In 2011 Northern Ireland had four breweries and one contract. Fast forward six years to the present day and that number has increased over 500% to 31 businesses that produce beer. Some are breweries, some are contracted and some are brewpubs. Whatever they are, there’s a lot more than five. And something that’s been on my mind recently – is Northern Ireland reaching or already reached saturation point? Are local breweries squeezing each other out of the market?
Let’s face facts here. Once you leave Belfast, good tasty beer is hard to find – whether that be in a pub or off-licence. Sure, there are little pockets in the likes of Newcastle, Derry/Londonderry, Portrush etc but what about the wider country scene? Walk into 99% of bars across NI and the chances of having your taste buds tingling over a quality beer are slim. Many bars and restaurants are refusing to sell locally brewed beer for whatever reason. Big gun financial incentives? Definitely. Internal politics? Possibly. Quality of the brews? Hopefully not.
I recently heard of one very well known bar and restaurant not stocking a beer brewed half a mile away because “craft beer’s a passing fad.” What’s this if not a lack of understanding of the scene? The restaurant’s dishes contain plenty of Northern Irish meat, fish and vegetables yet they are are happy to pour hundreds of macro pints, despite locals asking for the town’s craft.
So fair play to an old haunt of mine, The Countryman Inn in Ballymena for now selling draught Hillstown beer. Other bars in the town as well as many pubs in other towns take heed. It’s 2017 not 1983.
Even if accepted, are the 31 breweries in danger of adopting a dog-eat-dog situation? If the country bars will only have one local tap (max.) does that push others out? Guinness, Harp and Carlsberg etc will always remain so if one tap miraculously becomes free, is it a scrap to get in there?
Pub landlords – make no mistake that the craft beer scene is here to stay. If you have the sway with Diageo or Tennent’s and believe in your customers, give it a go. Otherwise many customers will take their custom elsewhere. Some would say you’re already losing out.
NB. This article was almost complete when fellow Irish blogger Simon Broderick posted something along a similar line. It can be read here. ‘Great minds…’ and all that.
And as of late 2017 The Countryman has now removed the Hillstown pump by new owners. Sigh.