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The Year Ahead in Beer

Craft Beer 2018

There was a bit of a lull in 2017 in terms of new brewery openings, we may be seeing the peak for the current market share of about 3.4% to 4% for independent breweries. In fact, we lost a few breweries recently.

The Dingle Brewing Company, which brewed Creans lager, failed in spectacular fashion and went in to liquidation. I believe the real issue they had was that they concentrated on one product which was dominated by multinationals and they aimed it at the same market, rather than the emerging craft beer market. They rose to great heights a few years back when Aer Lingus stocked their lager on planes but even that wasn’t enough to keep them up in the air.

We also lost Jack Doyle’s near Enniscorthy, and Evans Brewery in Donegal. In fact, Jack Doyle’s might have been the first brewery since 2005 to close. There was also several contract brands that ceased trading over the past year or two such as 12th Abbey, Radik Ale, Blackstairs and a few others.

The news is not all doom and gloom though, because we have had new breweries open up and more to follow. In Kildare, the Kildare Brewing Company based at Lock 13 Gastropub started operations in the last quarter of 2017. That makes Lock 13 Kildare’s first brewpub. It’s based in Sallins and is just around the corner from the train station. The Sallins line is part of the commuter train service so it makes getting there from Dublin and back easy, quick and cheap. I can also attest that the beer is excellent, especially their Munich style Helles lager.

Opening soon in Athlone will be Dead Centre Brewing. That will mark the opening of first brewery in Westmeath for over a century. Dead Centre currently brew at St Mel’s in Longford, but the brewery is set to go in to operation in Athlone very soon.  In fact, they are launching their second beer in a few weeks called </sourcecode> (yes, actual name) as well as providing a tour of the upcoming brewery site.

It will be interesting to see what other breweries open in 2018, and hopefully we won’t lose any more. Competition for tap and shelf space is getting increasingly more difficult, both with the increasing demand for craft beer as well as pushback from large multinationals bringing out new products.

The 2018 beer calendar is also somewhat different than last year. The Alltech Brews & Food Fair now takes place a few weeks later, March 8 – 10th.  The beer festival that used to take place over the St. Patrick’s weekend was cancelled last year and it’s doubtful it will return this year.

In April, Easterfest takes place in Cork at the Franciscan Well Brewpub over the Easter bank holiday weekend. Usually, they can’t run it on Good Friday but this year, the restriction on the sale of alcohol on Good Friday is supposed to be lifted. The question is, will they run the beer festival from Friday then?

May was usually home to the Killarney Beer Festival but they must push that back to later in the year, probably November. You can still get your May bank holiday beer festival fix at Bloom.

There usually aren’t any beer festivals in summer other than small, local festivals so the next big one should be at the RDS in September.

In other beer news, the Guinness Open Gate brewery has released a new alcohol-free beer called Open Gate Pure Brew. It contains no more than 0.5% alcohol and is fully fermented using a special yeast strain which doesn’t produce much alcohol as a by-product so the lager tastes like a lager. It’s not immediately apparent that it’s technically alcohol free unlike many on the market. I was on a tasting panel before the official launch and thought it was rather good. It’s better tasting than some other mass-produced lagers on the market despite its lack of alcohol.

Perhaps this is a sign of interesting things ahead for 2018? Let’s hope so.

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