Expensive licensing laws holding Irish microbrewers back

Gavin McLoughlin

Irish microbrewers are being hindered by licensing laws that effectively prevent small brewers from selling their products to tourists, according to the co-founders of the Wicklow Wolf Brewing Company.

Under legislation dating back to British rule, brewers can't sell beer in quantities less than about 20 litres under a manufacturer's licence.

Simon Lynch, co-founder of the Wicklow Wolf

The high cost - tens of thousands of euro - of getting licences that would allow them to sell more practical quantities means that at the end of a tour the brewers are forced to tell visitors that their products are available in pubs, not on-site.

"It would be a big help for small producers like us if we could actually sell our product ourselves," Wicklow Wolf co-founder Quincey Fennelly told the Irish Independent.

"The licensing laws here are archaic to say the least," Mr Fennelly added.

"It's not that it's particularly banned; we can go and get a licence but the problem is the cost for us would be huge just for us to sell our own produce. So really what we would have to do is go and buy a pub, and set up in a pub, which we can't afford to do.

"To enhance the craft beer movement in Ireland it would be a big help if there was some category within the licensing laws that would allow us to sell our own product, only just our own product, on our own premises. "We want to be able to provide an experience for people...that they can come in and do a tour of the brewery, buy a barrel of beer or a sixpack of beer, or have a pint at the bar and buy a t-shirt before they leave."

Introducing a new type of licence would be likely to attract hostility from publicans.

But Mr Fennelly's fellow co-founder, Simon Lynch, said they would only be looking to trade until the early evening.

"Up to maybe 7 o'clock in the evening or something like that...it wouldn't interfere with the publican's trade and actually in fact people might want to go on for a drink in a bar in the locality that might be serving your beer."

Reuben Gray from Beoir, an organisation that promotes Irish craft breweries, said the ideal licence would fall between an off licence and a pub licence.

"They could even restrict it to the same trading hours as an off licence, 10 until 10, and you're only allowed to sell your own products. So you would restrict it in such a way that it allows microbrewers to sell their own products both to the public to take away, and to drink on-site." Wicklow Wolf has just produced a new product called "Locavore Blonde", a blonde ale totally based on hops the company grew on its farm in Roundwood.