In this latest interview we visited Larkins Brewing Company in Kilcoole County Wicklow, just outside Dublin, and right next to one of my favourite golf courses in the country, Druid’s Glen
We chat to Cillian about the brewery, how it came about and how it really is a family business. We looked back over their 1st 12 months when they launched at the RDS beer festival to where they are now, and where they’re looking at going.
The beers coming out of Larkins are really good and there will no doubt be more to come. A keen young brewer Cian Hurley, is heading up the production side, while brother Nick helping out full time too. There is a nice feel to the space and environment.
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 chance 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 & Carlow Brewing 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.
In this latest episode, we taste the Magic Rock cannonballs, so that’s their regular Cannonball IPA, with their annual specials Human & Unhuman Cannonball. This year sees a new special enter the fray, in the Neo Human Cannonball, a New England DIPA version.
We also look back over recent weeks, and look forward to the events taking place around the country to celebrate Indie Beer Week which is a series of events taking place in many of Ireland’s Craft Breweries – be sure to check out the events in your locality
We’re also are looking forward to the following events
Picture the scene, the Beer garden in L. Mulligan Grocers of Stoneybatter, a gorgeous sunny Saturday. What better than to spend a part of the afternoon tasting beers from North Tipperary’s Canvas Brewery along side some specially prepare dishes from the reknowned kitchen of L Mulligan Grocers
Taking the rule book of convention, and tossing it on the fires of Mad Max, listen to Maurice and Mark talk about the origins, the aspirations, and plans for Canvas.
This was recorded outdoors, and there is some background noise, and some of the audience members were quite quiet, so we’ve boosted audio as best we can
Podcast as always is available for download on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and by direct download here
So, it’s been a long first quarter of the year, upheaval in the day job, have loads of days carried over from the year before. You decide to take a week off. What do you do?
Well, I had opted to play some golf, but the weather was horrendous, spring had most definitely not sprung the week commencing 26th of March. But there was a highlight there, after snagging the most ridiculously cheap Ryanair flights, I was going to fly over to London for the night. Now I’ll admit, the main reason was that I was finally able to accept the invitation from Bord Bia to their Annual Spirit of Sharing event that takes place in the Irish Embassy. It also afforded me the chance to catch up with my good friends, Steve and Martin from Hopinions Podcast
picture of Steve, Martin and I, courtesy of Bord Bia
It all got off to an inauspicious start, the customary pint of Galway Hooker in the Marqette bar in T1 was quaffed with ruthless precision. However I fell into the sheep trap that is the Ryanair queueing system. The plane wasn’t even in yet. Yet, we queued. I himmed and hawed about getting a bacon butty from the café near the gate. A decision I would later regret. The plan was late in, and we were boarding after our scheduled departure time. My itinerary in London was going to have to be curtailed somewhat. What then transpired was a delay of 2 hours 55 minutes, under that crucial compensation threshold of 3 hours, before we left due to a minor technical problem. This meant I had to take an axe to my planned route, and concentrate on one area that gave the greatest bang for its buck.
I decided on Stratford, it’s an easy to reach part of London from Stansted Airport, just jump on the express train, and change at Tottenham Hale. My good friend Francesca (of Five Points) had helpfully suggested I visit Mason & Co for a pint and lunch. Which I readily did. Being midweek seemed an ideal time to visit without the crowds at the weekend the bar itself, is by the canal not far from the Olympic Stadium, now home to West Ham. It was easy to imagine this place during the summertime where people will sprawl all over the grassy banks enjoying one of the many fine beers on display. I opted with a Five Points Unfiltered Pils, needless to say after the walk, it barely touched the sides. It was lovely and crisp, with an earthy noble hop character that made me order one more.
Capish? Provide the food at Mason & Co, and I was not disappointed with the Chicken Parm (again thanks Chess) with a side of pizza fries. Fries with a tomato sauce, and melted provolone cheese and herbs. Here I got chatting to the friendly bar person, and fellow beer blogger and marketing & events manager Rebecca. Who it turns out is actually from Ireland via Canada, and now settled in London.
From here I wandered the short walk along the canal with a can of West Coast Dank the collab between Lervig & Boneyard, towards the new Beer Merchant’s Tap in Hackney Wick. It was a warm day and the beer was delicious as I wondered along, taking in the numerous barges and street art on the way.
The Beer Merchant’s tap is a lovely space, with huge room for outdoor seating and indoors a phalanx of fridges contains bottles of all varieties. It was great to see such a choice and of course a wide range of beers from the taps and cask. I will admit, I was a little underwhelmed, having expecting much more juice on the taps than there was. Death by Northern Monk was there, however, it was far too early for an impy stout, so I went with Sharpshooter by Lost & Grounded, a lovely light refreshing sour ale. Checking the time, I had one and left to meet with Steve over at the Irish Embassy. I would have liked to have some more time, but there is always next time.
Now the serious business; While Brexit is a huge challenge for the people of the UK, it also represents a huge challenge to the many food producers who count the UK as a target market. Despite the uncertainty regarding the future relationship with the UK, it makes sense as our nearest trading partner to continue to forge ahead with potential business. The Spirit of Sharing event brings together many of the new distillers of white spirits, whiskey, and of course craft beer and cider. It was a first taste of many of the whiskeys for me, but I was very familiar with the brewers who were in attendance. Yet again the Hope Flat White Stout was a knockout, as well as the Imperial Stout by Boyne Brewhouse.
Blacks Brewery from Kinsale, Co Cork, were there, and we absolutely love Sam & Maud, it’s great to see they were there not only with their range of beers, but also their own gin, and new to market rum.
The ambassador was ejected from his office for the proceedings, but it was an honour to be in the Irish Embassy in London and see all of these producers, some new to me, and some i’d come across. Everything from Mead to Gin, Rum and Whiskey. Ireland is truly embracing it’s growing reputation on the international stage as a drinks producer, long known as an exceptional dairy, meat and seafood producer, drinks now taking up the slack and growing in leaps and bounds. Irish Whiskey is one of the fastest growing categories for export and sales world wide. Easy to see why there are so many fantastic producers, and more to come on stream over the coming years.