The Irish Craft Beer "Bubble" is certainly growing, but is it really ready to burst?
There was an interesting article in the 'University Observer' last week about the current Craft Beer market in Ireland and the danger of it's potential decline.
You can read it for yourself right here.
What stands out, is the negative language used throughout the post ('bursting bubbles', 'choice of poison', 'when the crash will happen', 'market share concerns'). All in all, it's a pretty depressing read, and whilst I don't necessarily dispute the figures, it doesn't exactly shine a good light on the future of the Craft Beer Industry in Ireland.
Factual statistics to make a point can be seen as the devils work, just ask any politician. If the facts aren't partnered with relevant context, they are about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Case in point can be seen here, where the current Irish Craft Beer Market is being compared to that of the US, over 20 years ago.
Yes, in 1996, US beer drinkers may not have been buying as much 'Craft Beer' but this was around the same time as we were still watching VHS tapes, Oasis were taking the Music Charts by storm and a mobile/cell phone was the size of a shoe box (if you were rich enough to own one!).
My point is that a lot of things have happened since then. Straight out of the box, some of the factors that separate today's beer drinkers and brewers from those of the Nineties, might include:
Improved brewing technology and techniques.
Enhanced transport and network systems giving customers better access to beers from one side of the country to the other side of the world.
Vast improvements to multimedia along with the introduction of broadband, enabling direct and instant communication with other people and networks on a global scale. Customers have never been better versed or educated in craft beer as they can be today with the simple click or two of a button.
So, surely if Ireland is to take a cue from anyone regarding the rise and fall of Craft Beer within these shores then would it not be more prudent to analyse a market that is closer to home, has more cultural similarities and whose case in point at least occurred in the same century?
The UK Market
As I was walking the dog the other night I had the pleasure of listening to Logan Plant and Paul Jones (the owners of Beavertown and Cloudwater Breweries) being interviewed by Michael Kiser on the 'Good Beer Hunting Podcast'. The interview followed a incredible week that saw Cloudwater pick up 11 medals in total along with being named as one of the 'Top Five Breweries in the World', at the Annual 'Rate Beer' Awards in California.
Paul and Logan, certainly didn't sound negative and neither should they be. Cloudwater can't produce beer quick enough at the moment. Only last week, their Birthday DIPA which was launched to celebrate their Second Birthday (yes, Cloudwater are only two years old!) sold out in record time prompting an apology over Twitter to the hundreds of fans who missed out, along with a promise that more will be brewed.
Granted, the guys had reason to be in good spirits, but as I listened to both of them speak about the current climate of the British Craft Beer Market, I couldn't help but smile to myself. Their passion was infectious and it was a pleasure to hear them talk of further growth potential, where we have come from over the past number of years and their motivation to help shape British Beer Culture further.
It was a excellent podcast and I seriously recommend you give it a listen if you haven't done so already (link below).
Photo courtesy of www.goodbeerhunting.com. click the image above to listen to the interview in full
Thus, following everything that has been said, you wouldn't think that the UK market is in decline and you'd be right!
In fact the UK Craft Beer Market has seen exponential growth over the past number of years. From having a 0.6% market share in 2010, this increased to 3.2% in 2015 (please note that these figures do not include Craft Ale). Further still, last year Craft Beer production equated to approximately 7% of the total beer market. The number of British breweries has also risen by 8% to around 1,700 over 2016 as the surge in popularity continues.
The fact of the matter is, at this current time the British Craft Beer market is more established than in Ireland (although still well behind the States). On the Emerald Isle, we may be 'bringing up the rear', so to speak, but the statistics above certainly suggest that we still have a long and healthy period of growth in front of us.
On a personal level, living in Northern Ireland, I'm forever talking with people and friends who have never actively tried craft beer. They are happy to make do with the macro lagers that they purchase in their local supermarket which is fine, but the main reasons for them not choosing to buy craft beer usually isn't related to price or indeed the taste.
In my experience, it tends to be down to not knowing much about the product itself and what is actually available to them. I'm pleased to say that following some brewing education and guided beer tasting, many have been happier purchasing Craft Beer.
Personally I think that we are a long way off seeing a decline in growth for the Craft Beer market, both throughout Ireland and the UK.
Yes, we have seen a boom in new breweries opening over the past few years and it's true to say that unfortunately, many of them may not last. I feel that this will be more to do with poor product offerings and inadequate marketing rather than a lack of demand however.
I don't feel we have even touched the surface yet regarding the public's awareness, perception and potential desire to purchase craft beer in this country. To speak about "bursting bubbles" and "likely crashes", come more from a place of negative thinking and low confidence.
As far as I am concerned, with such a diverse and interesting product range, craft beer will continue to evolve and customer demand will grow, as long as we can increase public awareness and continue to provide excellent beers - which we most certainly can.
We are in an exciting and pioneering period for beer throughout Ireland and the UK. What happens over the next decade will change the landscape for drinking culture both sides of the Irish Sea and we need to embrace it and give the customers what they want
- something to get excited about!
I'll leave you with these figures
In 2015, the Craft Beer market share in the US was at 21%, in Ireland it currently stands at only at 2.5%.
* UPDATE: As of 4th August 2017 new figures have been released by the IBA confirming that Craft Beer Market Share in Ireland has now increased to 3.4% in 2016 from 2.5% in 2015.
Market conditions and cultural differences aside, I think those are figures that suggest that there's plenty more room for growth over the coming years.
There may indeed be an Irish Craft Beer bubble to burst, but I'd say it has a hell of a lot of growing to do first!
Now let's go and grab a brew.
*The figures quoted in the article above were taken from 'TheBrewersAssociation.org', 'Bordbia.ie', 'SIBA' , IBA and 'Statista'.
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