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Summer pours: How Irish craft brewers are finding news way to get their beers to customers

When the pubs shut, Irish craft brewers showed their resilience by finding new ways to get their beers to the customer, says Susan Boyle

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Susan Boyle. Photo: Dawn Broughan

Susan Boyle. Photo: Dawn Broughan

Hope Beer, Grunt, 440ml Can 4.8% ABV RRP €3.60

Hope Beer, Grunt, 440ml Can 4.8% ABV RRP €3.60

Trouble Brewing, Dark Arts Porter, 440ml Can 4.4% ABV RRP €3.99

Trouble Brewing, Dark Arts Porter, 440ml Can 4.4% ABV RRP €3.99

Ballykilcavan Brewery, Bambrick's Brown Ale, 440ml 5.8% 440ml RRP €3.75

Ballykilcavan Brewery, Bambrick's Brown Ale, 440ml 5.8% 440ml RRP €3.75

Kinnegar, Big Bunny, East Coast Style IPA

Kinnegar, Big Bunny, East Coast Style IPA

12 Acers Brewing "Make Hay" Session NEIPA,

12 Acers Brewing "Make Hay" Session NEIPA,

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Susan Boyle. Photo: Dawn Broughan

Irish craft brewers are a resourceful bunch. Many now-established breweries were set up during the last recession and, although none could have foreseen a pandemic, they know how to make the best of an uncertain economy.  

"In the independent sector," says Libby Carton of Kinnegar brewery in Donegal, "every day you know you are going to have to improvise, to work out how something can be done differently. It's in our DNA."

Back in March, when pubs and restaurants closed and festivals were cancelled, Kinnegar, which had a relatively small production of draught beer, acted quickly, switching to bottling and canning 100pc of their product.

"Our bottles appeal to those who will try something new in an off-licence setting but want the pub experience at home," says Carton, "while our cans usually attract people who are more familiar with craft beer. Now we have two very different products and that has given us the opportunity effectively to have a second brand. Keeping them different has worked really well for us."

Another brewer who has noticed the appeal of different packaging for different tastes is Patrick McDonald from 12 Acres Brewing in Laois, which currently brews a range of seven beers: three core beers available in bottles with small batch, seasonal or experimental beers offered in cans.

Wim De Jongh, founder of Bray brewery Hope Beer, worked with an old school friend to get their can design just right.

"It has been time well spent," he says. "Prior to lockdown, Hope Beers sold on draft in pubs and in 330ml bottles to restaurants. Lockdown forced us to focus on off-sales and this is where cans took off. Our retail sales have doubled - and in some weeks trebled - since March, all in cans. With many pubs and restaurants still shut, though, our volume sales are down overall and we have the cost of hiring a mobile canning unit."

David Walsh-Kemmis's family has been farming in Ballykilcavan in Co Laois since 1639. A barley grower turned brewer, he knows a thing or two about being at the mercy of forces outside his control.

Ballykilcavan Brewery's core range of bottle beer is available in branches of Lidl nationwide as part of their Kick Start programme, while their more experimental can range is stocked in off-licences and online.

"Dealing with fewer stockists and selling more beer through them has been an unexpected bonus," says Walsh-Kemmis.

So, while the pandemic has been a challenge for craft breweries, it has also brought opportunity.

There is a thirst for new ways to socialise and enjoy beers and a bag of cans has a new meaning when those cans are from small businesses and choosing them has a direct impact on the lives and families of the people behind them.

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Susan Boyle is a drinks consultant, international beer judge and award-winning member of the Guild of Beer Writers

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Beer of the Week

Kinnegar, Big Bunny, East Coast Style IPA

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Kinnegar, Big Bunny, East Coast Style IPA

Kinnegar, Big Bunny, East Coast Style IPA

Kinnegar, Big Bunny, East Coast Style IPA

€3.70 (440ml),6pc, from O'Briens; Baggot St Wines; Mc Hughs, Dublin; Castle off-licence, Tralee; drinkstore.ie; thebeerclub.ie; craftdirect.ie; beercloud.ie

A big, juicy beer with creamy mouthfeel, malty body and a smooth, bitter finish.

Trouble Brewing, Dark Arts Porter

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Trouble Brewing, Dark Arts Porter, 440ml Can 4.4% ABV RRP €3.99

Trouble Brewing, Dark Arts Porter, 440ml Can 4.4% ABV RRP €3.99

Trouble Brewing, Dark Arts Porter, 440ml Can 4.4% ABV RRP €3.99

€3.99 (440ml), 4.4pc, from Sweeney's off-licence, Dublin; drinkstore.ie, thebeerclub.ie; craftdirect.ie; beercloud.ie

This world-class porter has a complex malt profile and a light, hoppy finish.

Ballykilcavan Brewery, Bambrick's Brown Ale

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Ballykilcavan Brewery, Bambrick's Brown Ale, 440ml 5.8% 440ml RRP €3.75

Ballykilcavan Brewery, Bambrick's Brown Ale, 440ml 5.8% 440ml RRP €3.75

Ballykilcavan Brewery, Bambrick's Brown Ale, 440ml 5.8% 440ml RRP €3.75

€3.75 (440ml), 5.8pc, from select NextDoor off-licences; Ardkeen Store; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; thebeerclub.ie; craftdirect.ie; beercloud.ie

A versatile food-friendly beer ideal with barbecued and roast meats, or even dessert.

Hope Beer, Grunt

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Hope Beer, Grunt, 440ml Can 4.8% ABV RRP €3.60

Hope Beer, Grunt, 440ml Can 4.8% ABV RRP €3.60

Hope Beer, Grunt, 440ml Can 4.8% ABV RRP €3.60

€3.60 (440ml), 4.8pc, from Dunnes Stores; O'Briens; Molloy's; SuperValu; EuroSpar; drinkstore.ie; thebeerclub.ie; craftdirect.ie; beercloud.ie

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12 Acres Brewing 'Make Hay' Session NEIPA

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12 Acers Brewing "Make Hay" Session NEIPA,

12 Acers Brewing "Make Hay" Session NEIPA,

12 Acers Brewing "Make Hay" Session NEIPA,

€3.80, 3.8pc, 440ml, from Lidl; Martins, Fairview; Ardkeen Stores; thebeerclub.ie, craftdirect.ie; beercloud.ie

This 3.8pc Session New England Style IPA, brewed in Co Laois, is a flavour-packed, hazy beer that is light enough to entice you to drink more. Brewed using 12 Acres' own pale malt, the addition of some Munich malt and oats gives this beer a rich mouthfeel. This is bursting with juicy tropical fruits and citrus, thanks to the generous use of Citra and Amarillo hops.


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