Craft brewer Franciscan Well to double output

Company founder predicts 20 brewery closures in next two years

Franciscan Well founder Shane Long says the brand can go from strength to strength. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Michael Cogley

Franciscan Well, one of the country's largest craft beer brands, intends on doubling its output to more than 200,000 kegs in the next five years, its founder has said.

The business, which was sold to drinks giant Molson Coors in 2012, has invested more than €3m in a brewery in Co Cork with a further investment of just under €1m to come.

Shane Long told the Sunday Independent that its aim was to achieve "sustainable growth in a tough market". The company has just launched its new beer, Pilgrims.

"We want to go to several more countries. Coors are very strong in Eastern Europe, so I'd imagine we'll go there. They've acquired a brewery in Italy and in Spain so I would imagine we'll be following there because there is a route to market," he said.

"We went from the equivalent of 7,000 kegs when I was independent in my best year to last year which would have been 90,000 kegs. A fifth is coming from the UK and growing rapidly."

Long, who now works as an adviser to Molson on the Franciscan Well brand, said that he was "living the dream" following the sale of his business seven years ago.

"It's a very ambitious plan. That brewery we have has the ability to do 200,000 kegs, but it requires further investment, which they're doing in the form of a canning line and they've invested €3m into it already," he said.

"If the growth keeps going the way it is we'll see that in five years, but anything can change. When we took over the warehouse it was 50,000 sq ft and we thought that we would never fill it, but now I think we will."

Franciscan Well has propelled itself to becoming one of the most recognisable brands in craft beer. Its flagship 'Chieftain' accounts for 43pc of all Indian pale ales sold in Ireland.

Despite the strong growth reported by Franciscan Well, Long warned that the industry was about to face into some tougher times.

"When I was chairman of the brewers' association in 2012 there were 22 of us, last year there were 90," he said.

"This is not going to last. I think you'll see the same statistics of closures that we saw in the 90s, unfortunately. I'd say you're looking at 20 closures within the next 12 to 24 months. I honestly think even a global brewer would struggle with the more developed craft countries."

Long said that the "real battle" will be faced by brands that had expanded nationally or into export markets and that the most secure brands were those that were "hyper-localised".

The company's new beer will have a lower alcohol content, 4pc, to that traditionally associated with craft brands. Long said that the aim of the beer was to target those that enjoyed the Franciscan Well taste, but were unable to drink it for the night due to its high alcohol content. He also said that if the company was capable of creating a non-alcoholic beer "bursting with flavour" he would look at it.

Globally the craft beer market has been tipped to reach $502bn (€450m) by 2025.