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Craft beers brewing up a storm

THE craft beer industry in Ireland is thriving in a time of national recession.

Over half of the country’s existing 37 breweries and cider makers have been set up since 2009.

But they are backed with a tradition of craft brewing that is embedded in the mists of history. In the 19th and early 20th century the Irish landscape was dotted with breweries.

Different regions produced different styles servicing the local population with ales and stouts.

The appeal continues today with industry sales rising by 42.5% last year and expected to increase by at least a further 35% this year. This rise was experienced in both the domestic (55%) and the international (25%) marketplaces, despite an overall decrease in domestic alcohol and beer sales.

That growth will be celebrated at the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival which takes place at the RDS in Dublin during next week (Sep 5-8).

It will fall in line with Irish Craft Beer Week which will run from next Friday (Aug 30) through independent pubs and off-licences nationwide.

Featuring some 25 craft beverage producers, the festival is expected to attract over 8,000 visitors during the weekend.

Niche brands, new products and pipe-line products will be showcased.

This gathering of brewers and cider makers will feature over 100 craft beers and ciders from all over Ireland, as well as artisan food and live music.

Co-founder of the Irish Craft Beer Festival Seamus O’Hara said the Irish craft beer industry, which owns about 0.4% of the market, is booming at present.

"Year-on-year growth is at an all-time high and the interest from the public in our craft and trade is making this sector a great one to be involved in at the moment," he said.

Mr O’Hara said craft beer- and cider-making is about much more than a beverage.

"The complexities of flavours and the intricacy of the brewing process make it possible to create myriad different products — all unique and interesting in their own right," he said.

Meanwhile, the number of microbreweries operating in Ireland has increased significantly in recent years due to a surge in public interest in independent craft beers.

That’s according to the organisers of the second annual week-end Doolin Craft Beer Festival which ended in Co Clare last night. Some 15 domestically produced craft beers from some of Ireland’s best microbreweries were amongst dozens of beers and ciders showcased at the festival, hosted by Hotel Doolin.

Donal Minihane, the hotel’s general manager, said Ireland has traditionally had a long history of brewing with almost every small town at one point having a microbrewery.

"At the beginning of the 19th century there were over 200 breweries in the country, producing a wide range of Irish beer. This number dropped significantly by the beginning of the 20th century due to the dominance of a few large and famous breweries.

"By 2007, there were only 12 breweries in the country, with most producing mass-produced beer, backed by formidable marketing budgets.

"However, independent craft beers have seen an explosion in popularity in recent years with increasing numbers of pubs around the country now serving Irish beers and ciders," he said.

Mr Minihane said that there had been a great response from his hotel customers, particularly foreign guests, who want to sample local beers rather than beers they can get in their own country.

"Following on from this, last year saw the launch of our own craft beer, ‘Dooliner Beer’, which has proved extremely popular with both locals and tourists alike.

"Nowadays, it’s not just about slapping a pint of lager up on the counter and walking off.

"Customers want to know where the beer comes from, what’s in it, how it is made and the history behind it," he said.

This year Hotel Doolin will again partner Seamus O’Hara who has been instrumental in the re-emergence of craft brewing in Ireland.

After seeing the wider range of beers available in bars in the United States and continental Europe, Seamus O’Hara and his brother Eamonn established Carlow Brewing Company in their home town of Bagenalstown in 1996.

Due to the dominance of macrobeers in Ireland at the time, the brewery was initially very export-orientated. But interest in the brewery and craft beer in general has increased.

"We have gone back to basics and brew our beers as they used to be brewed — with natural ingredients and no artificial additives.

"We believe this leads to a superior quality product with robust body, taste, flavour and aroma," Seamus O’Hara explains in the company’s website.

Doolin Craft Beer Festival also had a strong focus strongly on artisan and local food producers.

Mr Minihane said the hotel is a strong supporter of artisan food and drink producers. It has its own artisan food shop and its own vegetable gardens and hens.

It harvests rainwater, is a Green Hospitality gold medal winner and is continuing to explore new ways of supporting local business.