It’s hard enough for small, independent breweries in Northern Ireland to get their beer into bars and off licences so when Covid-19 hit last March and closed both those routes to market, the writing was on the wall.
Many breweries began selling and delivering via their own hastily assembled webshop and thankfully off licences were allowed to open soon after that, but the pubs remained shut.
Breweries need pubs, right? Just like pubs need breweries, right? Well, yes and no. It depends where you’re talking about – oh, talking about Northern Ireland? Well, welcome to The Twilight Zone, reader. It’s a land where things are done differently.
Get to the point Roy.
An organisation called SIBA (The Society for Independent Brewers) released a report recently claiming sales for UK breweries are down by 80% since Covid-19 struck. Chief Executive James Calder said when pubs closed, breweries lost over three quarters of their sales overnight.
See that bit earlier about breweries needing pubs – NI doesn’t really count.
Due to the way most bars in Northern Ireland are at the beck and call of the big multinational macro companies that supply such delicious favourites as Carlsberg, Harp, Tennent’s, Heineken, Coors Light, Hop House, Guinness etc, it’s really difficult for any small brewery to be on draught here.
When I say difficult, I actually mean almost impossible.
So when pubs closed, GB breweries felt the effects but it wasn’t really the same here. A lot of NI breweries didn’t sweat. Much.
Well, for a lot of our local microbreweries, keg or cask sales are very small. So small in fact some register zero. Let’s take a moment to think about that. All pubs here close and it hardly affects a vast swathe of our microbreweries.
Some brewery owners I’ve been speaking to over the past few weeks claim sales have been pretty solid or actually increased compared to this time last year.
One brewer said sales have gone skyward and if he could double production overnight, he’d be confident it would be sold. Another told me it’s been great not having to wait on slow payments from pubs! That made me laugh.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a few local brews on draught in some great pubs here but it’s not anywhere near the scale of GB microbreweries in GB pubs. That shows the dominance the macros have here.
So while pubs may be closed (for now, re-opening 3rd July), brewers across Northern Ireland have been steadily continuing to brew beer for sale online or through off licences and beer clubs. Have we been drinking more beer this past few months? I’d hazard a guess of “yes”. Scientific research doesn’t belong here.
(Except NI) is a line we, in Northern Ireland, dread seeing. It instills frustration everytime it’s encountered on a tv advert or when shopping online. However on this occasion it’s welcomed that we’re not following the figures in SIBA’s report. It’s great that we may in fact be bucking the trend.
I pity those who miss their pints of draught Harp.