Thursday 29 September 2016

Tillage growers need to get crafty for brewers

Published 23/09/2015 | 02:30

Barley growers, maltsters, breweries and Teagasc need to devise a strategy to source materials for the burgeoning craft brewing industry says brewer Seamus O'Hara
Barley growers, maltsters, breweries and Teagasc need to devise a strategy to source materials for the burgeoning craft brewing industry says brewer Seamus O'Hara

The €40m craft beer industry can offer premium prices and security of demand for Irish barley and hops growers if they grow the much sought- after flavoursome varieties, according to one of the country's leading craft brewers.

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Sales of craft beers have surged with many of the labels now stocked in leading off- licences and bars.

"Ireland needs to develop an Irish variety of malt and barley that the craft beer industry is willing to pay handsomely for, while guaranteeing security of demand through long-term contracts," said Templemore's White Gypsy Brewery founder Cuilan Loughnane.

"If we can do this professionally it puts Ireland's malt and barley on a world stage, which it's not on at the moment."

Craft beer production may only account for about 2pc of the volume of beer produced in Ireland but its output has more than trebled since 2011.

The output of the country's 63 microbreweries is expected to rise over 70pc this year to 145,000 hectolitres - with a projected turnover of €39.6m.

However, Mr Loughnane said the opportunities are strong with a further 64pc increase forecast for 2016. He said White Gypsy Brewery grows a small volume of hops in Co Tipperary. "We only grow a quarter of an acre beside our brewery, but we did that to show farmers that hops can be grown in Ireland," he said.

By way of comparison, he said that New Zealand's hop industry didn't exist 25 years ago but now produces some of the most expensive and most sought-after hops in the world.

As for barley, he stressed that the quality in Ireland is as good as anywhere in the world, but lamented that the varieties grown are determined by the best tonnage per acre, regardless of flavour.

"We need to go back into Teagasc's books and find a variety that maybe was not used because of yield but its flavour profile was fantastic and which can be malted very well. Then you can put that product onto a world market stage and command whatever price you want for it," he said.

However, Mr Loughnane claims he was met by "blank stares" when he made such a proposal to Department of Agriculture officials at a meeting last December.

Chief executive of Carlow Brewing Company and spokesman for the Independent Craft Brewers of Ireland (ICBI), Seamus O'Hara agrees that barley growers, maltsters, breweries and Teagasc need to "get around a table" to discuss better coordination between demand and supply within the industry.

"The craft beer industry is really just getting off the ground and getting organised, but this is something the ICBI will be looking at in the future," he said. "The general philosophy of craft brewers is that they want to use as many local ingredients as they can," added Mr O'Hara.

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