweries producing awesome quality beers , we need more people to recognise what great beer is, there is a massive giant out there that is makro beer and it feels threatened by the global growth of Craft Beer. It wants to protect its market share in Northern Ireland and is willing to ‘fight dirty ‘ you know the tap ties I mentioned earlier that’s only some of it.

We know the millions Diageo ploughed into Hophouse 13 well now they have turned on Coors and they have launched Rockshore as they want to take away from their grip. It’s getting messy they are selling a huge volume of it but look at the quality of the liquid.

The makro beer brands also have sudo craft options that they have created to con the consumer into thinking it’s a craft beer.

I love this industry it’s my livelyhood and as a small family business we all are driven to see it succeed but sometimes it feels like in up hill battle for us and the amazing passionate local brewers that we work with.

Can I ask you to try and grow this movement, support your local brewery, go to their events, ask for their beers in your local off sales and bars. Give them honest feedback to help they improve and grow and continue to put quality before volume.

Share a few local beers with your friends, talk about them, the ingredients they used, the styles and ingredients that you enjoy. Pair a local brew with a beautiful meal, what I’m saying is create a moment that you enjoy the beer for its flavours and if this supports a local brewery they be happy in the knowledge you made their day and mine !!

Rant over! Its not all bad by the way we have some brewers locally that are holding their own and growing well but a little knowledge about whats going on sometimes can help. We need some more independent bars, what would be awesome is some more Brewpubs, the potential for a brewery that sells direct here is huge!