Crafty brewers ask 'would sir like to see a beer list?'
MASTERING the craft of home brewing has been turned in to a business for dozens of Irish beer enthusiasts who have hopped in to the market.
Around 30,000 people work in Ireland's beer industry from the barley producers on the farm through to the maltsters, brewers, draymen, and bar staff serving up international brands in your local.
But it's the small independent craft beer movement that is quietly making an impact on taste buds, pubs and off-licences around the country.
"During the boom people bought the most expensive and exotic things from far off lands and they paid for it and threw money at it," said Phil Cullen, a former civil engineer who opened his Mountain Man Brewing Company in west Cork in June.
"When we had the downturn people started to support home grown produce and that included drink.
"People have less money and are not drinking as much overall, but they are treating themselves and savouring the beer and getting their monies worth. The big market is the 25 to 46-year-olds who have travelled overseas and tasted beers all over the world."
While consumption of beer has fallen by about 2pc year-on-year recently, the craft brewing sector has experienced a spurt in growth.
It holds less than 1pc of the market here – compared to 10pc in the US – but sales have soared by 42.5pc in 2012 and about 35pc in 2013.
Cullen (39) was home brewing for 12 years when he quit his job with a consultancy firm and opened his brewery.
"My wife actually said 'what took you so long'," he said, adding that he has already had to turn down orders for export.
"I haven't worked this hard in a long time but it's not working. Its only work if you don't enjoy it.
"Sales are growing all the time. Before Christmas I was in 60 outlets across the country."
Tuam woman Sarah Roarty's aptly named N17 and the Dublin-based Stone Barrell Brewing Company, run by friends Kevin McKinney and Niall Fitzgerald, are both dubbed "the new kids on the block" having opened in recent weeks.
The working mother cares for disabled daughter Clara, who has Angelman syndrome, while creating her brews and other treats like granola bars and dog biscuits from spent grain.
"If I was to think of all the reasons why I shouldn't start, the kids are too young, I don't have enough money, there are so many reasons," she said.
"But I think to start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can gives you permission."
Roarty previously worked in multinational chemical plants in Britain, Germany and Ireland, before leaving her job for her children and become chief executive of Tuam Chamber of Commerce which was a "real learning" to see how small business worked.
She is making her two brands of beer at a friend's brewery, Sam Black's of Kinsale, until her own site is up and running in the coming months.
The entrepreneurs were at the Alltech craft brews and food fair in Dublin's Convention Centre, where more than 6,000 people sampled 150 craft beers from 45 brewers from Ireland and abroad.
David Smith, of the Irish Brewers Association (IBA), believes the market is big enough for the multinational mass producers and craft brewers whose brands are now being matched with meals instead of wines in pubs.
"We have a great brewing history. Guinness and Smithwick's started off as craft beers 250 to 300 years ago," he said.
"The new beers are exciting and getting the customer interested."
Rick LaVert ploughed a €300,000 investment and his "deep-seated passion" in to his Kinnegar Brewing plant, which opened in Rathmullen on the shores of Lough Swilly in Donegal in July.
He already produces up to 3,000 litres a week, distributes to 100 outlets and employs four people.
LaVert put his success down to his core range of beers and with special brands to mark occasions, including one for Valentines called Maddy Row. The label reads: "for all those who have been burnt and bitter by love".
But he puts the success of the craft beer trade down to the wine revolution and "pent-up demand".
"For years Irish drinkers were force fed a meagre palate of options and told no more," said LaVert, who moved to Ireland from Boston in 1989. "Then we had the wine revolution and suddenly places had to start serving it.
"Now small craft brewers are able to get a bit of opportunity and offer an alternative. It shakes things up a bit."