Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lacking in Bottling

This is more an observation than a criticism, but one of the hardest things to do in Ireland at the weekend was to find craft brewed Irish beer in the shops. In every supermarket we went into I went straight to the beer section, only to be confronted with shelf after shelf of Guinness, Heineken and a selection of Eastern European lagers; usually Lech, Zywiec and Staropramen. Only once did we see something interesting, in this case London Pride and Franziskaner Weissbier - which I recommended to the friends we were staying with, and which they very much enjoyed. On Monday morning I was almost in despair at the possibility of finding O'Hara's Stout in bottles to bring back to Prague, so much so that I nearly bought the Marks and Spencer Irish Stout which I believe is a variant of O'Hara's. Thus it was that I was very thankful to Adeptus for his tip on where to get some in Dublin Airport once through the security checks.

It would seem to me that there are two issues here:
  • craft brewers not bottling their beer
  • supermarkets not stocking craft beers
Take for example the excellent Galway Hooker, a beer which I understand was originally conceived and designed as a beer purely for Galway - something I think is a fantastic idea, to begin with. Having a core market is clearly very important for a small, local, brewer. Once a product gains a reputation beyond its catchment area - given the prevalence of beer blogs, websites and other modern media, a good product will catch attention very quickly - then the viability of bottling becomes an important issue. It would have been great to bring some Hooker back for the likes of Evan Rail and Pivní Filosof to do a joint tasting in the spirit of our recent BrewDog posts.

But then comes the question of the supermarkets. If they are not going to stock the craft beers already available, such as the beers from the Carlow Brewing Company, or even from Whitewater up in Northern Ireland then what incentive is there for the local brewers to invest money in a bottling line? I am aware that the Porterhouse will soon be installing their own bottling line, to allow a wider distribution of their beers (some of which will be mentioned tomorrow or Friday), I just hope that they will be picked up by the supermarket buyers.

In many ways the situation as I perceived it in Ireland, and I am more than happy to be wrong here, resembles that of the Czech Republic. Yes you can get Svijany and Primátor quite easily in Prague, but walk into Tesco and the shelves are burdened down with Gambrinus and Staropramen. Pivovarský klub and Pivní Galerie stock a wide range of Czech beers, but what about outside of Prague? Of course there is the tradition of beers being on tap, however I think it is something of a fallacy to consider draught beer as naturally superior to bottled beer; take my comments yesterday about O'Hara's Stout as an example.

As I said at the top of the post, these are just observations - if I am off the mark then let me know.

6 comments:

  1. Sorry I couldn't make it along on Monday. My lunchtimes are rarely as flexible or liquid as some.

    You're not far off the mark about the state of bottle beer in Ireland. It is generally abysmal in major supermarkets with the odd exception. Bottling is just so damn expensive to do and most micros just can't afford it. The Porter house has been profitable for many years now, but state that they left bottling alone because it was too expensive. That is changing soon though, and also throws open the possibility of any extra capacity they might have being offered to Ireland's other micros.

    The speciality off licences serve us quite well, though, but it many cases a special effort must be made to find one, rather than grabbing some bottles while buying groceries in the super market.

    Despite how it seems, things are getting better all the time.

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  2. No worries about Monday - make sure you get the bottle I brought over for you from Beer Nut!

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  3. You are not wrong. The like of the Carlow beers used to be easy enough to get in some supermarkets, but you might recall BeerNut telling you that they used to ship there beer to Dusseldorf (as I recall) to be bottled and sent back. Mad! And indeed, as Thom mentioned, the Porterhouse still say in their menu that they don't bottle because it's too expensive, but we know that has changed. I really hope that they help out their fellow craft brewers.

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  4. A worse situation/example is that none of the Carlow beers are available on draught in Carlow town(where I live) and I'm pretty sure they're not on bottle in any either. I think that we, the beer drinkers of Carlow, have only ourselves to blame as not many supported it when it was launched in the town.
    Mind you, they are available in Tesco and Superquinn supermarkets here. That could be just a local thing.

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  5. I recall my amazement when I visited the Carlow Brewing Company earlier this year and couldn't get a pint of local brew in the town. I just assumed at least one pub in the town would stock it. Turns out you had to drive 10 miles out of the town to find the nearest pub with an O Hara's tap

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  6. That's correct. The Lord Bagnal in Leighlinbridge.
    Im so embarassed about it.........

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