As Ireland’s craft brewing industry continues to expand, education will be key to harnessing the power of its value and consumer loyalty.
There’s no two ways about it, craft beer has arrived and has become an important market. At the moment the segment represents less than 2% of beer sales, but the craft beer consumer is not one to be ignored. Once converted, they don’t go back. They exhibit great loyalty to their favourite brewers and their purveyors, they convert their friends, and they’re willing to spend more for a better quality product.
It’s a segment with plenty of potential for growth too. In the UK craft beer holds 8% of the market, while in the US its share is over 18% – the latter being the more established industry. Given the high value of the product and its consumers, there’s every reason to be excited about its future here in Ireland.
Vanguard Beer Collective – a marketing and distribution agency to the craft brewing industry – is working to capitalise on the potential of this burgeoning market. Each month they host a craft beer appreciation course at the Dublin Bar Academy, with the particular aim of educating professionals from the trade, although enthusiasts are welcome also.
“We want to create ambassadors with the knowledge, communication skills and, most importantly, the passion to inspire others to discover, respect and enjoy craft beer,” says James Winans, owner of Vanguard Beer Collective.
The course is informal but broadly covers all aspects of craft brewing from the history of certain styles to an intro to specific Irish craft brewers and their beers. Winans also gives an accessible but detailed breakdown of beer appreciation: aroma, flavour profile, weight, balance and the impact of ingredients, serving temperature and dispensing method.
“The success of the market depends on the knowledge and skills of the on and off-premise staff who are selling craft beer. It isn't about just pulling a pint anymore, it's about selling one. Consumers are looking to getting a little bit more out of their pint, they want an experience. This is where businesses need to step up if they want to get the most out of a craft beer offering,” says Winans.
At a recent Vanguard course in Dublin Bar Academy, attendee Andrew Kavanagh, Director of Sales and Marketing at Castleknock Hotel & Club, said he’d like to see more training courses available. “I came for enjoyment and to learn some more about an interesting subject, but I think there could be more intermediate level tastings.”
Many of the attendees at the same event were there out of personal interest, but like Kavanagh were keen to learn as much as possible about the beers: the differences between them, what is available and where they can be found. The rise in popularity of craft beer tastings, tutorials, dinners and other learning events is another indication of the value of the craft beer consumer – a consumer who wants to be educated.
Craft brewer Claire Dalton of Dungarvan Brewing Company is currently completing a beer sommelier course through the UK Beer Academy, in order to expand her knowledge as the industry expands, particularly in relation to beer styles, serving and food matching.
“We do a lot of work with restaurants who are looking to pair beers with the dishes on their menus, and have run many beer and food tasting nights. The growth in beer offerings in restaurants has been huge over the last few years and we have seen that where restaurants are increasing their beer ranges they are also becoming more interested in pairings and being able to suggest a beer to a customer based on their food order as they would a wine.” Dalton also provides training for hospitality and on-trade staff.
Vanguard has seen a rise in demand for staff training, although, according to Winans, there is room for improvement and growth: “We would like to see business owners and managers taking more of an interest in educating their staff. It is important for trade professionals to be educated in craft beer in order to really see a rise in sales. We cover not only the anatomy of beer, we encourage the staff to sample the product and develop their own opinions to share with their customers. Staff members who are excited about craft beer will inherently make their customers excited too.”