Pearse Lyons: Beer could be the answer to all our economic woes
There is scope for the creation of hundreds of micro-breweries here with huge economic benefits.
Published 07/07/2013 | 05:00
LET me tell you a story about where Alltech's brewing business began. It started at the august Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin some years ago.
There I sat, awed by my surroundings, watching people enjoy their morning tea and biscuits.
At 22, I had just graduated from UCD with a degree in biochemistry and had spent years working on and off in the brewing industry, first as an intern at Harp Lager Brewery in Dundalk followed by a period at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin. The chair I sat in was so soft it seemed bottomless, and out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man in tails moving through the room. In his hands sat a small chalkboard. Two bells dangled from its corners, jingling softly as he moved through the room. Suddenly I saw that my name was written on the sign. Raising my hand, red-faced, I acknowledged that he was searching for me.
Now my reason for being here was made clear: I was at the Shelbourne to meet Professor Briggs, a man with the power to change my life. He was in charge of the British School of Malting and Brewing, that 100-year-old institution in England.
Fifteen minutes later, after a short interview, he accepted me as the first Irishman ever to enrol. Leaving the hotel, my head floating in the clouds, I eagerly anticipated telling everyone the news. Little did I know that I had just started on a journey that would shape my future.
Forty years later, my company, Alltech, has offices in over 128 countries. My knowledge of brewing and distilling has helped us set a target of $4bn in sales. (We're already at about $1bn.)
How did I go from a brewing and distilling degree to running Alltech, an animal nutrition to food business? What was my journey? The answer, simply, is yeast. It is my passion. It is awakening greatness within me and those around me.
Part of my journey has involved my love for brewing. When I told my brother Lorcan that Alltech had opened a small brewery in 2000 in Kentucky where I live, he was immediately excited.
"It is small," I told him again, trying to temper his enthusiasm.
"Yes – but it's beer, and that's what's important," he said.
In many ways, he was right because beer and whiskey inspire imaginations. Brewing and distilling has allowed my company to grow. We would like nothing better than to see others following suit. It is our hope that our Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, one of the most successful and fastest growing craft beers in the United States, will inspire more Irish people to go into brewing.
Ireland is experiencing a time when jobs are needed, and young people are searching for opportunities. Entrepreneurs advise putting the best people where the best opportunities lie, and I believe the craft brewing and distilling industry is such an area of opportunity. This year alone in the US, 1,254 new breweries are planned, adding to the 2,400 already active craft brewers. In Great Britain there are 900 breweries, and even Bangalore, India, has 40 craft brewers. While sales at large breweries are stagnant, craft beer in the US had a total volume of sales that topped $11bn in 2012, a sales increase of 15 per cent. Over 185,000 jobs were generated at the same time. Why not have two breweries in every county in Ireland? Why would Dublin not have 50 craft brewers and distillers?
After all, Denver, Colorado, which is similar in size to our capital city, has over 50. Ireland, with its rich history in brewing, and the home of Guinness and the River Liffey, is the perfect place to build on this craft brewing revolution.
Is this a trend that is going to go away? Absolutely not. This trend has spent 40 years gaining traction. When I moved to the US in the late Seventies, it seemed like every town had brewers. The city of Cincinnati, Ohio, with its German roots, had seven.
Yet one by one, these small craft breweries began to fall by the wayside, disappearing across the country. Big breweries were forcing them out, either through costs or large-scale advertising.
Still a movement survived. It was a movement away from the often bland nature of the large breweries' products. This movement was not specific to the United States, but spread around the world.
Great Britain saw the CAMRA campaign flourish, a campaign for real ale. People wanted differentiation; they wanted taste in their beer. With my background in brewing and distilling, the timing was perfect. I had immigrated to Kentucky because of their bourbon whiskey and my expertise in yeast. Slowly, as the years passed, the bourbon industry, and also the craft brewing industry, experienced a renaissance. Why not add to its growth in Ireland?
Ireland could become the epicentre of craft brewing and distilling. But where to start?
Within the context of the Irish Government's Gathering, I saw an opportunity. Deciding to set a date, we created a craft brewing and distilling convention. Entrepreneurs often say that any idea has a lifetime of three days. If the idea is not acted upon in those three days, it will die. We didn't let the idea die, instead we acted quickly and booked the Dublin Convention Centre. Immediately our sales force in 128 countries began to spread the word about this inaugural event.
Craft brewers and distillers are hungry. They are hungry for venture capital, knowledge, and expertise. At our convention answers will be given: how do you brew a beer that has legs and can travel? How do you brew a beer that is sustainable and consistent? How do you distill a whiskey, gin or vodka? What is involved with these processes?
We will discuss food pairings, for example, with Irish cheeses. We will talk about reaching out to restaurants and sharing where the beer industry is and what they can expect. We are ready to share how to brand a food or beverage, for without branding and marketing there cannot be a success. Brewers can also bring their beer for evaluation and suggestion.
Added to the event are various forms of entertainment and sessions. We decided that just as we had brought the Kennedy family back to Ireland for the 50th anniversary of JFK's visit, we would bring others to Ireland. We would bring the spiritual ensemble that stole the show last month in New Ross. Woodsongs (the old-time radio show) also accepted our invitation to perform for the first time outside of the US. Information about innovation, entrepreneurialism, and crisis management will also be shared.
Yet we hope the convention will be something even bigger than the sharing of information. It is our hope that it will be a catalyst for change. A catalyst for job creation.
Typically every brewery has as many as 10 people. With 50 breweries in Dublin, that would be 500 jobs – not even taking into consideration the malt suppliers, the bottle producers, and so on. There is a whole infrastructure that goes behind each craft brewery.
Have you been wondering what you can do to help Ireland? Use your imagination just as we did when we set up a distillery in Ireland. Create space in your schedule and life to awaken your greatness.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to talk to like-minded people who can help you set your plans in motion. Bring life to your idea. Let us help you start your own journey of passion and success. Join us on July 18-20 in Dublin. We hope to see you there.
Pearse Lyons is the founder and president of Alltech.