Beer wars: big brewers trying to tap into the craft market
Small craft breweries are to launch a new trademark, claiming larger companies are "cashing in" on the growing demand for local beers by branding imported beers as Irish.
The Association of Craft Breweries of Ireland (ACBI) said it was worried by the increasing number of mass-produced beers being "passed off" as Irish craft beers, despite being brewed abroad.
There are now more than 50 micro-breweries in the country producing hundreds of different beers in a market growing by 18pc a year.
Gráinne Walsh of the ACBI, said there was confusion in the market. Members of the organisation produce less than 30,000 hectolitres of beer each year, with most producing substantially less than that.
"People love what we offer and while the market is still small, it is growing all the time," said Ms Walsh, who runs the Metalman Brewing Co in Tycor, Waterford.
"The problem is that beer has been dumbed-down and mass produced and everything has been about the price.
"There are also beers appearing with Irish-sounding names, but they are usually produced in the UK and shipped in. So we're getting together and we'll come up with a branding which distinguishes what we do from what the mass producers are doing - it will be like a 'craft beer of Ireland' campaign.
"At the moment, some people might think they are drinking beer from a micro-brewery when they are not."
However, one founder of a larger brewery said his brews were now produced here in Ireland.
Niall Phelan, from the Rye River Brewing Company in Kilcock, Co Kildare, said he had been producing some of his beers in England, but the production line was now established here.
He said his brewery - which produces beers such as McGargles and contract brews famous brands such as Bavaria and San Miguel - is larger than micro competitors, but it's still "very small" compared to craft brewers in America.
"We have a small brewery, with a capacity of 80,000 hectolitres. We made the decision to make all our beers in Ireland and that's what we do.
"Some companies start out contract brewing elsewhere while you get established and that's what we have done. We would consider what we do as craft brewing," he said.
"It's a growing market, with 18pc per annum growth set against a 3pc decline in the overall beer market."
Rick LeVert, who runs the Kinnegar Brewery in Rathmullan, Co Donegal, said he was "relaxed" about the size of breweries here.
However, he did admit he was angry at false labelling on some products on the market.
"The authenticity of what we do in producing Irish beers is being challenged by mass-produced beers, produced overseas, and given Irish-sounding names," he said.
"When you look at the label, all you will find is a reference to being produced in the EU.
"If people want to buy Irish and support Irish jobs then you'll find that real Irish beer is labelled as Irish.
"If it says 'Brewed in the EU' on the label then it's not from here.
"There's not a week goes by now without some Irish-sounding new beer popping up - and they're not Irish at all.
"It's cheating the consumer and we would urge beer lovers to check the label."